Throughout the history of English-language poetry, authors have sought out dark and disturbing themes in their work. Some writers, like Edgar Allan Poe, were inspired by real-life sorrow, while others, like Conrad Aiken, looked too harrowing images from mythology and history to inspire their darkest works. Below are a few of the best examples of dark poems in the English language.
Best Dark Poems
- 1 Darkness by Lord Byron
- 2 The Dark by Carol Ann Duffy
- 3 The Dark Forest by Edward Thomas
- 4 Gretel in Darkness by Louise Glück
- 5 The Vampire by Conrad Aiken
- 6 The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
- 7 Storm Fear by Robert Frost
- 8 The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde
- 9 The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- 10 FAQs
Darkness by Lord Byron
‘Darkness’ is a multilayered dark poem that warns against the growing inequality in Byron’s time. It also predicts what will happen to the planet if the human race does not change. Throughout, Byron includes images of kings becoming peasants, men burning down forests, and being driven mad (and eventually to starvation) until only two men are left and who are horrified to see one another in the light of a fire. The poem begins with:
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Explore more Lord Byron poems.
This incredible contemporary dark poem speaks on darkness, immediate or primal fears, and the limits of one’s knowledge about the world. Within the lines of this piece, Duffy suggests that “you” think of the dark “as a black park” and the “moon as a bounced ball.” She concludes with:
then there’s nothing to be frightened of
(Except for aliens…)
Read more Carol Ann Duffy poems.
Dark August by Derek Walcott
Walcott’s ‘Dark August’ describes the dreary and dark life the speaker is forced to live after someone he depended on abandoned him. Now that this person is gone, there is no sun to drive off the darkness. He speaks to the sun, personifies the various elements, and more. Here are a few lines:
So much rain, so much life like the swollen sky
of this black August. My sister, the sun,
broods in her yellow room and won’t come out.
Discover more Derek Walcott poems.
Thomas’ ‘The Dark Forest’ is a beautiful poem about life, death, and the impossibility of speaking to the dead. The poet depicts the wall between the living and the dead. One group picks marguerite flowers in the light while the other picks purple foxglove in the forest. The first stanza reads:
Dark is the forest and deep, and overhead
Hang stars like seeds of light
In vain, though not since they were sown was bred
Anything more bright.
Explore more Edward Thomas poems.
‘Gretel in Darkness’ is a creative and disturbing dark poem in which the poet explores what it’s like to be both ignored and controlled by men. The poem was first published in The House on Marshland, Glück’s 1975 collection. Death haunts the young speaker, and she can’t forget her past, despite living what seems to be a happy and safe life with her father and brother. Here are the last lines:
Am I alone? Spies
hiss in the stillness, Hansel,
we are there still and it is real, real,
that black forest and the fire in earnest.
Discover more Louise Glück poems.
‘The Vampire’ is a memorable poem that describes the mysterious coming of great evil and the choices made by men in its wake. At the heart of this poem is a woman (a female vampire) who has power over darkness. She is strange, beautiful, and terrifying. She takes to the sky and casts sorrow over the world and men to scramble to be near her. Here are a few lines:
She rose among us where we lay.
She wept, we put our work away.
She chilled our laughter, stilled our play;
And spread a silence there.
And darkness shot across the sky,
And once, and twice, we heard her cry;
And saw her lift white hands on high
And toss her troubled hair.
Read more Conrad Aiken poems.
One of the best-known “dark” poems in the English language, Poe’s ‘The Raven’ details a harrowing night in the speaker’s life that includes incessant knocking and a talking raven that only says one word–“Nevermore.” Throughout, the speaker explores mental trauma, grief, loss, and pain. The famous first stanza reads:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
Explore more Edgar Allan Poe poems.
This memorable poem describes a terrifying night in which a speaker hides inside his home trying to protect his family from a dark and mysterious storm outside his door. But, it becomes clear that the speaker is helpless. He can do nothing to prevent the cold from reaching his family. He admits that he isn’t sure they will all make it through the night. Here are a few lines:
When the wind works against us in the dark,
And pelts the snow
The lower chamber window on the east,
And whispers with a sort of stifled bark,
‘Come out! Come out!’—
It costs no inward struggle not to go,
Read more Robert Frost poems.
‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ by Oscar Wilde depicts what the speaker sees as the universal suffering of all humankind. Each “man,” he notes repetitively throughout the long poem, will “kill the thing he loves / By each let this be heard.” Not all tragedy is the same, but the same result will occur. Some kill with a “bitter look” and some with a “flattering word.” Here is the tenth stanza:
He does not die a death of shame
On a day of dark disgrace,
Nor have a noose about his neck,
Nor a cloth upon his face,
Nor drop feet foremost through the floor
Into an empty place
Read more Oscar Wilde poems.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
This long, haunting poem is one of the best-known English-language poems of all time and one of the landmark achievements of the Romantic movement. It is written in the form of a ballad and depicts the terrifying journey of a mariner lost at sea. Here are a few of the most famous lines:
At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God’s name.
It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!
Discover more Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems.
A “dark poem” is a poem that deals with themes like sorrow, grief, death, fear, and more. “Darkness” is a broad category that will mean something different to every reader.
Dark poems attempt to engage with scary, depressing, or haunting feelings or events. For example, a dark poem might speak about someone’s experiences with depression or describe an encounter with a terrifying, supernatural phenomenon.
A gothic poem is a type of poem that deals with themes of death, the supernatural, sorrow, fear, loss, and more. The earliest Gothic poems and stories were written in the 18th century, but the genre peaked in the 19th century with the work of authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Louis Stevenson.