Throughout history, writers have engaged with the subject of grief. Wherever there is love and passion, there is also grief and loss. Explore this list of a few of the best poems about grief.
On this list, readers will find ten of the greatest poems ever written that tap into the subject of grief. They explore how different people deal with the emotion and what it takes to get over it. Some writers depict characters who are consumed by this emotion and others who find the strength to overcome it.
Best Poems about Grief
- 1 Grief by Barbara Crooker
- 2 As Imperceptibly as Grief by Emily Dickinson
- 3 The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
- 4 Dejection: An Ode by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- 5 Grief by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- 6 I measure every Grief I meet by Emily Dickinson
- 7 Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats by Percy Bysshe Shelley
- 8 Valediction of Weeping by John Donne
- 9 Spring in War Time by Sara Teasdale
- 10 On My First Son by Ben Jonson
- 11 FAQs
Grief by Barbara Crooker
This is a traditional poem about grief. It explores the process of grieving after a loved one has died. The poem uses the extended metaphor of ‘wading’ through a river to explain the process of grieving. For Crooker, the rushing waters that flow past the poet as she stands in the freezing lake represent grieving – she wallows in the water, enjoying its icy sadness. She writes:
[Grief] is a river you wade in until you get to the other side.
But I am here, stuck in the middle, water parting
around my ankles, moving downstream
over the flat rocks. I’m not able to lift a foot,
The speaker submits to grief, refusing to change. She comes to terms with it and never lets go of the memory she holds of her deceased loved one.
Read more Barbara Crooker poems.
As Imperceptibly as Grief by Emily Dickinson
In the lines of this poem, the poet analyzes grief. She compares it to the passing away of the summer. The first few lines read:
As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away-
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy-
She goes on, implying that what she feels is something beautiful and once she let it out, she is left with nothing but a hollow emptiness where she wishes grief could be.
Explore more Emily Dickinson poems.
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
This chilling poem is considered to be Edgar Allan Poe’s poetic masterpiece. It 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 poem, the poet uses repetition to emphasize the mysterious knocking occurring in the speaker’s home in the middle of a cold December evening. He opens the door and looks into the darkness, wondering if it could be his beloved, Lenore, returned to him. Consider these lines:
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.”
Dejection: An Ode by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
This poem was written on April 4, 1802. It is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s swan song lamenting the decline of creative imagination. Coleridge gives expression to an experience of double consciousness. Here are a few lines:
O Lady! we receive but what we give,
And in our life alone does Nature live:
Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud!
His sense perceptions are vivid and in part agreeable; his inner state is faint, blurred, and unhappy. He sees but cannot feel. He expresses a different kind of grief than is found in the other poems on this list.
Read more Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems.
Grief by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
This poem tells of the necessary conditions for feeling true grief and the way it transforms one’s body and soul. The poem begins with the speaker stating that those who throw up their arms and wail do not truly grieve. They are without the ability to feel true despair. Rather, it is those who express no passion who are truly hurting. Here are a few lines:
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,
In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare
Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
As the poem concludes, the speaker tells the reader that only when one can “weep” will their grief be relieved.
Discover more of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry.
I measure every Grief I meet by Emily Dickinson
This is a dark and depressing poem. The poet explores the nature of grief and how loss is unavoidable. It also uses clear diction and syntax, allowing readers to grasp the poet’s content easily and quickly. Here are a few lines:
I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size.
The poet’s speaker also considers the possibility that some of these people may or may not eventually get a reprieve from their sorrow. The poem ends with an allusion to the crucifixion of Jesus.
Read more Emily Dickinson poems.
Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats by Percy Bysshe Shelley
In this poem, Shelley compares John Keats, who died at twenty-five, to Adonais. He was a character in Greek mythology who was killed by a wild boar while hunting. He was also loved by Aphordite. Here is the first famous stanza:
I weep for Adonais—he is dead!
Oh, weep for Adonais! though our tears
Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years
To mourn our loss, rouse thy obscure compeers,
And teach them thine own sorrow, say: “With me
Died Adonais; till the Future dares
Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and a light unto eternity!”
Discover more Percy Bysshe Shelley poems.
Valediction of Weeping by John Donne
‘Valediction of Weeping’ is a powerful poem in which the speaker uses images to talk about a relationship and the two people who are a part of it. The speaker addresses their lover describes their grief and other conflicting emotions. Consider these lines:
Let me pour forth
My tears before thy face, whilst I stay here,
For thy face coins them, and thy stamp they bear,
And by this mintage they are something worth,
For thus they be
Pregnant of thee;
Explore more John Donne poems.
Spring in War Time by Sara Teasdale
This poem is unlike the rest of those on this list. It contains a series of questions asked by a speaker who is confused about how spring can continue despite the fact that there is a war going on. How, she asks, can beauty continue to exist in the shadow of darkness? Here are a few lines:
I feel the spring far off, far off,
The faint, far scent of bud and leaf—
Oh, how can spring take heart to come
To a world in grief,
She also asks how “daylight” can persist while men fight as well as how grass can grow and wind can blow “over new graves.”
Read more Sara Teasdale poems.
On My First Son by Ben Jonson
In this well-loved poem, Johnson laments the death of his seven-year-old child in 1603. In this poem, he mourns his death, but more than that, he examines his reactions to this seismic loss. Here are a few lines:
Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy.
Seven years tho’ wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
The speaker is attempting to distance himself from the tragedy in numerous ways. One way is to treat the scenario as an almost mechanical prospect, devoid of all emotions from which he can shake free.
Read more Ben Johnson poems.
One of the saddest poems ever written is ‘Spring and Fall’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins. But, there are many other very tragic poems, including ‘Annabel Lee’ by Edgar Allan Poe.
A mourning poem is an elegy. An elegy is written for someone who has recently passed away. It will likely describe their personality and why there were important to the speaker/writer.