On this list, readers will find thirteen thought-provoking and image-filled poems in which women’s lives are described and explored. Some are beautifully optimistic and filled with determined power, while others are much darker and allude to troubling themes like suicide and imprisonment.
Best Poems About Women
- 1 I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed by Edna St. Vincent Millay
- 2 Mushrooms by Sylvia Plath
- 3 Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
- 4 A Woman Speaks by Audre Lorde
- 5 Her Kind by Anne Sexton
- 6 I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that by Emily Dickinson
- 7 On Being a Woman by Dorothy Parker
- 8 The Woman Who Shopped by Carol Ann Duffy
- 9 Woman Work by Maya Angelou
- 10 Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath
- 11 Flying Inside Your Own Body by Margaret Atwood
- 12 The Map-Woman by Carol Ann Duffy
- 13 The Heart of a Woman by Georgia Douglas Johnson
One of Millay’s best-known poems, ‘I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed,’ describes how women need to resist the frenzy that relationships can provide and instead walk away “unpossessed.” The poet’s speaker celebrates her own power to walk away from a relationship and from any man she chooses. She isn’t addicted to the mental and emotional connection that some people are. Here are a few lines from the start of the poem:
I, being born a woman and distressed
By all the needs and notions of my kind,
Am urged by your propinquity to find
Your person fair, and feel a certain zest
A lesser-known Plath poem, but one of her best. It is a wonderful example of figurative language and how an extended metaphor can be used. The mushrooms in this poem are used as a symbol for women and their struggle for equal rights. Here are a few lines:
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth
Our foot’s in the door
Maya Angelou’s most famous poem, and one that’s inspired countless readers to persevere through even the most difficult hardship. The refrain of “still I rise” is a powerful reminder to continue standing up no matter what happens. Here are the first four lines:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
‘A Woman Speaks’ is another inspiring poem about women and their place in the world. In this case, the poet emphasizes the cross-cultural conversations that should occur between women and open a dialogue about the treatment of women of color.
I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
‘Her Kind’ appeared in ‘To Bedlam and Part Way Back’, published in 1960. It is a powerful poem in which the speaker describes the nature of a woman’s misunderstood life and the images that define her. She declares in the end that she’s not ashamed to die and be burnt at the stake by those who don’t understand her.
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
This poem explores the themes of independence and womanhood. It takes the reader through the life of someone considered a “spinster” as Dickinson was and someone who is a wife.
I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that –
That other state –
I’m Czar – I’m “Woman” now –
It’s safer so –
In the short lines of ‘On Being a Woman,’ the poet depicts a metaphorical woman’s changing state of mind. She wants to be where she isn’t, love who leaves her, and grows bored when she loved herself.
Why is it, when I am in Rome,
I’d give an eye to be at home,
But when on native earth I be,
My soul is sick for Italy?
‘The Woman Who Shopped’ explores the stereotypical woman spending time at stores but expands that image and allows the shop to take on its own character. Through the text, Duffy argues that women are made into commodities.
saved up a pound, a fiver, a tenner, haggled the price
of a dancing dress down to a snip, spent the remainder
on shoes, danced from the house down the street, taped to the
centre of town where the sales had commenced,
‘Woman Work’ describes the multifaceted life of a woman working hard to care for her children and her home. The poem concludes with a wistful description of a storm she’d like to wish her away so she could “float across the sky.”
Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.
The second Plath poem on this list and one of her best-known. ‘Lady Lazarus’ is a complicated and controversial poem in which the poet references suicide, suffering, Nazis, and more. The poem is usually interpreted as an expression of Plath’s suicidal ideation.
I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it-
This piece depicts the freedom a woman can achieve in their dream world and the different restriction they face when they wake back up to reality. Atwood compares the dreaming body to that of a bird, one that rises and floats into the sky. There, the world is much more beautiful than it is while one is awake.
Your lungs fill & spread themselves,
wings of pink blood, and your bones
empty themselves and become hollow.
This wonderful poem by Carol Ann Duffy, the first female Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, explores female identity through a depiction of the body. She uses the fictional story of a woman with a map etched on her body to depict how someone’s past experiences shape who they are.
A woman’s skin was a map of the town
where she’d grown from a child.
When she went out, she covered it up
with a dress, with a shawl, with a hat,
This poem depicts the freedom for which women yearn and the lives in which they are inevitably imprisoned. The speaker uses images, such as that of a woman’s heart flying from her like a “lone bird” to describe a woman’s life. The woman temporarily experiences freedom and is then forced back into her everyday world.
The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.