Fear Poems


by Jackie Kay

‘Rubble’ by Jackie Kay is a dramatic monologue that was included in her collection, Darling: New & Selected Poems. It conveys an individual’s cluttered and chaotic mind. 

The narrator is clearly afraid that they will not be able to hold things together or worse, that they have already collapsed around them.

What was the thought that I just had in my head?


the broken heart. The world outside is breaking

an afternoon nap

by Arthur Yap

‘an afternoon nap’ by Arthur Yap explores the lacunae in the modern education system and how it results in anxiety and stress in students.

Yap, in his poem 'an afternoon nap,' showcases how a strict mother's actions instill constant pressure and fear in her boy's mind.

the ambitious mother across the road

is at it again. proclaming her goodness

she beats the boy. shouting out his wrongs, with raps

she begins with his mediocre report-book grades.

Next Day

by Randall Jarrell

‘Next Day’ by Randall Jarrell is a confessional poem with a conversational tone that articulates the complex emotions of aging and change.

The speaker, as she makes her observations of other people, seems avoidant, detached, and nihilistic. She recognizes the futility of her life, but this realization is only a product of her ever-looming fear of death and change. The speaker's constantly shifting perspectives and remembrances only serve to divert the speaker's mind from her realization that she is actively dying.

Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,

I take a box

And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.

L’Envoi (1881)

by Rudyard Kipling

‘L’Envoi’ by Rudyard Kipling reflects on the nature and purpose of poetry and considers the poet’s legacy.

The poem speaks to the fear of being forgotten, of one's work and legacy being lost to time. This fear is compounded by the confusion and uncertainty of aging and the passage of time. The speaker of the poem is uncertain of the value of his work and the meaning of his life's journey.

Rhymes, or of grief or of sorrow

Pass and are not,

Rhymes of today—tomorrow 

  Lie forgot.

A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto

by Czeslaw Milosz

‘A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto’ by Czeslaw Milosz presents a description of the Warsaw Ghetto from the eyes of a “poor Christian.”

Fear is a central emotion of the poem, as the speaker describes his terror and the uncertainty and danger surrounding people in the ghetto. The vivid and disturbing imagery, such as the "phosphorescent fire from yellow walls" and the counting of buried bodies, further emphasizes the sense of fear and unease conveyed in the poem.

Bees build around red liver,

Ants build around black bone.

It has begun: the tearing, the trampling on silks,

It has begun: the breaking of glass, wood, copper, nickel, silver, foam

Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow

by Robert Duncan

‘Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow’ by Robert Duncan is often regarded as the poet’s best work. It analyzes the poet’s dream of a meadow while also exploring the new technique of projective verse.

While this poem looks at Duncan's dream place as a positive, eternal place of light, the second half of the poem has undertones of fear as the poet hints toward a revelation of his own death. Words like "omen" and "Queen Under The Hill" add a dark depth to the piece, invoking fear.

as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,

that is not mine, but is a made place,

Over the wintry

by Natsume Sōseki

‘Over the wintry’ by Natsume Sōseki is a short, evocative poem that captures the desolate beauty of a winter landscape. It’s written in the form of a haiku.

This poem captures a sense of unease and apprehension. The howling winds, personified as angry, can evoke a feeling of fear, as they represent a force that is beyond human control. The speaker is making it very clear that being outside in winter (especially during a storm) is a dangerous and scary prospect.

Over the wintry

forest, winds howl in rage

with no leaves to blow.

A Long Journey

by Musaemura Zimunya

‘A Long Journey’ by Musaemura Zimunya is based on the changes that came to Rhodesia, a small country in southern Africa, after British colonial rule. The speaker explores the positive changes and the negative.

The fear of the unknown is hinted at in the reference to the dark periphery behind the lights of the city. It suggests the apprehension and uncertainties that arise when leaving familiar surroundings and venturing into a new, unfamiliar environment.

Through decades that ran like rivers

endless rivers of endless woes

through pick and shovel sjambok and jail

O such a long long journey

I kill an ant

by Shuson Kato

‘I kill an ant’ by Shuson Kato depicts someone killing an ant and realizing that their children were watching them.

The fear of failure, of not living up to our responsibilities, is a central theme in 'I kill an ant.' The poem suggests that even the smallest acts of violence or destruction can have significant consequences and invites the reader to reflect on the potential impact of their actions.

I kill an ant

and realize my three children  

have been watching

Father and Son

by Stanley Kunitz

‘Father and Son’ is a touching expression of a child’s longing for the presence of his deceased father in his life. The poem honors the author’s father and prompts readers to cherish their relationships with loved ones.

The speaker in the poem is enduring two external and internal conflicts. He's afraid he'll need his father's assistance to get through both. Another fear is how to inform the father of the loss of the house he built due to unanticipated circumstances. Overall, the speaker's fear persists, and even the ferns, the element of nature that used to provide him with pleasure and happiness, appear to suffocate it.

Now in the suburbs and the falling light

I followed him, and now down sandy road

Whiter than bone-dust, through the sweet

Curdle of fields, where the plums


by John Dryden

‘Dreams’ by John Henry Dryden presents a vivid illustration of the ways in which dreams are steeped in paradox and irrationality.

Fear is an emotion introduced in the poem. Although the speaker doesn't call them nightmares, it's clear that's what they're talking about when referring to the "monstrous" forms that some people see. They even acknowledge that because reason holds no sway over our dreams, we can succumb to fears once only contained in childhood.

Dreams are but interludes which Fancy makes;

When monarch Reason sleeps, this mimic wakes:

Compounds a medley of disjointed things,

A mob of cobblers, and a court of kings:

The Raven

by Edgar Allan Poe

‘The Raven’ is commonly 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.”

Fear is a prominent emotion in this poem as the speaker grapples with the fear of the unknown and the fear of the afterlife. Poe's use of haunting imagery and supernatural elements contributes to the poem's dark and eerie atmosphere, inviting readers to confront their own fears and anxieties.

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

The Tyger

by William Blake

‘The Tyger’ is a well-known poem by William Blake. It explores the dark and destructive side of God and his creation.

This is a poem that evokes fear and awe. The tiger, with its "fearful symmetry" and "deadly terror," inspires both wonder and terror in the speaker. The poem thus explores the ways in which we respond to the unknown and the mysteries of existence.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

The Measures Taken

by Erich Fried

‘The Measures Taken’ by Erich Fried is a powerful piece about war and loss. The reader is asked to consider their concepts of good, evil, and who deserves to live throughout the poem. 

This poem deals with fear in several ways, particularly in its depiction of the fear that individuals experience during wartime. The poem suggests that fear can be both paralyzing and motivating and that it can lead individuals to act in ways they might not otherwise consider. The poem also touches on the ways in which fear can be a driving force behind conflict and war.

The lazy are slaughtered

the world grows industrious

The ugly are slaughtered

the world grows beautiful


by Elizabeth Alexander

‘Equinox’ by Elizabeth Alexander is a heartfelt poem about death and how all living things are forced to contend with it. The speaker uses a creative metaphor comparing bees on the equinox to her grandmother. 

All living things, the speaker suggests, feel fear when they consider their impending death and the losses they're going to suffer. But, that fear comes out in slightly different ways.

Now is the time of year when bees are wild

and eccentric. They fly fast and in cramped

loop-de-loops, dive-bomb clusters of conversants

in the bright, late-September out-of-doors.

Not My Business

by Niyi Osundare

‘Not My Business’ by Niyi Osundare is a powerful, satirical poem that explores the consequences of staying silent in the face of oppression.

Through the lines of this poem, the poet implies that their speak was scared into non-action by the violence playing out in front of them. As long as they were safe, they allude, then everything was okay.

They picked Akanni up one morning

Beat him soft like clay

And stuffed him down the belly

Of a waiting jeep.

The Sheep Child

by James Dickey

‘The Sheep Child’ by James L. Dickey is a surprising and memorable poem that describes a half-sheep, half-human child that frightens the local farm boys into controlling their sexual lust. 

The young farm boys fear the sheep child and what it represents. They don't want to be part of the creation of such a creature and therefore keep away from farm animals.

Farm boys wild to couple

With anything with soft-wooded trees

With mounds of earth mounds

Of pinestraw will keep themselves off


by Franz Wright

‘Alcohol’ by Franz Wright is a moving poem that explores the complexities of addiction. It’s told from the perspective of alcohol, addressing someone who is addicted to the substance.

Fear is a key emotion in 'Alcohol,' as the speaker describes their fear of relapse and their fear of facing the challenges of recovery. The poem suggests that fear is a natural and understandable response to adversity but that it can also be overcome with courage and determination.

You do look a little ill.

But we can do something about that, now.

Can’t we.

August, Los Angeles, Lullaby

by Carol Muske-Dukes

‘August, Los Angeles, Lullaby’ by Carol Muske-Dukes is a contemporary poem about bringing life into the world and the worries that plague a mother after giving birth. 

The speaker is clearly experiencing fear when she considers the future her daughter is going to have and what she can do to make that future as good as possible. This is heightened by the fact that she knows she had bad experiences in childhood despite her mother wanting the best for her.

The pure amnesia of her face,

newborn. I looked so far

into her that, for a while,

A Thunderstorm In Town

by Thomas Hardy

‘A Thunderstorm In Town’ by Thomas Hardy presents two contrasting scenes: the dry interior of a carriage and the havoc of a thunderstorm outside. But the powerful imagery and symbolism mainly illustrate a memory of lovelorn regret by the speaker.

The intense storm raging outside the carriage breeds a sense of fear. Both passengers prefer waiting out the storm rather than getting caught outside. The fear in this poem is not intense, but it reveals the need for people to escape the uncontrollable forces of nature.

She wore a 'terra-cotta' dress,

And we stayed, because of the pelting storm,

Within the hansom's dry recess,

Though the horse had stopped; yea, motionless

3 November 1984

by Sujata Bhatt

In ‘3 November 1984,’ Indian-English poet Sujata Bhatt shows how history plays a vital role in the process of writing poetry, and their interconnectedness.

A Pastoral

by Agha Shahid Ali

‘A Pastoral’ by Agha Shahid Ali is a moving poem. In it, the poet reflects his love for Kashmir and his affection for his motherland.

A Slumber did my Spirit Seal

by William Wordsworth

‘A Slumber did my Spirit Seal’ by William Wordsworth is one of five “Lucy” poems that Wordsworth published in the volume Lyrical Ballads, that he co-authored with Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

A slumber did my spirit seal;

I had no human fears:

She seemed a thing that could not feel

The touch of earthly years.

A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map

by Stephen Spender

‘A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map’ by Stephen Spender explores the Spanish Civil War through the lyrical depiction of one man’s death. It is marked by a stopwatch, the olive trees, and the continued conflict around him. 


by Gillian Clarke

Gillian Clarke’s free-verse poem ‘Advent’ depicts a lifeless winter landscape where everything is frozen to a state that instills despair and hopelessness in the speaker’s heart.

Air Raid

by Stephen Spender

Stephen Spender’s poem ‘Air Raid’ depicts the impact of the Blitz or German Luftwaffe air strike on the United Kingdom.

All Hallows’ Eve

by Dorothea Tanning

In ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ Tanning explores themes of fear, relationships, and abuse. Through language that varies in its levels of

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