Regret Poems

Maud Muller

by John Greenleaf Whittier

‘Maud Muller’ by John Greenleaf Whittier is a classic narrative ballad that recounts how the poor peasant, Maud, and an urban judge fantasize about getting married and living together. However, neither of them ever takes action, which fills their lives with regret.

This poem explores many different themes, but ultimately, it is about regret. Maud Muller and the judge's different social standings may create the boundaries that make their love an unrequited one, but their idealized perceptions of what might have been fuel the conflict in this tragic tale.

God pity them both! and pity us all,

Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

Explore more poems about Regret

My Mother Would Be a Falconress

by Robert Duncan

‘My Mother Would Be a Falconress’ by Robert Duncan explores a son and mother’s relationship through the lens of a falcon breaking free from his handler.

The speaker's regret of turning against his mother and angrily breaking free from her grasp drive this poem. However, the speaker never finds a resolution, always floundering between his conviction that he needed to break free and his guilt for hurting and abandoning his now-deceased mother. The intensity of this regret makes this poem very emotional and powerful.

My mother would be a falconress,

And I, her gay falcon treading her wrist,

would fly to bring back

from the blue of the sky to her, bleeding, a prize,


by Frances Cornford

‘Childhood’ explores the transitory moment when a child becomes aware of the passing of time, and the process of growing old.

Whilst the speaker does not regret having aged, they long for the innocence of youth.

I used to think that grown-up people chose

To have stiff backs and wrinkles round their nose,

And veins like small fat snakes on either hand,

On purpose to be grand.

What now?

by Gary Soto

‘What Now?’ by Gary Soto is a contemporary poem that speaks to the universal experience of aging and learning.

This poem evokes the emotion of regret by contrasting the sense of wonder and magic associated with shooting stars in the speaker's childhood with the mundane realities of adulthood. The shift in focus from looking upward to the road ahead suggests a missed opportunity to appreciate and hold onto the short-lived moments of enchantment fully. This contrast hints at a sense of regret for the loss of innocence and the passage of time.

Where did the shooting stars go?

They flit across my childhood sky

vAnd by my teens I no longer looked upward—

My face instead peered through the windshield

In Memory of the Utah Stars

by William Matthews

‘In Memory of the Utah Stars’ captures the manner in which memories can provide us with both pleasure and pain.

The narrator understandably regrets the fact the team was disbanded but, given they could not prevent that, their true regret appears to be not cherishing the good moments more when they were happening.

Each of them must have terrified

his parents by being so big, obsessive

and exact so young, already gone

and leaving, like a big tipper,

After Killing a Spider

by Masaoka Shiki

‘After Killing a Spider’ by Masaoka Shiki is a thoughtful poem. It describes the negative and dark effects of killing a spider.

The feeling of regret is present in the poem as the speaker contemplates their actions. The speaker regrets killing the spider, recognizing the spider's value and fragility. The act of killing something so small and insignificant has made the speaker realize the importance of all life, and the weight of their actions causes a sense of sadness and regret.

After killing

a spider, how lonely I feel

A Muse of Water

by Carolyn Kizer

‘A Muse of Water’ by Carolyn Kizer is a unique poem that places women as a force of nature, like water, that men attempt to control, redirect, and oppress.

'A Muse of Water' is simultaneously environmentalist and feminist, and it exposes some of the pain that humankind has inflicted on women and nature. It does so through vivid imagery, which paints a picture of the bleak landscape and loss of freedom that women and water both feel as their ecosystems crumble.

We who must act as handmaidens To our own goddess, turn too fast, Trip on our hems, to glimpse the muse Gliding below her lake or sea,


by Jean Bleakney

Jean Bleakney’s ‘Consolidation’ is a deeply personal poem about the act of rearranging the cowry shells that the speaker and her children gathered in the past.

A mother's regret about the growing distance from her children lies embedded in this poem by Bleakney.

Some sunny, empty afternoon

I’ll pool our decade’s worth

and more of cowrie shells

gathered from that gravel patch

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 biggest emotion expressed in the poem is regret. The speaker regrets not kissing the woman and, by extension, the continuation of the thunderstorm, which might’ve allowed more alone time with her.

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

Winter Stars

by Larry Levis

‘Winter Stars’ by Larry Levis tries to reconcile the estranged relationship between a son and their dying father.

The speaker expresses intense regret at not taking the time to reconcile with their father when they had the chance. A sentiment that's emphasized through their symbolism of the winter stars and their metaphor about scientists and carbon.

My father once broke a man’s hand

Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,

Rubén Vásquez, wanted to kill his own father

With a sharpened fruit knife, & he held

The Confessional

by Robert Browning

‘The Confessional’ by Robert Browning is a dramatic monologue following a woman who is betrayed for her blind faith.

The emotion of regret is slightly more embedded into the poem, as anger overshadows many other emotions. But, the main character is undoubtedly feeling regret for her choices at the beginning and end of the poem. Her lover is dead now, and she is partly responsible. So, there is much regret about the actions that caused such consequences.

It is a lie---their Priests, their Pope,

Their Saints, their ... all they fear or hope

Are lies, and lies---there! through my door

And ceiling, there! and walls and floor,

There, lies, they lie---shall still be hurled

Till spite of them I reach the world!


What Work Is

by Philip Levine

‘What Work Is’ by Philip Levine attempts to reconcile the speaker’s perceptions of what work is versus the tormenting experience of waiting for it.

The speaker also expresses intense regret within the poem. This stems from their realization through the experience of exactly what their brother goes through when they go to work. It's Levine's way of showing the power of empathy, and that regret is just a natural part of our course correction when it comes to how we perceive others.

We stand in the rain in a long line

waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.

You know what work is—if you’re

old enough to read this you know what


by Jennie S. Redling

‘Scent’ by Jennie S. Redling is a reflective poem that tells us about the speaker’s unrealized ambition that is causing her agony.

The poem subtly hints at regret, implying that the speaker failed to fulfill her dreams when she had the chance, opting for a pragmatic path to meet material needs. The poet alludes to the wistful sense of missed opportunities, evoking a sense of remorse for her choices.

My finger

Stroke old artwork,

Programs I designed once to

Align myself with small theatre companies

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 melancholic tone of the poem suggests a sense of regret or unease at the realization that the children were watching the act of violence. The poem reflects on how careful parents have to be to set the best example for their children.

I kill an ant

and realize my three children  

have been watching


by Léonie Adams

Apostate’ by Léonie Adams describes the freedom a speaker sees in the joyful stars and how she aches to live as they do. 

The poem hints at a sense of regret or nostalgia for the speaker's lost faith, and readers who have experienced similar feelings may find this theme to be relevant.
From weariness I looked out on the stars And there beheld them, fixed in throbbing joy, Nor racked by such mad dance of moods as mars For us each moment’s grace with swift alloy.

To a Mouse

by Robert Burns

‘To a Mouse’ by Robert Burns describes the unfortunate situation of a mouse whose home was destroyed by the winter winds. 

The speaker feels regretful for having disturbed the mouse's home and for causing it to flee in fear. This is an emotion that readers are also likely to empathize with.

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,

O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!

Thou need na start awa sae hasty,

          Wi’ bickerin brattle!

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 Different History

by Sujata Bhatt

‘A Different History’ by Sujata Bhatt is not a raging piece of protest, rather it teaches how to revisit one’s cultural past in a curious, sensible way.

A Picture of Otto

by Ted Hughes

‘A Picture of Otto’ by Ted Hughes is addressed to Sylvia Plath’s father, Otto. It contains Hughes’ disagreements about how he and Otto were depicted in Plath’s work.

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.


by Wilfred Owen

A harrowing poem that was written by a WW1 veteran, Wilfred Owen describing the haunting loneliness of life as an injured post-war soldier.


by Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott’s poem ‘Ebb’ is about a car journey by the shore and comments on aging, industrialization, and the past.

Elegy VII: Nature’s lay idiot, I taught thee to love

by John Donne

‘Elegy VII’ by John Donne, also known as ‘Nature’s lay idiot, I taught thee to love,’ is a typical piece about unrequited love.

Nature’s lay idiot, I taught thee to love,

And in that sophistry, oh, thou dost prove

Too subtle: Fool, thou didst not understand

The mystic language of the eye nor hand:

Fiddler Jones

by Edgar Lee Masters

Masters’ ‘Fiddler Jones’ highlights how following one’s passion, no matter what it is, is always worthwhile and helps lead a life without any regrets. As the title says, this poem is about a wayward fiddler devoted to his passion.

First March

by Ivor Gurney

‘First March,’ written by one of the lesser known First World War poets, Ivor Bertie Gurney, is about a soldier’s emotional state while returning to his home.


by Ronald Stuart Thomas

‘Here’ by R.S. Thomas is delivered from the perspective of a man who, while looking back on his life, finds himself self regretting acts of violence he committed.

Holy Sonnet II

by John Donne

‘Holy Sonnet II’ by John Donne is the second in a series of religious sonnets that Donne is well-known for. This poem is directed to God and explores a speaker’s concerns about their fate. 

As due by many titles I resign

Myself to thee, O God. First I was made

By Thee; and for Thee, and when I was decay’d

Thy blood bought that, the which before was Thine.

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