Abuse Poems

Poems about abuse can be some of the rawest and most powerful works of art, capturing the pain, confusion, and desperation that survivors of abuse often feel. These poems can take many forms, from stark confessions to subtle metaphors, but they all share a common thread of exploring the aftermath of trauma.

Many poets use their work to process their own experiences of abuse or to give voice to the experiences of others. They may delve into topics such as domestic violence, sexual assault, emotional abuse, or the lasting impact of childhood abuse. In doing so, they often confront uncomfortable truths and challenge societal norms around victim blaming and the silence that often surrounds abuse.

Eat Me

by Patience Agbabi

‘Eat Me’ by Patience Agbabi tells the story of an incredibly unhealthy relationship based around control, one-sided lust, and food. 

The poem explores the emotional and physical abuse inflicted on the speaker by her partner, who objectifies and fetishizes her based on her weight. The poem is incredibly disturbing and effective in depicting this form of abuse, so much so that the poem should be regarded as one of the most important examples of poems on this topic.

When I hit thirty, he brought me a cake,

three layers of icing, home-made,

a candle for each stone in weight.

Fooled Me for Years with the Wrong Pronouns

by Gwyneth Lewis

‘Fooled Me for Years with the Wrong Pronouns’ by Gwyneth Lewis explores an abusive relationship, with Lewis writing an anti-love poem.

The poem portrays a manipulative and emotionally abusive relationship where the speaker is constantly blamed for doubting their partner's loyalty. The partner makes the speaker cry and miss trains, causing them emotional distress.

You made me cry in cruel stations,

So I missed many trains. You married others

In plausible buildings. The subsequent son

Became my boss. You promised me nothing

To Speak of Woe That Is In Marriage

by Robert Lowell

‘To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage’ by Robert Lowell is a memorable, confessional poem. In it, lol taps into the life experiences of a wife who is fearful of her lustful husband.

The poem relates to abuse in several ways. The speaker describes her husband's physical and emotional abuse towards her, including his promiscuity and alcoholism, which puts her in danger and makes her feel powerless. She also describes how she has to protect herself from her husband's abuse, such as tying his car key to her thigh to prevent him from leaving and potentially harming her.

“The hot night makes us keep our bedroom windows open.

Our magnolia blossoms. Life begins to happen.

My hopped up husband drops his home disputes,

and hits the streets to cruise for prostitutes,

Hard Rock Returns to Prison

by Etheridge Knight

‘Hard Rock Returns to Prison’ is an allegory of oppression and forced submission of Black inmates in America.

The poem 'Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane' explores the theme of abuse in several ways. The titular character, Hard Rock, is a black prisoner who has been beaten and mistreated by the guards in prison, as evidenced by his scars and broken teeth. His return to prison is symbolic of how the system of incarceration perpetuates cycles of violence and abuse.

Hard Rock / was / “known not to take no shit

From nobody,” and he had the scars to prove it:

Split purple lips, lumbed ears, welts above

His yellow eyes, and one long scar that cut

Red Roses

by Anne Sexton

‘Red Roses’ by Anne Sexton is a story of child abuse told by a narrator, but with the vernacular, that represents the emotions and thoughts of the child undergoing the abuse.

This poem tells the story of a young boy named Tommy and his mother, who dances with him to the tune of "Red Roses for a Blue Lady." The mother throws Tommy across the room, causing him to receive red roses in various places on his body. Tommy loves his mother despite the abuse and pretends to be her ball.

Tommy is three and when he's bad

his mother dances with him.

She puts on the record,

"Red Roses for a Blue Lady"

Ruins of a Great House

by Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott’s ‘Ruins of a Great House’ combines themes of historical and cultural abuse with factual reasoning and literary references to bring together a massive emotional conflict in the Speaker’s perception.

This poem talks about the aftermath of abuse. It discusses cultural abuse from colonization by Great Britain. It shows us the horrors of what consequences await those who survive and the tragic lives of those who came before.

Stones only, the disjecta membra of this Great House,

Whose moth-like girls are mixed with candledust,

Remain to file the lizard’s dragonish claws.


by Jericho Brown

‘Duplex’ by Jericho Brown explores physical and mental abuse, looking at how memory can impact a person.

The father in the poem is described as "fast and awful" and capable of hitting "hard as a hailstorm." This language suggests that the father was a physically abusive in the speaker's life, leaving visible marks on their body. The poem touches on the lasting impact of such abuse in terms of the physical scars and emotional trauma it can leave behind.

A poem is a gesture toward home.

It makes dark demands I call my own.

Memory makes demands darker than my own:

My last love drove a burgundy car.

The Hand That Signed the Paper

by Dylan Thomas

‘The Hands that Signed the Paper’ is a war protest poem that derides the appalling apathy and ruthlessness of the rulers toward ordinary citizens.

This poem very effectively talks about the power abuse by a country's leaders. The whole verse reiterates the apathy of power-hungry toward their own people who are dying or are in a pitiful state. Thomas' poem portrays the abuse of power by the five kings who signed the treaty, leading to the death and suffering of many.

The hand that signed the paper felled a city;

Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,

Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;

These five kings did a king to death.


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Beautiful’ by Carol Ann Duffy explores the physical and mental damage that can come from beauty by tracing the lives of four women.

The poem explores the idea of how men objectify women, leading to their obsession with beauty, which in turn leads to an act of violence. This kind of behavior and attitude toward women can be considered as a form of abuse. The poem is filled with allusions and references to history that makes the poem all the more interesting.

She was born from an egg,

a daughter of the gods,

divinely fair, a pearl, drop-dead

gorgeous, beautiful, a peach,


by Sylvia Plath

‘Daddy’ by Sylvia Plath uses emotional, and sometimes, painful metaphors to depict the poet’s own opinion of her father.

This poem can be read as a powerful expression of the psychological and emotional impact of abuse, particularly the abuse that can occur in a family setting. The speaker describes her father in powerful and oppressive terms, suggesting that he was both physically and emotionally abusive.

You do not do, you do not do

Any more, black shoe

In which I have lived like a foot

For thirty years, poor and white,

Explore more poems about Abuse

The Snowman on the Moor

by Sylvia Plath

‘The Snowman on the Moor’ explores the turbulent and abusive relationship between the speaker (presumably Plath herself) and her male spouse.

The poem explicitly discusses abusive relationships from the point of view of the female victim. By incorporating personal pronouns in the latter half of the poem, Plath makes the poem increasingly relatable to any and all sufferers of abuse within romantic relationships. Considering the poet's personal experiences, the content is not only relatable but also accurately portrays the seemingly endless cycle of abuse, wherein the victim ends up returning to their abuser, albeit reluctantly.

Stalemated their armies stood, with tottering banners:

She flung from a room

Still ringing with bruit of insults and dishonors


by Shankha Ghosh

‘Rehabilitation’ explores the pain of the refugees after the Partition of Bengal. With stark imagery, it delves into the lasting impact of this tragic event.

While the poem primarily focuses on the topic of the partition of Bengal and its consequences, there are subtle indications that allude to the abuse of power by the colonial rulers that contributed to the violence and eventual partition. The mention of "broken temples" implies the destruction and desecration of sacred spaces, which can be seen as a metaphor for the cultural and religious abuse at the time. Additionally, the image of "arrows and spears" suggests the tools of aggression and subjugation employed by those in power.

Whatever I had around me

Grass and pebbles


Broken temples

The Wound

by Ruth Stone

‘The Wound’ by Ruth Stone describes with unflinching detail the harmful ways in which some words can inflict lasting hurt.

Although the reader is never told what exactly is said to the speaker to cause the wound, it is safe to say it might qualify as verbal abuse. Whatever is said to them cuts so deep that the speaker still carries the wound long after the words themselves have faded. The poem serves as a powerful reminder that words can create lasting injuries as well.

The shock comes slowly

as an afterthought.

First you hear the words

and they are like all other words,


by Carl Sandburg

‘Cahoots’ by Carl Sandburg delves into the dark underbelly of a corrupt city, exposing the collusion and exploitation that thrive within its power structures.

In this poem, the topic of abuse is addressed through the depiction of a corrupt and exploitative society. The speaker's nonchalant attitude towards stealing and dishonesty reflects a disregard for ethical boundaries, which can be seen as a form of abuse of power. The poem suggests that abuse can take various forms, including the manipulation and exploitation of others for personal gain, highlighting the dark underbelly of human behavior and its consequences.

Play it across the table.

What if we steal this city blind?

If they want any thing let 'em nail it down.

Harness bulls, dicks, front office men,

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.

Amethyst Beads

by Eavan Boland

‘Amethyst Beads’ by Eavan Boland alludes to Greek mythology and the suffering of a child, Persephone, after she was separated from her mother, Demeter.


by Louise Glück

‘Anniversary’ by Louise Glück contains the words of a cold male speaker to his female partner. These lines, taking place on their anniversary, convey a troubling relationship dynamic.

Middle Passage

by Robert Hayden

‘Middle Passage’ by Robert Hayden is a narrative poem written in the 1940s. It describes the happenings of the Atlantic Slave Trade, as told from the perspective of several white narrators.

Poem at Thirty

by Sonia Sanchez

Sonia Sanchez’s ‘Poem at Thirty’ describes a speaker’s journey from being wounded to growing stronger. The pain reminds her of the metaphorical “midnight” of her life and her community.

Sonnet 133

by William Shakespeare

‘Sonnet 133,’ also known as ‘Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan,’ is a poem about the speaker’s toxic relationship with the Dark Lady. He tries to find a way to improve his circumstances but admits he’s trapped.

Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan

For that deep wound it gives my friend and me!

Is't not enough to torture me alone,

But slave to slavery my sweet'st friend must be?

Stafford Afternoons

by Carol Ann Duffy

Duffy’s ‘Stafford Afternoons’ is all about a child losing her way in the adult world and coming across an offensive scene that would leave its dark imprints in her mind.

Only there, the afternoons could suddenly pause

and when I looked up from lacing my shoe

a long road held no one, the gardens were empty, an ice-cream van chimed and dwindled away.

These Yet To Be United States

by Maya Angelou

‘These Yet To Be United States’ by Maya Angelou explores the complexities of the United States. The poet suggests that the country has not lived up to its potential.

Tremors of your network

cause kings to disappear.

Your open mouth in anger

makes nations bow in fear.

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