Adversity Poems

Adversity poems deal with topics including loss, economic hardship, social inequity, racial prejudice, and much more. Some, which address the topics from an optimistic point of view, present ways that characters and writers have overcome these obstacles, while others are far darker.

The Bard: A Pindaric Ode

by Thomas Gray

‘The Bard: A Pindaric Ode’ written by Thomas Gray, depicts the ruthless torment unleashed upon poets by the tyrant King Edward I.

The poem suggests that adversity can be transformative and that it can bring out the best in people. The Welsh people are portrayed as becoming more heroic and noble as a result of their struggle against adversity, and the bard's curse is seen as a powerful expression of his determination to overcome adversity and achieve justice.

"Ruin seize thee, ruthless King!

Confusion on thy banners wait,

Tho' fann'd by Conquest's crimson wing

They mock the air with idle state.


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.

It strongly explores the topic of adversity, depicting the hardships faced by people in the wake of the Partition of Bengal. The line "Whatever is around me / Landslides / Arrows and spears" suggests a hostile and challenging environment, symbolizing the adversities faced by the speaker. The mention of "broken temples" and "pockmarked walls" further emphasizes the destructive consequences of this adversity. Additionally, the image of the "Ganges flowing red" signifies mass murders happening at the time.

Whatever I had around me

Grass and pebbles


Broken temples

The Idea of Ancestry

by Etheridge Knight

‘The Idea of Ancestry’ by Etheridge Knight is concerned with family relationships and how important being with those you’re related to is. 

Knight has expreinced a great deal of adversity that is all coming to a head when he's in prison.

Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black

faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grand-

fathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts,

cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews. They stare

An Hour With Thee

by Sir Walter Scott

‘An Hour With Thee’ by Sir Walter Scott is a poem about the speaker’s appreciation for spending time with an unnamed character. Despite his difficult life, an hour with this person can make his situation tolerable.

'An Hour With Thee' by Sir Walter Scott is about a man who lives a pretty miserable life. He wakes up thinking of people he has lost, works all day in the hot fields, and spends his nights being criticized by his master. However, he overcomes adversity and misery by thinking of his loved one and looking forward to the hours he can spend with them.

An hour with thee! When earliest day

Dapples with gold the eastern gray,

Oh, what can frame my mind to bear

The toil and turmoil, cark and care,

What Fifty Said

by Robert Frost

Frost’s ‘What Fifty Said’ is a reflection on youth and age’s lessons: learning past and future while creating one’s own identity.

In Frost's poem, the theme of adversity carries significant weight as it delves into the challenges and trials faced throughout one's life. The speaker reflects on their experiences and choices, acknowledging that adversity is an integral part of the human journey. Adversity serves as a universal touchstone, symbolizing the obstacles, hardships, and setbacks that individuals encounter as they age and mature. Frost's portrayal of adversity underscores its role in shaping character and resilience. The speaker's contemplation of 'What Fifty Said' implies a pivotal moment where the accumulated adversities and their responses to them have influenced their perspective.

When I was young my teachers were the old.

I gave up fire for form till I was cold.

I suffered like a metal being cast.

I went to school to age to learn the past.

The Complaints of the Poor

by Robert Southey

‘The Complaints of the Poor’ by Robert Southey takes place in a city, likely London, and describes the desperate measures poverty drives people to. 

The poor in this poem face a great deal of adversity that the "rich man" had no prior understanding of.

And wherefore do the Poor complain?

The rich man asked of me,—

Come walk abroad with me, I said

And I will answer thee.

The Double Shame

by Stephen Spender

‘The Double Shame’ by Stephen Spender conveys a depiction of what the world feels like when one loses a very important person in their life. Everything is transformed in a way that makes a living from day to day difficult. 

The state of mind the speaker alludes to comes with a great deal of mental and physical adversity.

You must live though the time when everything hurts

When the space of the ripe, loaded afternoon

Expands to a landscape of white heat frozen

And trees are weighed down with hearts of stone

To My Brother

by Lorna Dee Cervantes

‘To My Brother’ by Lorna Dee Cervantes captures the intense bittersweetness of remembering a childhood checkered by both strife and happiness.

Adversity is a crucial part of the poem's themes. Though it's not the kind of adversity simply overcome by pulling oneself up by their bootstraps. Facing economic inequality, the speaker makes minces no words in presenting themselves as doing everything they can to escape their situation but still finding themselves depressingly stuck.

and for the lumpen bourgeoisie

We were so poor.

The air was a quiver

of thoughts we drew from

A Bird, came down the Walk

by Emily Dickinson

‘A Bird, came down the Walk’ by Emily Dickinson is a beautiful nature poem. It focuses on the actions of a bird going about its everyday life.

The bird faces moments of adversity during the speaker's observation of it.

A Bird, came down the Walk -

He did not know I saw -

He bit an Angle Worm in halves

And ate the fellow, raw, 

A Nation’s Strength

by William Ralph Emerson

‘A Nation’s Strength’ by William Ralph Emerson asks readers to consider what it is that makes a country great and why countries fail.

All countries and all people are faced with adversity, how one gets through that is what makes a nation great.

What makes a nation's pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

Explore more poems about Adversity

How Did You Die?

by Edmund Vance Cooke

‘How Did You Die?’ by Edmund Vance Cooke is a rhyming poem that tries to impart an idealized view of perseverance in life.

The poem uses adversity to illustrate the ideals that people should aspire to, which is to both confront your troubles and to never give in even in defeat.

Did you tackle that trouble that came your way

With a resolute heart and cheerful?

Or hide your face from the light of day

With a craven soul and fearful?

Little Boy Crying

by Mervyn Morris

‘Little Boy Crying’ by Mervynn Morris describes the emotions of a child who is struck by his father for playing in the rain. 

This poem illustrates the importance of learning to face and overcome adversity in life. The father's strict discipline is motivated by his desire to help his son grow and learn important lessons, and the child's tears and frustration are ultimately a natural and necessary part of this process.

Your mouth contorting in brief spite and hurt,

your laughter metamorphosed into howls,

your frame so recently relaxed now tight

with three year old frustration, your bright eyes

The Song of Hiawatha: Hiawatha and Mudjekeewis

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

‘The Song of Hiawatha: Hiawatha and Mudjekeewis’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is the fourth part of ‘The Song of Hiawatha.’ The poem details exciting moments in Hiawatha’s physical and spiritual journey. 

Facing and overcoming challenges is a recurring theme in the poem. Whether it's Hiawatha's battles with nature, mythical creatures, or even his own father, these struggles signify the universal human experience of confronting and overcoming hardships. Adversity in 'The Song of Hiawatha' serves as a metaphor for personal growth and the quest for understanding, wisdom, and inner strength.

Out of childhood into manhood

Now had grown my Hiawatha,

Skilled in all the craft of hunters,

Learned in all the lore of old men,

Climbing Cader Idris

by Gillian Clarke

‘Climbing Cader Idris’ by Gillian Clarke celebrates the resiliency and the symbiotic relationship between individuals– representing beauty that can be found amid life’s challenges – as long as one is open to appreciate it during trying times.

The poem displays the narrator's adversity in coping with the physical challenges she encounters on the hike. This difficulty is evident from the outset, as they face a steep slope. The underlying message here is that overcoming adversity in life gives a sense of joy and accomplishment. Thus in the poem, overcoming physical exhaustion becomes a metaphor for overcoming life's challenges.

You know the mountain with your body,

I with my mind, I suppose.

Each, in our way, describes

the steepening angle of rock.


by Shel Silverstein

‘Whatif’ by Shel Silverstein is a playful presentation of fears, struggles, and uncertainties that haunt Silverstein at “night“.

The range of 'Whatifs' presented encapsulates various forms of adversity, whether they're trivial concerns like tearing one's pants or more serious matters like parental divorce. The poem acknowledges that adversity comes in many shapes and sizes.

Last night, while I lay thinking here,

some Whatifs crawled inside my ear

and pranced and partied all night long

and sang their same old Whatif song:

Whatif I'm dumb in school?


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.

This is ultimately a poem about adversity and the ways in which we can overcome it through courage and resilience. The poem suggests that adversity is a natural and inevitable part of life but that it can also be a source of growth and transformation.

You do look a little ill.

But we can do something about that, now.

Can’t we.

Heaven-Haven: A Nun Takes the Veil

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

IN ‘Heaven-Haven: A Nun Takes the Veil’ the speaker yearns for a tranquil sanctuary, free from life’s storms, desiring a realm of eternal springs and serene beauty.

The poem tackles the topic of adversity by highlighting the speaker's desire to be in a realm untouched by storms and hardships. The mention of sharp and sided hail represents the challenges and difficulties of life, and the longing for a place where such adversity does not exist reflects the human yearning for respite and relief from the struggles faced in the world.

I have desired to go

Where springs not fail,

To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail

And a few lilies 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 poem portrays the struggles and adversities faced by the individuals on their journey, including imprisonment and the threat of returning to a life of hardship. It highlights the challenges of confronting the difficulties of adjusting to a different way of life.

Through decades that ran like rivers

endless rivers of endless woes

through pick and shovel sjambok and jail

O such a long long journey

The Rose That Grew From Concrete

by Tupac Shakur

‘The Rose That Grew From Concrete’ is a moving celebration of personal resolve against the backdrop of oppressive forces.

The rose has survived oppressive circumstances and become a symbol of the power of the individual.

Did you hear about the rose that grew

from a crack in the concrete?

Proving nature's law is wrong it

learned to walk with out having feet.

I can wade Grief-

by Emily Dickinson

‘I can wade Grief-‘ by Emily Dickinson is a fairly simple poem about strength in the face of sorrow. The speaker describes the detrimental effect of happiness during a period of struggle.

Grief is shown to be an example of adversity which must be encountered head on, as symbolised by the decision to wade into the water. It might appear easier to avoid the issue or skirt around it, but the poem suggests this will not lead to the emotion going away.

I can wade Grief—

Whole Pools of it—

I'm used to that—

Romance Sonámbulo

by Federico Garcia Lorca

‘Romance Sonámbulo’ by Federico García Lorca is a mournful and beautiful dream sequence in which the poet longs for something unattainable. 

This poem conveys the theme of adversity through challenges. The poem navigate societal expectations and the constraints placed upon their experience, highlighting the difficulties and obstacles inherent in their situation. Lorca's portrayal of adversity adds depth and complexity to the narrative.

Green, how I want you green.

Green wind. Green branches.

The ship out on the sea

and the horse on the mountain.

The Mouse’s Tale

by Lewis Carroll

‘The Mouse’s Tale’ by Lewis Carroll offers a playful critique of the judicial system. The poem emphasizes the need for a fair trial and the dangers of some kinds of authority.

Adversity is represented by the mouse's predicament. The mouse is forced into a trial where the outcome is pre-decided, reflecting the adversities individuals may face when confronted with an unfair system or an autocratic regime.

Fury said to

a mouse, That

he met

in the


All You Have is a Country

by Ha Jin

“All You Have is A Country” by Ha Jin explores patriotism and how it can be negatively ingrained into someone’s personality.

This poem relates to adversity by depicting the challenges and difficulties that individuals face when adapting to a new country. The persona in the poem is struggling with feelings of loss, homesickness, and insecurity as they try to adjust to their new surroundings.

You are so poor that all you have is a country.

Whenever you open your mouth

you talk about the country

to which you can no longer return.

Character of the Happy Warrior

by William Wordsworth

‘Character of the Happy Warrior’ by William Wordsworth is a poem about what it means to be a “happy warrior” and what the elements of this kind of person’s life would be. 

A happy warrior is going to have to deal with adversity whether they want to or not. Wordsworth it very clear that a happy warrior does not want to seek out adversity but will not flinch from conflict if it arises.

  Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he

That every man in arms should wish to be?

—It is the generous Spirit, who, when brought

Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought

Upon the plan that pleased his boyish thought:

Suicide’s Note

by Langston Hughes

‘Suicide’s Note’ is a three-line poem that speaks from the perspective of someone who wants to take their own life. They feel the “cool face” of the river asking them for a “kiss.”

The speaker may be facing some adversity or hardship that is leading them to consider ending their life. The river represents a solution to their problems or an escape from their pain.

The calm, 

Cool face of the river

Asked me for a kiss. 

The Highwayman

by Alfred Noyes

‘The Highwayman’ by Alfred Noyes is a gothic narrative of tells of the story of the highwayman, the red coats who wanted to capture him and his lover. 

Adversity isn't just an incidental backdrop but a central force driving the narrative forward. Bess’s confinement by the red-coats exemplifies the power imbalances and coercive tactics of authority figures. The highwayman, while a romantic hero, faces the perils of his chosen path.

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding—


The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.


You Can Have It

by Philip Levine

‘You Can Have It’ is a poem about a man’s loss of enthusiasm towards life and his desire to regain the things and people that made it more colorful. The poem conveys this message through the persona’s narrative, set in Detroit in the year 1948.

While adversity is a part of Levine's poem, it is too broad a topic and not the sole focus of 'You Can Have It'.

My brother comes home from work

and climbs the stairs to our room.

I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop

one by one. You can have it, he says.

“Venice — Venus?” (#5 from Hermetic Definition: ‘Red Rose and a Beggar’)

by Hilda Doolittle

“Venice — Venus?” by Hilda Doolittle is an insightful poem about Doolittle’s reasons for writing despite critiques. Doolittle reveals that her ultimate source of inspiration is divine.

In "Venice — Venus?" the poet overcomes adversity, confronting her critics and continuing to write despite the lack of support from her lovers in the past. While her resilience is admirable, she seems unhappy with her career, as she believes that she has no purpose in life beyond her poems and writing.

Venice — Venus?

this must be my stance,

my station: though you brushed aside

The Inchcape Rock

by Robert Southey

‘The Inchcape Rock’ warns of consequences for recklessness at sea. Sir Ralph’s act leads to his own ruin.

This poem looks into adversity through the treacherous sea voyage faced by Sir Ralph and his crew. The Inchcape Rock symbolizes the adversity encountered when recklessness and malicious intent collide with the unforgiving forces of nature. Their journey becomes a metaphor for the adversity in life, emphasizing the importance of responsible choices and preparedness in the face of challenges. The poem ultimately conveys the idea that adversity can be navigated wisely or faced with dire consequences.

No stir in the air, no stir in the sea,

The Ship was still as she could be;

Her sails from heaven received no motion,

Her keel was steady in the ocean.

The Lost Mistress

by Robert Browning

‘The Lost Mistress’ is a poem written by Robert Browning, it is a dramatic monologue that expresses the pain and agony of a lover.

Adversity is key to this poem as the poet explores the challenges faced by the speaker as he navigates the end of his romantic relationship and the subsequent need to redefine their connection. The transition from romance to friendship is very difficult for him.

All’s over, then: does truth sound bitter

As one at first believes?

Hark, ’tis the sparrows’ good-night twitter

About your cottage eaves!