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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

Bloody Men

by Wendy Cope

‘Bloody Men’ by Wendy Cope is a short, contemporary poem by a British award-winning author. It uses a metaphor to compare men to buses.

The speaker contends with a very relatable and specific type of adversity in this poem.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant

by Emily Dickinson

‘Tell the truth but tell it slant’ by Emily Dickinson is one of Dickinson’s best-loved poems. It explores an unknown “truth” that readers must interpret in their own way.

The truth can cause adversity and the speaker suggests that one should be careful with exactly how they tell it.


by Amanda Gorman

‘Alarum’ by Amanda Gorman speaks about extinction and the climate crisis, alluding to the fate of humankind if nothing changes. 

The world is facing adversity when it comes to doing something about the climate crisis. The public is generally split regarding whether or not climate action should be taken.

Hiawatha’s Childhood

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

‘Hiawatha’s Childhood’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow describes how the protagonist of ‘The Song of Hiawatha’ grew up and learned about his surroundings. It also focuses on the life of his grandmother.

There are a few moments of adversity that the young Hiawatha faces in this poem, like fearing the sounds in the night and feeling confused about different stories. He learns about his world very quickly but always has more questions for his grandmother.

Life in a Love

by Robert Browning

‘Life in a Love’ by Robert Browning is an obsessive love poem in which a speaker tells the person they’re in love with that no matter how many times they’re torn down; they’re always going to get back up. 

The one thing that the speaker wants is outside his grasp, this poem implies. He faces adversity on a day-to-day basis as he tries to catch the woman he loves.

Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note

by Amiri Baraka

‘Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note’ (1961) is the titular poem of Amiri Baraka’s first collection of poems. This piece introduces a depressed narrator engrossed with the thoughts of dying.

This poem relates to adversity in several ways. The speaker seems to be facing challenging circumstances, which is reflected in their focus on the small and seemingly insignificant details of their surroundings.

The Suicide’s Soliloquy

by Abraham Lincoln

‘The Suicide’s Soliloquy’ is a dark poem about sorrow and suicide which some believe was written by the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

The narrator is experiencing extreme emotional and mental pain, which has driven him to contemplate suicide. He feels deserted by his friends and consigned to misery, leading him to seek escape through death.

Lady Lazarus

by Sylvia Plath

‘Lady Lazarus’ is one of the best poems of Sylvia Plath and an ideal example of Plath’s diction. This poem contains Plath’s poetic expression of her suicidal thoughts.

'Lady Lazarus' is a powerful example of how art can emerge from adversity. Plath's struggles with mental illness and personal demons are reflected in her work, which offers a stark and unflinching portrayal of the human condition.


by Gregory Corso

‘Marriage’ by Gregory Corso is a humorous and interesting poem about the pros and cons of getting married and everything that comes with it, like having children. 

The speaker knows that marriage is not easy; there is a great deal of adversity that one might have to plan for along the way. This only increases if one decides to have children.


by Hone Tuwhare

‘Monologue’ by Hone Tuwhare is a contemporary poem about the difficulties workers face when looking for a job and how temporary those jobs can be. 

The speaker faces adversity on a day-to-day basis as he struggles to find work, keep a job, and deal with the less-than-ideal working conditions of the factory he's in.

Sunlight on the Garden

by Louis MacNeice

‘Sunlight on the Garden’ by Louis MacNeice is a poem about change, death, and accepting that life eventually ends.

The poet's divorce and mortality are examples of adversity in his life.


by Amanda Gorman

‘Earthrise’ by Amanda Gorman is a powerful contemporary poem about climate change, the Apollo 8 mission to the moon, and the future of the Earth.

The fight to defeat climate change is rife with adversity. The poet knows that convincing everyone to get on board with certain important changes is one of the biggest issues.

Please Mrs. Butler

by Allan Ahlberg

‘Please Mrs. Butler’ by Allan Ahlberg is a children’s poem that conveys a frustrating and purposeless conversation between a student and their teacher. 

The student experiences some minor examples of adversity on a day to day basis.

The Ballad of Aunt Geneva

by Marilyn Nelson

‘The Ballad of Aunt Geneva’ by Marilyn Nelson is about a Black woman’s life, relationships, and work. It is based on local rumors and assumptions about her character.

It's clear that Geneva has faced a great deal of adversity in her life. The poem alludes to her financial struggles, relationship struggles, and the negative opinion the public seems to have of her.

School’s Out

by Amanda Gorman

‘School’s Out’ by Amanda Gorman is a powerful poem that explores the experiences of young people during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The young people the poet mentions in this poem were faced with a great deal of adversity that made their lives far more difficult than they needed to be.

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 Jet Ring Sent

by John Donne

‘A Jet Ring Sent’ by John Donne describes how a speaker’s beloved returned his promise ring. The speaker meditates on the nature of their relationship and how it is symbolized by the black ring. 

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.

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.

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