Betrayal Poems

Betrayal is a powerful theme in poetry, no matter how or when the poem was written. It’s an event that can inspire fury in even the most peaceful person and a topic that is nearly universally interesting to readers.

Many betrayal poems focus on relationships between two lovers, one of whom betrays their vows to the other. These poems usually include expressions of heartbreak, loss, hopelessness, anger, and in some cases, determination to get back at the person who broke their faith.

Betrayal poems aren’t always about relationships, though. It’s possible to find poems on this topic that explore faith and religion, families, jobs and careers, and more. This means that even if you’ve never been betrayed by someone you love, there’s likely a betrayal poem that feels quite close to an experience you are familiar with.

La Belle Dame sans Merci

by John Keats

‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ is Keats’ life and emotions set into verse. It is a story of unrequited love, illness, and the impossibility of being with whom one cares for when they are from different social classes.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,

Alone and palely loitering?

The sedge has withered from the lake,

And no birds sing.

The Confessional

by Robert Browning

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

This poem shows a devastating betrayal between a woman and a priest. Priests are depicted as holy men, trustworthy figures, who have good intentions for all, but in this story, the priest is the antagonist and kills the woman's lover. This particular betrayal is harsh, as the woman had no clue about possible betrayal, even if the readers did.

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,

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 discusses an abusive relationship's emotional toll on the female speaker. She is betrayed not only by her partner but by herself. At the end of the poem, she returns to her abuser, realizing that she will not be able to exit the cycle of abuse.

Stalemated their armies stood, with tottering banners:

She flung from a room

Still ringing with bruit of insults and dishonors

Eating Fried Chicken

by Linh Dinh

‘Eating Fried Chicken’ employs an unexpected experience as a way to explore privilege and injustice. It examines questions of guilt and morality through the lens of food availability.

The speaker has a sense that he is betraying his family and other people in the world when he enjoys fried chicken without regard for context. Something as simple as a meal becomes a microcosm of a much larger issue of privilege and justice. In some ways, the speaker feels that even by having access to this fried chicken, he has somehow betrayed those who have no such access.

I hate to admit this, brother, but there are times

When I’m eating fried chicken

When I think about nothing else but eating fried chicken,

Sonnet 138

by William Shakespeare

‘Sonnet 138,’ also known as ‘When my love swears that she is made of truth,’ is a poem about the lies at the heart of a relationship. It depicts the necessity of two lovers misleading one another. 

The sonnet knits an intricate spiral of betrayals within the realm of romantic relationships. Firstly, the speaker confesses that he is betrayed by his beloved, but he also betrays her. Moreover, he engages in self-betrayal as he continues to defend the façade of love by paradoxically trusting her lies.

When my love swears that she is made of truth,

I do believe her though I know she lies,

That she might think me some untutored youth,

Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.

My Last Duchess

by Robert Browning

‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning is a well-known dramatic monologue. It suggests that the speaker has killed his wife and will soon do the same to the next.

Betrayal in this poem is a one-sided interpretation by the Duke. He perceives his wife’s smiles and joys shared with others as betrayals, a violation of what he believes to be his exclusive rights to her emotions.

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

The Lovers of the Poor

by Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks’ scathing critique exposes Ladies’ insincere charity, highlighting social inequality and privilege.

This poem addresses the topic of betrayal through its critique of the Ladies from the Ladies' Betterment League. The poem exposes their betrayal of genuine charity, as their efforts are superficial and detached from the harsh realities of poverty. It highlights the consequences of their insincere actions, revealing a sense of betrayal towards the impoverished community's true needs.

arrive. The Ladies from the Ladies’ Betterment League

Arrive in the afternoon, the late light slanting

In diluted gold bars across the boulevard brag


by Edgar Allan Poe

‘Ulalume’ explores the depths of sorrow and the haunting impact of loss, as the speaker navigates a dark and mysterious landscape.

This poem explores the topic of betrayal through the speaker's sense of abandonment and loss of love. The references to the lost Ulalume and the haunting encounters with ghoulish elements evoke feelings of betrayal and sorrow. The poem's exploration of hidden secrets and unresolved mysteries further accentuates the theme of betrayal, adding depth to the emotional turmoil of the speaker.

The skies they were ashen and sober;

The leaves they were crispéd and sere—

The leaves they were withering and sere;

It was night in the lonesome October

Wolsey’s Farewell to His Greatness

by William Shakespeare

‘Wolsey’s Farewell to His Greatness’ by William Shakespeare is a set of lines found in Act III Scene 2 of Henry VIII, a famous history play. The lines are spoken by Cardinal Wolsey, one of the King’s closest advisors. 

The King interprets Wolsey's actions as a betrayal in 'Henry VIII.' This fact leads to Wolsey's newfound understanding that his life has changed for the worse and his career is over.

Farewell! a long farewell, to all my greatness!

This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth

The tender leaves of hope, to-morrow blossoms,

And bears his blushing honours thick upon him:

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. 

Thou art not so black as my heart,

    Nor half so brittle as her heart, thou art ;

What would'st thou say ? shall both our properties by thee be spoke,

    —Nothing more endless, nothing sooner broke?

Explore more poems about Betrayal

A Thousand Martyrs

by Aphra Behn

‘A Thousand Martyrs’ by Aphra Behn is a powerful exploration of faith, persecution, and the enduring strength of the human spirit.


by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Delilah’ by Carol Ann Duffy focuses on the story of Delilah. It illuminates her individuality and how she felt about Samson. 

Teach me, he said—

we were lying in bed—

how to care.

I nibbled the purse of his ear.

What do you mean?

Tell me more.

He sat up and reached for his beer

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:

Farewell, Ungrateful Traitor!

by John Dryden

‘Farewell, Ungrateful Traitor!’ by John Dryden swears off men and relationships. The speaker asserts that men are incapable of being truthful or loving as much as women.

First News from Villafranca

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

‘First News from Villafranca’ is a protest poem written in reaction to the Villafranca Armistice (11 July 1859) between Emperors Napoleon III of France and Francis Joseph I of Austria.

Peace, peace, peace, do you say?

  What! — with the enemy's guns in our ears?

  With the country's wrong not rendered back?

What! — while Austria stands at bay


by D.H. Lawrence

‘Perfidy’ by D.H. Lawrence describes a speaker’s depression over what he considers a betrayal on the part of the woman he loves. 

Sister Maude

by Christina Rossetti

Who told my mother of my shame,

Who told my father of my dear?

Oh who but Maude, my sister Maude,

Who lurked to spy and peer.

Sonnet 110

by William Shakespeare

‘Sonnet 110,’ also known as ‘Alas, ’tis true I have gone here and there,’ is a poem about infidelity and the speaker’s realization that the Fair Youth is the only one he wants. 

Alas! 'tis true, I have gone here and there,

And made my self a motley to the view,

Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,

Made old offences of affections new;

Sonnet 117

by William Shakespeare

‘Sonnet 117,’ also known as ‘Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all,’ is a poem that delves into the complexities of relationships. The poet’s speaker emphasizes everything he’s done wrong and makes use his beloved understands them all.

Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all,

Wherein I should your great deserts repay,

Forgot upon your dearest love to call,

Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day;

Sonnet 128

by William Shakespeare

‘Sonnet 128,’ also known as ‘How oft when thou, my music, music play’st,’ is a sensuous poem. In it, the speaker describes the way his mistress plays the harpsichord and how he longs to touch her.

How oft when thou, my music, music play'st,

Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds

With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway'st

The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,

Sonnet 139

by William Shakespeare

‘Sonnet 139,’ also known as ‘O, call not me to justify the wrong,’ expresses the speaker’s longing that the Dark Lady stop treating him so cruelly. By the end, he gives in and accepts his fate. 

O! call not me to justify the wrong

That thy unkindness lays upon my heart;

Wound me not with thine eye, but with thy tongue:

Use power with power, and slay me not by art,

Sonnet 140

by William Shakespeare

‘Sonnet 140,’ also known as ‘Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press,’ contains the speaker’s threats towards the Dark Lady. He says he will expose her affairs and flirtatious behavior if she doesn’t change her ways.

Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press

My tongue-tied patience with too much disdain;

Lest sorrow lend me words, and words express

The manner of my pity-wanting pain.

Sonnet 142

by William Shakespeare

‘Sonnet 142,’ also known as ‘Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate,’ is one of the sonnets Shakespeare wrote about the Dark Lady. It compares love and sin.

Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate,

Hate of my sin, grounded on sinful loving:

O! but with mine compare thou thine own state,

And thou shalt find it merits not reproving;

Sonnet 144

by William Shakespeare

‘Sonnet 144,’ also known as ‘Two loves I have of comfort and despair,’ expresses the speaker’s fears in regard to the Fair Youth’s purity. The poem is concerned with how he may be corrupted by the Dark Lady.

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,

Which like two spirits do suggest me still:

The better angel is a man right fair,

The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.

The Forced Recruit

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

‘The Forced Recruit’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning tells the very real story of a brave Italian man who was forced to fight against his country. 

In the ranks of the Austrian you found him,

He died with his face to you all;

Yet bury him here where around him

You honor your bravest that fall.

The Forsaken Merman

by Matthew Arnold

‘The Forsaken Merman’ by Matthew Arnold is a melancholy poem in which the speaker, a merman, grieves the loss of his human wife. He’s left alone with their children without the woman he loves.

The Lost Leader

by Robert Browning

In ‘The Lost Leader’, Browning criticises those who have abandoned liberal political ideologies and embraced the conservative lifestyle.

Just for a handful of silver he left us,

       Just for a riband to stick in his coat –

Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us,

       Lost all the others she lets us devote;

Void in Law

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

‘Void in Law’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning depicts the scuffle many Victorian women endured after getting married. The woman has been left alone with no real resources by a husband who prefers to spend time with his mistress.

Sleep, little babe, on my knee,

Sleep, for the midnight is chill,

And the moon has died out in the tree,

And the great human world goeth ill.

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