Giving Up Poems

Poems exploring the theme of giving up offer a captivating subject for analysis. These verses delve into the intricacies of human emotions, revealing the delicate balance between hope and resignation.

By examining the nuances of surrender, these poems illuminate the fragility of the human spirit and its responses to adversity. They artfully encapsulate the depths of despair, the weight of unfulfilled dreams, and the complexities of accepting defeat.

Studying poems about giving up provides a valuable opportunity to analyze the rhetorical strategies, literary devices, and thematic elements employed by poets to convey the multifaceted human experience.


by Chinua Achebe

‘Dereliction’ by Chinua Achebe is an ambiguous poem in which three speakers elaborate on the action of, a probable consequence of, and probable pardon for, failing to fulfil one’s duties.

Giving up is the core of the poem, though not in the normal sense. The entire poem focuses on the act of, the possible consequence of, and possible pardon fo,r giving up on handling a task, especially one that was entrusted to the person in question.

I quit the carved stool

in my father’s hut to the swelling

chant of saber-tooth termites

raising in the pith of its wood

a white-bellied stalagmite

On A Journey

by Hermann Hesse

‘On A Journey’ by Hermann Hesse is a poem that seeks to provide both comfort and solace to those who find themselves demoralized by life’s journeys.

One of the topics in this poem by Hermann Hesse is the idea of giving up. This is exactly what the speaker appears to be cautioning their companion against throughout the poem, attempting to raise their spirits so they can complete their journey. As a result, the poem is deeply moving and uplifting, a rarity amongst the poet's work.

Don't be downcast, soon the night will come,

When we can see the cool moon laughing in secret

Over the faint countryside,

And we rest, hand in hand.

Up in the Wind

by Edward Thomas

‘Up in the Wind’ captures a public house history with the nature surrounding it, and how it impacts others.

While the girl rants and complains about all the wrongs public house has done to nature and how she wishes it would disappear, she also mentions she will die there one day, not having a want to leave. She does give up in this way, as she makes no steps towards improving her mindset or situation.

I could wring the old thing's neck that put it there!

A public-house! it may be public for birds,

Squirrels and suchlike, ghosts of charcoal-burners

I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl

by Emily Dickinson

‘I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl’ by Emily Dickinson is a deeply melancholic poem that elucidates the ways in which people try to go on living when they’ve lost all love of life.

Although the speaker sees no hope in the future, they resolve not to give up on life altogether. However sad it may be, they withstand by focusing on their daily lives. They don't voice it, but there's also the possibility that the speaker is also thinking of their loved ones. If they're willing to suffer in silence for their benefit, then it would be understandable that it also contributes to their decision to go on living.

I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl—

Life's little duties do—precisely—

As the very least

Were infinite—to me—

Velocity Of Money

by Allen Ginsberg

‘Velocity Of Money’ by Allen Ginsberg uses irony and satire to make a powerful critique on the forces of capitalism.

The poem ends with the speaker essentially resigning any hope that they might be able to reverse their coming eviction. This contrasts greatly with the poem's opening lines which are enthused and excited. But now it is clear there is no stopping the velocity of money, it is far too powerful a force. As a result, the poem ends in tragic surrender.

I’m delighted by the velocity of money as it whistles through the windows

of Lower East Side

Delighted by skyscrapers rising the old grungy apartments falling on

84th Street

The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance (translated by Ezra Pound)

by Li Bai

‘The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance’ (translated by Ezra Pound) by Li Bai captures the lovelorn yearning of a woman waiting for her lover late at night in a picturesque scene of melancholic beauty.

One of the many ambiguities in the poem is the speaker's attitude towards whoever they were waiting for at the end of the poem. Li Bai's original title refers to the speaker's words as a lament, while Pound's characterize them as a grievance. Yet both emphasize that they continue to look out their window, perhaps in search of the person they were waiting for.

The jewelled steps are already quite white with dew,

It is so late that the dew soaks my gauze stockings,

And I let down the crystal curtain

And watch the moon through the clear autumn.

Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand

by Walt Whitman

‘Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand’ by Walt Whitman presents itself as a declaration of how best to engage with the poet’s ardently intimate verses.

One of the curious aspects of this Whitman poem is the way the speaker seems to discourage further reading. Of course, the poet doesn't want everyone who picks up their poetry to just give up. Instead, the poem is a challenge and a set of guidelines for how to experience his poetry. Whitman is of the mind that if you're not going to do something the right way then you might as well hold off on doing it at all.

Whoever you are holding me now in hand,

Without one thing all will be useless,

I give you fair warning before you attempt me further,

I am not what you supposed, but far different.

Crossing the Swamp

by Mary Oliver

Amidst the swamp’s trials, bones knock for foothold, revealing resilience, transformation, and growth through struggle.

This poem indirectly addresses giving up through the speaker's unwavering determination to navigate challenges. The struggle for a foothold and mind hold portrays resilience in the face of difficulties, suggesting a refusal to give up. The metaphor of the "poor dry stick" given another chance echoes the theme of perseverance and the choice to keep striving despite setbacks.

Here is the endless

wet thick

cosmos, the center

of everything—the nugget

She rose to His Requirement—dropt

by Emily Dickinson

‘She rose to His Requirement – dropt’ by Emily Dickinson speaks to the lack of freedom and respect women had in Dickinson’s time. It emphasizes the confining nature of marriage and society’s expectations for a married woman.

She rose to His Requirement—dropt

The Playthings of Her Life

To take the honorable Work

Of Woman, and of Wife—

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