Memory Poems

As Marie Howe Said best, “Memory is a poet, not a historian.” Poetry about memory and nostalgia comes in many forms, from longing lyrics on past lovers, to odes on familiar places, to dirges honoring those who came before us.

Memory is one of the trickiest things about being human, as we can only sometimes control what we remember and what we forget. As such, it has long been a favorite topic and theme of poetry, as each line attempts to glean some insight into what it means to remember something and what it means to lose one’s memories.

The following poems offer a unique perspective on memory as they look back at the past from various perspectives, recalling sensations, events, people, places, and things that the speaker feels connected to, creating a web of time that lasts far beyond the poet.

Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey

by William Wordsworth

‘Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’ by William Wordsworth is a well-loved poem that describes a speaker’s return to a specific spot along the banks of the River Wye and his understanding of nature.

As one of the best poems in the English language, 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey' is a masterpiece that captures the sensations and feelings of remembering a place from long ago. Wordsworth's memory for this place, despite five years of absence, is constant, as he recalls its relaxing, serene landscape all the time, taking him back.

Five years have past; five summers, with the length

Of five long winters! and again I hear

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

With a soft inland murmur.—Once again

I wish I could remember that first day

by Christina Rossetti

‘I wish I could remember that first day’ by Christina Rossetti is also known as ‘First Day.’ It focuses on the speaker’s regret that she can’t remember more about her first love.

In this poem, the poet looks back on the past, only to find that she can no longer remember when she first met someone who was important to her, presumably her lover. As she tries to remember how this person met her, she despairs, wishing that she could recall the season, time of day, or any small detail.

I wish I could remember that first day,

   First hour, first moment of your meeting me,

   If bright or dim the season, it might be

Summer or winter for aught I can say;

In drear-nighted December

by John Keats

‘In drear-nighted December’ by John Keats describes the way memories of happier and warmer times impact one’s emotions in the coldest hours of December.

This is a poem about how, even when one is cold and miserable, happy memories of warmer places can keep one warm. Comparing humans to trees and brooks, the speaker concludes that humans cannot “steel” or “numb” their senses against the present or forget a better life they used to lead. 

In drear nighted December, 

   Too happy, happy tree, 

Thy branches ne'er remember 

   Their green felicity—


by Jean Bleakney

Jean Bleakney’s ‘Consolidation’ is a deeply personal poem about the act of rearranging the cowry shells that the speaker and her children gathered in the past.

'Consolidation' by Jean Bleakney is about a mother's memory of gathering cowrie shells from the shore with her children. The speaker describes how now, after the children have grown up, she strings together her memories like cowrie shells, reconstructing the past little by little every day.

Some sunny, empty afternoon

I’ll pool our decade’s worth

and more of cowrie shells

gathered from that gravel patch


by Amanda Gorman

‘Memorial’ by Amanda Gorman is a poem about the past and how poets are able to use their writing to help readers relive it.

Amanda Gorman's poem takes a critical look at how memory influences poetry. The speaker explains how poets, inspired by the muses, goddesses of Memory, "pound" the past into the listener. Thus, this poem equates poetry with memory and the past, emphasizing the power of storytelling as a form of remembrance.

When we tell a story.

We are living


In Memory of the Utah Stars

by William Matthews

‘In Memory of the Utah Stars’ captures the manner in which memories can provide us with both pleasure and pain.

The poet wished to ensure the team was never forgotten and the poem therefore represents a physical embodiment of the narrator's memories. The poem reminds the reader that memories, even positive ones, can be painful.

Each of them must have terrified

his parents by being so big, obsessive

and exact so young, already gone

and leaving, like a big tipper,

Yellow Stars and Ice

by Susan Stewart

‘Yellow Stars and Ice’ captures the unattainable nature of memory, even when it feels tantalizingly close at hand.

The poem's central topic is memory, most notably its innate contradiction. Our memories feel real and close at hand because we experienced them and, for a time, they were real. Practically though, they are far away and the distance between us and them grows every day.

I am as far as the deepest sky between clouds

and you are as far as the deepest root and wound,

and I am as far as a train at evening,

as far as a whistle you can't hear or remember.  

What My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

‘What My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why’ is an Italian sonnet about being unable to recall what made one happy in the past.

This poem is a classic, as it captures the haunting feeling of being unable to remember the people in one's past who were once so important. As the speaker attempts to recall her past lovers, she notices that she is too old for love now and has no memories to hold onto.

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,

I have forgotten, and what arms have lain

Under my head till morning; but the rain

Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh

In Memory of My Mother

by Patrick Kavanagh

Patrick Kavanagh’s ‘In Memory of My Mother’ is a reflection on the happy memories Kavanagh has of his mother after

'In Memory of My Mother' is a poem about how remembering someone who has passed away can distract one from the pain of loss and grief. Through recollections of his mother, Kavanaugh deliberately denies that she is dead, concluding that, while he can still remember her, she will always be alive and looking down on him.

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay

Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see

You walking down a lane among the poplars

On your way to the station, or happily

Sonnet 30

by William Shakespeare

Read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30, ‘When to the sessions of sweet silent thought,’ with a summary and complete analysis of the poem.

This sonnet is about how one can become consumed by memories, recalling regrets, lost friends, and wastes of time. However, the sonnet also touches on how a single memory of a dear friend can uplift a person and remove all of the sadnesses of other memories.

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past,

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.

Knows how to forget!

by Emily Dickinson

‘Knows how to forget!’ by Emily Dickinson describes forgetting and how hard it can be to put something out of one’s mind that’s emotionally scarring.

This poem is about the power of memory and how indelible it can be. The speaker explains that even philosophers, religious authorities, teachers, playwrights, scientists, mathematicians, and others, do not know how to erase a memory. Thus, in this poem, memory is all-powerful and beyond human control.

Knows how to forget!

But could It teach it?

Easiest of Arts, they say

When one learn how

But Not Forgotten

by Dorothy Parker

‘But Not Forgotten’ by Dorothy Parker speaks to the impact of one person’s memory on their past romantic partner. 

'But Not Forgotten' by Dorothy Parker is a short yet meaningful poem about how the speaker will never truly be apart from her lost lover as long as he remembers her. The power of memory, here, freezes the speaker in time, allowing her to overlook the pain of loss and rejection.

I think, no matter where you stray,

That I shall go with you a way.

Though you may wander sweeter lands,

You will not soon forget my hands,

The Forest

by Susan Stewart

‘The Forest’ by Susan Stewart is a complex, cyclical poem about how memories can give new life to things that no longer exist.

This poem predominantly explores how memory can impact us as we get older. While the things we recall may be long gone or completely changed, we can always return to the past through our memories. This ability to recollect things allows them to live on in an alternate reality, turning back time.

You should lie down now and remember the forest, 

for it is disappearing--

no, the truth is it is gone now 

and so what details you can bring back 

might have a kind of life.

Explore more poems about Memory

Anne Rutledge

by Edgar Lee Masters

‘Anne Rutledge’ by Edgar Lee Masters is an epitaph based on the life of someone who knew and loved Abraham Lincoln in her youth.

The speaker alludes to memories of the past in this text.

Jenny Kiss’d Me

by Leigh Hunt

‘Jenny Kiss’d Me’ by Leigh Hunt is a powerful declaration of happiness in the face of the passage of time. A great deal of joy can be found in a single happy memory, the speaker suggests. 

The speaker's memory of a single kiss with a woman named Jenny is a memory that helps him endure the many troubles associated with aging. This memory, he says, is always going to be there to make him feel some degree of happiness.

Chocolate Cake

by Michael Rosen

‘Chocolate Cake’ by Michael Rosen is an upbeat children’s poem that describes a child’s lack of control when it comes to his favorite dessert. 

This entire children's poem is a memory that the speaker recalls as an adult. In the poem, he was a child, probably around ten years old. Despite the passage of time, the speaker can still remember the events convincingly.

29 April 1989

by Sujata Bhatt

‘29 April 1989’ by Sujata Bhatt is a sweet, little piece about a mother’s sudden found pleasure in nature’s soggy musicality.

A Hot Noon in Malabar

by Kamala Das

The poem, ‘A Hot Noon in Malabar’, is taken from the collection of poems titled ‘Summer in Calcutta” (1965). It

A Memory

by Lola Ridge

‘A Memory’ by Lola Ridge describes a speaker’s memories of a specific emotional night she spent with the listener on the shore of a tropic sea.


by Edward Thomas

Adlestrop is based on a very specific and short event in the poet’s life. It describes an occasion when he

Alzheimer’s: The Wife

by C. K. Williams

‘Alzheimer’s: The Wife’ by C. K. Williams is a powerful and moving poem. In it, the poet depicts a woman suffering from Alzheimer’s and a few simple moments from her day.

Another Reluctance

by Annie Finch

‘Another Reluctance’ by Annie Finch is a beautiful short poem about a childhood experience. The speaker describes waiting for and watching chestnuts fall.

Anything Can Happen

by Seamus Heaney

‘Anything Can Happen’ depicts a contemporary anxiety while referring to a mythological past. The poem has four quatrains with no fixed rhyme-scheme.

Artist’s Life

by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

‘Artist’s Life’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox describes the personal and emotional connection a speaker has to Strauss’ composition, Artist’s Life. 

At Castle Boterel

by Thomas Hardy

‘At Castle Boterel’ was written in 1913. The poem remembers a certain moment in life that is associated with a deeply significant memory.

Autumn Valentine

by Dorothy Parker

‘Autumn Valentine’ by Dorothy Parker reveals two moments in the scope of the narrator’s pain — one when the pain was new and one when it had endured for a time in the shadows.

Barbed Wire

by Henry Taylor

‘Barbed Wire’ is a poem about the tragic death of a horse on a summer afternoon. This piece explores the quick, sudden death of the horse.

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