Past Poems

These nostalgic and reflective poems journey into the realms of memory and history. They contemplate the power of the past to shape the present and influence the future.

These verses may evoke longing, regret, or appreciation for bygone days. Poets use language to transport readers to moments and places long gone, immersing them in the essence of the past.

These poems become bridges between yesterday and today, reminding us that the echoes of the past continue to resonate within us.


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.

This piece portrays how the past still lingers in the present and makes one do something about it to move forward.

Some sunny, empty afternoon

I’ll pool our decade’s worth

and more of cowrie shells

gathered from that gravel patch


by Jennie S. Redling

‘Scent’ by Jennie S. Redling is a reflective poem that tells us about the speaker’s unrealized ambition that is causing her agony.

The poem accentuates the significance of the past, as the speaker is consumed by reflections on her past desires and how they now seem unattainable with age. It portrays the speaker's contemplation of what she once aspired for in life, now tinged with a sense of impossibility. The poem also conveys a sense of nostalgia and resignation as the speaker grapples with the passage of time and the fading of once-cherished dreams.

My finger

Stroke old artwork,

Programs I designed once to

Align myself with small theatre companies


by T.S. Eliot

‘Marina’ presents the joy of the spiritual awakening of a lost individual, offering hope to the readers living in a desolate modern world.

The poem reflects on the complexities of the past by contemplating lost times and nostalgia with the significance of the past in the present. Eliot often emphasizes the relevance of the past and its everlasting presence in the present and future.

What seas what shores what grey rocks and what islands

What water lapping the bow

And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing through the fog

What images return

Another Insane Devotion

by Gerald Stern

‘Another Insane Devotion’ by Gerald Stern is about a man reflecting on his life experiences. His memories, while not always easily understood, help him see the value of the choices he has made.

The past plays a crucial role in this poem as it fuels the man's relationship with his memories. After seeing a cat, he's inspired to revisit memories of a past love. Although the man's situation is quite specific, it's very likely that readers from all walks of life are going to connect to the poem.

This was gruesome—fighting over a ham sandwich

with one of the tiny cats of Rome, he leaped

on my arm and half hung on to the food and half

hung on to my shirt and coat.


by Jericho Brown

‘Duplex’ by Jericho Brown explores physical and mental abuse, looking at how memory can impact a person.

The poem is deeply rooted in the speaker's memories of the past, particularly their experiences with love and family. The repetition of the burgundy car serves as a symbol of these memories and the ways in which they continue to shape the speaker's sense of self and home.

A poem is a gesture toward home.

It makes dark demands I call my own.

Memory makes demands darker than my own:

My last love drove a burgundy car.

The Hill We Climb

by Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman’s poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ is a moving depiction of the United States as it was on the cusp of President Biden’s inauguration in 2021. 

The past also plays an important role in this poem. The poet alludes to past problems, the country's mistakes, and how the past can inform the future.

When day comes we ask ourselves,

where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry,

a sea we must wade.


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.

This poem alludes to, but never fully elaborates on, an event in the past that fueled the speaker's unending distaste for life. Readers will have to imagine what exactly that event was and how powerful it must've been to change the speaker's life so completely.

I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl—

Life's little duties do—precisely—

As the very least

Were infinite—to me—

At My Grandmother’s

by David Malouf

‘At My Grandmother’s’ by David Malouf explores the haunting presence of the past and the interplay between memory, time, and mortality.

The poem regards the past as a haunting and inescapable presence. Through vivid imagery and introspective reflections, the poem explores the weight of ancestral history and the impact of past experiences on the present. The ghosts of children summoned from gilded frames represent the enduring presence of the past, gazing across the wreckage of years. The poem suggests that the past holds a profound influence on one's perception of time, memory, and identity.

An afternoon, late summer, in a room

Shuttered against the bright, envenomed leaves;

An under-water world, where time, like water

Was held in the wide arms of a gilded clock,

The Simple Truth

by Philip Levine

‘The Simple Truth’ by Philip Levine is a thoughtful narrative poem that explores life’s “simple truths” and how fundamental they are to our understanding of the world. 

'The Simple Truth' is a poem steeped in the past, evoking memories of a simpler time in the speaker's life. It also reminds readers of the fundamental memories that make someone who they are.

I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes,

took them home, boiled them in their jackets

and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.

Then I walked through the dried fields

Explore more poems about Past

The Flag Goes By

by Henry Holcomb Bennett

‘The Flag Goes By’ by Henry Holcomb Bennett is a patriotic American poem that focuses on the symbolism of the American flag. It encourages those reading to respect the flag as a symbol. 

One of the central ideas that the speaker sees the American flag representing is the past. When they see the flag, they are reminded of war, sacrifice, and loss.

Hats off!

Along the street there comes

A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums,

A dash of color beneath the sky:

Hats off!

The flag is passing by!

3 November 1984

by Sujata Bhatt

In ‘3 November 1984,’ Indian-English poet Sujata Bhatt shows how history plays a vital role in the process of writing poetry, and their interconnectedness.

I won’t buy

The New York Times today.

I can’t. I’m sorry.

But when I walk into the bookstore

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.


by W.S. Merwin

‘Air’ appears in W.S. Merwin’s 1963 collection of poetry, The Moving Target. This piece is about the personified air, introspecting on its role in nature.

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.

As I drive to the junction of lane and highway,

   And the drizzle bedrenches the waggonette,

I look behind at the fading byway,

   And see on its slope, now glistening wet,


by Eavan Boland

‘Cityscape’ by Eavan Boland is a complex, allusion-filled poem that describes Dublin and the Blackrock Baths, and presents contrasting images of past and present. 

Diving into the Wreck

by Adrienne Rich

‘Diving into the Wreck’ by Adrienne Rich is an unforgettable poem. It uses diving as a metaphor to describe the fight for equal rights.

First having read the book of myths,

and loaded the camera,

and checked the edge of the knife-blade,


by Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott’s poem ‘Ebb’ is about a car journey by the shore and comments on aging, industrialization, and the past.

Ecce Puer

by James Joyce

‘Ecce Puer’ was published in 1932 and it is featured in Collected Poems. Joyce wrote this poem in order to mourn the recent death of his father, John Stanislaus Joyce.

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:

Fairer through Fading — as the Day

by Emily Dickinson

‘Fairer through Fading — as the Day’ by Emily Dickinson describes the sun and the value of all things. She uses the day as a symbol for what’s lost and will come again.

Fairer through Fading — as the Day

Into the Darkness dips away —

Half Her Complexion of the Sun —

Hindering — Haunting — Perishing —

For Nanabhai Bhatt

by Sujata Bhatt

‘For Nanabhai Bhatt’ is about the poet Sujata Bhatt’s grandfather, Nanabhai Bhatt, who was an educationist and activist active during the Indian independence movement.

In this dream my grandfather

comes to comfort me.

He stands apart


For Sidney Bechet

by Philip Larkin

‘For Sidney Bechet’ is a poetic tribute to Sidney Bechet, one of the early jazz maestros that poet Philip Larkin admired the most.

That note you hold, narrowing and rising, shakes

Like New Orleans reflected on the water,

And in all ears appropriate falsehood wakes,

Frederick Douglass

by Robert Hayden

‘Frederick Douglass’ by Robert Hayden honors Douglass and speaks about a future in which all people, according to Douglass’ ideas of love and logic, will be treated equally without question.


by Hone Tuwhare

‘Friend’ by Hone Tuwhare discusses a friendship that has fallen into ruin through the passage of years.

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