Coming of Age Poems

My Mother Would Be a Falconress

by Robert Duncan

‘My Mother Would Be a Falconress’ by Robert Duncan explores a son and mother’s relationship through the lens of a falcon breaking free from his handler.

This poem's main theme of mother and son relationships finds conflict in the son's resentment as he ages. While he was younger, he followed his mother's commands, but he grows angry and resentful of her domineering control, ultimately lashing out at her. The guilt from this event still haunts him, though, even as an independent adult.

My mother would be a falconress,

And I, her gay falcon treading her wrist,

would fly to bring back

from the blue of the sky to her, bleeding, a prize,

Explore more poems about Coming of Age

Personal Helicon

by Seamus Heaney

Heaney’s ‘Personal Helicon’ draws inspiration from his rural carefree childhood and intimate connection with nature.

The poem suggests that adult life cannot compare to the carefree existence of a child, to whom the world appears full of wonder. The narrator longs to experience those days again.

What now?

by Gary Soto

‘What Now?’ by Gary Soto is a contemporary poem that speaks to the universal experience of aging and learning.

Gary Soto's poem 'What Now?' addresses the theme of coming of age by depicting the speaker's transition from childhood to adulthood. It explores the loss of innocence and the shift in perspective that accompanies growing up. The poem reflects on the changing priorities and the practical concerns that replace the wonder of youth. Through lucid imagery and introspection, Soto captures the universal experience of navigating the complexities of maturity and finding one's place in the world.

Where did the shooting stars go?

They flit across my childhood sky

vAnd by my teens I no longer looked upward—

My face instead peered through the windshield

Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper

by Martín Espada

‘Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper’ contrasts two forms of labor and encourages the reader to consider the relationship between them.

Like many people from less affluent backgrounds, the narrator had to go out and work from a young age, thus quickening the end of their childhood. The reflective nature of the poem suggests it has taken years for them to recognize the lasting impact of that reality truly.

At sixteen, I worked after high school hours

at a printing plant

that manufactured legal pads:

The Dancing

by Gerald Stern

‘The Dancing’ by Gerald Stern is an emotionally complex poem that wrestles with feelings of joy and bittersweetness inspired by a fond memory.

Part of growing up is contending with the bittersweet differences between past and present. For the speaker, they have not yet let go of the past or are driven too much by their dissatisfaction with the present.

In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture

and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots

I have never seen a postwar Philco

with the automatic eye

My Grandmother’s Houses

by Jackie Kay

‘My Grandmother’s Houses’ by Jackie Kay is a thoughtful recollection of youth and a young speaker’s relationship with her eccentric grandmother, who is forced to move homes.

Much of the poem is concerned with the narrator's childhood, but remembered through the lens of an adult. Kay therefore layers memories with new experiences to convey the sense of aging.

She is on the second floor of a tenement.

From her front room window you see the cemetery.

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.

Coming of age is a very important theme in 'Hiawatha's Childhood.' It describes how the protagonist grew up and what he learned about when he was a child and a young man.

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,

By yhr shining Big-Sea-Water,

Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,

Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.

The History Teacher

by Billy Collins

In ‘The History Teacher,’ the titular educator neglects to teach his students about the cold, hard realities of the past in order to protect their innocence from reality.

Trying to protect his students' innocence

he told them the Ice Age was really just

the Chilly Age, a period of a million years

when everyone had to wear sweaters.

The Good Teachers

by Carol Ann Duffy

‘The Good Teachers’ by Carol Ann Duffy describes the school life of a young girl who has strong opinions about which teachers are good and which are not.

You run round the back to be in it again

No bigger than your thumbs, those virtuous women

size you up from the front row. Soon now,

Miss Ross will take you for double History.

Childhood Ideogram

by Larry Levis

‘Childhood Ideogram’ by Larry Levis immerses readers in a nostalgic journey, where vivid imagery and contemplative reflections unravel the complexities of identity, memory, and the transient nature of time.

In this poem, the theme of coming of age is addressed through the speaker's reflection on their past and the passage of time. The poem captures the speaker's transition from childhood to adulthood, as they grapple with memories, loss, and the longing to understand their place in the world. It explores the complexities of growing up, the shifting perceptions of self, and the impact of formative experiences on one's journey towards maturity.

I lay my head sideways on the desk,

My fingers interlocked under my cheekbones,

My eyes closed. It was a three-room schoolhouse,

White, with a small bell tower, an oak tree

The Beach

by Robert Graves

‘The Beach’ by Robert Graves is a poem about the contrast between childhood innocence and an adult mindset. The poem depicts this dichotomy by demonstrating the difference between how a boatman and a group of children interact with the ocean.

The theme of coming of age is subtly implied in the poem as the children learn about the dangers and realities of the world through the words of the boatman.

Louder than gulls the little children scream

Whom fathers haul into the jovial foam;

But others fearlessly rush in, breast high,

Laughing the salty water from their mouthes—

Goblin Market

by Christina Rossetti

‘Goblin Market’ is one of Christina Rossetti’s most famous and well-studied poems. The symbolism in the poem has led to a number of interpretations. One could argue that it is a metaphor for drug addiction or female purity.

The poem can be read as a coming-of-age story as Laura and Lizzie navigate the transition from childhood innocence to adult understanding. The poem explores the complexities of growing up and the challenges of finding one's place in the world.

Morning and evening

Maids heard the goblins cry:

“Come buy our orchard fruits,

Come buy, come buy:

Winter Stars

by Larry Levis

‘Winter Stars’ by Larry Levis tries to reconcile the estranged relationship between a son and their dying father.

The speaker of the poem confesses near the end of the poem they misinterpreted the winter stars they used to justify their estrangement from their father. Highlighting the ways children rationalize their treatment by parents and then internalize to replicate it. The speaker also reveals they left home at a young age and never went back, a sign of the lasting enmity between father and son. But as they've grown older (and especially now at the end of their father's life) they understand how much was wasted in never trying to reconnect and forgive.

My father once broke a man’s hand

Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,

Rubén Vásquez, wanted to kill his own father

With a sharpened fruit knife, & he held

From My Life: A name trimmed with colored ribbons

by Lyn Hejinian

‘A name trimmed with colored ribbons’ by Lyn Hejinian is a Language Poem that requires the listener to use their imagination and creativity to reconstruct and interpret the poet’s childhood fantasies.

'A name trimmed with colored ribbons,' focusing on imagination, play, and creativity represents a poet looking back and attempting to reclaim her inner child. As the poet looks back, it is clear that she has already come of age and matured into a poet, but in her younger years, she seems to have still been a poet of a different sort.

A name trimmed      They are seated in the shadows

with colored              husking corn, shelling peas. Houses

ribbons                          of wood set in the ground. I try to

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 poet deals with the theme of coming-of-age in this poem. She suggests that the many events in a young person's life that are important for growing up were impacted by COVID and that anyone can do nothing to get those moments back.

The announcement

Swung blunt as an axe-blow:

All students were to leave

Campus as soon as possible.

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 poem implies that the student in question should grow up and solve problems for themselves.

Please Mrs Butler
This boy Derek Drew
Keeps copying my work, Miss.
What shall I do?

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 poem is written from the perspective of a man who, as a child, had an uncontrollable love for chocolate cake. He's grown up now but still loves chocolate cake a great deal.

I love chocolate cake.

And when I was a boy

I loved it even more.


by Sharon Olds

’35/10’ by Sharon Olds is a moving poem about the poet’s relationship with her daughter. The latter is coming into her own while the former is growing old.

All the world’s a stage

by William Shakespeare

‘All the world’s a stage’ is a well-known monologue found in William Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’. This speech of Jaques explores the seven ages of man and their implications.

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

Barn Owl

by Gwen Harwood

‘Barn Owl’ by Gwen Harwood is a powerful poem about losing one’s innocence. While using symbolism, the poet depicts a child sneaking off to shoot a barn owl.

Boat Stealing: The Prelude (Extract)

by William Wordsworth

In the extract of ‘The Prelude’, Wordsworth presents two contrasting ideas about nature to allow the reader to decide what nature means on a personal level.

One summer evening (led by her) I found

A little boat tied to a willow tree

Within a rocky cove, its usual home.

Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in

Breaking the Surface

by Jean Bleakney

‘Breaking the Surface’ by Jean Bleakney is about the “art of skimming,” an extended metaphor for the art of writing poetry.

Brendon Gallacher

by Jackie Kay

The best stories, it is often said, contain within them elements of truth. A story that is entirely fictional is

Elegy V: His Picture

by John Donne

‘Elegy V’ by John Donne is addressed to the poet’s lover. He asks her to accept him when he returns, despite the fact that he’s going to look and act differently.

Here take my picture; though I bid farewell

Thine, in my heart, where my soul dwells, shall dwell.

'Tis like me now, but I dead, 'twill be more

When we are shadows both, than 'twas before.

Going to See King Lear

by Jackie Kay

‘Going to See King Lear’ by Jackie Kay describes what happens when a young girl is taken to see a traumatizing play by her mother.

Got You

by Jackie Kay

‘Got You’ by Jackie Kay is an interesting poem about sibling jealousy and the strength of sisterhood. The speaker is a discouraged child who believes her sister is superior to her in every way.

High Windows

by Philip Larkin

‘High Windows’ by Philip Larkin discusses the way that relationships, sex, and societal standards change from one generation to the next. 

Into My Own

by Robert Frost

Robert Frost’s ‘Into My Own’ explores the concepts of maturity and growing up. The poet delves into the exploration of childhood and self.

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,

So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,

Were not, as 'twere, the merest mask of gloom,

But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

Is it Still the Same

by Eavan Boland

‘Is it Still the Same’ is a brilliant, affirming poem that explores memory and its relationship to a particular place and time.

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