Disappointment Poems

Maud Muller

by John Greenleaf Whittier

‘Maud Muller’ by John Greenleaf Whittier is a classic narrative ballad that recounts how the poor peasant, Maud, and an urban judge fantasize about getting married and living together. However, neither of them ever takes action, which fills their lives with regret.

Both Maud Muller and the judge in this poem keep their love for each other a secret, but they are constantly disappointed by reality and use each other as a mental escape from their dissatisfying lives. Now that they are older, all they can hope is that, maybe, in another life, they can finally be happy with what they have.

God pity them both! and pity us all,

Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

You Can Have It

by Philip Levine

‘You Can Have It’ is a poem about a man’s loss of enthusiasm towards life and his desire to regain the things and people that made it more colorful. The poem conveys this message through the persona’s narrative, set in Detroit in the year 1948.

From the very beginning, the atmosphere of the poem carries dark undertones of disappointment. Readers can feel, from the speaker's description, that his current situation is far below his expectations. The speaker's disappointment in his situation permeates the town as well.

My brother comes home from work

and climbs the stairs to our room.

I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop

one by one. You can have it, he says.

Love of Country

by Sir Walter Scott

‘Love of Country’ presents a world in which patriotism is the most important virtue of all and the lack of it is unforgivable.

The narrator's disappointment in those who fail to love their nation as much as the narrator feels they ought to is clear for all to see.

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,

Who never to himself hath said,

This is my own, my native land!

Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd,

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The Tables Turned

by William Wordsworth

In ‘The Tables Turned,’ Wordsworth invites us to break free from the constraints of modern society and rediscover the natural world’s beauty and wisdom.

Wordsworth critiques what many scholars live for in terms of analyzing knowledge in books. He is disappointed in the over-analyzed terminology and the complicated concepts that distract from the more considerable informational achievements one might be able to accomplish if not so stuck in the details. He mentions that books are too narrow and often do not show the truth about humanity, but that nature shows the reality of the human spirit. The reader feels Wordsworth's disappointment that they are reading the poem instead of watching a bird on a tree branch.

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;

Or surely you'll grow double:

Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;

Why all this toil and trouble?

an afternoon nap

by Arthur Yap

‘an afternoon nap’ by Arthur Yap explores the lacunae in the modern education system and how it results in anxiety and stress in students.

In this piece, Yap delves into a mother's disappointment with her son's mediocre academic grades.

the ambitious mother across the road

is at it again. proclaming her goodness

she beats the boy. shouting out his wrongs, with raps

she begins with his mediocre report-book grades.

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 the female speaker's disappointment in her relationship and herself. She analyzes her behavior and reactions and is unhappy with what she discovers. But, despite this, she doesn't feel like there is any chance for her to escape the relationship or change what she's disappointed about.

Stalemated their armies stood, with tottering banners:

She flung from a room

Still ringing with bruit of insults and dishonors

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.

The speaker's disappointment in life is the most palpable aspect of the poem. For them, the only way to numb the sting of such disappointment is to stay obsessively busy with their daily chores. It's this disappointment that's made life appear dull and robbed the speaker of any kind of passion for the future.

I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl—

Life's little duties do—precisely—

As the very least

Were infinite—to me—

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.

The speaker has a clear disappointment in regards to their present circumstances. Down to the very shops they wander in and an inability to find the radio from their memory or to even just hear the music that emanated from it. To the speaker the past is currently preferable to their 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

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.

Much of the emotion and themes conveyed in the poem are done so covertly. Only after identifying the various pieces of context do they appear, in particular, the speaker's obvious disappointment of having waited for someone who never appeared. Although ambiguous, it's not so far-fetched to assume it to be a lover. Adding a whole other degree of lovelorn tension and melancholy to inform its sparse images.

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.

For Your Lanes, My Country

by Faiz Ahmad Faiz

In ‘For Your Lanes, My Country,’ Faiz Ahmad Faiz passionately addresses the social and political struggles of Pakistan through powerful imagery and metaphors, urging its people towards a more just and equal society.

In this poem, the poet addresses disappointment through the contrast between the speaker's love for his country and the harsh realities of life under an oppressive regime. The poem suggests that the speaker is disappointed in his country's current state as he observes the loss of dignity and pride among its people, the oppression of lovers, and the lack of justice and representation.

For your lanes, my country,

I can sacrifice all I have

But the custom these days is

No one walks with head held high.

The Hand That Signed the Paper

by Dylan Thomas

‘The Hands that Signed the Paper’ is a war protest poem that derides the appalling apathy and ruthlessness of the rulers toward ordinary citizens.

This poem is about disappointment as it very aptly represent the dejection that an ordinary person feels toward their head of states, who are full of themselves and don't show any sympathy for dying people.

The hand that signed the paper felled a city;

Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,

Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;

These five kings did a king to death.

The Machinist, Teaching His Daughter to Play the Piano

by B.H. Fairchild

‘The Machinist, Teaching His Daughter to Play the Piano’ by B.H. Fairchild is a free verse poem about how the creative process can connect a father and daughter.

The machinist, in this poem, must reconcile with the fact that he has given up on his dreams but must work hard to provide his daughter with more freedom and opportunity. Throughout most of the poem, the father is silent and rough, reflecting on the past when he still felt that he could have used his hands for more than working metal.

The brown wrist and hand with its raw knuckles and blue nails

          packed with dirt and oil, pause in mid-air,

the fingers arched delicately,

After Killing a Spider

by Masaoka Shiki

‘After Killing a Spider’ by Masaoka Shiki is a thoughtful poem. It describes the negative and dark effects of killing a spider.

The poem evokes a sense of disappointment in the speaker's actions. The act of killing the spider, while seemingly insignificant, has caused the speaker to feel a sense of loss and sadness. The speaker is disappointed in themselves for taking the spider's life, and the realization of the spider's importance and fragility causes a sense of regret.

After killing

a spider, how lonely I feel

The Virgins

by Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott’s poem ‘The Virgins’ gives a holistic view of the life, economy, and culture of one of the Virgin Islands of the US, Saint Croix.

This Derek Walcott piece is about a disappointed and disillusioned native speaker who finds it difficult to regain hope after noticing the present state of Caribbean islands.

Down the dead streets of sun-stoned Frederiksted,

the first free port to die for tourism,

strolling at funeral pace, I am reminded

of life not lost to the American dream;


by Richard de Zoysa

The poem ‘Lepidoptera’ is a metaphorical representation of a mentally ill mind, likened to a broken butterfly wing. The poet is imploring society to support those with mental illness.

In this poem, disappointment is addressed through the use of vivid and evocative language that conveys the tragic consequences of mental illness. The poet suggests that society's attempts to help or control the vulnerable often end up causing more harm than good. The narrator's sense of powerlessness in the face of mental illness underscores the importance of empathy and understanding. The poem emphasizes the fragility of the mind and the importance of treating it with care and compassion, highlighting the disappointment that can arise from a lack of empathy and understanding.

On broken butterfly wing,

your crippled mind fluttered into my schoolroom. Failed. And died.

I couldn’t do a thing to stir its organs

of poor maimed sense to life again.

What Work Is

by Philip Levine

‘What Work Is’ by Philip Levine attempts to reconcile the speaker’s perceptions of what work is versus the tormenting experience of waiting for it.

One of the poem's themes centers on disappointment, which Levine achingly illustrates through the scenery described in the poem. The falling rain and perpetual waiting create a limbo of sorts that soddens the speaker's thoughts with their depression. All they can think about is their brother's experiences with such waiting and the inevitable disappointment that it ends with.

We stand in the rain in a long line

waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.

You know what work is—if you’re

old enough to read this you know what

Polar Exploration

by Stephen Spender

‘Polar Exploration’ reflects upon peaceful isolation and urban life, particularly how the latter appears to make the former impossible.

The urban world of the second stanza is shown to be a disappointment to the narrator, who longs for the calmness of exploration, even with its comparative hardships.

Our single purpose was to walk through snow

With faces swung to their prodigious North

Like compass iron. As clerks in whited Banks

With bird-claw pens column virgin paper


The Nightingale

by Philip Sidney

‘The Nightingale’ is a unique love-lyric that exploits the classical myth of Philomel to morph the personal rue of a lovelorn heart into a superb piece of poetry.

It can be said that the three characters of the poem, Philomela, Procne and Tereus got new life and among them Philomela's transformation was of the worth. Disappointment emerges in the poem as Philomela is with her sister's husband and Procne with her husband.

O Philomela fair, O take some gladness,

That here is juster cause of plaintful sadness:

Thine earth now springs, mine fadeth;

Thy thorn without, my thorn my heart invadeth.

Be Drunk

by Charles Baudelaire

‘Be Drunk’ by Charles Baudelaire is a stirring poem meant to incite the reader to passion about life.

Baudelaire presents being drunk as the only alternative remedy and recourse to time's crushing weight. Although the poem is ambiguous about what exactly it is about time that breaks people so easily, one interpretation might focus on life's brevity and the disappointment that can elicit amongst those who believe they might be wasting time. Either way, it's clear that the speaker views any time spent not drunk on life as time wasted, which is in itself a disappointment.

You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it—it's the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.


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.

In this poem, Bleakney tries to find a sense of harmony from her disappointments regarding her present.

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 delves into the speaker's profound disappointment as she goes through the realization of her unfulfilled ambition to act in a theatrical production. In the line, "Failing to find, what sent me searching," the poet poignantly captures the disappointment that grips the protagonist, stemming from her inability to discern her true purpose.

My finger

Stroke old artwork,

Programs I designed once to

Align myself with small theatre companies

Not my Best Side

by U.A. Fanthorpe

‘Not my Best Side’ by U. A. Fanthorpe depicts a humorous transformation of the dynamic between the characters in Paolo Uccello’s Saint George and the Dragon. 

The dragon in the poem's first section expresses disappointment in their portrayal in the artwork. Later, the woman expresses her disappointment in her male rescuer.

Not my best side, I'm afraid.

The artist didn't give me a chance to

Pose properly, and as you can see,

Poor chap, he had this obsession with


by Hilaire Belloc

‘Fatigue’ uses humor in order to subvert the readers’ expectations of a poet and their ambitions by seeming to value money over love and art.

The narrator's disappointment is mainly because love and poetry seem to have failed to bring them consistent joy. This is perhaps a surprising admission for an artistic person like Belloc, implying the poem may be tongue-in-cheek.

I'm tired of Love: I'm still more tired of Rhyme.

But Money gives me pleasure all the time.

A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto

by Czeslaw Milosz

‘A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto’ by Czeslaw Milosz presents a description of the Warsaw Ghetto from the eyes of a “poor Christian.”

This poem is an incredibly impactful discussion of the Holocaust through (some) challenging images. The poet asks readers to see the events of WWII through a very specific lense, and one can't help but interpret that the speaker feels disappointment toward the reactions of the rest of the world.

Bees build around red liver,

Ants build around black bone.

It has begun: the tearing, the trampling on silks,

It has begun: the breaking of glass, wood, copper, nickel, silver, foam

Afternoon in School: The Last Lesson

by D.H. Lawrence

‘Afternoon in School: The Last Lesson’ by D.H. Lawrence is told from the perspective of a teacher exhausted with his thoughtless class of students.

When will the bell ring, and end this weariness?

How long have they tugged the leash, and strained apart

My pack of unruly hounds: I cannot start

Them again on a quarry of knowledge they hate to hunt,

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.

There is a certain disappointment the girl has for her mother, as the girl thinks her mother should have married another blacksmith rather than the girl's father. It's a curious kind of a disappointment because the girl would not have been born if her mother had not married her father.

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


by Hilda Doolittle

‘Circe’ by Hilda Doolittle is a poem that gives voice to Circe, a goddess and master of magical enchantments. Despite her power, she laments that she cannot control love.

In this poem, Circe is disappointed that Odysseus has left her. While she talks a lot about how powerful and influential she is, this self-aggrandizement only points out that she could not control her love, nor could she keep her lover from leaving her. With no way to change things, she must sit and pine for him, her power useless over him.

It was easy enough

to bend them to my wish,

it was easy enough

to alter them with a touch,

Death in the Arctic

by Robert Service

Robert Service’s ‘Death in the Arctic’ tells a bleak, dark story in such an evocative way that even after the poem finishes, the reader can’t help but wonder for more.

This theme is explored in various ways, from personal reflections on loss and grief to broader meditations on the human condition and the inevitability of disappointment in life.

I took the clock down from the shelf;

"At eight," said I, "I shoot myself."

It lacked a minute of the hour,

And as I waited all a-cower,

Head of English

by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Head of English’ by Carol Ann Duffy is made up of a jealous monologue from the perspective of the head of an English program.

Today we have a poet in the class.

A real live poet with a published book.

Notice the inkstained fingers, girls. Perhaps

we're going to witness verse hot from the press.

Who knows. Please show your appreciation

by clapping. Not too loud. Now

On Joy and Sorrow

by Kahlil Gibran

‘On Joy and Sorrow’ by Kahlil Gibran is a meditative, insightful, poetic essay that makes interesting implications about the inseparable emotions of joy and sorrow.

'On Joy and Sorrow' is about the necessity of disappointment. Gibran proposes that one must feel sorrow if one ever wants to feel joy, as the two emotions are indelibly connected. As such, any disappointment, loss, or sorrow offers the promise of joy.

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

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