Identity Poems

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.

This poem presents identity as a state of flux that is constantly evolving and changing, even as it appears to remain the same. This is supported by the title, as stars last millennia while ice can melt in a few moments.

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.  

Explore more poems about Identity

“Why did you come” (#1 from Hermetic Definition: ‘Red Rose and a Beggar’)

by Hilda Doolittle

‘Why did you come’ by Hilda Doolittle is a free-verse poem about love, self-criticism, aging, and the human inability to control judgments and desires.

At the crux of "Why did you come" is the speaker's relationship with herself. She treats herself very critically, fearing that others will judge her for developing an attraction to a younger person. She seems angry with herself for even having amorous feelings, seeing as she is infertile and older. Despite these emotions, she resigns herself to the fact that love cannot be controlled by logic.

Poem About My Rights

by June Jordan

‘Poem About My Rights’ by June Jordan is a one-stanza poem revealing a speaker’s thoughts on misogyny, sexism, and racism from their experience. It is celebrated for accurately portraying the struggles of women and men of color in a patriarchial and predominantly white society.

The poem, at its core, focuses on the suppression of one's identity. The poet persona's identity as a black woman is central to the poem.

At Pegasus

by Terrance Hayes

‘At Pegasus’ by Terrance Hayes is a powerful poem about identity that uses a youthful memory and a contemporary experience to speak about life.

Identity is the most important theme in this contemporary poem. The speaker alludes to the way that his identity has changed since he was a child, expressing sadness that he no longer experiences the world as he did when he was young.

The Almond Trees

by Derek Walcott

‘The Almond Trees’ By Derek Walcott is a confessional poem about identity, history, and cultural identity.

'The Almond Trees' by Derek Walcott is an excellent poem about Identity. The poem uses an image comparison of sunbathers on a beach and an almond tree to represent all versions of the speaker's cultural Identity, which has shifted slightly due to the brutal uprooting the speaker's ancestors have implied to endure.

Go to Ahmedabad

by Sujata Bhatt

‘Go to Ahmedabad’ shows the psychological struggle of an immigrant dealing with disturbing past events and contemporary issues with newly developed views.

The identity of an immigrant speaker is central to the poem. Suffering from an identity crisis, the speaker finally comes to terms with her liminal identity towards the end of the poem and powerfully presents contemporary social issues.

Personal Helicon

by Seamus Heaney

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

Heaney's poem showcases an awareness that identity is both fixed and fluid; it is consistent our entire lives and yet it is never the same from day to day or year to year. We are always ourselves, but our selves are not always what they once were.

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun

by Emily Dickinson

‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’ by Emily Dickinson is a complex, metaphorical poem. The poet depicts a woman who is under a man’s control and sleeps like a load gun.

The speaker's specific identity is unknown but the poem deals with her inner and outer behavior.

I have never seen “Volcanoes”

by Emily Dickinson

‘I have never seen “Volcanoes”’ by Emily Dickinson is a clever, complex poem that compares humans and their emotions to a volcano’s eruptive power. 

The deep, potentially explosive emotions depicted in the poem are thought to be emblematic of Dickinson's own feelings. Perhaps more than any other poet, Dickinson's identity appears constructed out of her work.

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 poem is concerned with identity insofar as it is preoccupied with the notion of being a patriot. To Scott's narrator, personal fulfillment and identity comes second to national pride.

Ruins of a Great House

by Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott’s ‘Ruins of a Great House’ combines themes of historical and cultural abuse with factual reasoning and literary references to bring together a massive emotional conflict in the Speaker’s perception.

This poem interestingly touches upon identity, as it does not primarily talk about the identity of the Speaker but the identity of the culture that came from the ruins of the house. The cultural identity of the abusers and the victims plays an essential role in the poem as that is part of where the central conflict lies.

She Had Some Horses

by Joy Harjo

‘She Had Some Horses’ by Joy Harjo illustrates the plurality of differences among people.

The poem explores identity through the speaker's descriptions of the symbolic horses. Harjo uses the horses to represent the varying nature of human experience, dwelling especially on the contradictions that crop up between each cataloged horse. In this way, the author instills this theme of identity being less than concrete and far more fluid than we might imagine it to be.


by Kay Ryan

‘Bestiary’ by Kay Ryan is a short, cynical, and witty free verse poem in which the speaker explores the differences between what is good and what is best.

This poem, like many of Ryan's works, looks at the way we label things and the impact that those pigeon-holes have on history and our society. By suggesting that the "best" things always win because they are self-centered, aggressively competitive, and individualistic, Ryan also implies that "good" things are the underappreciated, forgotten losers of our world.

From The Complaints of Poverty

by Nicholas James

‘The Complaints of Poverty’ by Nicholas James uses rhetorical devices and rhyme to give the rich a good look at how unpleasant it is to be poor. James indirectly challenges the stigmas associated with both wealth and poverty, inviting the rich to treat poor people with compassion, sympathy, and generosity.

'The Complaints of Poverty' divides society into the rich and the poor, representing the way that the rich shun poor people and avoid even looking at them. The barrier within the poem breaks eventually as the poet tries to get the rich to see that the poor man is still a man, albeit trapped in the cycle of poverty.


by Léonie Adams

Apostate’ by Léonie Adams describes the freedom a speaker sees in the joyful stars and how she aches to live as they do. 

The poem touches on themes of identity, as the speaker is struggling to come to terms with the changes in her own beliefs and the impact that this has on her sense of self. The poem offers a poignant reflection on the nature of personal identity and the ways in which our beliefs and experiences shape who we are.

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 poem raises questions about identity and self-presentation as each character tries to present themselves in a certain way to others. Everyone wants to be viewed differently than they are, including the dragon, who is disappointed with how he's depicted in the painting.

The Powwow at the End of the World

by Sherman Alexie

‘The Powwow at the End of the World’ by Sherman Alexie is a stunning poem that reveals the apocalyptic price of an indigenous person’s forgiveness.

Part of this poem is about reckoning with ones identity, as the speaker is a member of a Native tribe that's been scattered by the effects of the dam. It's heavily insinuated that restoring their people is as essential to their culture as it is to the individual.

Lady Lazarus

by Sylvia Plath

‘Lady Lazarus’ is one of the best poems of Sylvia Plath and an ideal example of Plath’s diction. This poem contains Plath’s poetic expression of her suicidal thoughts.

Plath addresses the issue of identity in 'Lady Lazarus.' She uses the metaphor of the circus and the carnival to explore the idea of self-presentation and the roles we play in society.

Dear Basketball

by Kobe Bryant

‘Dear Basketball’ by Kobe Bryant depicts the poet’s love for the sport. He expresses his appreciation for basketball and how it made him into the person he became.

Basketball is a key part of Bryant's identity. So, quitting the sport is particularly painful to him. He knows its time for him to retire, but that doesn't make it any easier.

Imagining Their Own Hymns

by Brigit Pegeen Kelly

‘Imagining Their Own Hymns’ by Brigit Pegeen Kelly is a memorable poem that speaks about the difference between how something appears and its reality. 

As the young speaker is aging, she's coming to realize that the way she's judged, and other things are judged, is not always based in reality.

The Ballad of Aunt Geneva

by Marilyn Nelson

‘The Ballad of Aunt Geneva’ by Marilyn Nelson is about a Black woman’s life, relationships, and work. It is based on local rumors and assumptions about her character.

Identity is one of the major themes of this poem. The poem describes one version of Aunt Geneva's life, including rumors about who she is and how she acts.

Beach Burial

by Kenneth Slessor

‘Beach Burial’ by Kenneth Slessor is a deeply emotional poem about the cost of war. It uses hard-to-forget images of bodies washing up on a beach to highlight this fact.

The sailors are often called "unknown seamen," highlighting the loss of individual identity in war. Readers are likely to wonder who these people were exactly and if they had families waiting for them.

Behaving Like a Jew

by Gerald Stern

‘Behaving Like a Jew’ by Gerald Stern is a lyric poem with elements of an elegy. It includes poet’s understanding of how suffering and death should be approached.

The poet's identity is important for this poem's themes and content. The poet's speaker is Jewish, indicating that his empathy for the opossum comes from his identity.

Basketball Rule #1

by Kwame Alexander
While much of this poem references basketball, it's also interested in discussing family, family values, and how one should handle themselves in different situations. Therefore, it plays into one's identity and how others view one's values.

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.

A Long Journey

by Musaemura Zimunya

‘A Long Journey’ by Musaemura Zimunya is based on the changes that came to Rhodesia, a small country in southern Africa, after British colonial rule. The speaker explores the positive changes and the negative.

A Mark of Resistance

by Adrienne Rich

‘A Mark of Resistance’ by Adrienne Rich is a poem about individual resistance. The poet voices her solidarity with those who face discrimination from society.

A Picture of Otto

by Ted Hughes

‘A Picture of Otto’ by Ted Hughes is addressed to Sylvia Plath’s father, Otto. It contains Hughes’ disagreements about how he and Otto were depicted in Plath’s work.


by W.H. Auden

‘Adolescence’ by W.H. Auden is an interesting and complex poem. In it, the speaker analyzes and describes the life and experiences of a young man.


by Maya Angelou

‘Alone’ by Maya Angelou is a moving poem. It explores the topics of solitude and loneliness in a way that all readers should be able to relate to.

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