11 Best Poetry Books To Read When You’re Feeling Down
What are the best poetry books to read when you’re feeling down? I’m no stranger to this question. Assuming I’m not alone, I decided to share my favorite “pick me up poetry books”. Sometimes it’s hard to give words to what’s going on inside, hard to express all the crazy or find a reason why is it happening. Although, often it’s not even necessary.
I realized over the years that it’s better to just accept and even enjoy them instead of fighting back. Because while being highly emotional and an introvert has its downs it also has its perks. Yet, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments when I need a huge and warm blanket between me and the world outside. These poets and their poems always gave me comfort, a sense of feeling that I’m not lost or alone with my thoughts and feelings.
I hope they will do the same for you!
1| Arthur Rimbaud
My first poet love. I was pretty much obsessed with him in my early teens. I mean a poet and an adventurer? What more does a teenage girl need? His short but passionate life was dreamy and tragic at the same time. His wild, raw, and pure feelings and thoughts are there in each and every one of his poems.
Symbolist poets were always my favorite and this 19th-century French poet stayed with me over the years. To this very day, I love to get back to his poems and to this very day, they make me emotional, happy, sad, and awkwardly melancholic. In a good way, of course.
Arthur Rimbaud ~ Complete Works
Sensation by Arthur Rimbaud
In the blue summer evenings, I will go along the paths,
And walk over the short grass, as I am pricked by the wheat:
Daydreaming I will feel the coolness on my feet.
I will let the wind bathe my bare head.
I will not speak, I will have no thoughts:
But infinite love will mount in my soul;
And I will go far, far off, like a gypsy,
Through the country side-joyous as if I were with a woman.
2| Sylvia Plath
For a long time, I only knew Sylvia Plath as a 20th-century novelist. Her book The Bell Jar is one of my favorite books of all time, and her poems quickly became my favorites as well. She’s another short-lived poet on my list, unfortunately not the last one. She wrote confessional poetry and suffered from severe depression. She was able to paint such beautiful and relatable picture of her sadness, and even her madness that – it might be strange – it gives me comfort. I always feel understood and less alone. Mental issues, mental illness is such a big taboo, a shame to talk about and it stigmatizes the ones who admit they have these problems.
Her life and works can also be a strong motivation for everyone to take mental health seriously and practice mindfulness every day. To talk about these issues as often as needed and to turn towards helping hands if the time comes that we can’t or don’t want to deal with our problems alone anymore. All, without shame or the fear of being shot out.
Sylvia Plath ~ The Collected Poems
Witch Burning by Sylvia Plath
In the marketplace they are piling the dry sticks.
A thicket of shadows is a poor coat. I inhabit
The wax image of myself, a doll’s body.
Sickness begins here: I am the dartboard for witches.
Only the devil can eat the devil out.
In the month of red leaves I climb to a bed of fire.
It is easy to blame the dark: the mouth of a door,
The cellar’s belly. They’ve blown my sparkler out.
A black-sharded lady keeps me in parrot cage.
What large eyes the dead have!
I am intimate with a hairy spirit.
Smoke wheels from the beak of this empty jar.
If I am a little one, I can do no harm.
If I don’t move about, I’ll knock nothing over. So I said,
Sitting under a potlid, tiny and inert as a rice grain.
They are turning the burners up, ring after ring.
We are full of starch, my small white fellows. We grow.
It hurts at first. The red tongues will teach the truth.
Mother of beetles, only unclench your hand:
I’ll fly through the candle’s mouth like a singeless moth.
Give me back my shape. I am ready to construe the days
I coupled with dust in the shadow of a stone.
My ankles brighten. Brightness ascends my thighs.
I am lost, I am lost, in the robes of all this light.
3| Endre Ady
After Arthur there was Endre. Yes, we’re on a first name basis. Ady was a 20th-century loner, a misunderstood revolutionary who brought modern poetry style to Hungary. He died of syphilis same as Rimbaud, Ady was 41 while Rimbaud was only 37 when he passed away. He also loved to use Symbolist techniques in his works. His poems are mostly about life and death, love, temporality, faith, individuality, and Léda.
It’s harder to get to his poems but not impossible. Ady is one of a kind poet, who will steal your heart and will only hand it back to you after he made it better.
Endre Ady ~ Complete works
Life Terrifies Me by Endre Ady
Holy ecstasy-swans on great glad Waters
Seize me, but in vain.
I hear the gaggling of sensible ganders,
Nothing can remain,
There is nothing to last.
I hear my future faltering sobs
When I’m still smiling,
And when dark ravens are cawing in my soul
A chirpy starling
Will cheerily chime in.
My longings frighten me. Fulfilment follows
And I’ll feel defiled.
I dread contentment. Behind it storms the steed
Of passion, the Wild.
Oh, life terrifies me.
4| Pablo Neruda
A 20th-century Chilean poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He wrote surrealist and passionate love poems. He even wrote in green ink to symbolize his desire and hope. These two words pretty much sum up his works; desire and hope. His poetry is peaceful, passionate, and positive. Which always reminds me that even the darkest times will pass and the change will come.
Pablo Neruda ~ The Poetry of Pablo Neruda
Tonight I Can Write The Saddest Lines
by Pablo Neruda
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Write, for example,’The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.’
The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
Through nights like this one I held her in my arms
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.
She loved me sometimes, and I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.
To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.
What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.
This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.
My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.
The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.
I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.
Another’s. She will be another’s. Like my kisses before.
Her voide. Her bright body. Her inifinite eyes.
I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my sould is not satisfied that it has lost her.
Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.
5| Rupi Kaur
Kaur is a contemporary poet who started her career on Instagram. Her first book “Milk and Honey” was first published in 2014 and since then she conquered the world. Her poems are simple, short, and clear. She deals with abuse, love, loss, and femininity. Talks about healing and opening up again after traumatic experiences.
Rupi Kaur ~ Milk and Honey
by Rupi Kaur
stay strong through your pain
grow flowers from it
you have helped me
grow flowers out of mine so
however you need
6| Emily Dickinson
“I lost my Emily… Dickinson. It’s dumb, but I like her around. Kind of a security blanket.” Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This might also be dumb but I started reading seriously Dickinson poems after I heard this line in Buffy. In my defense, I was only twelve at the time. Not like I need defense… Buffy was kick ass and funny. Although she wasn’t the one reading Dickinson.
Dickinson was a 19th-century American poet who lived much of her life in isolation. She was a painfully shy introvert who preferred spending time alone with her writing and books over people. She became America’s greatest and most original poets of all time. Unfortunately, the first volume of her poetry was only published four years after her death in 1890. Her poems were so unique for the era that while about a dozen of her poems got published during her lifetime they were all significantly altered.
The complete and mostly unaltered collection of her poetry became available to the public in 1955, 69 years after her death.
Emily Dickinson ~ The Complete Poems by Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers
by Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
7| Anna Akhmatova
My first Russian (modernist) poet love. Her poems are mostly about time and memory, love, and the fate of creative women. However, living in the Stalinist regime also heavily influenced her work. She’s one of the few poets who is able to perfectly capture and convey the vast range of emotions we experience as humans throughout our lives. She is a real-life proof that sometimes the most extraordinary flowers bloom under terror and even in the darkest of times.
Anna Akhmatova ~ The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova
You Will Hear Thunder
by Anna Akhmatova
You will hear thunder and remember me,
And think: she wanted storms. The rim
Of the sky will be the colour of hard crimson,
And your heart, as it was then, will be on fire.
That day in Moscow, it will all come true,
when, for the last time, I take my leave,
And hasten to the heights that I have longed for,
Leaving my shadow still to be with you.
The first poem I fell in love with and made me emotional and wanting to be a writer was Goethe’s “The Erl-King”. I was about nine years old and was practicing for the school’s poetry competition with other students. I enjoyed being with kids who also loved poetry but hated to stand on the stage alone in front of all those people. I remember this older girl almost literally falling into the classroom, late and in a hurry. Since she had to leave early she came up next. I never heard her recite before… and it was perfect. Her voice was filled with fear, temptation, uncertainty, rush, and agony. I fell in love with her, the poem, and Goethe.
I like to go back to this poem which now I know by heart. I love to read other poems and works of his as well, including Faust. Which is also a great read if you’re struggling with understanding life’s meaning, death, human morality, and faith.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Such a beautiful name!) was one of the key figures of the Weimar Classicism the movement coincided with Enlightenment, Sentimentality, Sturm und Drang, and Romanticism.
Goethe ~ Selected Poetry
The Erl-King by Goethe
Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear?
The father it is, with his infant so dear;
He holdeth the boy tightly clasp’d in his arm,
He holdeth him safely, he keepeth him warm.
“My son, wherefore seek’st thou thy face thus to hide?”
“Look, father, the Erl-King is close by our side!
Dost see not the Erl-King, with crown and with train?”
“My son, ’tis the mist rising over the plain.”
“Oh, come, thou dear infant! oh come thou with me!
Full many a game I will play there with thee;
On my strand, lovely flowers their blossoms unfold,
My mother shall grace thee with garments of gold.”
“My father, my father, and dost thou not hear
The words that the Erl-King now breathes in mine ear?”
“Be calm, dearest child, ’tis thy fancy deceives;
‘Tis the sad wind that sighs through the withering leaves.”
“Wilt go, then, dear infant, wilt go with me there?
My daughters shall tend thee with sisterly care
My daughters by night their glad festival keep,
They’ll dance thee, and rock thee, and sing thee to sleep.”
“My father, my father, and dost thou not see,
How the Erl-King his daughters has brought here for me?”
“My darling, my darling, I see it aright,
‘Tis the aged grey willows deceiving thy sight.”
“I love thee, I’m charm’d by thy beauty, dear boy!
And if thou’rt unwilling, then force I’ll employ.”
“My father, my father, he seizes me fast,
Full sorely the Erl-King has hurt me at last.”
The father now gallops, with terror half wild,
He grasps in his arms the poor shuddering child;
He reaches his courtyard with toil and with dread,–
The child in his arms finds he motionless, dead.
9| Francesco Petrarca
Petrarca or Petrarch was an Italian scholar, poet, and an all-around Renaissance man. To me, Renaissance Italy is the most beautiful period of all. Probably this is why I feel such a deep connection and love towards my favorite city, Florence as well. This 14th-century poet if often referred as the “father of humanism” and was one of the first people to call the Middle Ages the Dark Ages.
Petrarch’s most passionate works were created because of his deep love for “Laure”. A woman who he first saw in the church of Sainte-Claire d’Avignon awoke in him a lasting passion that made him give up his vocation as a priest. Since Laure was already married she rejected him, which made Petrarca to pour all his passion and other burning emotions into his writings.
Francesco Petrarca ~ The Poetry of Petrarch
I find no peace, and yet I make no war
by Francesco Petrarca
I find no peace, and yet I make no war:
and fear, and hope: and burn, and I am ice:
and fly above the sky, and fall to earth,
and clutch at nothing, and embrace the world.
One imprisons me, who neither frees nor jails me,
nor keeps me to herself nor slips the noose:
and Love does not destroy me, and does not loose me,
wishes me not to live, but does not remove my bar.
I see without eyes, and have no tongue, but cry:
and long to perish, yet I beg for aid:
and hold myself in hate, and love another.
I feed on sadness, laughing weep:
death and life displease me equally:
and I am in this state, lady, because of you.
10| Edna St. Vincent Millay
She was one of the most successful American poets of the 20th century. St. Vincent Millay was the third woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and was also well known for her feminist activism and her many love affairs.
Her poetry is unique, she combined modernist attitudes with traditional forms. She portrays hetero and homosexuality, and new kinds of female experience and expression with power, passion, and purity.
Edna St. Vincent Millay ~ Collected Poems
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
11| W. B. Yeats
A passionate Irish poet from the 20th century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for “inspired poetry”. and became the first Irish man honored.
His poetry was influenced by French Symbolism, traditional Irish folk songs, sagas, and Ossianic poetry. His always inspired and highly artistic poetry gave expression to the spirit of not just a whole nation but everyone who reads and adores his works.
W. B. Yeats ~ The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats
A Crazed Girl
by W. B. Yeats
That crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,
Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling She knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.
No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, ‘O sea-starved, hungry sea.’
Thank you for reading!