10 Thought Provoking Poems About Life, Desires, Struggles, and Resilience

Heart-achingly beautiful and thought provoking poems about life that can help us find a meaning of our existence and a purpose. For centuries poets helped us understand human experiences. How our character and needs are constantly changing and how our soul can struggle even because of the smallest things. These beautiful poems about life helped millions of people across all continents to find peace, resilience, and a voice.

I also love these books because they’re also a perfect travel partner. Whether you travel solo or with others, these books can help you deepen the moments and thoughts you want to remember or live by. One of the most common reasons most of us travel is because we hope to get lost and we hope to find ourselves on the road. That’s why we read as well and that’s why you should pick up these books not only when sitting under a tree or in a comfy armchair but also while you travel.

Ready for some honest, touching, and thought-provoking words from some of the most talented poets on what it’s like to be human? Let’s start.

1| “A Brave and Startling Truth” by  Maya Angelou

This poem is one of Maya Angelou’s most iconic ones. This inspiring humanist poem was composed for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations (1995). It was inspired by Carl Sagan’s now historic speech about our “pale blue dot.” Just to make this poem even more memorable and special Nasa flow it to space on the Orion spacecraft in 2014.

Petry – all forms of art- and science are interlinked and this is one of the most remarkable examples of how they can influence eachother and make these ideas and achievements more available and digestible for the public. If you’re looking for poems about life this hopeful, beautiful piece is here to make you think and give you comforting thoughts about the future of humanity.

You can read more poems from Maya Angelou and other free poems online on Poetry Foundation.
You can also grab your copy on Amazon.

“A Brave and Startling Truth” by  Maya Angelou

.
We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth
.

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms
.

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil
.

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze
.
When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse
.
When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

.

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world
.
When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe
.
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines
.
When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear
.
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

2| “Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

One of the most remarkable poems about life and travel and about its adventures and excitements. This poem is an ode to living life to the fullest and how travel can help you more than discovering new cultures but meeting new and fascinating people and if you’re lucky somewhere along the way meeting yourself too.

Longing for travel and desiring all the pleasures it stores for us is one of the most basic human desires. Ulysses describes in detail and with great passion how travel changed who he is and he finds it boring to stay in one place. If you’re someone who is yearning for new experiences and to grow in wisdom by travel experiences this poem will be your new favorite.

You can read more poems from Alfred Lord Tennyson and other free poems online on Poetry Foundation.
You can also grab your copy on Amazon.

“Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson

.
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,

Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
.
 There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

3| “Song of The Open Road” by  Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman is the author of Leaves of Grass and (along with Emily Dickinson) is considered one of the architects of a uniquely American poetic voice. If you want to read poems about life that are just incredibly positive and bursting with love, desire, and gratefulness you should read Walt Whitman’s (typically) huge poems.

His most inspiring and powerful poems is most certainly the “Song of The Open Road” (original title: “Poem of the Open Road”). Whitman was deeply concerned and troubled by the injustices of slavery and poverty and made it his goal to influence everyone who reads his poems to appreciate and accept each other and to find pleasure in other cultures and people we encounter on the open road. Everyone deserves to be healthy, free, and in control of its own destiny this poem is a celebratory praise for these basic human rights.

You can read more poems from Walt Whitman and other free poems online on Poetry Foundation.
You can also grab your copy on Amazon.

“Song of The Open Road”
by  Walt Whitman

1
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)
2

You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here,

I believe that much unseen is also here.
Here the profound lesson of reception, nor preference nor denial,
The black with his woolly head, the felon, the diseas’d, the illiterate person, are not denied;
The birth, the hasting after the physician, the beggar’s tramp, the drunkard’s stagger, the laughing party of mechanics,
The escaped youth, the rich person’s carriage, the fop, the eloping couple,
The early market-man, the hearse, the moving of furniture into the town, the return back from the town,
They pass, I also pass, any thing passes, none can be interdicted,
None but are accepted, none but shall be dear to me.

 

3
You air that serves me with breath to speak!
You objects that call from diffusion my meanings and give them shape!
You light that wraps me and all things in delicate equable showers!
You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides!
I believe you are latent with unseen existences, you are so dear to me.
You flagg’d walks of the cities! you strong curbs at the edges!
You ferries! you planks and posts of wharves! you timber-lined sides! you distant ships!
You rows of houses! you window-pierc’d façades! you roofs!
You porches and entrances! you copings and iron guards!
You windows whose transparent shells might expose so much!
You doors and ascending steps! you arches!
You gray stones of interminable pavements! you trodden crossings!
From all that has touch’d you I believe you have imparted to yourselves, and now would impart the same secretly to me,
From the living and the dead you have peopled your impassive surfaces, and the spirits thereof would be evident and amicable with me.
.
.
Continue Reading on Poetry Foundation 

4| “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon

Happiness is a masterpiece that has the power to change your whole perspective on life. It gives answers to one of humanities most burning questions; What is happiness and how do we achieve it? We all know from experience how fragile and inconstant happiness is. Jane Kenyon’s remarkable poem teaches us how to liberate ourselves from our conditioned expectations and give ourselves fully to those moments when we’re blessed with this experience.

Learn how to welcome happiness, how to share it with everyone you encounter and make it stay longer and feel it stronger with every time it visits you. Happiness is not a physical but a mental state, so stop trying to achieve it by wrestling for physical objects. You will find happiness in the simplest of things. Be humble, honest and kind to others because that’s when happiness likes to knock on the door.

You can read more poems from Jane Kenyon and other free poems online on Poetry Foundation.
You can also grab your copy on Amazon.

“Happiness” by Jane Kenyon

.
There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.
.
And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form

for you alone.
.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair
It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
                     It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

5| “If” by Rudyard Kipling

Kipling’s famous “If” poem is one of the most famous anthems on how to be a man. For long ‘man’ mainly meant male and was required every well-read gent on our little planet to familiarize themselves with this poem. Times change and these days both men and women love to pick up this poem.

‘If’ originally was addressed to Kipling’s son John but it was inspired by a great friend; Leander Starr Jameson who was a well-known politician and adventurer. However, ’till this day this poem inspired and gave advice to millions on how one should build resilience. The poem takes you through various ways in which the reader can rise above adversity and how to deal with life and those around us; don’t lie and hate, risk everything and lose it but start over again, and how to handle success and failure with grace and how to keep your joy.

The most beloved poems about life have the power to motivate you and lead you to become more as a human being and to achieve more in your life. ‘If’ is one of those poems.

You can read more poems from Rudyard Kipling and other free poems online on Poetry Foundation.
You can also grab your copy on Amazon.

“If” by Rudyard Kipling

.
(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)
.

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
.
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
.
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

If you’re looking for even more inspiring & fun books you should check out our other lists:

15 best fantasy books that will give you serious wanderlust
11 Best Poetry books to read when you’re feeling down
Funny books for weirdos 

6| “Passion” by Charlotte Bronte

A beautiful love poem and its speaker is a soldier who proclaims his love for a woman before he goes off to war. Bronte personified many abstract ideas to give them more of a personality and to bring them closer to her readers. She personified the idea of the soul, war and blood, and hope. Everyone can relate to these basic human emotions because we all experience it at some point in our lives.

This beautiful poem about life and love captures perfectly how we can get caught between love and regret and how hope can direct us through our struggles. This poem is also a perfect read if you’re feeling sad. To read more comforting poems check out our post on ‘The best poetry books to read when feeling down’.

You can read more poems from Charlotte Bronte and other free poems online on Poetry Foundation.
You can also grab your copy on Amazon.

“Passion” by Charlotte Bronte

.
Some have won a wild delight,
By daring wilder sorrow;
Could I gain thy love to-night,
I’d hazard death to-morrow.
.
Could the battle-struggle earn
One kind glance from thine eye,
How this withering heart would burn,
The heady fight to try!
.
Welcome nights of broken sleep,
And days of carnage cold,
Could I deem that thou wouldst weep
To hear my perils told.
.
Tell me, if with wandering bands
I roam full far away,
Wilt thou to those distant lands
In spirit ever stray?
.
Wild, long, a trumpet sounds afar;
Bid me–bid me go
Where Seik and Briton meet in war,
On Indian Sutlej’s flow.
.
Blood has dyed the Sutlej’s waves
With scarlet stain, I know;
Indus’ borders yawn with graves,
Yet, command me go!
.
Though rank and high the holocaust
Of nations steams to heaven,
Glad I’d join the death-doomed host,
Were but the mandate given.

.
Passion’s strength should nerve my arm,
Its ardour stir my life,
Till human force to that dread charm
Should yield and sink in wild alarm,
Like trees to tempest-strife.
.
If, hot from war, I seek thy love,
Darest thou turn aside?
Darest thou then my fire reprove,
By scorn, and maddening pride?
.
No–my will shall yet control
Thy will, so high and free,
And love shall tame that haughty soul–
Yes–tenderest love for me.
.
I’ll read my triumph in thine eyes,
Behold, and prove the change;
Then leave, perchance, my noble prize,
Once more in arms to range.
.
I’d die when all the foam is up,
The bright wine sparkling high;
Nor wait till in the exhausted cup
Life’s dull dregs only lie.
.
Then Love thus crowned with sweet reward,
Hope blest with fulness large,
I’d mount the saddle, draw the sword,
And perish in the charge!

7| “Meditation in Sunlight” by May Sarton

May Sarton started out her remarkable career as a poet then her writing shifted towards memoirs and later to her journals. Now Sarton is celebrated and remembered mostly for her blatant lesbian works and about how beautifully she’s able to uncover the real truth about ourselves and others.

Her works mostly center around self-scrutinies, loneliness and  Solitude, death, and how to find peaceful moments and ourselves in life. Her poems are is simple and heartachingly beautiful. The best poems about life help us understand why we struggle with our thoughts and emotions and give us some comfort and directions how to build resilience and accept our ourselves for who we are. May Sarton’s poetry and novels do just that.

You can read more poems from May Sarton and other free poems online on Poetry Foundation.
You can also grab your copy on Amazon.

“Meditation in Sunlight”
by May Sarton

.
In space in time I sit
Thousands of feet above
The sea and meditate
On solitude on love
.
Near all is brown and poor
Houses are made of earth
Sun opens every door
The city is hearth
.
Far all is blue and strange
The sky loosk down on snow
And meets the mountain-range
Where time is light not shadow

.
Time in the heart held still
Space as the household god
And joy instead of will
Knows love as solitude
.
Knows solitude as love
Knows time as light not shadow
Thousands of feet above
The sea where I am now

8| “The Tyger” – by William Blake

“The Tyger” is William Blakes most beloved and well-known poem and possibly one of the greatest poems ever written. The poem wants to find an answer to humanity’s most asked question: Is there a good, an intelligent creator? If so how can he let all these evil happen to our world?  How can so much good and evil created by the same person?

These thoughts run through everyone’s mind from time to time. Blake’s answer to these questions is that how we perceive reality is shallow and elusive. That what we perceive as the truth quite possibly is far from reality. This poem is popular because it deals with the most simple yet complex question that every single human being craves to know the answer. How are we here?

You can read more poems from William Blake and other free poems online on Poetry Foundation.
You can also grab your copy on Amazon.

“The Tyger” by William Blake

.
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
.
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
.
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
.
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
.
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

9| “This World Which Is Made of Our Love for Emptiness” by Rumi

Rumi has written extensively about life, love, finding ourselves, and human relationships in general. This poem is a perfect example of his works that aim to help you find yourself and give you a spiritual awakening.

Finding your true character and calling can seem impossible sometimes. Many of us are afraid to be alone but what we’re really afraid of is loneliness. While in reality one’s presence doesn’t mean the others. On the contrary, Rumi argues that one of the best ways to find yourself is through emptiness.

And when you’re completely alone emptiness surrounds you and helps you realize that materialistic things don’t matter much when it comes existence and to who you really are as a human being. This poem helps you let go, love emptiness, and find your way back to yourself.

You can read more poems from Rumi and other free poems online on Poetry Foundation.
You can also grab your copy on Amazon.

“This World Which Is Made of Our Love for Emptiness”
by Rumi

.
Praise to the emptiness that blanks out existence.
Existence: this place made from our love
for that emptiness!
.
Yet somehow comes emptiness,
this existence goes.
.

Praise to that happening over and over.
For years I pulled my own existence out of emptiness.
.

Then one swoop, one swing of the arm,
that work is over.

.

Free of who I was, free of presence, free
of dangerous fear, hope, free
of mountainous wanting.
.
These words I am saying so much begin to lose meaning.
Existence, emptiness, mountain, straw blown off into emptiness.
.
These words I’m saying so much begin to lose meaning:
Existence, emptiness, mountain, straw:
.
Words and what they try to say,
swept out the window, down the slant of the roof.

10| “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

‘The Road Not Taken’ makes you think about the road lesser traveled. Should you go with the flow or choose the one for youself and go it alone? Our lifeline is full of crises and decisions we have to make. How do we make the right choice?

Frost’s poem tells us that there isn’t really a lesser traveled road and that our life is made by chance and our choices we make on the road.  One thing it does really well; makes you want to choose as many right decisions you can and be honest about those decisions with yourself. So when the time comes that you look back at your life you won’t be hypocritical or be filled with regrets.

You can read more poems from Robert Frost and other free poems online on Poetry Foundation.
You can also grab your copy on Amazon.

“The Road Not Taken”
by Robert Frost

.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Thank you for reading!

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Pinterest
  • Digg
  • reddit
  • Tumblr