It’s very easy, as we move forward as a culture, to leave behind the relics of the past. However, there are certain things that have stood the test of time, and served as important tools and artforms to express and transmit culture, as well as to educate and entertain.
One of these art forms, which is given a relatively small amount of attention in modern society, is poetry.
Poetry can be therapeutic, it can give us advice about how to leave, and it can teach us important lessons about the past.
Through the skilful use of language, metaphor and symbolism, poetry is able to express human feelings in a way that day to day conversations may be unable to do. Though highly subjective, certain poems have lasted hundreds, even thousands of years, and still manage to inspire us, despite the wide gap in culture and time between the reader and the writer.
Both the act of reading and writer poetry can help you craft an integrated narrative about yourself and your place in the world. The following poems about life are widely regarded as some of greatest in history.
They may take you on a journey, and show you a side of yourself and someone else, that you would have been otherwise unable to gain insight into.
Here are 10 of the most inspirational poems about life.
Our Deepest Fear by Marianne Williamson
This modern poem comes from spiritual activist Marianne Williamson. Her philosophy comes from A Course in Miracles, a modern Christian approach that has its roots in Gnosticism and non-dual philosophy. The words are incredibly empowering, and remind the reader that they are deeply connected to a power much greater than who they believe themselves to be.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
If by Rudyard Kipling
This poem was written by Victorian-era poet Rudyard Kipling as a tribute to the British politician Leander Starr Jameson, as Kipling was reportedly inspired by his military actions. The poem is written in the form of paternal advice. The lines reflect a stoic philosophy which sees the mind as something to be used to our advantage, and not something to be lost in, particularly in the heat of battle, whether that be with ourselves or someone else.
Character of the Happy Warrior by William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth is one of the most well-known English poets of all time. This piece was similarly composed in response to a military hero, Lord Nelson, who was a leader in the Napoleonic Wars against the French. While the poem again refers to war, the metaphors are apt for all battles in daily life. The happy warrior is an idealised version of a person, but he is also a part of you, an archetype to which you should aim, who is able to take on challenges with a smile and embody our most noble traits.
Who, doomed to go in company with Pain,
And Fear, and Bloodshed, miserable train!
Turns his necessity to glorious gain;
In face of these doth exercise a power
Which is our human nature’s highest dower:
Controls them and subdues, transmutes, bereaves
Of their bad influence, and their good receives:
By objects, which might force the soul to abate
Her feeling, rendered more compassionate;
Is placable—because occasions rise
So often that demand such sacrifice;
It Couldn’t Be Done by Edgar Guest
Edgar Guest was an American poet who was known for his positive and inspirational poems. Writing in the early 20th century, his work is often quoted as some of the earliest forms of modern self-help. It has been widely used in popular culture and its motivational tone can inspire success when we are facing tough challenges.
Help Yourself To Happiness by Helen Steiner Rice
Helen Steiner Rice was a famous 20th-century poet who has financial success writing verses for greeting card companies. Her books still sell copies today, even 40 years after her death. Help Yourself To Happiness is another optimistic poem that teaches us to look beyond wealth and materialism for happiness, and to find happiness in our mental state and the compassion we offer to others. This time tested wisdom is a common theme in poetry, and religion, and much of Rice’s poetry touches on spiritually driven ideas.
Difficult because we think that happiness is found
Only in the places where wealth and fame abound.
And so we go on searching in palaces of pleasure
Seeking recognition and monetary treasure,
Unaware that happiness is just a state of mind
Within the reach of everyone who takes time to be kind.
For in making others happy we will be happy, too.
For the happiness you give away returns to shine on you.
Dreams by Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes was an American political activist. His poetry was often highly reflective of his personal struggles with racism in 20th century America. He is often believed to have been a homosexual, which was kept a secret through his life. Dreams showcases Hughes ability to be optimistic, even in a very tough situation economically and culturally.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
The Guest House by Rumi
The 12th-century Persian poet Rumi is believed by many to be one of the greatest poets of all time. This Muslim poet has deep roots in Sufi Mysticism, with much of his poetry exploring his close spiritual relationship with God. Rumi is even believed to have achieved enlightenment are many years of deep meditation. The Guest House is just one of hundreds of examples of this poets self-awareness and knowledge of the human mind and condition. This inspirational piece contains timeless wisdom, and helps us seen how our thoughts and emotions are visitors, and how we may objectify them, love them, and allow them to pass.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness.
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honourably,
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.
Look Well to This Day
By Kalidasa, Indian Poet, Fifth Century A.D.
Look well to this day,
For it and it alone is life.
In its brief course
Lie all the essence of your existence:
The Glory of Growth
The Satisfaction of Achievement
The Splendor of Beauty
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is but a vision.
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
By Oriah Mountain Dreamer
It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for,
And if you dare to dream of meeting
Your heart's longing.
It doesn't interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
For love, for your dream,
For the adventure of being alive.
It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow,
If you have been opened by life's betrayals,
Or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain,
Mine or your own,
To hide it or fade it or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy,
Mine or your own,
If you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
Without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic,
or to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself,
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
I want to know if you can be faithless and therefore be trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty
Even when it is not pretty every day,
And if you can source your life
From its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure,
Yours and mine,
And still stand on the edge of a lake and shout to the silver of the full moon,
It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair,
Weary and bruised to the bone,
And do what needs to be done for the children.
It doesn't interest me who you are, how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
In the center of the fire with me
And not shrink back.
It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
From the inside
When all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone
And if you truly like the company you keep
In the empty moments.