6 poems with a lesson worth learning

I’ve always adored literature. In fact, since being very small I’ve always been told by teachers that I’ll be the next Jane Austen one day – if only, if only! I just love how literature, particularly poetry, can transport you away from reality. I love how it can make you smile, laugh, cry, or even feel things you’ve never felt before. But, most importantly, I love the lessons it can teach you without you even realising it…

Rose Milligan: Dust if you must

This always has been and always will be one of my favourite poems. As people, we spend far too much of our time moping around and worrying about what could have been, rather than appreciating and embracing all the good things, and people, that we have in life. This poem teaches us that there’s always something to aim for, always something to be grateful for, and that life is just too short to spend it being anything other than happy.

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture, or write a letter,
Bake a cake, or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb;
Music to hear, and books to read;
Friends to cherish, and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go (and go you must)
You, yourself, will make more dust.

Elizabeth Barrett-Browning: If thou must love me

Now here’s a woman after my own heart. ‘If Thou Must Love Me’ really punches out a message that I think more people should adopt into their life; if you don’t love me for the real me, then what’s the point? Barrett-Browning tells us that we shouldn’t fall in love with someone someone for reasons that can be changed, such as their looks, but for things that will remain with them forever.

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say,
“I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—
For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
Be changed, or change for thee—and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry:
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.

Carol Ann Duffy: Text

Now here’s something we 21st century beings can certainly relate to. We use it all the time: first thing in the morning, last night at night, on the bus, in the street, at work, at the dinner table… And yet not many of us actually realise how taken over we are by our mobile phones. Carol Ann Duffy acknowledges how obsessed we have become with these new ways of keeping in communication, when in reality it isn’t drawing us closing together, but pulling us further apart.

I tend the mobile now
like an injured bird
We text, text, text
our significant words.
I re-read your first,
your second, your third,
look for your small xx,
feeling absurd.
The codes we send
arrive with a broken chord.
I try to picture your hands,
their image is blurred.
Nothing my thumbs press
will ever be heard.

Maya Angellou: Still I rise

If there’s one poet I can relate to more than anyone, it’s this lady. Her strength, her passion and her emotions are consistently evident in her work, so much so that you almost feel like you’re having the conversations directly with her. In this poem, Maya highlights many things that have the power to break us, but tells us why we should never let them. She teaches us that whatever life throws at you, and whatever pain you’re enduring, you shouldn’t let it destroy you, but instead you should rise.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Merrill Glass: But you didn’t

Have you ever thought about what you would do if you lost someone who you had shared so much with? Or worse, if you had to live knowing that your last conversation was unpleasant, or your last interaction a fight? Merrill Glass shows us that we should always appreciate the people we have in our lives, because we never know when a word will actually be a goodbye, or which beautiful memory will be our last. She also shows us what real love can be if we just persevere, have patience and, more importantly, forgive.

Remember the time you lent me your car and I dented it?
I thought you’d kill me…
But you didn’t.

Remember the time I forgot to tell you the dance was
formal, and you came in jeans?
I thought you’d hate me…
But you didn’t.

Remember the times I’d flirt with
other boys just to make you jealous, and
you were?
I thought you’d drop me…
But you didn’t.

There were plenty of things you did to put up with me,
to keep me happy, to love me, and there are
so many things I wanted to tell
you when you returned from
But you didn’t.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox: Solitude

A poem with many messages hidden within it is this one: Solitude by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. There are many people who are quick to boost you up during your good times, but very few will wait around to catch you when times get tough. This poem highlights that sometimes people will let you down, and that there are going to be times when you have to step up, be strong, and be your own hero.

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all,—
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on.
Through the narrow aisles of pain.