10 Of The Best Poems About Life

Great poetry manages to express the very essence of its subject – and when it comes to life, that’s quite the challenge.

To capture something that is so varied, but that binds us together as brothers and sisters in arms takes real skill and craft.

Luckily for us, the best poets through the ages have penned many a classic and beautiful verse to help us understand – nay decipher – life in all its glory.

Here are 10 of the most deep and meaningful poems about life. Some long, some short, some famous, some less so.

A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This rhyming poem is the spark that can reignite the fires within you. It challenges you to go out and live your life in the present moment as a “hero" and leave your mark on this world.

Act! Take Action! Be Active!

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Life is made up of a succession of choices. This famous poem begins at a fork in a wooded path and ushers the reader along one “road" as a means of explaining that we must choose one way or another and not dilly-dally in life.

No matter which way we go, we cannot foresee where it will take us, nor how the other would have turned out.

We can do our best to make good decisions, but we’ll never truly know how much worse or better an alternative might have been. And so, we mustn’t regret the road not taken.

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.

If— by Rudyard Kipling

Life will challenge you – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. This poem calls out for you to endure, keep going through, and rise above the adversity you will face.

It inspires, it motivates, it provides an example to follow. It’s like a recipe for life – and it provides a most satisfying meal.

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!

Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas

Death is inevitable, and as this poem states (‘death’ being ‘dark’), it is right. But the author urges us not to yield to death too easily and to fight for life ‘til our last breath.

It reminds us in a powerful and persuasive way that life is fleeting and we ought to make the most of the time we have on this planet.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

This prose poem is like an instruction manual for life. It is hugely uplifting and affirms life as something to be journeyed through with integrity and compassion.

It touches upon many areas of existence from our relationships and careers to ageing and our mental well-being.

Truly, a deep and meaningful composition if ever there were one.

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Leisure by W. H. Davies

This short poem could not be more pertinent to the world of today if it tried. It counsels us to take the time to “stand and stare" or, in other words, to slow down and observe all the beauty that surrounds you.

Don’t let the world rush by without notice; open your eyes and see – really see – it in all its glory. Make space in your life for this simplest act of leisure.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Opportunity by Berton Braley

You may ask yourself what the point of life is if all you do is repeat what others have done before you. This poem serves to remind us that the world never tires of creation and that you are a creator.

It talks of great acts and great deeds, but also of love and romance and laughter and loyalty – things that every man or woman is capable of.

Value what you have to contribute to this world.

With doubt and dismay you are smitten
You think there’s no chance for you, son?
Why, the best books haven’t been written,
The best race hasn’t been run,

The best score hasn’t been made yet,
The best song hasn’t been sung,
The best tune hasn’t been played yet,
Cheer up, for the world is young!

No chance? Why the world is just eager
For things that you ought to create,
It’s store of true wealth is still meager,
It’s needs are incessant and great,

It yearns for more power and beauty,
More laughter and love and romance,
More loyalty, labor and duty,
No chance–why there’s nothing but chance!

For the best verse hasn’t been rhymed yet,
The best house hasn’t been planned,
The highest peak hasn’t been climbed yet,
The mightiest rivers aren’t spanned,

Don’t worry and fret, faint hearted,
The chances have just begun,
For the best jobs haven’t been started,
The best work hasn’t been done.

What Life Should Be by Pat A. Fleming

Stepping away from the famous and classic works, we find this gem of a poem by an amateur writer (just goes to show that anyone can create pieces of great meaning).

Much like those more well-known poems above, it talks us through how we ought to try to live our lives. It’s simple, yet inspiring.

To learn while still a child
What this life is meant to be.
To know it goes beyond myself,
It’s so much more than me.

To overcome the tragedies,
To survive the hardest times.
To face those moments filled with pain,
And still manage to be kind.

To fight for those who can’t themselves,
To always share my light.
With those who wander in the dark,
To love with all my might.

To still stand up with courage,
Though standing on my own.
To still get up and face each day,
Even when I feel alone.

To try to understand the ones
That no one cares to know.
And make them feel some value
When the world has let them go.

To be an anchor, strong and true,
That person loyal to the end.
To be a constant source of hope
To my family and my friends.

To live a life of decency,
To share my heart and soul.
To always say I’m sorry
When I’ve harmed both friend and foe.

To be proud of whom I’ve tried to be,
And this life I chose to live.
To make the most of every day
By giving all I have to give.

To me that’s what this life should be,
To me that’s what it’s for.
To take what God has given me
And make it so much more

To live a life that matters,
To be someone of great worth.
To love and be loved in return
And make my mark on Earth.

Source: https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/what-life-should-be

What Is Our Life? by Sir Walter Raleigh

This is the shortest poem on the list at just 10 lines, but it encapsulates how life should not be taken seriously. Instead, the author suggests that life is a comedy and that the earth is our stage.

So what should we do? Act well. Make people laugh. Play our part in the world until the curtain falls and we depart this life.

What is our life? The play of passion.
Our mirth? The music of division:
Our mothers’ wombs the tiring-houses be,
Where we are dressed for life’s short comedy.
The earth the stage; Heaven the spectator is,
Who sits and views whosoe’er doth act amiss.
The graves which hide us from the scorching sun
Are like drawn curtains when the play is done.
Thus playing post we to our latest rest,
And then we die in earnest, not in jest.

The Builders by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We started with a poem by this author and so we shall end with another. Here, we are taught that life sits atop the building blocks of time and that our actions today give rise to our tomorrows.

We are the architects and builders of our lives and if we want to attain our own version of success, we must put in the hard work and energy.

All are architects of Fate,
Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme.

Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.

For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.

Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.

In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the Gods see everywhere.

Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house, where Gods may dwell,
Beautiful, entire, and clean.

Else our lives are incomplete,
Standing in these walls of Time,
Broken stairways, where the feet
Stumble as they seek to climb.

Build to-day, then, strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall to-morrow find its place.

Thus alone can we attain
To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
And one boundless reach of sky.

Which of these is your favorite? What other poems about life would you add to the list? Leave a comment below to let us know.

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