15 Inspirational Poems About Life You Must Read Today

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It’s ok if you’ve been feeling a bit down lately. I think many of us are running on fumes–overwhelmed, overworked, and not living the life that we necessarily pictured we would.

But, wallowing isn’t going to make things any better. You need to keep trying, continue moving forward, and take life by the horns. So how can you get back on your feet?

While there are a lot of great inspirational books out there, it can require a bit of a time commitment to get through all of them. However, with poetry, you can read the message in just a few minutes, allowing you to consume a variety of content.

Poetry is an art that uses both rhythm and descriptive words to present imaginative ideas and elicit emotional reactions. An inspirational poem can not only offer advice, it can also provide you with encouragement, motivation, and clarity.

In this article, we are going to look at 15 inspirational poems from a range of time periods that are written in various forms and from a variety of perspectives. After reading these poems, you will feel inspired to work toward your dreams and stay on the path that makes you happy.

For each poem, we will first read the work in its entirety and then summarize its inspirational message. Let’s take a look.

15 Inspirational Poems About Life You Must Read Today

1. Rudyard Kipling, ‘If’

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!

This inspirational poem guides readers to overcome adversity that is faced throughout life. The speaker offers specific scenarios throughout the poem along with actions that one should or should not take in order to show good character. Written in 1895, the poet refers to becoming a “man” if all of the correct choices are made when faced with a challenge. But a lot has happened since 1895 that allows this poem to speak to readers of any gender.

One central theme to this poem is success and failure. The speaker offers a motivational message for young readers, helping them understand what it takes to build character by responding constructively to failure, being honest, and presenting oneself in a genuine manner.

2. Robert Frost, ‘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.

This is among the most celebrated and famous American poems. This poem addresses the dilemma that we all frequently face: making a decision between two (or more) options. The speaker illustrates a difficult decision-making process and the implications of facing the consequences and rewards of forging one’s own path.

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Like the character in this poem, people are often disappointed that they can’t take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way. It’s disheartening to have to let go of one opportunity to experience another, but in order to gain some things in life, others must be let go.

3. Sir Edward Dyer, ‘My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is’

My mind to me a kingdom is;
Such perfect joy therein I find
That it excels all other bliss
Which God or nature hath assign’d.
Though much I want that most would have,
Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

No princely port, nor wealthy store,
No force to win a victory,
No wily wit to salve a sore,
No shape to win a loving eye;
To none of these I yield as thrall,–
For why? my mind despise them all.

I see that plenty surfeit oft,
And hasty climbers soonest fall;
I see that such as are aloft
Mishap doth threaten most of all.
These get with toil and keep with fear;
Such cares my mind can never bear.

I press to bear no haughty sway,
I wish no more than may suffice,
I do no more than well I may,
Look, what I want my mind supplies.
Lo ! thus I triumph like a king,
My mind content with anything.

I laugh not at another’s loss,
Nor grudge not at another’s gain;
No worldly waves my mind can toss;
I brook that is another’s bane.
I fear no foe, nor fawn on friend,
I loathe not life, nor dread mine end.

My wealth is health and perfect ease,
And conscience clear my chief defence;
I never seek by bribes to please,
Nor by desert to give offence.
Thus do I live, thus will I die,–
Would all did so as well as I!

Originally published in 1588, this poem embraces the idea that the mind has limitless potential and one’s imagination is greater than anything here on earth. The speaker therefore relays the value of mind over matter and the power of positivity.

Readers are inspired to recognize their mind as being the most valuable thing to have, leaving all other things in life to be inferior. After reading this poem, one may understand the importance of having a positive mindset and start to be mindful of the influence of their thoughts. 

4. Langston Hughes, ‘Dreams’

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.

This short poem encompasses a lot of what we talk about here on DGH–acting on your dreams so you can live a fulfilling life. In just eight lines, the speaker uses two examples of imagery for the reader to be able to feel the sorrow that accompanies leaving their dreams behind. This can help inspire readers to keep their dreams close in order to live an enriched life– unlike the cold, barren field that’s now left on their mind from the poem.

5. William Wordsworth, ‘Character of the Happy Warrior’

Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be?
—It is the generous Spirit, who, when brought
Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought
Upon the plan that pleased his boyish thought:
Whose high endeavours are an inward light
That makes the path before him always bright:
Who, with a natural instinct to discern
What knowledge can perform, is diligent to learn;
Abides by this resolve, and stops not there,
But makes his moral being his prime care;
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;
More skilful in self-knowledge, even more pure,
As tempted more; more able to endure,
As more exposed to suffering and distress;
Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.
—’Tis he whose law is reason; who depends
Upon that law as on the best of friends;
Whence, in a state where men are tempted still
To evil for a guard against worse ill,
And what in quality or act is best
Doth seldom on a right foundation rest,
He labours good on good to fix, and owes
To virtue every triumph that he knows:
—Who, if he rise to station of command,
Rises by open means; and there will stand
On honourable terms, or else retire,
And in himself possess his own desire;
Who comprehends his trust, and to the same
Keeps faithful with a singleness of aim;
And therefore does not stoop, nor lie in wait
For wealth, or honours, or for worldly state;
Whom they must follow; on whose head must fall,
Like showers of manna, if they come at all:
Whose powers shed round him in the common strife,
Or mild concerns of ordinary life,
A constant influence, a peculiar grace;
But who, if he be called upon to face
Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined
Great issues, good or bad for human kind,
Is happy as a Lover; and attired
With sudden brightness, like a Man inspired;
And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw;
Or if an unexpected call succeed,
Come when it will, is equal to the need:
—He who, though thus endued as with a sense
And faculty for storm and turbulence,
Is yet a Soul whose master-bias leans
To homefelt pleasures and to gentle scenes;
Sweet images! which, wheresoe’er he be,
Are at his heart; and such fidelity
It is his darling passion to approve;
More brave for this, that he hath much to love:—
’Tis, finally, the Man, who, lifted high,
Conspicuous object in a Nation’s eye,
Or left unthought-of in obscurity,—
Who, with a toward or untoward lot,
Prosperous or adverse, to his wish or not—
Plays, in the many games of life, that one
Where what he most doth value must be won:
Whom neither shape of danger can dismay,
Nor thought of tender happiness betray;
Who, not content that former worth stand fast,
Looks forward, persevering to the last,
From well to better, daily self-surpast:
Who, whether praise of him must walk the earth
For ever, and to noble deeds give birth,
Or he must fall, to sleep without his fame,
And leave a dead unprofitable name—
Finds comfort in himself and in his cause;
And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws
His breath in confidence of Heaven’s applause:
This is the happy Warrior; this is He
That every Man in arms should wish to be.

This poem is all about the traits of a successful leader. Wordsworth describes the ideal fighter, noting the personal traits that successful people should aspire to have. His words inspire readers to overcome obstacles in their lives to live up to their full potential.

The speaker describes how to become an ideal warrior by practicing generosity, continuous learning, tenderness, persistence, self-knowledge, faithfulness, and honesty. After painting a clear picture of the behaviors that will ultimately lead to happiness, the speaker finishes with the idea of looking back on one’s life with confidence and comfort.

6. Max Ehrman, ‘Desiderata’

Go placidly amid the noise and 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 the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and 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 with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

This poem inspires self-acceptance and encourages readers to be at peace with themselves. It may be inspirational during times of doubt or when one feels as if they don’t belong.

The speaker invites readers to spread peace and love to others, but also to be sure to practice self-love and be kind with oneself. It reminds readers that they’re not alone in their struggles and ensures them that the world is still a good place, even during times of turmoil. 

7. Edward A. Guest, ‘Don’t Quit’

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and debts are high,
And you want to Smile but have to sigh.
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As everyone of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won if he’d stuck it out,
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow,
You might succeed with another blow.

Often the struggler has given up,
When he might captured the victor’s cup.
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown,

Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar,
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit,
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.

As the title implies, this poem inspires perseverance through trying times. The speaker notes that it’s often when things seem to be the hardest that one experiences a breakthrough, which is why it’s important to keep going, as success could be within reach without even knowing it.

This poem uses simple words to relay a powerful message that can apply to anyone. With determination and a willpower to never quit, success can be found in every failure–and with self-confidence, you can achieve your biggest goals. This poem inspires the self-confidence that you need to feel empowered to make your dreams a reality.

8. William Ernest Henley, ‘Invictus’

Out of the night that covers me,  
  Black as the Pit from pole to pole,  
I thank whatever gods may be  
  For my unconquerable soul.  
In the fell clutch of circumstance
  I have not winced nor cried aloud.  
Under the bludgeonings of chance  
  My head is bloody, but unbowed.  
Beyond this place of wrath and tears  
  Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years  
  Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.  
It matters not how strait the gate,  
  How charged with punishments the scroll,  
I am the master of my fate:
  I am the captain of my soul.

In this poem, the speaker is attempting to motivate himself when all hope is lost. There will always be people in life who don’t support their peers or other people’s goals for whatever reason, or those who try to make others feel inferior. But the truth is, you’re in control of your future. The speaker shows that even in the darkest of times, he is able to lift his courage and persist through the struggle.

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Reading this poem may help provide reassurance that you’re still in control, no matter what hardships are encountered. Everyone is the master of their own fate– and nobody else can control another person’s destiny.

9. Walter D. Wintle, ‘Thinking’

If you think you are beaten, you are
If you think you dare not, you don’t,
If you like to win, but you think you can’t
It is almost certain you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost
For out of the world we find,
Success begins with a fellow’s will
It’s all in the state of mind.

If you think you are outclassed, you are
You’ve got to think high to rise,
You’ve got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But soon or late the man who wins
Is the man WHO THINKS HE CAN!

This poem promotes a positive attitude, especially during times when it would be easier to give up. The speaker talks about the power of one’s state of mind and reminds readers how their attitude can positively impact the amount of success they achieve in life. 

The power of this poem comes from the idea that embracing challenges can transform one’s journey to success. With the right attitude, you can achieve anything that you set out to do.

10. Angela Morgan, ‘In Spite of War’

In spite of war, in spite of death,
In spite of all man’s sufferings,
Something within me laughs and sings
And I must praise with all my breath.
In spite of war, in spite of hate
Lilacs are blooming at my gate,
Tulips are tripping down the path
In spite of war, in spite of wrath.
“Courage!” the morning-glory saith;
“Rejoice!” the daisy murmureth,
And just to live is so divine
When pansies lift their eyes to mine.

The clouds are romping with the sea,
And flashing waves call back to me
That naught is real but what is fair,
That everywhere and everywhere
A glory liveth through despair.
Though guns may roar and cannon boom,
Roses are born and gardens bloom;
My spirit still may light its flame
At that same torch whence poppies came.
Where morning’s altar whitely burns
Lilies may lift their silver urns
In spite of war, in spite of shame.

And in my ear a whispering breath,
“Wake from the nightmare! Look and see
That life is naught but ecstasy
In spite of war, in spite of death!”

This poem may be inspiring for those who are going through a hard time that has taken the joy out of life. Here, the speaker argues that even when the world is chaotic, life itself is beautiful. Having lived during both of the World Wars, Angela Morgan shares that everything in the natural world carried on despite the devastating war that was taking place.

This is an inspiring message because the same can be said about our lives. Life goes on, even after a setback or a tragedy. Readers are encouraged to look at the surrounding beauty in the world instead of focusing on the negative aspects of life.

11. Dylan Thomas, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’

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 grieve 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.

Sometimes, the easiest thing to do when things are going downhill is to quit. Written for his dying father, Thomas uses this poem to encourage those who are facing inevitable failure to continue to do their best. There is a sense of urgency in this poem that inspires readers to use all of their power and strength to fight and persevere, even if they’ve lost all hope for success.

This poem inspires readers to use all of their willpower for as long as they can, even when it feels hopeless. It also celebrates an enthusiasm for life, pointing to the fact that it is both fragile and short.

12.  Emily Dickinson, ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’

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.

This poem uses imagery to relate hope with a bird perched “in the soul.” This is a figurative suggestion that people hold their hope in their minds–not in a place that’s physical or material. Dickinson goes on to explain that it’s comforting to hear a small bird sing during a storm without fear. Similarly, hope can console us when life becomes hard to bear.

13. Oriah Mountain Dreamer, ‘The Invitation’

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 centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving 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
to be realistic
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.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

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
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre 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
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.

‘The Invitation’ is about genuine relationships. In this poem, the speaker describes what she’s looking for when interacting with another person and the things she doesn’t care about. The power in this piece comes from its list format, with each statement building upon the last until an ideal outline of one’s mental, emotional, and spiritual being has been described.

This poem is inspirational for anyone who is selling themself short in relationships or getting involved with people that will “do for now”. One thing that the speaker points out is that she doesn’t care what the person does for a living–rather, she cares about their dreams and passions. This loops well into our common topic here on DGH about following your dreams instead of worrying about the image of your professional title. A genuine partner is also someone who is genuine to their own dreams and goals rather than the things society tells them to do.

14. Mother Teresa, ‘Do It Anyway’

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and some true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight.
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough.
Give the best you’ve got anyway.
You see,
in the final analysis it is between you and God;
it was never between you and them anyway.

This poem inspires readers to push through any negative factors that they encounter to be successful in their endeavors anyway. It inspires readers to do their best, no matter what challenges or setbacks they run into. The speaker finishes the poem by reminding the reader that, at the end of the day, the obstacles that one faces shouldn’t change one’s will to succeed, because in the end, outside circumstances are irrelevant.

This is an inspirational poem to anyone who is facing challenges while working toward a goal or who is dealing with toxic people who are trying to break them down in order to lift themselves up. The speaker urges the reader to keep fighting the good fight and all will be right in the end. 

15. Edmund Vance Cooke, ‘How Did You Die?’

Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it,
And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?
You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what’s that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there — that’s disgrace.
The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts,
It’s how did you fight — and why?
And though you be done to the death, what then?
If you battled the best you could,
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only how did you die?

This poem is inspirational for those who are facing adversity. The speaker maintains that one’s attitude and sense of perseverance when struggling to overcome a challenge is all that matters. The speaker encourages readers to not give up and give their best effort to everything in life.

Just as we often refer to the value of the process when working toward reaching a goal and the learning opportunities that come along with every experience, the speaker also notes that even if one does not succeed, it’s the journey that counts. Readers are encouraged to hold their heads up high at the end of their life and die with a sense of acceptance, knowing that you did your best.

Final Thoughts on Inspirational Poems About Life

So there you have it: 15 poems you can read in just a few minutes that can give you the boost you need to regain a positive attitude. Keep these poems close by to reference whenever you feel like you need some motivation to either get back on or stay on the right track.

Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.

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