Poems have been written about women from early times though they were mostly through men’s perspective. The favorite theme of the famous American poet Edgar Allan Poe was the death of a young, beautiful and dearly loved woman. His poem Annabel Lee features on our list. Le Lac by French poet Lamartine is another popular 19th century poem about a dearly loved woman. With better opportunities in the second half of the 20th century, women began to contribute and even dominate the literary genre of poetry. Poems of the great female writers of this period feature prominently our list. Though these we see more clearly the female perspective in poetry. Our list contains diverse poems about women pertaining to motherhood; childbirth; male oppression; father-daughter relationship; loss of love; and even how a lover thinks a woman would regret her decisions when she is old. Here are the 10 most famous poems about women by renowned poets.
#10 An Introduction
It is I who laugh, it is I who make love And then, feel shame, it is I who lie dying With a rattle in my throat. I am sinner, I am saint. I am the beloved and the Betrayed. I have no joys that are not yours, no Aches which are not yours. I too call myself I. Read Full Poem Here
This is an autobiographical poem which throws light on the life and work of the Indian poet Kamala Das. Das begins the poem by saying that she doesn’t understand politics but she knows the name of politicians probably referring to the fact that power is in the hands of a few elites and that it is usually males who run the country. She then gives a brief introduction of herself before she focuses on English being the medium she uses to expresses herself; how people criticize her for that; and why it is no one’s business other than herself. The poem then moves to her early and unsuccessful marriage and how the society she lives in is male dominated. The primary focus of the poem is the situation of women in a patriarchal society and the unjust burdens women have to go through in this male dominated world. Kamala Das or Kamala Surayya is one of the best known Indian female poets and this is her most famous work.
#9 Woman Work
I've got the children to tend The clothes to mend The floor to mop The food to shop Then the chicken to fry The baby to dry I got company to feed The garden to weed I've got shirts to press The tots to dress The can to be cut I gotta clean up this hut Then see about the sick And the cotton to pick. Shine on me, sunshine Rain on me, rain Fall softly, dewdrops And cool my brow again. Storm, blow me from here With your fiercest wind Let me float across the sky 'Til I can rest again. Fall gently, snowflakes Cover me with white Cold icy kisses and Let me rest tonight. Sun, rain, curving sky Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone Star shine, moon glow You're all that I can call my own.
Maya Angelou is perhaps the most famous female poet till date and Woman Work is among her best known poems. In it, the narrator is a stay-at-home mother who is engaged in a long day of tiring work. In the first stanza, she lists, without complaining, the various household chores she has to complete in a single day. The remaining paragraphs are more relaxed as the woman takes solace in nature and the poem ends with the woman expressing that elements of nature are “all that I can call my own”. In Woman Work, Angelou conveys masterfully a housewife’s want for rest from her tiring and mundane work, making it one of her most popular and relatable poems on women.
#8 When You Are Old
|Poet:||William Butler Yeats|
When you are old and grey and full of sleep, And nodding by the fire, take down this book, And slowly read, and dream of the soft look Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep; How many loved your moments of glad grace, And loved your beauty with love false or true, But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, And loved the sorrows of your changing face; And bending down beside the glowing bars, Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled And paced upon the mountains overhead And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
This poem is considered to be an expression of Yeats’s unrequited love for his muse Maud Gonne. The speaker of the poem talks directly to his former lover. He asks her to cast her mind to a time when she is old. At that time, she will remember her past beauty and the many men who admired it. But unlike others he “loved the pilgrim soul” in her. Then she will murmur sadly “how Love fled” and regret that she didn’t value his love then. When You Are Old is written from the perspective of a young person imagining the one who rejected his love, when she is old. A novel expression of unrequited love, it remains one of the most popular poems about women by W B Yeats.
#7 In the Park
She sits in the park. Her clothes are out of date. Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt. A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt Someone she loved once passed by – too late to feign indifference to that casual nod. "How nice" et cetera. "Time holds great surprises." From his neat head unquestionably rises a small balloon…"but for the grace of God…" They stand a while in flickering light, rehearsing the children’s names and birthdays. "It’s so sweet to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive," she says to his departing smile. Then, nursing the youngest child, sits staring at her feet. To the wind she says, "They have eaten me alive."
Regarded as one of the finest poets of Australia, Gwen Harwood was a prolific writer who published 386 poems during her lifetime. The dominant theme in the poetry of Harwood is motherhood and the challenges associated with it. In this poem, the speaker, a mother, takes her children in the park; and there she encounters her ex-lover. The two discuss how their lives have progressed. They discuss her children but the conversation is superficial as the man actually thanks God that he did not end up with the woman and her children. The poem talks about the countless sacrifices a woman has to make for her children and how her life can get monotonous and torturous. Moreover, the poem shows symbolically the contrast in the life of the man and the woman. The poem is pessimistic in tone and its dominant theme is how stifling the life of a mother can get.
#6 Woman to Man
The eyeless labourer in the night, the selfless, shapeless seed I hold, builds for its resurrection day--- silent and swift and deep from sight foresees the unimagined light. This is no child with a child's face; this has no name to name it by; yet you and I have known it well. This is our hunter and our chase, the third who lay in our embrace. This is the strength that your arm knows, the arc of flesh that is my breast, the precise crystals of our eyes. This is the blood's wild tree that grows the intricate and folded rose. This is the maker and the made; this is the question and reply; the blind head butting at the dark, the blaze of light along the blade. Oh hold me, for I am afraid.
A short story writer, an environmentalist and a campaigner for the land rights of the Aboriginal people of Australia, Judith Wright is still most famous for her poetry. She is known for her concise, traditional verse which was in keeping with the latest poetic trends in the west and which often captured the landscapes and lifestyles of Australia. Women to Man, the most famous poem of Wright, is an extended metaphor for the developing embryo in the womb of the narrator. It is written from the perspective of a pregnant woman who marvels at the development of the embryo and notices the changes in her body as a result of becoming pregnant. The poem describes the wonder and awe of the speaker as a new life is being created within her. The prominent themes of the poem are unity, life and nature.
#5 The Lady of Shalott
Part I On either side the river lie Long fields of barley and of rye, That clothe the wold and meet the sky; And thro' the field the road runs by To many-tower'd Camelot; The yellow-leaved waterlily The green-sheathed daffodilly Tremble in the water chilly Round about Shalott. Willows whiten, aspens shiver. The sunbeam showers break and quiver In the stream that runneth ever By the island in the river Flowing down to Camelot. Four gray walls, and four gray towers Overlook a space of flowers, And the silent isle imbowers The Lady of Shalott. Underneath the bearded barley, The reaper, reaping late and early, Hears her ever chanting cheerly, Like an angel, singing clearly, O'er the stream of Camelot. Piling the sheaves in furrows airy, Beneath the moon, the reaper weary Listening whispers, ' 'Tis the fairy, Lady of Shalott.' The little isle is all inrail'd With a rose-fence, and overtrail'd With roses: by the marge unhail'd The shallop flitteth silken sail'd, Skimming down to Camelot. A pearl garland winds her head: She leaneth on a velvet bed, Full royally apparelled, The Lady of Shalott. Read Full Poem Here
The most famous of Tennyson’s early poems, The Lady of Shalott is loosely based on the legend of Elaine of Astolat who dies of her unrequited love for British knight Sir Lancelot. In Tennyson’s poem, the Lady of Shalott suffers from a mysterious curse by which she must see the outside world only through a mirror. She sees Sir Lancelot as he rides by and is deeply affected. Being “half-sick of shadows” she looks out of her window, bringing about the curse. She leaves her tower and finds a boat to travel down the river to Camelot. She dies before reaching her destination and, among the people who see her dead body, is Lancelot, who thinks “she has a lovely face”. The poem was hugely popular among artists and several paintings depict scenes from it. It continues to be a part of popular culture.
#4 Le Lac
|English Title:||The Lake|
|Poet:||Alphonse de Lamartine|
So driven onward to new shores forever, Into the night eternal swept away,2 Upon the sea of time can we not ever Drop anchor for one day? O Lake! Scarce has a single year coursed past. To waves that she was meant to see again, I come alone to sit upon this stone You saw her sit on then. You lowed just so below those plunging cliffs. Just so you broke about their riven flanks. Just so the wind flung your spray forth to wash Her feet which graced your banks Read Full Poem Here
Lamartine is considered one of the greatest French poets of the 19th century and Le Lac is his best known poem. The poem is an elegy for Julie Charles, the poet’s muse and the wife of the famous physician Jacques Charles. Lamartine had met Julie in 1816 on the shores of Lake Bourget in Savoie, France. The two were supposed to meet again in August the following year but she became ill with tuberculosis and subsequently died. Lamartine went to the lake alone visiting the places they that explored together the previous year. He then recorded the experience in this poem of sixteen quatrains. Le Lac met with great acclaim on being published and inspired a generation of French Romantic poets. It is the most famous French elegy and one of the most widely read French poems.
#3 Annabel Lee
|Poet:||Edgar Allan Poe|
It was many and many a year ago, In a kingdom by the sea, That a maiden there lived whom you may know By the name of Annabel Lee; And this maiden she lived with no other thought Than to love and be loved by me. I was a child and she was a child, In this kingdom by the sea, But we loved with a love that was more than love— I and my Annabel Lee— With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven Coveted her and me. And this was the reason that, long ago, In this kingdom by the sea, A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling My beautiful Annabel Lee; So that her highborn kinsmen came And bore her away from me, To shut her up in a sepulchre In this kingdom by the sea. The angels, not half so happy in Heaven, Went envying her and me— Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know, In this kingdom by the sea) That the wind came out of the cloud by night, Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee. But our love it was stronger by far than the love Of those who were older than we— Of many far wiser than we— And neither the angels in Heaven above Nor the demons down under the sea Can ever dissever my soul from the soul Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride, In her sepulchre there by the sea— In her tomb by the sounding sea.
Edgar Allan Poe is the most famous American romantic poet and one of the most influential figures in English literature. This was his last complete poem and it was published in New York Tribune on 9th October 1849, two days after his death. The poem follows one of Poe’s recurrent themes — the death of a young, beautiful and dearly loved woman. The narrator, who fell in love with Annabel Lee when they were young, believes that their love was so intense that angels became envious and caused her death. He retains his love for her even after her death and is sure they will be reunited. Annabel Lee is thought to be written by Poe in memory of his wife Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe, who had died a couple of years earlier.
#2 Phenomenal Woman
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size But when I start to tell them, They think I’m telling lies. I say, It’s in the reach of my arms, The span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me. I walk into a room Just as cool as you please, And to a man, The fellows stand or Fall down on their knees. Then they swarm around me, A hive of honey bees. I say, It’s the fire in my eyes, And the flash of my teeth, The swing in my waist, And the joy in my feet. I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me. Men themselves have wondered What they see in me. They try so much But they can’t touch My inner mystery. When I try to show them, They say they still can’t see. I say, It’s in the arch of my back, The sun of my smile, The ride of my breasts, The grace of my style. I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me. Now you understand Just why my head’s not bowed. I don’t shout or jump about Or have to talk real loud. When you see me passing, It ought to make you proud. I say, It’s in the click of my heels, The bend of my hair, the palm of my hand, The need for my care. ’Cause I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me.
Maya Angelou has been referred to as “people’s poet” and “the black woman’s poet laureate”. She is one of the most renowned poets of all time and her poetry is widely read till date. In this poem, the narrator, a self-confident woman, talks about the traits that make her phenomenal despite her not adhering to the world’s view of how a woman should look. Despite not being “built to suit a fashion model’s size”, women wonder where her secret lies and men swarm around her like honey bees. Maya Angelou said that she wrote Phenomenal Woman for all women, regardless of their race or appearance. It is perhaps the most popular of her poems that she often recited for audiences during her public appearances. It was also one of Angelou’s poems featured in the 1993 American film Poetic Justice.
You do not do, you do not do Any more, black shoe In which I have lived like a foot For thirty years, poor and white, Barely daring to breathe or Achoo. Daddy, I have had to kill you. You died before I had time—— Marble-heavy, a bag full of God, Ghastly statue with one gray toe Big as a Frisco seal And a head in the freakish Atlantic Where it pours bean green over blue In the waters off beautiful Nauset. I used to pray to recover you. Ach, du. Read Full Poem Here
Daddy was written by Sylvia Plath in October 1962, around four months before she committed suicide, and was published posthumously as part of the poetry collection Ariel. Containing sixteen five-line stanzas, the poem is narrated by a girl who has Electra complex, analogous to a boy’s Oedipus complex. It deals with the narrator’s effort to get over her complex emotions for her deceased father, who apart from suppressing her daughter, was also a Nazi. Plath uses dark and vivid imagery in the poem and controversially uses the Holocaust as a metaphor. Several critics consider the poem to be related to the writer’s complex relationship with her father, Otto Plath, who died shortly after her eighth birthday due to diabetes. It is also considered to be an articulation against male dominance. Daddy is the most famous poem by Sylvia Plath and one of the best-known of the twentieth century.