The best evening poems
From sunsets to twilight and dusky moments, poets have often focused on that time of day when the light is fading, and mused upon the significance of it. Below are ten of the best evening poems, anti-aubades (aubades, from the French for dawn, are poems about the other end of the day), whether literal or metaphorical evenings. The finest poems about the evening often consider both the literal evening and the broader significance of such a time of day. So, as the light is fading, let us begin…
William Wordsworth, ‘It is a beauteous evening, calm and free’. Is there a more calming and uplifting opening line in all of English poetry for recalling when outside on a lovely evening? This sonnet by Romantic poet Wordsworth (1770-1850) would take some beating, we reckon – it’s one of the best evening poems in the language.
Emily Brontë, ‘I know not how it falls on me’. This short poem is about the summer evening falling upon the poem’s speaker, and sees her making her peace with nature and the elements, having overlooked their healing and uplifting powers for so long. We’ve probably all felt that way at some point, especially on a warm summer evening. We include this poem in our pick of the best short Emily Brontë poems – click on the link above and scroll down to number 8 on the list.
Charles Baudelaire, ‘The Sunset of Romanticism’. The nineteenth-century French poet Baudelaire’s description of the sunset as ‘like a throbbing heart’ (as it is rendered in the English translation we’ve linked to) at first strikes us as run-of-the-mill Romanticism, until Baudelaire – he who wrote a volume of poems titled Le Fleurs du mal, or ‘the flowers of evil’ – gives the evening scene a darker edge. An ‘odour of the tomb’ is in the air, and we are far away from the ‘beauteous evening’ of Wordsworth.
Emily Dickinson, ‘An Ignorance a Sunset’. Emily Dickinson often provides an idiosyncratic look at the world of nature – well, the world in general – and this poem of hers about the evening sun is a prime example of her eccentric talent. Her description of the sunset as an ‘Amber Revelation’ is especially striking.
Thomas Hardy, ‘The Darkling Thrush’. This classic Hardy poem captures the mood of a winter evening as the sun, ‘the weakening eye of day’, sets below the horizon and gives way to dusk on New Year’s Eve. Hardy hears a thrush singing, and wonders whether the thrush is aware of some reason to be hopeful for the coming new year, some reason of which Hardy himself is unaware.
A. E. Housman, ‘How clear, how lovely bright’. Okay, so the first two stanzas of this poem address the morning and daytime, but it’s for the sublime final stanza that we’ve included this poem here. The last line of the poem gave Colin Dexter the title of his final Inspector Morse novel, The Remorseful Day; in the books, Housman is Morse’s favourite poet. However, Housman seems to have borrowed the phrase from Shakespeare’s Macbeth (‘The gaudy, blabbing, and remorseful day / Is crept into the bosom of the sea’) – but what he does with the phrase is quite arresting and memorable here.
T. E. Hulme, ‘A City Sunset’. Along with his more famous poem ‘Autumn’, this was one of the first two poems T. E. Hulme wrote as an illustration of what he thought modern English poetry should be, following the French vers libre (or free verse) model. Few poets before Hulme had thought to compare the red sunset to the naked flesh of a mistress of King Charles II, but the unusual simile only makes his poem all the more arresting and his description of the evening sunset – as seen by a London-dweller – even more visceral and vivid.
Robert Frost, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’. One of Frost’s best-loved poems if not the best-loved (the rival would be ‘The Road Not Taken’), ‘Stopping by Woods’, like Hardy’s ‘The Darkling Thrush’, takes a wintry evening as its setting but goes further into the woods than Hardy did (who was merely leaning ‘upon a coppice gate’). This is one of the most perennially popular evening poems, so had to be included here!
Philip Larkin, ‘Going’. This short, unrhymed poem by Philip Larkin was called a ‘belated Imagist’ piece by the noted Larkin critic and biographer James Booth. It’s a good description: Larkin’s likening of the evening to approaching death, and the comparison of both to a silken bedsheet or piece of clothing, make for a memorable poem – and that’s to say nothing of the questions with which the poem ends.
Anne Sexton, ‘The Fury of Sunsets’. Sexton (1928-74) was an American confessional poet, a contemporary of Sylvia Plath; she also, like Plath, took her own life. But Sexton’s work is distinct from Plath’s, and hers is a distinctive voice. ‘The Fury of Sunsets’ is a wonderfully raw and angry poem, containing the wonderful lines ‘All day I’ve built a lifetime and now the sun sinks to undo it.’ Who hasn’t felt like that some evenings?
That concludes our pick of ten of the greatest evening poems. What wonderful paean to sunsets would you add to our list?
For more classic poetry, we recommend The Oxford Book of English Verse – perhaps the best poetry anthology on the market (we offer our pick of the best poetry anthologies here). You might also enjoy our pick of the best morning poems, our poems for night-time, and our poems about the sun and sunsets.