The greatest daughter poems selected by Dr Oliver Tearle
Anne Bradstreet, ‘Upon My Daughter Hannah Wiggin Her Recouery From A Dangerous Feaver’. Bradstreet (1612-72) was the first published poet of America, and early colonial life was hard, and often short. Fever, unsurprisingly, looms large in Bradstreet’s poetry, which is remarkable for its tenderness about members of her family, as also glimpsed in her poem to her husband. In this poem, Bradstreet thanks God for delivering her daughter Hannah from a fever.
Robert Burns, ‘A Poet’s Welcome to His Love-Begotten Daughter’. Written in 1785, this poem was written about the birth of Burns’s daughter, whom he had with Elizabeth Paton, a local servant girl (the two were not married and Burns was fined for ‘fornication’). This explains the adjectival ‘love-begotten’ in the title: Burns’s daughter was the product of love rather than marital duty.
W. B. Yeats, ‘A Prayer for My Daughter’. This 1919 poem was written for Anne, Yeats’s daughter with Georgie Hyde Lees, whom Yeats married after his last marriage proposal to Maud Gonne was rejected in 1916. In the poem, Yeats watches his sleeping daughter and thinks of all the things he wishes for her: beauty (but not too much beauty), and a personality that is free from hatred.
T. S. Eliot, ‘Marina’. One of several ‘Ariel poems’ Eliot wrote for the Christmas greetings-cards put out by his publisher (and employer), Faber and Faber, ‘Marina’ was first published in 1930, its title referring to the daughter of Pericles in the play by Shakespeare (or, we should say, the play to which Shakespeare is thought to have contributed). Pericles laments his lost daughter – or rather, the daughter he thought he had lost, but with whom he is now reconciled.
Philip Larkin, ‘Born Yesterday’. Written for Sally Amis, the daughter of Larkin’s friend Kingsley Amis and his first wife Hilly, ‘Born Yesterday’ sees Larkin wishing for whatever will make the newborn baby happy: indeed, if a ‘catching of happiness’ is called being ordinary, and unremarkable (for extraordinary and remarkable people have more expectations placed on their shoulders, which they can never live up to), then these qualities are what Larkin hopes his friends’ daughter will grow up to have.
For more classic poetry, we also 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, and list the best books for the poetry student here). Discover more great poems with these poems about the world of work, these great poems about items of clothing, and these poems for birthdays.
The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and lecturer in English at Loughborough University. He is the author of, among others, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History and The Great War, The Waste Land and the Modernist Long Poem.