In previous posts, we’ve offered the best poems about mothers, the best poems about fathers, the best poems about sons, and the best poems about daughters. Below are some of the very best poems about family of all kinds: both individual relatives and the family unit as a whole. What are the best family poems, and the best poems about families? Do you have any favourites?
Anne Bradstreet, ‘Upon My Daughter Hannah Wiggin Her Recouery From A Dangerous Feaver’.
Bles’t bee thy Name, who did’st restore
To health my Daughter dear
When death did seem ev’n to approach,
And life was ended near.
Gravnt shee remember what thov’st done,
And celebrate thy Praise;
And let her Conversation say,
Shee loues thee all thy Dayes.
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.
William Wordsworth, ‘To My Sister’.
My sister! (’tis a wish of mine)
Now that our morning meal is done,
Make haste, your morning task resign;
Come forth and feel the sun.
Edward will come with you—and, pray,
Put on with speed your woodland dress;
And bring no book: for this one day
We’ll give to idleness.
William Wordsworth’s debt to his sister Dorothy in inspiring arguably his most famous poem immediately suggests that Dorothy Wordsworth was worthy of a poem herself, and sure enough, William penned this touching poem to his sister about spending the day together and having some leisure time outdoors: ‘Then come, my Sister! come, I pray, / With speed put on your woodland dress; / And bring no book: for this one day / We’ll give to idleness.’
Thomas Moore, ‘All in a Family Way’.
I have found out a secret for Freddy,
A secret for next Budget day;
Though, perhaps he may know it already,
As he, too, ‘s a sage in his way.
When next for the Treasury scene he
Announces ‘the Devil to pay’,
Let him write on the bills, ‘Nota bene,
‘Tis all in the family way.’
This poem was written in 1826, when Britain was still paying off the recent Napoleonic Wars. The national debt the country owed is here satirically laughed off: since Britain is one big family, the debt doesn’t matter! ‘My tradesmen are smashing by dozens, / But this is all nothing, they say; / For bankrupts since Adam are cousins, – / So, it’s all in the family way.’
Christina Rossetti, ‘Sonnets Are Full of Love’. In this sonnet, Rossetti (1830-94) praises her mother, ‘my first Love’, ‘on whose knee / I learnt love-lore that is not troublesome’. It’s a nice tribute to the poet’s mother and the role she played in making her daughter the poet – and woman – she had become.
Edgar Albert Guest, ‘The Stick-Together Families’. Guest (1881-1959) was born in Birmingham in England, but it was in America – where he lived and died – that he made his name as the ‘People’s Poet’. In this poem, Guest argues that the families that stick together and remember that blood is thicker than water are the best kinds of families, and the happiest.
Langston Hughes, ‘Mother to Son’. Probably the best-known poet of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes (1902-67) adopts the maternal voice for this short poem, expressing the views of an African American mother as she addresses her son, telling him that life has been hard for her but that the important thing is to keep climbing and not to turn back.
Ogden Nash, ‘Family Court’. Nash (1902-71), the American master of the short, pithy comic poem, here turns his talents on the topic of family. We won’t quote any of it here since it deserves to be read in its entirety – and it’s only four lines – but let’s just say that it’s a reminder that we can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family…
Ruth Stone, ‘Pokeberries’. In this poem about family, the American poet Ruth Stone (1915-2011) recalls her childhood in the Virginia mountains, with her grandmother’s bed of pansies and her aunt’s dandelion wine. Her family, especially her female relatives, made her who she is.
Philip Larkin, ‘This Be the Verse’. Probably written during the Easter vacation of 1971 at his mother’s house in Loughborough, Leicestershire, this is a less celebratory take on family and the influence parents have on their children. Its opening line is one of the best-known in all of poetry – but don’t recite it too loudly in your local library (warning: contains swearing!). You can read our analysis of ‘This Be The Verse’ here.
Maya Angelou, ‘Human Family’. Some families are serious, while others thrive on comedy, as Maya Angelou (1928-2014) notes in this poem. We are all different – and yet we are all one big ‘human family’, regardless of our race or attitudes. We are more alike than we are unalike – which seems like a pretty decent note on which to bring this selection of the best family poems to an end.