By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
Poetry can be an effective and powerful way of showing our gratitude to someone or for something. And through the centuries, poets have often expressed gratitude for a whole host of things: their spouses, the friendship of someone who has supported them, and much else. Some poets have even waxed lyrical about the very concept of gratitude and being grateful. Here are ten of our top picks of best poems about gratitude and appreciation.
1. Anne Bradstreet, ‘To My Dear and Loving Husband’.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever …
An ideal poem to show gratitude to a partner: Bradstreet praises her ‘dear and loving husband’, whom she regards as the one who completes her. His love is more valuable to her than all the riches of the East, all the gold in the world. Her love for him, too, can never be exhausted.
Bradstreet was the first person in the New World (now the United States) to have a book of poems published, in the mid-seventeenth century. It’s hardly surprising, then, that love and support are worth more than gold or treasure in such a tough environment.
2. William Cowper, ‘Gratitude and Love to God’.
All are indebted much to thee,
But I far more than all,
From many a deadly snare set free,
And raised from many a fall.
Overwhelm me, from above,
Daily, with thy boundless love …
Cowper is perhaps best-known for the Olney Hymns, written in Buckinghamshire (in the village of Olney, just a few miles north of the new town of Milton Keynes) in the 1770s, with John Newton providing the music and the poet William Cowper writing the lyrics.
In this poem, Cowper calls for Charity, that figure personifying one of the cardinal virtues, to break the chains which bind mankind.
3. George Meredith, ‘Appreciation’.
Earth was not Earth before her sons appeared,
Nor Beauty Beauty ere young Love was born:
And thou when I lay hidden wast as morn
At city-windows, touching eyelids bleared;
To none by her fresh wingedness endeared …
A touching tribute to a woman’s beauty from this underappreciated Victorian poet. This poem, a Petrarchan sonnet, sees Meredith appreciating a woman who embodies Beauty in every aspect.
4. Emily Dickinson, ‘I went to thank Her’.
I went to thank Her –
But She Slept –
Her Bed – a funneled Stone –
With Nosegays at the Head and Foot –
That Travellers – had thrown …
This poem is often interpreted as a poem in memory of another female poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who died in 1861. Read this way, it’s a nice tribute from one poet to another, expressing deep and heartfelt gratitude for her influence and inspiration.
5. Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, ‘Gratitude’.
If gratitude a poor man’s virtue is,
’Tis one at least my sick soul can afford.
Bankrupt I am of all youth’s charities,
But not of thanks. No. Thanks be to the Lord …
Perhaps no list of poems about gratitude would be complete without one thanking, not a human benefactor, but a divine one. Here, the English poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840-1922) thanks God.
6. W. B. Yeats, ‘Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors’.
What they undertook to do
They brought to pass;
All things hang like a drop of dew
Upon a blade of grass.
This short poem, reproduced in full above, is a late one from 1932, and sees Yeats expressing his gratitude to the eponymous spirits or muses for bringing to him the necessary images for his poetry. All poets should express such gratitude!
7. E. Nesbit, ‘Gratitude’.
I found a starving cat in the street:
It cried for food and a place by the fire.
I carried it home, and I strove to meet
The claims of its desire.
And since its desire was a little fish,
A little hay and a little milk,
I gave it cream in a silver dish
And a basket lined with silk …
Cats show their gratitude to their humans in their own way, and here, Nesbit – better-known now as the author of such classics of children’s literature as The Railway Children and Five Children and It – tells of how she rescued a starving cat from the street and fed it, pampering it, only to get some surprising treatment for her pains …
8. Lucy Maud Montgomery, ‘Gratitude’.
I thank thee, friend, for the beautiful thought
That in words well chosen thou gavest to me,
Deep in the life of my soul it has wrought
With its own rare essence to ever imbue me …
Montgomery (1874-1942) is best-known for her classic novel for children, Anne of Green Gables, set in Montgomery’s own country of Canada (on Prince Edward Island). But Montgomery was also a poet, and in this short poem she thanks her friend for the most valuable gift of all – a beautiful thought.
9. Carl Sandburg, ‘Our Prayer of Thanks’.
Another prayer of gratitude: the American poet Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) considers all the things to offer a prayer of thanks to God for: the laughter of children, the sunset and the stars, and much else.
10. Dana Gioia, ‘Thanks for Remembering Us’.
Michael Dana Gioia (b. 1950) is the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California, where he teaches poetry. In December 2015 he became the California State Poet Laureate.
In this poem, Gioia offers thanks for the flowers that were delivered to his house by accident – or did some unknown benefactor send them to say thank you for something? As the flowers begin to die, Gioia is left wondering whether he can really bear to throw out ‘a gift we’ve never owned’…