A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

30 Short Poems That’ll Help You Read More Poetry This Year

Updated: Apr. 19, 2024

Appreciating poetry doesn't have to take a lot of time, as these moving short poems prove

Short Poem Ft V2
RD.com, Getty Images

The beauty of short poems

Poetry provides the words we’re searching for, no matter the situation. Poetry books have love poems for times when you want to be romantic, poems for kids and limericks for when you feel like laughing. You’ll find long poems to spend an evening with and short poems to read in snatches of time. Maybe that’s why poetry has even taken over TikTok. But if you need a quick-acting dose of inspiration, the short poems in this collection have just what you’re looking for.

In a couple of minutes—or seconds!—these poems will open your mind, touch your heart, refresh your spirit or simply make you laugh. (Sorry, they’re all longer than the shortest popular poem, a single letter m with an extra leg, conceived by Aram Saroyan.)

We hope you enjoy these mini masterpieces from around the globe and across the centuries. They’ll take you moments to read but much longer to forget.

Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for more poetry, humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.

 30 Short Poems That Will Help You Read More Poetry This Year 1 Graphic

1. “You Smiled, You Spoke, and I Believed” by Walter Savage Landor

You smiled, you spoke, and I believed,
By every word and smile deceived.
Another man would hope no more;
Nor hope I what I hoped before:
But let not this last wish be vain;
Deceive, deceive me once again!

While this short poem is far from being romantic enough to use as a love quote, it’s a clever wordplay on the masterpiece of deception. And here’s an interesting tidbit about its poet, Walter Savage Landor: He was passionate about writing in Latin. In fact, he wrote more than 300 poems and essays in the classic language.

Short Poem 6 V2
RD.com, Getty Images

2. “Love” by Sappho

Love, like a mountain-wind upon an oak,
Falling upon me, shakes me leaf and bough.

Translated by William Ellery Leonard

Only fragments remain of the work of Sappho, a poet born around 650 BCE on the Greek island of Lesbos, but they were more than enough to earn her an immortal place in literature. Her dazzlingly sensual poems were written for women, and collections of her poetry are must-reads if you’re looking to fill your shelves with more LGBTQ+ books. For more poems to send the woman who shakes you leaf and bough, try these love poems for her.

Short Poems That Will Help You Read More Poetry This Year

3. “There is no Frigate like a Book” by Emily Dickinson

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll –
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human Soul –

The best books transport readers in ways a plane or boat (“frigate”) cannot. Likewise, poems such as this one carry us to faraway lands faster than the fastest horse (or, in the words of this poem, “courser”). Emily Dickinson would know—she rarely left her hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts. Perhaps the prolific poet was content with letting her mind journey through her transportive short poems.

Short Poem 2
RD.com, Getty Images

4. “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

One very simple short poem is “The Red Wheelbarrow.” This clean-cut gem by Jewish American poet and doctor William Carlos Williams invites us into a moment of mindfulness and appreciation of everyday beauty. For more inspiration from the world around you, try these nature poems.

Short Poems That Will Help You Read More Poetry This Year

5. “Defeated” by Sophie Jewett

When the last fight is lost, the last sword broken;
The last call sounded, the last order spoken;
When from the field where braver hearts lie sleeping,
Faint, and athirst, and blinded, I come creeping,
With not one waving shred of palm to bring you,
With not one splendid battle-song to sing you,
O Love, in my dishonor and defeat,
Your measureless compassion will be sweet.

Born in 1861, Sophie Jewett wrote under the pseudonym Ellen Burroughs. Her verses revolve around the loss of love and the feeling of defeat that comes with its absence. It’s one of those powerful short poems about life that can change the way you think.

Short Poem 3 V2
RD.com, Getty Images

6. “Poem” by Langston Hughes

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

One of America’s most famous poets, Langston Hughes was a key figure of the Harlem Renaissance, a huge upsurge in art and literature in the Black American community in the early 20th century. If you like Langston Hughes’s poems, it’s time to read these other great works by Black poets.

 30 Short Poems That Will Help You Read More Poetry This Year 7 Graphic

7. “A Lady Dressed By Youth” by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle

Her hair was curls of Pleasure and Delight,
Which on her brow did cast a glistening light.
As lace her bashful eyelids downward hung:
A modest countenance o’er her face was flung:
Blushes, as coral beads, she strung to wear
About her neck, and pendants for each ear:
Her gown was by Proportion cut and made,
With veins embroidered, with complexion laid,
Rich jewels of pure honor she did wear,
By noble actions brightened everywhere:
Thus dressed, to Fame’s great court straightways she went,
To dance a brawl with Youth, Love, Mirth, Content.

In the bustling world of 17th-century literature and science, Margaret Cavendish was a true Renaissance woman who dabbled in various genres of work, from poetry and biography to drama and science fiction.

Short Poem 4 V2
RD.com, Getty Images

8. “Lesbia Railing” by Gaius Valerius Catullus

Lesbia forever on me rails.
To talk of me she never fails.
Now, hang me, but for all her art,
I find that I have gained her heart.

My proof is this: I plainly see
The case is just the same with me;
I curse her every hour sincerely,
Yet, hang me, but I love her dearly.

Translated by Jonathan Swift

Gaius Valerius Catullus was a Roman poet who lived from 84 to 54 BCE. He was known for his scathing wit and for being both earthy and intellectual, and this short poem, which still rings hilariously true across the centuries, is no exception. “Lesbia,” to whom Catullus dedicated many poems, was probably a married woman named Clodia with whom he was having an affair. If you want to keep laughing, try these funny poems.

Short Poem 5 V2
RD.com, Getty Images

9. “To an Icicle” by Blanche Taylor Dickinson

Chilled into a serenity
As rigid as your pose
You linger trustingly,
But a gutter waits for you.
Your elegance does not secure
You favors with the sun.
He is not one to pity fragileness.
He thinks all cheeks should burn
And feel how tears can run.

Kentucky-born Blanche Taylor Dickinson was another figure of the Harlem Renaissance and published journalism, short stories and poems while working as a teacher in segregated schools.

Short Poem 7
RD.com, Getty Images

10. “My Love” by Ono No Yoshiki

My love
Is like the grasses
Hidden in the deep mountain:
Though its abundance increases,
There is none that knows

Translated by Arthur Waley

“My Love” appears in the Kokinshū, an anthology published in Japan in 902. Short poems go by many names, depending on their form. You may be familiar with haikus or limericks. In the Japanese tradition, a five-line poem is called a waka or tanka and has five, seven, five, seven and seven syllables. While the syllable counts sometimes get lost in translation, the meaning does not. If the object of your hidden love is a man, try these love poems for him.

Short Poem 9 V2
RD.com, Getty Images

11. “Boats Sail on the Rivers” by Christina Rossetti

Boats sail on the rivers,
And ships sail on the seas;
But clouds that sail across the sky
Are prettier far than these.
There are bridges on the rivers,
As pretty as you please;
But the bow that bridges heaven,
And overtops the trees,
And builds a road from earth to sky,
Is prettier far than these.

One of the most deceptively simple short poems, Christina Rossetti’s “Boats Sail on the Rivers” cleverly suggests that nature’s work is far more impressive than anything humans can build. Born in 1830 to an Italian father and English mother, Rossetti, like her brother, Dante, was a highly regarded poet in her own lifetime, and her fame has endured to this day. It’s a moving poem to share with children, and a bit meatier than some of the sillier pieces of poetry they may be used to (like these funny limerick examples).

Short Poem 10 V2
RD.com, Getty Images

12. “I built my hut” by Tao Qian

I built my hut in a zone of human habitation,
But near me there sounds no noise of horse or coach.
Would you know how that is possible?
A heart that is distant creates a wilderness round it.
I pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge,
Then gaze long at the distant summer hills.
The mountain air is fresh at the dusk of day:
The flying birds two by two return.
In these things there lies a deep meaning;
Yet when we would express it, words suddenly fail us.

Translated by Arthur Waley

Tao Qian, also known as Tao Yuanming, lived from 365 to 427 in China. Chrysanthemums and wine are featured often in his poetry, which was judged as too simple in his own era and wasn’t appreciated until centuries after his death.

Short Poem 11
RD.com, Getty Images

13. “The Heart of a Woman” by Georgia Douglas Johnson

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn,
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on,
Afar o’er life’s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.

The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tries to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks on the sheltering bars.

Atlanta-born poet Georgia Douglas Johnson, whose parents were of African American, Native American and English ancestry, studied music and wrote poems and plays. When she moved to Washington, D.C., her house became a gathering place for writers of the Harlem Renaissance, earning it the nickname the “S Street Salon.” To discover a young poet who is a figure in American poetry today, read these Amanda Gorman poems.

Short Poem 12
RD.com, Getty Images

14. “Peace” by Bhartrihari

Courage, my Soul! now to the silent wood
Alone we wander, there to seek our food
In the wild fruits, and woo our dreamless sleep
On soft boughs gathered deep.

There loud authority in folly bold,
And tongues that stammer with disease of gold,
And murmur of the windy world shall cease,
Nor echo through our peace.

Translated by Paul Elmer Moore

A philosopher, grammarian and poet, Bhartrihari lived from 450 to 510 in India. His work blended the philosophy of language with mysticism, conceiving of language as part of the divine nature of the universe.

Short Poem 13 V2
RD.com, Getty Images

15. “Ode 13” by Hafiz

Oft have I said, I say it once more,
I, a wanderer, do not stray from myself.
I am a kind of parrot; the mirror is holden to me;
What the Eternal says, I stammering say again.
Give me what you will; I eat thistles as roses,
And according to my food I grow and I give.
Scorn me not, but know I have the pearl,
And am only seeking one to receive it.

Translated by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Persian poet Hafiz (also spelled Hafez) was born in about 1325 in Shiraz, Iran. His name refers to the feat of having learned the Koran by heart. The intimations of divinity in this short poem are apt because Hafiz was a devotee of Sufism, a mystical form of Islam that speaks of union with the divine through a personal experience of God.

Short Poem 14 V2
RD.com, Getty Images

16. “[Traveler, your footprints]” by Antonio Machado

Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship’s wake on the sea.

Antonio Machado was one of Spain’s greatest 20th-century poets and palled around with such literary lights as Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío and Irish author Oscar Wilde. This famous poem, which in Spanish sounds even more like a song, invites us to embrace being lost.

Short Poem 15
RD.com, Getty Images

17. “God Never Planted a Garden” by Anne Spencer

God never planted a garden
But He placed a keeper there
And the keeper ever razed the ground
And built a city where
God cannot walk at the eve of the day,
Nor take the morning air.

Anne Spencer was born in Virginia in 1882 to two former slaves. Something of a prodigy, Spencer graduated from college at 17 years old as valedictorian of her class. She helped found the Lynchburg, Virginia, chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and wrote poems that addressed sexism and racism as well as editorials attacking white supremacy. Many of her poems incorporate natural imagery—she herself created a famously exquisite garden in Lynchburg—but with an ironic tone, as in the case of this poem.

Short Poem 16
RD.com, Getty Images

18. “I Am Silent” by Jalal al-Din Rumi

I am Silent. Speak Thou, O Soul of Soul of Soul,
From desire of whose Face every atom grew

Translated by Frederick Hadland Davis

Born in 1207 in modern-day Afghanistan (then part of the Persian empire), Jalal al-Din Rumi gained fame in his own lifetime and remains one of the world’s most beloved poets to this day. He had an intense spiritual friendship with a mystic named Shams al-Din Tabrizi, whose later disappearance inspired intense sadness and longing that, in turn, seems to have inspired Rumi’s greatest works.

Short Poem 17
RD.com, Getty Images

19. “He Is Like a Lotus” from The Egyptian Book of the Dead

I am the pure lotus,
Springing up in splendor
Fed by the breath of Ra.
Rising into sunlight.
Out of soil and darkness,
I blossom in the Field

Translated by Robert Hillyer

This short but powerful set of verses comes from The Egyption Book of the Dead, a collection of nearly 200 ancient Egyptian burial spells meant to help the dead find their way into the afterlife. Short poems like this one may not be top of mind when considering funeral poetry, but it’s a moving option for those who are grieving.

Short Poem 18 V2
RD.com, Getty Images

20. “Tears” by al-Khansā’

Tears, ere thy death, for many a one I shed,
But thine are all my tears since thou art dead.
To comforters I lend my ear apart,
While pain sits ever closer to my heart.

Translated by R.A. Nicholson

Tamāḍir bint ‘Amr ibn al-Ḥārith ibn al-Sharīd, also known as al-Khansā’, which translates to “the snub-nosed one” (it’s meant as a compliment!), is considered one of the greatest poets in the Arabic language, despite having died in the 7th century. She is known for intensely emotional poems—we’re going way beyond funny roses-are-red poems here. Take, for instance, “Tears,” which memorializes the deaths of two of her brothers in tribal warfare. She was part of a tribe that converted to Islam during the life of the prophet Muhammed, whom she personally met.

Short Poem 19 V2
RD.com, Getty Images

21. “A Tree Design” by Arna Bontemps

A Tree is more than a shadow
Blurred against the sky,
More than ink spilled on the fringe
Of white clouds floating by.
A tree is more than an April design
Or a blighted winter bough
Where love and music used to be.
A tree is something in me,
Very still and lonely now.

Born in 1902, Arna Bontemps had this short poem selected for inclusion in a landmark anthology of Black American poetry, Caroling Dusk, when he was just 25 years old. It was just the beginning of a lifetime of scholarship and literary creation for the young poet, who was at the heart of the Harlem Renaissance and collaborated with other greats, such as Langston Hughes.

Short Poem 20 V2
RD.com, Getty Images

22. “April” by Sara Teasdale

The roofs are shining from the rain.
The sparrows tritter as they fly,
And with a windy April grace
The little clouds go by.

Yet the back-yards are bare and brown
With only one unchanging tree—
I could not be so sure of Spring
Save that it sings in me.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, to well-to-do parents, Sara Teasdale was a respected, award-winning poet in her time. Her poetry is known for its simplicity. This one, in just a few lines, evokes that familiar but contradictory feeling that spring will never get here and that it’s just about to arrive. If you’re searching for poems during the fall instead, give these Thanksgiving poems a try.

Short Poem 21 V2
RD.com, Getty Images

23. “Treasure” by Lucillius

They call thee rich; I deem thee poor;
Since, if thou dares not use thy store,
But saves only for thine heirs,
The treasure is not thine, but theirs.

Translated by William Cowper

The 1st-century Greek poet Lucillius was known for his mastery of the short poem format known as an epigram. He wrote more than 100 of them, usually satirizing his subject in a few witty lines.

Short Poem 22
RD.com, Getty Images

24. “Love Song” (traditional poem of the Hohokam)

Early I rose
In the blue morning;
My love was up before me,
It came running up to me from the doorways of the Dawn

On Papago Mountain
The dying quarry
Looked at me with my love’s eyes.

Translated by Mary Austin

The Hohokam were farmers in what is now southern Arizona for more than a thousand years until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. They were known for their intricate irrigation systems that allowed them to cultivate crops in the desert. Their descendants are the Tohono O’odham and Pima Nations. This short poem was collected by Mary Austin, an early-20th-century American poet of the modernist movement. Although she was not Native American, she worked to preserve and publish Native American poetry.

 30 Short Poems That Will Help You Read More Poetry This Year

25. “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost had a knack for capturing the essence of rural New England life and painting vivid pictures of ordinary folks in his written works. But in one of his most popular poems, “Fire and Ice,” he explored an intense end-of-the-world scenario, comparing fire to desire and ice to hate. This short poem was first published in Harper’s Magazine in December 1920 and later found its way into Frost’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book New Hampshire in 1923.

 30 Short Poems That Will Help You Read More Poetry This Year Graphic 26

26. “The End and the Beginning” by Ameen Rihani

The deed is done, O Kings: the blood is shed:
   The sword is broken:—broken, too, the Cross.
But she, the mother eternal of the dead,
   Though sorrow-laden, smiles at the loss.

You go down grimed with the blood and smoke of wars;
   Your armies scattered and your banners furled;
She comes down covered with the dust of stars,
   And gives her life again to build the world.

Lebanese American writer and activist Ameen Rihani published around 30 poems in Arabic and another 35 in English in the first half of the 20th century. And he wasn’t just a poet; he also gave lectures around the globe, including at Syrian Protestant College, which later became the American University of Beirut.

 30 Short Poems That Will Help You Read More Poetry This Year

27. “[The faint shadow of the morning moon?]” by Yone Noguchi

The faint shadow of the morning moon?
Nay, the snow falling on the earth.
The mist of blossoming flowers?
Nay, poetry smiling up the sky.

Poet Yone Noguchi made history as the first Japanese-born writer to share his poetry with the world in English. After moving to San Francisco in 1893, he became a journalist and domestic servant. His poetic journey began with humble beginnings, as he published his first poems in a small California magazine called The Lark. He later moved back to Japan and became known for his cross-cultural storytelling in English and Japanese. And here’s an interesting bit of trivia: He was also the father of the famous sculptor Isamu Noguchi. 

 30 Short Poems That Will Help You Read More Poetry This Year Graphic 28

28. “[’Tis the first snow—]” by Matsuo Bashō

’Tis the first snow—
Just enough to bend
The gladiolus leaves!

Translated by by William George Aston

Matsuo Bashō was a master of haiku poetry. His short poem “‘Tis the first snow” is a beautiful piece he penned in 1686. It was translated by William George Aston and published in A History of Japanese Literature in 1899.

 30 Short Poems That Will Help You Read More Poetry This Year Graphic 29

29. “Reapers” by Jean Toomer

Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones
Are sharpening scythes. I see them place the hones
In their hip-pockets as a thing that’s done,
And start their silent swinging, one by one.
Black horses drive a mower through the weeds,
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds.
His belly close to ground. I see the blade,
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade.

Although short, this poem by Jean Toomer is full of metaphors that deliver a profound commentary on death and oppression. One of starkest images, the blade cutting down the rat, represents how some people subjugate others, then move on with their lives without a care in the world, as if nothing happened.

 30 Short Poems That Will Help You Read More Poetry This Year

30. “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Despite having only two lines, this short poem is a strong example of imagism, a movement in the early 20th century that was characterized by sharp language that created incredibly clear imagery. As you read these lines, you are right there in that bustling metro station teeming with travelers.

Why trust us

At Reader’s Digest, we’re committed to producing high-quality content by writers with expertise and experience in their field in consultation with relevant, qualified experts. We rely on reputable primary sources, including government and professional organizations and academic institutions as well as our writers’ personal experience where appropriate. We verify all facts and data, back them with credible sourcing, and revisit them over time to ensure they remain accurate and up to date. Read more about our team, our contributors and our editorial policies