Discover fresh passion with these 14 famous inspirational poems.
The flow and cadence of poetry make it some of the world’s most inspiring types of literature. Many poets use their writing to inspire action or emotion in others, and reading their poetry uplifts the reader. As a result, famous inspirational poems often become part of literary history.
If you are looking for some inspiration, these 14 poems are a great place to start. From the inspiration found in nature to odes to simple duty, these poems will give you an urge to be the best possible version of yourself you can be.
- 1. “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley
- 2. “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann
- 3. “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman
- 4. “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou
- 5. “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
- 6. “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
- 7. “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” by Emily Dickinson
- 8. “If-“ by Rudyard Kipling
- 9. “Dreams” by Langston Hughes
- 10. “Our Deepest Fear” by Marianne Williamson
- 11. “Ariel” by Sylvia Plath
- 12. “Ode to Duty” by William Wordsworth
- 13. “Start Where You Stand” by Berton Braley
- 14. “Don’t Quit” by Edgar A. Guest
1. “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley
“Invictus” is an inspiring poem because it showcases what is possible for someone to aspire to, even while facing challenging physical circumstances. British poet William Ernest Henley wrote the poem while in the hospital to have his leg amputated due to tuberculosis of the bone. He alluded to his stoicism and courage in light of this challenging time.
Interestingly, Henley did not publish the poem until 13 years later, and it was immediately popular. Many school children memorized it, and teachers taught that it was the anthem of an unconquerable soul.
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.”
2. “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann
“Desiderata” by American poet Max Ehrmann is an example of prose poetry. It is the most famous of Ehrmann’s works, and though it doesn’t rhyme, it is inspiring enough that it became the subject of posters and prints for many decades after its publication.
Ehrmann wrote “Desiderata” to his daughter. In it, he provides advice for her daily life, moral ideals, and religious philosophy. He also teaches her about his ethical stance.
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.”
3. “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman
In 185, Whitman published Leaves of Grass at his own expense. In it, he had a dozen poems, all without titles, that eventually would turn him into one of the most famous poets of his day. “Song of Myself” was the opening poem.
This 52-part poem is lengthy, and it was one of the first examples of extended free verse. However, what makes it inspirational is how it serves as a statement of selfhood. It also explores what makes human beings alike, even among those who live in different walks of life.
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.”
4. “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou
Just about any work by Angelou would be found inspiration, but “Phenomenal Woman” is one of the best. It inspires women to hold their heads high and take pride in themselves. It indicates that the way a woman carries herself has more to do with her impact than her size or shape.
The poem shows that beauty is not based on the standards of modern society but rather on the inner strength and character of the modern woman. After reading this poem, women are inspired to capture their confidence and exude it when they walk into a room.
“I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
5. “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
“Still I Rise” is a tribute to the human spirit and its ability to overcome discrimination. Angelou drew from her life experience as a black American woman to write this piece, which included many instances of discrimination simply for her ethnicity or gender. She directly asks her reader if her attractiveness and confidence are upsetting.
Like many Angelou’s poems, this one inspires the reader to have greater confidence. It tells the reader that the poet walks as confidently as someone who owns great riches or depends on the sun and moon, which never fail.
“Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.”
6. “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
“The Road Not Taken” explores what happens when a traveler comes to a fork in the road. In the poem, the speaker takes the “road less traveled by” and indicates that it made “all the difference.” It is a poem that gets the reader to think about their choices and how they can shape their lives.
This piece of inspirational poetry inspires the reader to think about what might be possible if they take the less-traveled path for themselves. Although, it leaves the result vague. This allows the reader to imagine their own story’s ending if they do not follow the crowd.
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
7. “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” by Emily Dickinson
A poem about Hope deserves a spot on this uplifting, inspirational poetry list. This Emily Dickinson piece describes hope as something tangible and physical. She likens it to a singing bird.
According to the verses, the bird that is hope sings a tune and never stops. It is unquenchable, even when life’s circumstances are dire. This short inspirational poem leaves the reader feeling excited about the future.
“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –”
8. “If-“ by Rudyard Kipling
Regarding motivational poems, “If-” definitely stands at the top; as Kipling advises in this poem, he acknowledges that life may not always go the way one wants. Yet even if our deepest fears, such as being hated or lied about, come true, we can still act morally and wisely.
Reading through this poem gives the reader a sense of how to act in a dignified and noble manner, even in times of trouble. Though it is fairly stoic, it remains inspirational at the same time.
“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise’ “
9. “Dreams” by Langston Hughes
In “Dreams,” Hughes inspires his readers to hang on to their dreams. The short poem repeats the phrase “Hold fast to dreams,” which draws the reader to the intention of the piece.
In the beautiful poem, Hughes compares dreams that die to a broken bird that cannot fly and a barren field covered in snow. Both analogies are something the reader can easily picture, which adds to the inspirational nature of the poem.
“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.”
10. “Our Deepest Fear” by Marianne Williamson
“Our Deepest Fear” is a modern poem by Marianne Williamson, a self-help advisor and author. It talks about how most people fear feelings of inadequacy when yet we are all destined for greatness simply for being human. It also implies that the most profound fear most humans have is not the fear of darkness but, rather, their light.
After reading this poem, readers often feel excited about their potential. Williamson’s confidence comes through in the lines, and readers feel inspired to reach their full potential and improve the lives of those around them.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.”
11. “Ariel” by Sylvia Plath
Poet Sylvia Plath struggled with depression for most of her life, so it may feel surprising to see her name on a list of inspirational poets, but her “Ariel” is a powerful piece that inspires thoughts of freedom and self-expression. It explores the idea of identity while talking about an early morning ride on a horse.
The poem ends with the image of the rider galloping into the sunrise. This picturesque image is quite inspirational. Even though Plath’s life was a tragedy, her work remains one of the best inspirational poems in 20th-century literature.
“Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees!—The furrow”
12. “Ode to Duty” by William Wordsworth
Sometimes the inspiration in inspirational poetry is not the inspiration for some grand act but the inspiration to do one’s duty. This inspiration is found in “Ode to Duty” by Wordsworth. The poem challenges the reader to follow duty to find satisfaction in life.
While the poem is a bit stoic, it can inspire the reader to do the right things. By learning to love duty, Wordsworth believed that his readers would be led towards what was good and right.
“Stern Daugther of the Voice of God!
O Duty! if that name thou love
Who art a light to guide, a rod
To check the erring, and reprove;”
13. “Start Where You Stand” by Berton Braley
This motivational poem encourages the reader not to dwell on the past, which will hinder them from moving forward. Instead, “Start Where You Stand” urges the reader to start where they stand right now and begin anew, leaving the past behind.
Anyone stuck looking at their past mistakes and struggling to move forward will find these words inspiring. No matter what has happened in the past, you get a second chance if you learn to start from this point and move forward.
“Start where you stand and never mind the past,
The past won’t help you in beginning new,
If you have left it all behind at last
Why, that’s enough, you’re done with it, you’re through;
This is another chapter in the book,
This is another race that you have planned,
Don’t give the vanished days a backward look,
Start where you stand.”
14. “Don’t Quit” by Edgar A. Guest
Written in the 1920s, “Don’t Quit” reminds the reader to keep pushing through, even in challenging times, because sunnier days are always ahead. It speaks of the twists and turns of life, which everyone will experience, and reminds the reader to persevere through the hard times.
This poem is inspirational because of the poet’s use of situations people easily recognize. Low funds, sad moods, and cares looming over the horizon are relatable challenges. Yet, through it all, Guest says, “Don’t Quit.”
“When things go wrong, as they sometimes will
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low but the debts are high,
And you want to smile but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.”
If you are interested in learning more, read our round-up of the top 10 metaphor poems!
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