Thanksgiving season is upon us, and let’s all take a moment to thank the powers that be that everyone abandoned that post-one-thing-you’re-thankful-for-every-day-of-November gimmick that plagued social media for the past three years. Praise be. But just in case you’re feeling like there isn’t enough gratitude out there this time around (because let’s face it, the world is kind of crap right now), I’m here to save the day. Here are 10 poems about being thankful. Some were chosen by me, and some were contributed by readers. I hope these get you in the mood for ‘tude (gratitude, that is).
Note: I’m going to pull an excerpt and then link out to the full poems so their line breaks and formatting are properly preserved.
“All I Ever Wanted” by Katie Ford (2017)
This one is really special to me. “All I Ever Wanted” became my favorite love poem as soon as I read it in early 2017, and at the time, I read my own experience into it, as we often do. It was a poem of longing for me. I still read it frequently, but now I see it as a love poem about gratitude and being thankful that you’ve finally found the thing you were hoping for. Here’s a snippet, but you need to read the full poem for that killer final stanza.
In the middle of my life
it was right to say my desires
but they went away. I couldn’t even make them out,
not even as dots
now in the distance.
Yet I see the small lights
of winter campfires in the hills—
teenagers in love often go there
for their first nights—and each yellow-white glow
tells me what I can know and admit to knowing, …
”Thanks” by W.S. Merwin (1988) (Chosen by Catherine Pierce)
I present to you the opening lines of this lovely poem. Read the full poem though. It takes an interesting turn, and the closing lines are just as powerful.
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
”Enough” by Catherine Pierce (2018)
Catherine Pierce is one of my favorite contemporary poets and author of two of my favorite collections, The Girls of Peculiar and The Tornado Is the World. I was excited when she brought this brand new poem to my attention. Here’s an excerpt. If you like her work, check out this interview I did with her in 2017 about The Tornado Is the World.
Sometimes I don’t realize it’s snowing until
there’s already a dusting on the driveway,
which is certainly close to excuseless.
But I swear I’m mainly paying attention.
I swear I’m grateful at least a dozen times a day.
If I could cradle the earth in my hands
for ten seconds, I would, just to show it how
tenderly I could hold it, how I wouldn’t drop it,
how I cherish it even as I’m turning in early
instead of going out to see the Perseids.
“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth (1807) (Chosen by Emily B. Stanback)
Emily calls this one “A poem that mostly depicts losses, and what one gains through age—e.g. knowledge of human mortality—but ends with thanks for the ‘abundant recompense’ of growing older, to steal a phrase from his Tintern Abbey poem.”
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
"Thanks" by Yusef Komunyakaa (1988) (Chosen by Friend-of-the-Pod-Todd, aka Todd Osborne)
Todd said this poem has been really sticking with him lately, especially the final lines (which you’ll have to read when you click the link because I’m not spoiling their power for you here!). At its core, this is a poem about escaping death, and it’s packed with beautiful, tiny moments of meditation.
. . . Thanks
for the vague white flower
that pointed to the gleaming metal
reflecting how it is to be broken
like mist over the grass,
as we played some deadly
game for blind gods.
“Late Fragment” by Raymond Carver (1989) (Chosen by Stacey Harwood-Lehman)
This one is a little guy that doesn’t need a lot of introduction. So here it is in its tiny (yet powerful) entirety.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
“Lost Dog” by Ellen Bass (2007)
Here’s a lighter one for my fellow pet lovers. It’s just about the simple joy that comes with loving your dog. That’s something we can all be thankful for because we all know that dogs are far too good for us.
. . . Even in sleep
when I turn over to ease my bad hip,
I’m suffused with contentment.
“Grace” by Jake Adam York (Chosen by Bill Abel)
York makes barbecue so beautiful in this poem. It’s about those traditions that are passed down at the dinner table and how much food can connect us to one another. This is also a poem that’s thankful for place, even while acknowledging the darker parts of a place’s past.
and I move her hands too, making
her mess, so the syllable of batter
I’ll find tomorrow beneath the fridge
and the strew of salt and oil are all
memorials . . .
”Spring Reign” by Dean Young (2012)
The rhymes in this are simply delightful. The items the speaker is thankful for are surprising and quirky, and yet very fitting. Enjoy this walk on the lighter side.
Thank you whoever tuned the radio
to rain, thank you who spilled
the strong-willed wine for not
being me so I’m not to blame. I’m glad
I’m not that broken tree although
it looks sublime. And glad I’m not
taking a test and running out of time.
”One’s-Self I Sing” by Walt Whitman
Finally, I’d like to round out this Thanksgiving post with one of my all-time favorite poems. Plenty of Walt’s poems are full of joyful, unabashed praise and celebration. (Barbaric yawp, anyone?) This one is no exception, but I love its simplicity compared to his sprawling poems. Here, the speaker is simply thankful for personhood and his place in the world among other persons. Here’s the whole thing:
One’s-Self I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.
Of physiology from top to toe I sing,
Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse, I say the Form complete is worthier far,
The Female equally with the Male I sing.
Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful, for freest action form’d under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.
I hope you’re feeling super hashtagBlessed now. What poems would you add to the list? Let us know! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!