20 Poems About Motherhood

Mother and daughter
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Poems about motherhood cover topics as wide-ranging as anxiety about parenting to child-rearing advice. Verses can also be a metaphor for nature and remember mothers who've passed away. Far from only celebrating motherhood in a positive light, these poems cover complex issues such as bad parenting practices and how mothers can care for greater humanity.

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May Sarton: "For My Mother"

Elderly Woman
Education Images/UIG/Getty Images

In this poem, May Sarton decides not to focus on her aging mother's health challenges. Instead, she will remember how strong her mother was, as this excerpt reveals:

I summon you now
Not to think of
The ceaseless battle
With pain and ill health,
The frailty and the anguish.
No, today I remember
The creator,
The lion-hearted.
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John Greenleaf Whittier: "Tribute to Mother"

John Greenleaf Whittier
Culture Club / Getty Images

Here, 19th-century poet John Greenleaf Whittier, a Quaker also known for his abolitionism, reflects on how his mother disciplined him when he was a child.

But wiser now,
a man gray grown,
My childhood's needs are better known.
My mother's chastening love I own.
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Robert Louis Stevenson: "To My Mother"

Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson by William Blake Richmond

Another well-known poet, Robert Louis Stevenson, reflects on his relationship with his mother.

You too, my mother, read my rhymes
For love of unforgotten times,
And you may chance to hear once more
The little feet along the floor.
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Joanne Bailey Baxter: "Mother On Mother's Day"

basket of flowers
Simon McGill / Getty Images

In this poem, Joanne Bailey Baxter remembers her late mother who left behind a resilient family. This tribute may bring comfort to those mourning the loss of a loved one.

For she had fulfilled his prophesy
Spreading love, honor, and hope
She instilled in those she left behind
The ability to understand and cope.
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Rudyard Kipling: "Mother o’ Mine"

Songsheet cover for "Mother o'Mine" 1903
Sheridan Libraries/Levy/Gado / Getty Images

Rudyard Kipling's rather sentimental poem honors the unconditional love a mother gives to a child, even if the child has committed a crime. Elsewhere in the poem, he describes how a mother's love can even touch a child in hell.

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
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Walt Whitman: "There was a Child Went Forth"

Walt Whitman, 1854
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Walt Whitman describes motherhood very traditionally in this poem about childhood.

The mother at home, quietly placing the dishes on the supper-table;
The mother with mild words—clean her cap and gown, a wholesome odor falling off her
clothes as she walks by...
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Lucy Maud Montgomery: "The Mother"

Home of Lucy Maud Montgomery
Rolf Hicker Photography / Getty Images

In the 19th century, men and women poets wrote about motherhood in sentimental ways. Men tended to write from the perspective of a grown son, and women typically wrote from the daughter's perspective. Sometimes, though, they wrote from the mother's viewpoint. Here, Lucy Maud Montgomery, known for her "Anne of Green Gables" book series, writes about a mother contemplating what her infant son's future might be.

No one so near to you now as your mother!
Others may hear your words of beauty,
But your precious silence is mine alone;
Here in my arms I have enrolled you,
Away from the grasping world I fold you,
Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.
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Sylvia Plath: "Morning Song"

Frieda Hughes, poet, daughter of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath
Colin McPherson/Corbis/Getty Images

Sylvia Plath, a poet remembered for "The Bell Jar," married Ted Hughes and had two children: Frieda, in 1960, and Nicholas, in 1962. She and Hughes separated in 1963, but this poem is among those she composed shortly after her children's births. In it, she describes her own experience of being a new mother, contemplating the infant for whom she is now responsible. It is far different than the sentimental poetry of generations earlier.

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
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Sylvia Plath: "Medusa"

19th century head of Medusa
De Agostini / Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana / Getty Images

Sylvia Plath's relationship with her own mother was a troubled one. In this poem, Plath describes both the closeness with her mother and her frustrations. The title expresses some of Plath's feelings about her mother, as does this excerpt:

In any case, you are always there,
Tremulous breath at the end of my line,
Curve of water upleaping
To my water rod, dazzling and grateful,
Touching and sucking.
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Edgar Allen Poe: "To My Mother"

Virginia Poe in 1847 (wife of Edgar Allen Poe)
Culture Club / Getty Images

Edgar Allen Poe's poem is dedicated not to his own late mother, but to the mother of his late wife. As a 19th century work, it belongs to the more sentimental tradition of motherhood poems.

My mother—my own mother, who died early,
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are mother to the one I loved so dearly.
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Anne Bradstreet: "Before the Birth of One of Her Children"

Title page, second (posthumous) edition of Bradstreet's poems, 1678
Library of Congress

Anne Bradstreet, the first published poet of colonial British America, wrote of life in Puritan New England. This 28-line poem reminds us of the fragility of life and the risks of childbirth, and Bradstreet muses on what might happen to her husband and children should she succumb to those risks. She acknowledges that her husband might remarry but fears that a stepmother could be harmful to her children.

Yet love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms,
And when thy loss shall be repaid with gains
Look to my little babes, my dear remains.
And if thou love thyself, or loved’st me,
These O protect from stepdame’s injury.
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Robert William Service: "The Mother"

Mother waving to son
Blend Images - Kevin Dodge / Getty Images

The poet Robert William Service acknowledges that motherhood changes, and children grow more distant with the years. He describes the memories that mothers carry as "a little ghost / Who ran to cling to you!" 

Your children distant will become,
And wide the gulf will grow;
The lips of loving will be dumb,
The trust you used to know
Will in another's heart repose,
Another's voice will cheer...
And you will fondle baby clothes
And brush away a tear.
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Judith Viorst: "Some Advice From a Mother to Her Married Son"

Judith Viorst
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

One job of motherhood is to raise a child to be a successful adult. In this poem, Judith Viorst gives some advice to mothers who are, in turn, offering tips to their sons about marriage.

The answer to do you love me isn't, I married you, didn't I?
Or, Can't we discuss this after the ballgame is through?
It isn't, Well that all depends on what you mean by 'love'.
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Langston Hughes: "Mother to Son"

Langston Hughes

Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Langston Hughes, one of the key figures of the Harlem Renaissance, describes the advice a Black mother might share with her son. Racism and poverty alike color her words.

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters, ...
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Frances Ellen Watkins Harper: "The Slave Mother"

"The Separation of Mother and Child" illustration
Bettmann / Getty Images

The Black experience in the U.S. includes centuries of enslavement. In this 19th century poem, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, writing from the perspective of a free Black woman, imagines the feelings an enslaved mother with no control over her children's fate might have. 

He is not hers, although she bore
For him a mother's pains;
He is not hers, although her blood
Is coursing through his veins!
He is not hers, for cruel hands
May rudely tear apart
The only wreath of household love
That binds her breaking heart.
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Emily Dickinson: "Nature The Gentlest Mother Is"

Emily Dickinson
Three Lions / Getty Images

In this poem, Emily Dickinson applies her view of mothers as kind and gentle nurturers to nature itself.

Nature the gentlest mother is,
Impatient of no child,
The feeblest of the waywardest.
Her admonition mild
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Henry Van Dyke: "Mother Earth"

First photo of earth from space, 1971
JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images

Many poets and writers have used motherhood as a metaphor for the world itself. In this poem, Henry Van Dyke does the same, viewing the earth through the lens of a loving mother. 

Mother of all the high-strung poets and singers departed,
Mother of all the grass that weaves over their graves the glory of the field,
Mother of all the manifold forms of life, deep-bosomed, patient, impassive,
Silent brooder and nurse of lyrical joys and sorrows!
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Dorothy Parker: "Prayer for a New Mother"

Detail from Virgin and Child Attributed to Raphael
Barney Burstein/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Many poets have written of the Virgin Mary as a model mother. In this poem, Dorothy Parker, known more for her biting wit, ponders what life must have been like for Mary as a mother of a tiny infant. She wishes Mary could have a typical mother-son relationship with her baby rather than viewing the child as the Messiah.

Let her have laughter with her little one;
Teach her the endless, tuneless songs to sing,
Grant her her right to whisper to her son
The foolish names one dare not call a king.
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Julia Ward Howe: "Mother's Day Proclamation"

A Younger Julia Ward Howe (About 1855)
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Julia Ward Howe wrote the words to what is known as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" during the Civil War. After the war, she became more skeptical and critical of the consequences of war, and she began to hope for the end to all wars. In 1870, she wrote a Mother's Day proclamation promoting the idea of a Mother's Day for peace.

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
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Philip Larkin: "This Be the Verse"

Philip Larkin
Feliks Topolski/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sometimes, poets unload their frustrations with their parents by writing very frank verse. Philip Larkin, for one, does not hesitate to describe his parents as imperfect.

They f*** you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "20 Poems About Motherhood." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/poems-about-motherhood-4156851. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2021, February 16). 20 Poems About Motherhood. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/poems-about-motherhood-4156851 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "20 Poems About Motherhood." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/poems-about-motherhood-4156851 (accessed March 29, 2023).