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9 Mother's Day Poems That Celebrate The Complexity Of Motherhood

If the internet is to be believed, all a mom wants on Mother's Day is breakfast in bed and gifts that give her much-needed pampering. Maybe she wants to spend the day with her children and family, maybe she'd prefer to be holed up in a hotel room somewhere, sleeping without interruption and binge-watching HGTV. The truth is, the experience of motherhood, as well as our relationships with our own mothers, is more complex than any social media portrayal. From the good to the bad and the ugly, these nine Mother's Day poems celebrate motherhood in all of its complexity.

Some offer the type of sweet sentiments you can find in the card aisle, while others touch on experiences like miscarriage that are part of the spectrum of motherhood but often go un-discussed. Some of these poets are mothers writing about their children, while others are adult children remembering or mourning their mothers. Share the poems that speak to your feelings and remind you of the women in your life. If you're looking for an original (and inexpensive) gift for mom this year, you can print one of these poems out on nice paper and place it in a store-bought frame. Then your mother will be reminded of your love for her all year long.


"Morning Song" by Sylvia Plath

One of the best-known female poets of the 20th century, Plath's work often described her experiences as a wife, mother, and daughter in frank terms. In this poem, she celebrates the birth of her second child. In the last three stanzas she writes about waking in the middle of the night to listen to her newborn breathe and respond to his cries. Whether you're a brand new mom or your own babies are long grown, this classic experience of new motherhood will return to your mind immediately.

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.

The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry

Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.

In a drafty museum, your nakedness

Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother

Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow

Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath

Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:

A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral

In my Victorian nightgown.

Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try

Your handful of notes; The clear vowels rise like balloons.


"Hours Days Years Unmoor Their Orbits" by Rachel Zucker

Contemporary poet Rachel Zucker is known for her funny and wise depictions of marriage, motherhood, family, and daily life. In this short poem she evokes the love and nostalgia of remembering an older child's early days. Consider it the nuanced version of "the days are long but the years are short."

tonight I’m cleaning baby portobellos

for you, my young activist

wiping the dirty tops with a damp cloth

as carefully as I used to rinse raspberries

for you to adorn your fingertips

before eating each blood-red prize

these days you rarely look me in the eye

& your long shagged hair hides your smile

I don’t expect you to remember or

understand the many ways I’ve kept you

alive or the life my love for you

has made me live


"Mother And Daughter" by Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton, who was a friend of Plath's and also known for writing "confessional" poetry, describes the empty nest feeling of her child turning 18, filtered through the lens of a mother/daughter relationship.

Linda, you are leaving

your old body now,

It lies flat, an old butterfly,

all arm, all leg, all wing,

loose as an old dress.

I reach out toward it but

my fingers turn to cankers

and I am motherwarm and used,

just as your childhood is used.

Question you about this

and you hold up pearls.

Question you about this

and you pass by armies.

Question you about this —

you with your big clock going,

its hands wider than jackstraws —

and you'll sew up a continent.

Now that you are eighteen

I give you my booty, my spoils,

my Mother & Co. and my ailments.

Question you about this

and you'll not know the answer —

the muzzle at the oxygen,

the tubes, the pathways,

the war and the war's vomit.

Keep on, keep on, keep on,

carrying keepsakes to the boys,

carrying powders to the boys,

carrying, my Linda, blood to

the bloodletter.

Linda, you are leaving

your old body now.

You've picked my pocket clean

and you've racked up all my

poker chips and left me empty

and, as the river between us

narrows, you do calisthenics,

that womanly leggy semaphore.

Question you about this

and you will sew me a shroud

and hold up Monday's broiler

and thumb out the chicken gut.

Question you about this

and you will see my death

drooling at these gray lips

while you, my burglar, will eat

fruit and pass the time of day.


"Frequently Asked Questions: #9" by Camille T. Dungy

Here's one for mothers of only children who are tired of being asked when they will have more.

Don’t you think you should have another child?

This girl I have is hardtack and dried lime

and reminds me, every groggy morning,

what a miracle it must have been

when outfitters learned to stock ship holds

with that one long lasting fruit. How the sailors’ tongues,

landing on its bitter brilliance, must have cursed

the curse of joy, as I did that morning the burst

of water brought my sweet girl into our lives.

But, already, she hates me sometimes.

Like I have sometimes hated my mother and she

must have sometimes hated her own.

After weeks at sea, the limes would desiccate and the meal

fill with worms. They would have eaten

anyway, the sailors, but taken no pleasure from anything.

Or taken no pleasure from anything but

the fact of their sustained lives. Which is to say it is all

I can do, most days, not to swallowher up and curse her maker, I swear. Like I have not

sworn since the morning she was born.


"Mother's Day" by David Young

Besides recognition from their children, mothers love expressions of gratitude from their partners. This simple and sweet poem conveys a spouse's appreciation for the mother of his children and all she does for the family.

I see her doing something simple, paying bills,

or leafing through a magazine or book,

and wish that I could say, and she could hear,

that now I start to understand her love

for all of us, the fullness of it.

It burns there in the past, beyond my reach,

a modest lamp.


"To My Mother" by Edgar Allan Poe

Mother-in-laws love displays of graditude, too. In this poem, Edgar Allan Poe shows his sweet side with a moving tribute to his MIL.

Because I feel that, in the Heavens above,

The angels, whispering to one another,

Can find, among their burning terms of love,

None so devotional as that of “Mother,”

Therefore by that dear name I long have called you—

You who are more than mother unto me,

And fill my heart of hearts, where

Death installed you

In setting my Virginia's spirit free.

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,

And thus are dearer than the mother I knew

By that infinity with which my wife

Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.


"For My Mother" by May Sarton

In a tribute to her late mother, May Sarton remembers the characteristics that made her mom unique.

Once more

I summon you

Out of the past

With poignant love,

You who nourished the poet

And the lover.

I see your gray eyes

Looking out to sea

In those Rockport summers,

Keeping a distance

Within the closeness

Which was never intrusive

Opening out

Into the world.

And what I remember

Is how we laughed

Till we cried

Swept into merriment

Especially when times were hard.

And what I remember

Is how you never stopped creating

And how people sent me

Dresses you had designed

With rich embroidery

In brilliant colors

Because they could not bear

To give them away

Or cast them aside.

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.


"The Courage That My Mother Had" by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Comparing a physical inheritance with the trait of her mother's she most admires, Edna St. Vincent Millay celebrates brave moms everywhere.

The courage that my mother had

Went with her, and is with her still:

Rock from New England quarried;

Now granite in a granite hill.

The golden brooch my mother wore

She left behind for me to wear;

I have no thing I treasure more:

Yet, it is something I could spare.

Oh, if instead she’d left to me

The thing she took into the grave!—

That courage like a rock, which she

Has no more need of, and I have.


"The Mother" by Gwendolyn Brooks

While this poem names abortion as its subject matter, I think the mixture of regret and imagined lives Brooks evokes will also be relatable to women who have had miscarriages. That is an experience of motherhood that deserves more attention and respect than it currently gets.

Abortions will not let you forget.

You remember the children you got that you did not get,

The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,

The singers and workers that never handled the air.

You will never neglect or beat

Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.

You will never wind up the sucking-thumb

Or scuttle off ghosts that come.

You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,

Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.

I have contracted. I have eased

My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.

I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized

Your luck

And your lives from your unfinished reach,

If I stole your births and your names,

Your straight baby tears and your games,

Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,

If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,

Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.

Though why should I whine,

Whine that the crime was other than mine?—

Since anyhow you are dead.

Or rather, or instead,

You were never made.

But that too, I am afraid,

Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?

You were born, you had body, you died.

It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.

Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you