7 Depression Poems: What The World’s Greatest Poets Can Teach Us
Updated December 13, 2018
Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault
Do you have a favorite poet? Even if you don't, can you name one? Most people recognize the names of some of the world's greatest poets whether they've read their poems before or not. Many of our most famous poets suffered from depression. Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Tennessee Williams, and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few, are all almost as famous for their gift of poetry as they are for their struggles with depression.
Depression affects at least 300 million people worldwide. Those numbers include people of all ages and from every region of the world. A recent survey of college students shows that a larger proportion than the general population report having had thoughts of suicide; 20%, exhibited most acutely among transgender and bisexual students.
It causes all kinds of serious physical health problems and for many, depression ends in suicide. It's a very serious disorder that affects more women than men. The good news is that with mental health therapy with a licensed professional combined with appropriate anti-depressants those suffering from depression can live a normal healthy life.
Depression Poems - A Natural Complementary Treatment For Depression
Still, anti-depressants aren't for everyone. There are natural remedies that have proven to help combat the symptoms of depression that, in conjunction with professional therapy, can work even better for some than medicine. For instance, natural complementary treatments include:
- Relaxation Training
- Listening to Music
- Stretching Exercises
- Breathing Exercises
- And Reading
A study conducted in the U.K. tested these natural complementary treatments for depression and found that "reading worked best, reducing stress levels by 68%." It only took six minutes of silent reading before heart rates went down and muscle tension began to ease. Since stress is one of the major triggers for depression (the 20% of college students pointed to stress as the source of their suicidal thoughts), finding ways to eliminate stress while in treatment is the best therapy.
Amazed at the idea that reading for only six minutes had the largest effect on the mood and stress levels of the study participants, we looked further into what types of things sufferers of depression should be reading to reduce stress. What about depression poems or poems about depression from some of the world's greatest poets of all times?
7 Famous Poets Who Wrote Poems About Depression
Poems have an intangible way of expressing a deep sentiment that can be hard for others to express or even understand. Writing poetry itself is a healer for many people coping with depression. Perhaps it's one of the reasons why some of history's most honored poets suffered from depression and wrote about it, likely unknowingly as a natural complementary therapy for depression.
There are different kinds of depression and different levels. You'll see in this list that nearly all of these poets suffered from one or more forms of depression. Some depression is attributed to simple biology; an imbalance in the brain's chemistry. It is also sometimes hormonal, sometimes hereditary, and sometimes it is the result of trauma.
Bipolar is a mood disorder where depression is one of the major symptoms. People who are bipolar experience extreme highs as well as extreme lows; the extreme lows are depression. Two of the greatest women poets of all time both suffered from bipolar depression which shone through in their poetry:
- Virginia Wolf
Virginia Woolf was a Brit who lived through the two World Wars and died just before she turned 60 by drowning herself. She even left a note for a husband that is available to read in her handwriting. One of her most famous depression poems, "Angels" written in 1919, deals specifically with the up and down nature of bipolar depression.
- Sylvia Plath
Death, nothingness, isolation, and misery characterize the American poet Sylvia Plath's works. She was also bipolar like Virginia Woolf and committed suicide, though she died at only 30 years old in 1963- after having published her first and last novel. Her iconic poem "Tulips" is considered one of the most intimate views of depression. Through Plath's brilliant descriptive and metaphoric poetry, she explains what depression - emptiness - feels like.
Undiagnosed Bipolar Depression
Untreated depression results in suicide 50% of the time. Historians have come to believe based on Poe's letters and works that he suffered from bipolar depression that was undiagnosed.
- Edgar Allan Poe
Born at the turn of the 19th century, Poe's characteristic mood swings are symptomatic of bipolar depression which tends to lead to alcoholism and other self-destructive behaviors which further pushes sufferers toward suicide. Edgar Allen Poe exhibited many of these symptoms. Trauma can cause mood disorders; Poe was orphaned at a young age. He was also considered an alcoholic, likely the cause of his untimely death at the age of 40. When his beloved foster mother died in 1829, he wrote perhaps one of his most famous poems about depression, "Alone."
Often confused with general malaise and sadness, especially before our modern knowledge and understanding about depression, poets from the 1800s like Emily Dickinson wrote a lot about how they felt. In their poetry we can see the many symptoms that characterize mental depression:
- And Suicidal Thoughts
You can feel the overwhelming loneliness and despair in some of these poets' poetry. For depression sufferers, reading these poems is like talking to someone who feels and understands your pain firsthand while relaxing your mind and easing stress, even if it's just for six minutes a day.
- Emily Dickinson
Although most of the great Emily Dickinson's poems dealt with death and darkness, her writing style can be described as lyrical; a kind of beauty shrouded in darkness. She was an American poet who lived through the most tumultuous years in American history from the end of the slave trade to post-Reconstruction (born in 1830 and died in 1886). Through her words, she puts her finger on what it feels like to be in the grips of a depressive state in her most famous depression poem, "It Was Not Death, for I Stood Up."
- Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway is most famously known as a novelist; Nobel Prize-winning author of For Whom the Bell Tolls among other tragic stories. He was also a poet who suffered from undiagnosed depression but like Edgar Allen Poe, was likely suffering from a dual diagnosis. That is when one illness creates a secondary illness - depression creates alcoholism or drug abuse.
Hemingway's source of depression is likely related to his years serving in WWI. His works often revolved around traumatic and tragic incidents experienced during the war. His ups and downs suggest he might have had bipolar disorder. It was only years later after he died mysteriously in 1961 that his wife revealed that he had committed suicide.
Depression And Mania
Famous American poet Anne Sexton not only suffered from clinical depression, but she also suffered from manic depression or psychotic depression. These depressives often suffer from some psychotic schism that causes delusions or hallucinations.
- American Poet Anne Sexton
Anne Sexton's poetry was very personal and dealt almost exclusively with her troubled relationships as a result of her depression and mania. She tried several times to commit suicide despite winning the coveted Nobel Prize for poetry in 1967. Ultimately, at the age of 46, she too ended her life through suicide. Her poem, "The Fury of Rainstorms" has come to iconize her unique ability to lay bare the inner turmoil of depression.
Our last poet was not a manic depressive and from all accounts lived a carefree and gregarious life "full of excitement and ambition." Most of his poems are romantic odes and sonnets about wooing a woman or losing a woman. However, he wrote one poem about depression that many deem the best of his odes.
- John Keats
Keats lived a fast and furious life that ended at the age of only 25 in 1821. His poem "Ode on Melancholy" deals with depression differently than all of the other poets on this list. Melancholy was what depression was called in the 1800s, and instead of being a dark poem about how it feels to be depressed, Keats' ode tells the reader how to combat depression by ingesting the beauty that is all around us; an inspirational poem about overcoming depression.
Depression Causes Most Suicides - Therapy Saves Lives
Notice that on this list of the greatest poets who wrote about depression, all but one ended their own lives through suicide. That's because left untreated; depression is the most common cause of suicide. Leading up to suicide, depression can cause all kinds of other very serious physiological problems like:
- Drug Abuse
- Heart Disease
- Physical Pain
- Premature Death
- And Troubled or Dysfunctional Relationships
There are few illnesses with a 90% death rate. Without the help of a licensed mental health therapist or counselor, those suffering from mental depression disorders almost always end their own lives, making up 90% of all suicides. If you feel you may be depressed, the biggest lesson our greatest poets who suffered from depression can teach us is to get help now.