Thanksgiving should be a ripe time for poets to expound on the goodness found all around us.
Too many times, however, it seems like the holiday has morphed into an exercise of indulging in excess rather than a time to contemplate gratitude for the bounty of Mother Nature.
Nevertheless, Thanksgiving poems come in a variety of forms. Naturally, many poets do express gratitude for the good things we’ve received in life.
Other poems have the feel of a toast appropriate for the Thanksgiving meal.
Whatever your purpose, please enjoy the Thanksgiving poems we’ve selected from a variety of sources:
“Thanks” by W.S. Merwin
Merwin, the current poet laureate of the United States, is best-known for his poetry about the Vietnam War. His later work reflects an interest in ecology and Buddhism. In this poem, he expresses thanks for everything in life despite the terrible things going on in the world.
Here’s an excerpt:
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
“A Thanksgiving to God, for His house” by Robert Harrick
Harrick was a 17th century English poet who graduated from St. John’s College and became part of the Sons of Ben, a group that admired and emulated the works of Ben Johnson.
His Thanksgiving poem makes mention of several items that might be unfamiliar to modern ears (‘wassail-bowls’ anyone? ) but the message comes through loud and clear. Harrick observed the things that surround him in his home and gives thanks for everything. This one would be an appropriate toast at a Christian home on Thanksgiving.
Here are the opening lines:
Lord, Thou hast given me a cell
Wherein to dwell,
A little house, whose humble roof
Under the spars of which I lie
Both soft, and dry;
Where Thou my chamber for to ward
Hast set a guard
Of harmless thoughts, to watch and keep
Me, while I sleep.
“Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson
Johnson, who lived from 1871 to 1938, was an early civil rights activist and one of the first African-American professors at New York University. He later served as a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk University.
His Thanksgiving poem is as much social commentary and a statement of optimism as it is about gratitude. Certainly, at that time in history, Johnson would have had a lot to still look forward to in the civil rights struggle.
Here is an excerpt:
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
“A List of Praises” by Anne Porter
According to the Wall Street Journal, Porter was 83 when her first volume of poetry was published in 1994. She is the widow of painter Fairfield Porter.
As you can tell from the opening lines of her Thanksgiving poem, she’s been included in our list because of her vivid portrayals of nature singing the praises of existence:
Give praise with psalms that tell the trees to sing,
Give praise with Gospel choirs in storefront churches,
Mad with the joy of the Sabbath,
Give praise with the babble of infants, who wake with the sun,
Give praise with children chanting their skip-rope rhymes,
A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry
living wild on the Streets through generations of children.
Know of other Thanksgiving poems? Leave us a note in the comments below.