Poems that are Easy to Understand

Poems that are easy to understand are like a friendly chat with words, where you don’t need a dictionary or an ancient scrolls manual. Here are a few of my favorites.

Poems that are easy to understand are like a friendly chat with words, where you don’t need a dictionary or an ancient scrolls manual.

It’s poetry that talks to your heart without fancy footwork or puzzling riddles.

It’s clear, simple, and honest, painting pictures with words that you can understand with a nod and a smile. It is the kind of poetry that feels like a warm hug. It doesn’t play hide and seek; it’s right there in front of you, like a favorite story or a cherished memory.

Straightforward poetry is the poetry of everyday conversations, where emotions flow naturally, and you find beauty in its simplicity.

If— by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If— is Kipling’s most famous poem, and one of the most famous, inspirational poems of all time. The poem offers practical life advice, encouraging resilience, patience, and determination, in a straightforward and motivational manner. Read the inspirational poem here.

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver is one of the all-time great American poets. Her work is stylistically unique and moving. With an eyes-wide-open-in-wonder tone of voice she contemplates the beauty of the natural world. How precious is this life we live? Mary Oliver encourages you in easy to understand language to contemplate this life.

Oranges by Gary Soto

I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted –
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickle in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn’t say anything.
I took the nickle from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady’s eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all

Gary Soto takes us on a narrative journey of young love. The poem can be read deeply, pulling out layers of meaning upon close inspection, but stands on its own as a beautiful journey of two kids in the world. Read the poem in its entirety here.

Why I Am Not a Painter by Frank O’Hara

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

Frank O’Hara’s familiar style is timeless. A renowned poet of the New York School, O’Hara paved the way for more conversational style poems. Why I Am Not a Painter is a simple, beautiful look into the absurdity of life sometimes. Read the whole poem here.

How to Make Rhubarb Wine by Ted Kooser

Go to the patch some afternoon
in early summer, fuzzy with beer
and sunlight, and pick a sack
of rhubarb (red or green will do)
and God knows watch for rattlesnakes
or better, listen; they make a sound
like an old lawn mower rolled downhill.
Wear a hat. A straw hat’s best
for the heat but lets the gnats in.
Bunch up the stalks and chop the leaves off
with a buck knife and be careful.
You need ten pounds; a grocery bag
packed full will do it. Then go home
and sit barefooted in the shade
behind the house with a can of beer.
Spread out the rhubarb in the grass
and wash it with cold water
from the garden hose, washing
your feet as well. Then take a nap.
That evening, dice the rhubarb up
and put it in a crock. Then pour
eight quarts of boiling water in,
cover it up with a checkered cloth
to keep the fruit flies out of it,
and let it stand five days or so.
Take time each day to think of it.

Ferment ten days, under the cloth,
sniffing of it from time to time,
then siphon it off, swallowing some
and bottle it. Sit back and watch
the liquid clear to honey yellow,
bottled and ready for the years,
and smile. You’ve done it awfully well.

This poem showcases Kooser’s ability to capture ordinary moments and infuse them with profound depth and beauty, making simple tasks extraordinary. Kooser’s poems often deal with everyday images, but seen through the eyes of a master poet.

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Sam and Corey started Poetry is Pretentious to demystify poetry. More importantly, their 5th grade teacher told them they couldn’t go through life as a team. 18 years later they’re here to prove her wrong.


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