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Poems About Life Lessons

Table of Contents

  1. Experience by Emily Dickinson
  2. A Life Lesson by James Whitcomb Riley
  3. My Wage by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse
  4. Spinning Tow by Ellen P. Allerton
  5. Churning by Marcella Melville Hall Hines
  6. Life's Lesson by Bernhardt Paul Holst
  7. Life Sculpture by George Washington Doane
  8. Wolsey's Farewell to his Greatness by John Fletcher
  9. Perseverance by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  10. Upon the Sand by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
  11. A Parable by Mathilde Blind
  12. His Other Chance by Edgar A. Guest
  13. Seed Thoughts by Kate Louise Wheeler
  14. The Hustling Pumpkin Vine by Uncle Mose
  15. The Cow and The Pig and The Hen by A. H. Upham
  16. The Calf-Path by Sam Walter Foss
  17. The Three Frogs by George W. Swarthout
  18. Weaving by Florence May Alt

Sometimes when you're in a dark place you think you've been buried, but you've actually been planted.

– Christine Caine
  1. Experience

    by Emily Dickinson

    I stepped from plank to plank
    So slow and cautiously;
    The stars about my head I felt,
    About my feet the sea.

    I knew not but the next
    Would be my final inch, —
    This gave me that precarious gait
    Some call experience.

  2. A Life Lesson

    by James Whitcomb Riley

    There! little girl; don't cry!
    They have broken your doll, I know;
    And your tea-set blue,
    And your play-house, too,
    Are things of the long ago;
    But childish troubles will soon pass by. —
    There! little girl; don't cry!

    There! little girl; don't cry!
    They have broken your slate, I know;
    And the glad, wild ways
    Of your schoolgirl days
    Are things of the long ago;
    But life and love will soon come by. —
    There! little girl; don't cry!

    There! little girl; don't cry!
    They have broken your heart I know;
    And the rainbow gleams
    Of your youthful dreams
    Are things of the long ago;
    But Heaven holds all for which you sigh. —
    There! little girl; don't cry!

  3. My Wage

    by Jessie Belle Rittenhouse

    I bargained with Life for a penny,
    And Life would pay no more,
    However I begged at evening
    When I counted my scanty store;

    For Life is a just employer,
    He gives you what you ask,
    But once you have set the wages,
    Why, you must bear the task.

    I worked for a menial's hire,
    Only to learn, dismayed,
    That any wage I had asked of Life,
    Life would have paid.

  4. Spinning Tow

    by Ellen P. Allerton

    A little maiden with braided hair
    Walks to and fro
    Before a wheel. What does she there?
    The child is spinning tow.

    In through the open window comes
    The scented breeze;
    With drowsy wing the wild bee hums
    Out in the orchard trees.

    The blue sky bends, the flowers are sweet,
    As children know;
    Yet with deft hands and steady feet,
    This child keeps spinning tow,

    Still works she; steady mounts the sun
    Through the skies of May,—
    The small task ends; the skein is spun;
    The girl bounds out to play.

    She learns life's lesson young you say?
    'Tis better so.
    That life is toil as well as play,
    She learns here spinning tow.

    Years pass. Beside her own hearthstone
    A woman stands
    With steady eye and cheerful tone,
    Brave heart and willing hands.

    This matron, who on household ways
    Glides to and fro,
    Learned when a child, on soft spring days,
    Life's lesson, spinning tow.

  5. Churning

    by Marcella Melville Hall Hines

    And What Bridget Thought About It.

    As into the churn fast falleth the cream
    Every drop quite alike doth seem,
    And never, amid such a general splutter,
    Can I tell for the life of me which is the butter.
    So I fasten the cover, and lift the dash,
    And smile as I list to the sullen splash
    With each downward sweep of that merciless lash—
    While the cream, all defenseless, leaps madly away
    From the rough, cruel blows that unceasingly play!
    But there's no escape, though it rise to the top
    Or down to the bottom despairingly drop;
    For a ready tormentor is on its track,
    And sooner or later, will bring it back.
    Till, tired of retreating, the mass will abide
    No more of such warfare, all on one side;
    And angrily mutters, in whisperings low,
    "No more of such peltings will I undergo
    Submissively, tamely—the future shall tell
    If blows I must take, I can give them as well;
    Let them strike if they choose, they'll recoil from the fun,
    For the soft, silly buttermilk only will run."
    Enough, quite enough, take the dasher away—
    What was cream in the morning is butter to-day.

    Just so with the world, mused I in my turn,
    As I took the rich butter up out of the churn,
    My soft cream thus changed to so solid a ball
    A strong hand was needed to mould it at all,—
    Just so with the world, small odds can be scanned,
    While the skies are unclouded, the breezes are bland
    Like a huge jar of cream, till there comes an hour
    Of commotion, fierce trial with testing power!
    And then, even then the resemblance holds true,
    For the world has its butter and buttermilk, too,
    As all cream is not butter, so in the world's plan—
    The moral is plain, if but rightly you scann:
    Society's buttermilk ne'er makes a man!

  6. Life's Lesson

    by Bernhardt Paul Holst

    While yet a child, on ocean's shore,
    I gazed across the restless sea;
    I heard the music of its roar
    And wondered what it meant to me.

    In those sweet years I longed to sail
    'Mid treasures rare of ages' lore;
    I set my canvas to the gale
    And steered my vessel far from shore.

    With joy I sailed the summer sea
    While skies were bright and winds were fair,
    But storms soon disappointed me
    And drove my vessel here and there.

    And when arose the tempest wild,
    It tossed my ship on billows wide.
    It swept me back where as a child
    For joy and pleasure I had sighed.

    Ah! well, if we could only know
    In early years, so sweet and kind,
    What joy and pleasure from us flow
    As we leave childhood years behind.

  7. Life Sculpture

    by George Washington Doane

    Chisel in hand stood a sculptor boy
    With his marble block before him,
    And his eyes lit up with a smile of joy,
    As an angel-dream passed o’er him.

    He carved the dream on that shapeless stone,
    With many a sharp incision;
    With heaven’s own flight the sculpture shone,—
    He’d caught that angel-vision.

    Children of life are we, as we stand
    With our lives uncarved before us,
    Waiting the hour when, at God’s command,
    Our life-dream shall pass o’er us.

    If we carve it then on the yielding stone,
    With many a sharp incision,
    Its heavenly beauty shall be our own,—
    Our lives, that angel-vision.

    Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

    – Isaiah 64:8
    The Bible, NIV
  8. Wolsey's Farewell to his Greatness

    by John Fletcher

    Farewell! a long farewell, to all my greatness!
    This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth
    The tender leaves of hopes; to-morrow blossoms,
    And bears his blushing honours thick upon him;
    The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,
    And when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
    His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root,

    And then he falls, as I do. I have ventured,
    Like little wanton boys that swim on bladders,
    This many summers in a sea of glory,
    But far beyond my depth: my high-blown pride
    At length broke under me and now has left me,
    Weary and old with service, to the mercy
    Of a rude stream, that must forever hide me.
    Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye:
    I feel my heart new opened. O, how wretched
    Is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favours!
    There is betwixt that smile we would aspire to,
    That sweet aspect of princes, and their ruin,
    More pangs and fears than wars or women have:
    And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer,
    Never to hope again.

  9. Perseverance

    by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    We must not hope to be mowers,
    And to gather the ripe gold ears,
    Unless we have first been sowers
    And watered the furrows with tears.

    It is not just as we take it,
    This mystical world of ours,
    Life's field will yield as we make it
    A harvest of thorns or of flowers.

    Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

    – 2 Corinthians 9:6
    The Bible, NIV

  10. Upon the Sand

    by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

    All love that has not friendship for its base,
    Is like a mansion built upon the sand.
    Though brave its walls as any in the land,
    And its tall turrets lift their heads in grace;
    Though skilful and accomplished artists trace
    Most beautiful designs on every hand,
    And gleaming statues in dim niches stand,
    And fountains play in some flow'r-hidden place:

    Yet, when from the frowning east a sudden gust
    Of adverse fate is blown, or sad rains fall
    Day in, day out, against its yielding wall,
    Lo! the fair structure crumbles to the dust.
    Love, to endure life's sorrow and earth's woe,
    Needs friendship's solid masonwork below.

  11. A Parable

    by Mathilde Blind

    Between the sandhills and the sea
    A narrow strip of silver sand,
    Whereon a little maid doth stand,
    Who picks up shells continually,
    Between the sandhills and the sea.

    Far as her wondering eyes can reach,
    A vastness heaving gray in gray
    To the frayed edges of the day
    Furls his red standard on the breach
    Between the sky-line and the beach.

    The waters of the flowing tide
    Cast up the sea-pink shells and weed;
    She toys with shells, and doth not heed
    The ocean, which on every side
    Is closing round her vast and wide.

    It creeps her way as if in play,
    Pink shells at her pink feet to cast;
    But now the wild waves hold her fast,
    And bear her off and melt away,
    A vastness heaving gray in gray.

  12. His Other Chance

    by Edgar A. Guest

    He was down and out, and his pluck was gone,
    And he said to me in a gloomy way:
    "I've wasted my chances, one by one,
    And I'm just no good, as the people say.
    Nothing ahead, and my dreams all dust,
    Though once there was something I might have been,
    But I wasn't game, and I broke my trust,
    And I wasn't straight and I wasn't clean."

    "You're pretty low down," says I to him,
    "But nobody's holding you there, my friend.
    Life is a stream where men sink or swim,
    And the drifters come to a sorry end;
    But there's two of you living and breathing still—
    The fellow you are, and he's tough to see,
    And another chap, if you've got the will,
    The man that you still have a chance to be."

    He laughed with scorn. "Is there two of me?
    I thought I'd murdered the other one.
    I once knew a chap that I hoped to be,
    And he was decent, but now he's gone."
    "Well," says I, "it may seem to you
    That life has little of joy in store,
    But there's always something you still can do,
    And there's never a man but can try once more.

  13. School

    by Kate Louise Wheeler

    Life is a school for all man-kind,
    Where daily lessons are assigned
    And each may do his best;
    God is the Master who will teach
    The truths that lie within our reach
    And leave to us the rest.

    Each has his proper place at start
    And each can learn his little part
    If earnestly he tries;
    Altho' his standard may be low,
    He surely to the head will go
    Who on himself relies.

    Each has a chance among the rest
    To do his worst or do his best
    And his must be the choice,-
    Either to break the golden rule
    And cause confusion in life's school,
    Or heed the· Master's voice.

    The discipline is not severe,
    Altho' the Master we should fear
    To keep us from a wrong;
    There is no need to sigh and fret,
    · Or to despair, with lashes wet,
    Because our task seems long.

    The lessons that so oft' we spurn
    We know that some time We must learn,
    Then why should we delay?
    He stays behind who is the dunce,
    The wisest does his task at once
    And goes upon his way.

    The Master's sympathy prevails
    With him who tries altho' he fails,
    For He will help not chide;
    When rest and honors have been won
    He hears the Master say: "Well done,"
    And he is satisfied.

  14. The Hustling Pumpkin Vine

    by Uncle Mose

    Say boy, don't go a mopin' 'round 'n' talkin' in a whine,
    But go out in the field and view the hustling pumpkin vine.
    It has the kind o' stuff in it that's needed, boy, in you,
    A kind o' get there quality thet most folks say will do.

    The weeds may grow around it but the pumpkin vine don't stop,
    It shows it's there fer business an' it climbs right out on top.
    An' if it strikes a big stone fence or ditch that may be wide,
    It jes' lines out 'n strings the pumpkins on the other side.

    So boy, don't let the weeds or ditches drive you from your way,
    But go ahead and get on top—do something every day.
    An' if things look discouraging, don't ever mope or whine,
    But go and learn a lesson from the hustling pumpkin vine.

  15. The Cow and The Pig and The Hen

    by A. H. Upham

    The farmer smiled as he passed them by—
    The cow and the pig and the hen;
    For the price of wheat had gone sky-high,
    And the cow and the pig and the hen
    They ate up grain he could sell at the mill,
    They needed his care when nights were chill,
    He swore of them all he'd had his fill—
    The cow and the pig and the hen.

    These barnyard cattle had had their day,
    The cow and the pig and the hen.
    He could get thirty bones for a ton of hay—
    No need for the cow or the hen.
    He never would milk another cow,
    He hated the sight of a grunting sow,
    And raising chickens was work for the frau,
    Good-bye to the cow and the hen.

    They gave no heed to his jeer or frown,
    The cow and the pig and the hen,
    Whatever goes up, said they, comes down,
    The wise old cow and the hen.
    The hen laid eggs the winter thru,
    The cow gave milk and the piggy grew,
    But hay dropped down from thirty to two—
    Oh, the cow and the pig and the hen!

    Now he sits and sighs, as he counts the cost,
    For the cow and the pig and the hen.
    He almost cries for the milk he's lost,
    The cow and the pig and the hen.
    He'd tend them gladly in mud and rain,
    And scrap his acres of hay and grain,
    If he only could buy them back again,
    The cow and the pig and the hen.

  16. The Calf-Path

    by Sam Walter Foss


    One day through the primeval wood
    A calf walked home as good calves should;

    But made a trail all bent askew,
    A crooked trail as all calves do.

    Since then three hundred years have fled,
    And I infer the calf is dead.


    But still he left behind his trail,
    And thereby hangs my moral tale.

    The trail was taken up next day
    By a lone dog that passed that way;

    And then a wise bell-wether sheep
    Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep,

    And drew the flock behind him, too,
    As good bell-wethers always do.

    And from that day, o'er hill and glade,
    Through those old woods a path was made.


    And many men wound in and out,
    And dodged and turned and bent about,

    And uttered words of righteous wrath
    Because 'twas such a crooked path;

    But still they followed—do not laugh—
    The first migrations of that calf,

    And through this winding wood-way stalked
    Because he wobbled when he walked.


    This forest path became a lane,
    That bent and turned and turned again;

    This crooked lane became a road,
    Where many a poor horse with his load

    Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
    And travelled some three miles in one.

    And thus a century and a half
    They trod the footsteps of that calf.


    The years passed on in swiftness fleet.
    The road became a village street;

    And this, before men were aware,
    A city's crowded thoroughfare.

    And soon the central street was this
    Of a renowned metropolis;

    And men two centuries and a half
    Trod in the footsteps of that calf.


    Each day a hundred thousand rout
    Followed this zigzag calf about

    And o'er his crooked journey went
    The traffic of a continent.

    A hundred thousand men were led
    By one calf near three centuries dead.

    They followed still his crooked way,
    And lost one hundred years a day;

    For thus such reverence is lent
    To well-established precedent.


    A moral lesson this might teach
    Were I ordained and called to preach;

    For men are prone to go it blind
    Along the calf-paths of the mind,

    And work away from sun to sun
    To do what other men have done.

    They follow in the beaten track,
    And out and in, and forth and back,

    And still their devious course pursue,
    To keep the path that others do.

    They keep the path a sacred groove,
    Along which all their lives they move;

    But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
    Who saw the first primeval calf.

    Ah, many things this tale might teach—
    But I am not ordained to preach.

  17. The Three Frogs

    by George W. Swarthout

    Three frogs, one time, lived in a pond,
    Which thought themselves quite wise;
    They wore green coats and vests of white;
    Each blinked two shiny eyes.
    They sat upon a mossy log
    Down in a damp, cool place,
    And gave a concert free to all,
    Of tenor, alto and the bass.

    A sly old turtle chanced that way—
    He heard the singing gay;
    And now, said he, I'll have a meal
    Before the close of day.
    This turtle he was fond of frogs—
    Ah, very fond was he;
    And these three frogs were sleek and fat
    As he could wish to see.

    Said one frog, "Listen to my voice
    With every note complete;
    I think you fellows must agree
    That none sing half so sweet."
    "Oh, fie!" the other two frogs said,
    "How foolish you must be;
    Your voice is harsh—you can not sing
    One half so sweet as we."

    The singing ceased and in dispute
    Each frowned upon the rest;
    For each was very sure, you know,
    That he could sing the best.
    And each had told the other,
    In frog language, that he lied,
    When the turtle showed his old brown nose
    And said: "I will decide."

    "But I am very deaf, my friends
    You needs must come quite near,
    You know I cannot well mistake
    When I can plainly hear."
    And so they all sat very near,
    And sang with all their might;
    The turtle laughed; he never saw,
    Three frogs in such a plight.

    "A little nearer, if you please,
    Then I shall hear each note,
    And know which soft sweet strains
    Are uttered by each throat."
    Just then old turtle made a grab
    And caught those foolish frogs,
    And swam away with all his might
    Among the weeds and bogs.

    Some foolish men, like these three frogs,
    Invent some strange dispute,
    And call a lawyer on each side
    To carry on the suit;
    But soon, alas! when all too late,
    They plainly see and feel
    That while they lost their dinners,
    The lawyers made a meal.

  18. The Country Schoolhouse

    by Edwin L. Sabin

    The little country schoolhouse—you
    Remember it; of course you do!
    Within the angle snugly set,
    Where two long yellow highways met,
    And saplings planted here and there
    About the yard, and boxed with care
    As if to typify, in turn,
    The youngsters caught and caged, to learn.

    Around, the rolling pastures spread,
    With woodland patches garlanded,
    From which the breezes gladly bore
    Sly invitations to the door.
    Across the sills the bees' soft hum
    Was mingled with the muttered sum,
    And from their covert in the vale
    In plaintive pleading piped the quail.

    With basket and with pail equipped,
    Clear-eyed, tan-cheeked and berry-lipped,
    Athwart the pastures, down the road,
    They trudged to learning's poor abode;
    The pink sunbonnet, broad-brimmed straw;
    The bare brown feet that knew no law
    Of fashion's last; the bundled forms
    That laughed aloud at cold and storms.

    What tales the scarred desks might relate
    Of triumphs gained with book and slate!
    What lore the clapboards loose possess
    Of feats at noontime and recess!
    And doomed how oft the panes to see,
    Back up the road, and o'er the lea,
    Haste boy and girl, new worlds to find,
    The little schoolhouse left behind.

    O little country school! In vain
    May critics hold you in disdain.
    The greatest lessons that you taught
    Were not by chalk and pencil wrought.
    As oped your door on fields and sky,
    So, likewise just as wide and high,
    You opened to the eyes of youth
    The principles of love and truth.

  19. Weaving

    by Florence May Alt

    My life is but a weaving
    Between my God and me;
    I may but choose the colors—
    He worketh steadily.
    Full oft he weaveth sorrow;
    And I in foolish pride,
    Forget he sees the upper,
    And I the under side!

    I choose my strands all golden,
    And watch for woven stars;
    I murmur when the pattern
    Is set in blurs and mars.
    I cannot yet remember
    Whose hands the shuttles guide;
    And that my stars are shining
    Upon the upper side.

    I choose my thread all crimson,
    And wait for flowers to bloom,
    For warp and woof to blossom
    Upon that mighty loom.
    Full oft I seek them vainly,
    And fret for them denied—
    Though flowering wreaths and garlands,
    May deck the upper side.

    My life is but a weaving
    Between my God and me;
    I see the seams, the tangles—
    The fair design sees He.
    Then let me wait in patience
    And blindness; satisfied
    To make the pattern lovely
    Upon the upper side.