Poem Sampler

Labor Day Poems

Poems reflecting on work, responsibility, and the end of summer.

by Becca Klaver
Labor Day Poems
Charles Sprague Pearce.

For the United States’ Labor Day, we bring you a variety of poems, podcasts, and articles—some meditate on work, while others evoke restful, wistful end-of-summer feelings.

Labor Day was founded to give workers and their families a festival day: in this spirit, Muriel Rukeyser, Philip Levine, and Langston Hughes explore laborers’ family bonds and duties. For Robert Service, work is a burden; for Rhina P. Espaillat, it’s a salve for grief.  Workplaces real and imaginary are explored in Robert Pinsky’s Triangle Factory, Charles Simic’s spookily empty warehouse, and Lorine Niedecker’s poet’s “condensery.”

Besides a festival day for workers, Labor Day has come to signal the end of summer. In that spirit, Carol Frost, Rachel Hadas, D.A. Powell, and Sara Teasdale conjure sights and smells of the dog days. Gwendolyn Brooks, Jane Kenyon, and James Schuyler are awash in the elegiac feelings of this time of year, while C.D. Wright’s speaker surrenders to relaxation, admitting: “this feels painfully beautiful / whether or not / it will change the world one drop.” Now carry your laptop out to your rocker and listen to the poets and the cicadas. 



Find Work” by Rhina P. Espaillat

Brass Spittoons” by Langston Hughes

What Work Is” by Philip Levine

Poet’s Work” by Lorine Niedecker

Shirt” by Robert Pinsky

The Song of the Wage-slave” by Robert W. Service



A Sunset of the City” by Gwendolyn Brooks

All Summer Long” by Carol Frost

The End of Summer” by Rachel Hadas

Three Songs at the End of Summer” by Jane Kenyon

cruel, cruel summer” by D.A. Powell

Buried at Springs” by James Schuyler

September Midnight” by Sara Teasdale

Lake Echo, Dear” by C.D. Wright



Memory of Summerby Bruce F. Murphy
Murphy’s poem read by an actor.

Lines for Hard Times
Philip Levine reads his defiantly hopeful “They Feed They Lion” and “What Work Is” with commentary by Edward Hirsch.

Chicago Poetry Tour: Haymarket Monument
Featuring Studs Terkel, this segment explores the dynamic poetry and songs reflecting Chicago’s industrial labor movements.



Labor Day Adieu” by Mark Nowak

Art Strike Anyone?” by Thom Donovan

“On Standing at Neruda’s Tomb”: Luis Alberto Urrea interviews Martín Espada. 


BACK TO SCHOOL GUIDE: Poetry Goes Back To School


BROWSE More Labor Day poems

Originally Published: September 2, 2010


On September 2, 2010 at 11:48am thom donovan wrote:
Here's a great Labor Day poetry event happening in the Bay Area, organized by Sara Larsen, Alli Warren, Suzanne Stein, David Brazil, and Brandon Brown:


On September 8, 2010 at 8:50pm Ann engelman wrote:
I would not have thought of Niedecker's poem "Poet's Work" as appropriate for Labor Day. But, of course! Thank you Becca for your observation. I am a huge Niedecker fan. . .and now will "carry this clarity with me."
Ann Engelman
Fort Atkinson, WI

On September 9, 2010 at 8:15am EK wrote:
"Digging" by Seamus Heaney? An excellent
poem about real work.
Also "Adam's Curse" by Yeats.


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Becca Klaver is the author of the poetry collection LA Liminal (Kore Press, 2010) and the chapbook Inside a Red Corvette: A 90s Mix Tape (greying ghost press, 2009). A founding editor of the feminist poetry press Switchback Books, she holds an MFA in Poetry from Columbia College Chicago and is currently a PhD student in Literatures in English at Rutgers University. Born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, she now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Continue reading this biography

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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