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.
POEMS ABOUT WORK & WORKERS
“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
POEMS FOR THE END OF SUMMER
“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
AUDIO & PODCASTS
“Memory of Summer” by 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.
ARTICLES & BLOG POSTS
“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