Poem Sampler

Poems for Giving Thanks

Try these poems out on your Thanksgiving crowd.
Image of a cornucopia basket filled with gourds, fruit, and vegetables.

For Thanksgiving, from the bounty of our archives, we’ve selected poems that convey gratitude. Reunions, homecomings, and autumn are all suitable subjects for recitation or a toast, or as inspiration for giving thanks.

1. The New England Boy’s Song: About Thanksgiving Day” by Lydia Maria Child
Shorter versions of this classic poem is memorized and belted out by schoolchildren all across the country in celebration of Thanksgiving. The poem’s incantatory rhythm is notable, as are the integrated end rhymes, which carry over from one stanza into the next, as in “away” and “way”:

Over the river, and through the wood,
To grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way,
To carry the sleigh,
Through the white and drifted snow.
Over the river, and through the wood,
To grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop
For doll or top,
For ‘t is Thanksgiving day.

2. “A Birthday” by Christina Rossetti
More than 34 million Americans hit the road each Thanksgiving to find something like the joy of the reunion Christina Rossetti captures in “A Birthday.” By using the literary device anaphora (the repetition of a word or phrase begins successive lines, as in Rossetti’s glad similes “My heart is like a singing bird,” “My heart is like an apple-tree,” “My heart is like a rainbow shell”), the poet makes apparent her reunion delight.

3. “Thanksgiving” by Edgar Albert Guest
Popularly known as the Poet of the People, Edgar Albert Guest began writing verse for the Detroit Free Press in 1898, and after 1908 wrote almost exclusively in meter and rhyme. Guest’s poems ran in more than 300 newspapers for over 30 years. In “Thanksgiving,” the folksy, aw shucks diction and regular end rhymes (“Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer; / Oh, but we’re grateful an’ glad to be there,”) evoke a comfortable celebration of bounty and thanks.

4. “Family Reunion” by Maxine Kumin
This mother goes to every trouble preparing a feast to welcome her grown children home. They arrive—“adult, professional, aloof” but become, after the meal, “Benign and dozy from [their] gluttonies, / the candles down to stubs, defenses down / love leaking out unguarded….” Subtle in rhyme and symbolism (“Darlings, it’s all a circle from the ring / of wire that keeps raccoons from the corn/ to the gouged pine table that we lounge around, distressed before any of you was born.”), the poem is nonetheless forthright in tone, as Kumin reveals “briefly having you back to measure us / is harder than having let you go.”

5. “In Harvest” by Sophie Jewett
In the land of plenty, late 19th-century poet Sophie Jewett gazes at newly mown fields, celebrating not their bounty, but the beauty and stillness that reign there after harvest. As “Across the wheat flash sky-blue wings; / A goldfinch dangles from a tall, / Full-flowered yellow mullein; all / The world seems turning blue and gold.”, Jewett savors the moment: “Along the edges of the wheat, / I hear the rustle of her feet: / And yet I know the whole sea lies, / And half the earth, between our eyes.”

6. “One Home” by William Stafford
Bicoastals might call the Midwest “fly-over country,” but William Stafford loved his nabe. He grew up in Kansas (“a Midwest home—you can keep your world”), and he draws it lovingly here, animating the pantry light, the buffalo grass, the wind, and the confidence that came from growing up there: “Kicking cottonwood leaves we ran toward storms. / Wherever we looked the land would hold us up.”

Originally Published: November 16th, 2006

Susan Hutton is the author of On the Vanishing of Large Creatures (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2007).