Poem Sampler

Birthday Poems

Poems for milestone birthdays and those in-between.
By The Editors

Tuck these poems into birthday cards or give yourself the gift of reflection.



First Birthday” by Brad Leithauser

Littlest digit, you’ve got the world by the handle.

Birthday Lights” by Calef Brown

Light bulbs on a birthday cake.
What a difference that would make!

The Book of Failed Descriptions” by Tod Marshall

A birthday party and he’ll have nothing to do with the inflatable castles rented and set up on the lawn, only wants to run all afternoon, 

Tenth Birthday” by Marjorie Knapp

“What is this lovely world, and who am I?”


Teens and Twenties

Twelfth Birthday” by Rachel Hadas

Your liberation
twelve years ago today is the occasion  
you and your friends are celebrating now  
behind a door that’s firmly shut.

For a Girl I Know About to Be a Woman” by Miller Williams

you never should dally with any young man
who does any one of the following things:

Poem for My Twentieth Birthday” by Kenneth Koch

For my birthday thrust into the adult and actual:
expected to perform the action, not to ponder

At Twenty-Eight” by Amy Fleury

I shimmy and slip by on pure fool chance.



30th Birthday” by Alice Notley

May I never be afraid
                           especially of myself   

Writ on the Eve of My 32nd Birthday” by Gregory Corso

I don’t act silly any more.
And because of it I have to hear from so-called friends: 
“You’ve changed. You used to be so crazy so great.”  

“Birthday Poem” by Al Young

            How I got from then to now
is the mystery that could fill a whole library
much less an arbitrary stanza

sisters” by Lucille Clifton

            me and you
coming from the same place.

Self-Portrait at 38” by Jennifer Tonge

My spring is gone

and summer’s upon me,
rude in its ripening.

Forties & Fifties

On My Fortieth Birthday” by Paul Goodman

Feeling no-age (not yet ageless like
the sky)—I have been lived by a starving youth

Millennium, Six Songs” by Marilyn Chin

The same stars come around and around and around
The same sun pecks her heat at the horizon

Menstruation at Forty” by Anne Sexton

I feel the November
of the body as well as of the calendar.

44th Birthday Evening, At Harris’s” by Ted Berrigan

44 years I’ve loved these dreams today.

After the Gentle Poet Kobayashi Issa” by Robert Hass

Fiftieth birthday:

   From now on,  
It’s all clear profit,   
   every sky.


Growing Older

Cheerios” by Billy Collins

            Indeed, I was a few months older than Cheerios
for today, the newspaper announced,
was the seventieth birthday of Cheerios

Counting Backwards” by Linda Pastan

It’s the physics
of acceleration I mind,
the way time speeds up

On the Eve of a Birthday” by Timothy Steele

Here’s to the next year, to the best year yet;
To mixed joys, to my harum-scarum prime;

Passing Through” by Stanley Kunitz

it’s time for me to practice
growing old. The way I look
at it, I’m passing through a phase: 
gradually I’m changing to a word.


For Parents

I Wish I Want I Need” by Gail Mazur

Yesterday I drove my little mother for hours
through wet snow. Her eightieth birthday.
What she wanted was that ride with me—
shopping, gossiping, mulling old grievances,

The Gift” by Li-Young Lee

I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
What I Learned from My Mother” by Julia Kasdorf
I learned from my mother how to love
the living
Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Black Hose” by Bruce Weigl

                                             basking in the light  
and love that would fall down on me when I  
handed her the box and she untied the bow to save


Parties & Presents

Family Stories” by Dorianne Laux

            how an argument once ended when his father
seized a lit birthday cake in both hands
and hurled it out a second-story window.

The Party” by Jason Shinder

That’s it; that’s how it is; everyone standing around as if just out of the pool,
drying off, standing around, that’s it, standing, talking,

Originally Published: April 8th, 2013