Higher Things · Poetry

Best Breakup Poetry (By Female Poets)


I was a little hesitant about posting this because I didn’t want to sound as though I was continuing to dwell on my own breakup. Truth be told, a young friend of mine recently went through a harrowing breakup, and it was to cheer her up that I started digging out the poetry that helped me four months ago. I found I had enough material to make a blog and well, here it is.

I have complained in a previous post about how there wasn’t enough poetry describing the male form. That was before I discovered the fantastic work of the following female poets who have used their pen to scour the male form, relationships, love, sex and everything besides. Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Pity Me Not Because the Light of Day is my first pick because it is one of the more serious poems on this list. The last two lines hold all the anguish that comes from a slow acceptance that things are not working out and aren’t going to:

Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at ever turn.

Even Eavan Boland’s Anorexic, while primarily about starving oneself, hints at doing so because of a man. I have rarely been depressed enough to stop eating (my usual response to sadness is to stuff my face) but about a week after the breakup I found that not eating meant not having enough energy to feel sad, or broken, or anything. This poem resonated at that point.

Only a little more,
only a few more days
sinless, foodless,

I will slip
back into him again
as if I had never been away.

Meanwhile, Marge Piercy describes all the meddling disapproval of potential mothers-in-law. Has anything more accurate been written? For anyone who’s ever suspected that their breakup had mummy dear’s influence behind it, from Always Unsuitable:

Ah, what you wanted for your sons
were little ladies hatched from the eggs of pearls
like pink and silver lizards

cool, well behaved and impervious
to desire and weather alike.
Mostly that’s who they married and left.

Slightly more insane and moving is Killing the Love by Anne Sexton. Full of raging self accusation, the poem is difficult for me to read, even now.

I am flying like a single red rose,
leaving a jet stream
of solitude
and yet I feel nothing,
though I fly and hurl,
my insides are empty
and my face is as blank as a wall.

In contrast, this quiet lamenting observation from Louise Gluck in Parousia:

Love of my life, you
Are lost and I am
Young again.
….
How lush the world is,
How full of things that don’t belong to me-

*sigh*. Anyway, now moving on to my most favourite poet, Dorothy Parker, who deals with everything including heartbreak in a peremptory fashion that is healing for even the most broken heart. From Ballade of a Great Weariness:

And couldn’t it be I was young and mad
If ever my heart on my sleeve I wore?
There’s many to claw at a heart unclad,
And little the wonder it ripped and tore.

She’s also cheeky. Exhibit A, from Healed:

Oh, when I flung my heart away,
The year was at its fall.
I saw my dear, the other day,
Beside a flowering wall;
And this was all I had to say:
“I thought that he was tall!”

Finis demonstrates accurately how mindnumbing a breakup can be, but how little time it takes for things to get back to usual:

Children chuckle, and lovers meet, —
Don’t they know that our love is gone?
No one pauses to pay a tear;
None walks slow, for the love that’s through, —
I might mention, my recent dear,
I’ve reverted to normal, too.

She even discusses rebounds in this funny (but sort of sad) poem Threnody:

That a heart falls tinkling down,
Never think it ceases.
Every likely lad in town
Gathers up the pieces

My most favourite poem, though, is this one. I love it because it just goes to show how life doesn’t end with a lover going – there’s more love to be loved, more life to be lived, and more men just around the corner 🙂 From Wisdom

This I say, and this I know:
Love has seen the last of me.
Love’s a trodden lane to woe,
Love’s a path to misery.

Look! A lad’s a-waiting there,
Tall he is and bold, and gay.
What the devil do I care
What I know, and what I say?

Anyway, so that’s my collection of Best Breakup Poetry. The other poems by Millay and Parker in particular are excellent and you should check them out if you love poetry even in the slightest. I have some creative projects going on and I’ll be updating my blog with them in the next post. See you guys soon!

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2 thoughts on “Best Breakup Poetry (By Female Poets)

  1. Of these I had only read “Anorexic” and “Healed” before, and I really liked compilation. It always is a blessing to be understood, and if that be in such an eloquent way as this, all the better!

    1. I was discussing this with a friend the other day who said I read way too much poetry for someone who never formally studied literature. But the thing is, there are so many things, so many feelings I can’t express eloquently. So I look for poetry that expresses those feelings, because that’s what poets do, they take our commonly felt human emotions and experiences and capture them on paper. And yes, it is wonderful to find stuff that resonates. ^_^

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