13 Short Poems About Broken Families

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Leo Tolstoy opened his 1878 novel "Anna Karenina" with this quote: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." 

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When families break, you can still find the hope to heal. When you encounter someone who understands your pain, it helps you feel less alone and more whole. Poets are especially adept at connecting emotionally with their readers. If you’re feeling fragile, these short poems can help. 

Poems About Broken Families After a Death

Whether it happens suddenly or you have some time to prepare, a death in the family can make you feel shattered. Sometimes people blame each other. Too often, people argue over their inheritance. And some families slowly isolate themselves from one another. If you’ve faced family dysfunction after a death, these poems may feel all too familiar.   

1. "Mid-Term Break" by Seamus Heaney

The revered Irish poet Seamus Heaney was known for his naturalistic style. "Mid-Term Break" serves as one of his more emotional works, for good reason. It’s an autobiographical poem about the 1952 death of his four-year-old brother, Christopher.

Many people never fully recover after that kind of loss, and Heaney clearly carried that pain forever. When he died in 2013, the two brothers were buried side by side. 

2. "Funeral Blues" by W.H. Auden

When a family member dies, it can feel as though your life ends at the same moment. In this popular funeral poem, the narrator wants to let the world come to an end.

He starts small, by commanding everyone to stop the clocks and disconnecting the phones. But it’s not enough. It’s pretty clear that the narrator will never heal because his other half had been permanently ripped away.   

3. "Grief" by Barbara Crooker

In this metaphorical poem, the poet likens the grieving process to wading across a wide river. The water moves swiftly, threatening to sweep her away. The shores are lined with trees laden with walnuts, apples, and grapes.

The longer she stays in the river, the colder she gets. If she could reach the shore, she’d feel warm again. But that would also take her farther away from the memories of the person she mourns. The grief may feel painful, but in a way, it’s her last unbroken connection. 

ยป MORE: They might be gone, but they'll never be forgotten. Explore the next steps with this post-loss checklist.

 

Poems About Broken Families After a Divorce or Separation

In the United States, the divorce rate tends to hover between 40 percent and 50 percent. Many former partners can put their differences aside and treat each other amicably. However, sometimes the dissolution of a relationship turns contentious. 

When people break up, they don't always just affect each other. If a couple has children, they will also struggle with sadness and confusion. These poems help remind parents and children that so many people have similar circumstances. 

4. "Sour Marriage and Victims" by Oladeji Popoola 

The name alone signals that this relationship has curdled and turned foul. As it also implies, innocent parties get hurt in the process. In this case, it’s the children. This poem may be short, but it packs a wallop thanks to lines like these:

“Memories of their rage
and the consequences would settle
in these children’s heads now that
it has broken apart.”

5. "After Love" by Sara Teasdale 

Teasdale, an American lyric poet, was awarded the first Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1918. Even with that accomplishment, she remains lesser-known than some of her peers. Her approach was startlingly ahead of its time. While love poems of the era can be overwrought, “After Love” is blunt and pared down from the moment it starts:

“There is no magic any more,
We meet as other people do,
You work no miracle for me
Nor I for you.”

Sometimes a fiery relationship just loses steam and tapers off. But even when a split seems civil, resentment simmers on.  

6. "A Pity, We Were Such a Good Invention" by Yehuda Amichai 

Sometimes external forces can force lovers apart against their will. This visceral poem redefines what it means to be broken. In the opening stanza, the narrator proclaims that he and his lover have been amputated from one another by surgeons. But it’s these lines that really show the total destruction:

“They dismantle us
Each from the other.
As far as I'm concerned
They are all engineers. All of them.
A pity. We were such a good
And loving invention.”

Sad Poems About Broken Families

When you’re in a bad emotional space, inviting even more gloom into your life might not sound appealing. But reading sad poems can actually help you feel better. Reading broken family poems can help you give yourself permission to grieve and achieve catharsis. Or you may read one and think suddenly your situation doesn’t look that bad after all!

7. "To My Oldest Friend, Whose Silence Is Like a Death" by Lloyd Schwartz 

In addition to our biological families, we also create our own found families. In some ways, our found families mean even more to us because we got to choose them. But just like biological families, found families can become estranged from one another. In this autobiographical poem, Schwartz mourns the sudden loss of a dear friend.

However, death is not the cause of their separation. After 60 years of friendship, Schwartz’s friend severed their relationship with no explanation. Now he feels like he's grieving someone who hasn't even died. 

8. "Letter to an Estranged Middle-Aged Son" by Donal Mahoney

In this epistolary poem, an old man writes a stilted letter to the son he no longer sees. It soon becomes apparent that he isn’t just writing for reconciliation. He realizes he and his wife are nearing the end of their lives and wants his son to prepare. 

9. "Abandoned" by Shannon Melanson 

Sometimes the fractures in families show up right away. In this poem, a young woman recalls all the times he abandoned her. Lines include:

“This isn’t the first time I’ve watched you leave
I’ve seen your back more than I’ve seen your face”

They may make you ache for a child whose family was broken from the start. 

Uplifting or Positive Poems About Broken Families

The people who avoid reading sad poems when they’re feeling down might instead prefer more positive and uplifting works. These poems show that broken families don’t always stay that way. Even if you can’t recreate your old family life, you can begin to move past the pain. Over time, your family will continue to evolve and flourish. 

10. "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver 

When you live through a trauma, it’s easy to forget to be kind and patient with yourself. Oliver has had her own traumatic experiences, which grounds her work in real humanity. With these understated words, Oliver gently gives you permission to treat yourself with care:

“You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”

11. "For Women Who Are ‘Difficult’ to Love" by Warsan Shire 

If a breakup or divorce has left you feeling unlovable, let this British poet remind you of the power and intensity that still burns deep inside you. Sometimes a toxic partner can fill you with self-doubt. Shire assures you that you were not the difficult one. With a message so empowering, it’s no wonder Beyoncé sought her out for a collaboration.

12. "Heavy" by Mary Oliver 

Oliver has an incredible ability to transform deep melancholy into hope. When the poem starts, she’s so weighed down by grief, she feels close to death herself. But trusted friends encourage her to slowly release that heavy grief. Soon, she begins to appreciate the beauty of the world again.

13. "The Broken of Heart" by James Rorty 

When you’re afraid of getting your heart broken, you may find yourself holding back from life. In this poem, an old man urges his son to break his own heart and set himself free. Sometimes, letting yourself break ends up as the most empowering thing you can do.   

Put Yourself Back Together with Poetry

Art can have astonishing powers of healing. You may believe that art feels therapeutic. For example, making a mosaic out of broken glass can remind you that beautiful things can come out of the wreckage. If you need to take some time away from the world and look for your missing pieces, poetry can help you feel understood. 

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