Poetry, one of the most ancient art forms, serves as an outlet for poets to convey their most profound emotions. Poetry is magical because it paints a picture with words and navigates the reader through a flurry of feelings. While few reach glory, many poets go unrecognized or misunderstood in their pursuits. These are four poems about poverty.

Song of the Shirt


From weary chime to chime,


As prisoners work for crime!

Band, and gusset, and seam,

Seam, and gusset, and band,

Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,

As well as the weary hand.


In poverty, hunger, and dirt, And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,—Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—   She sang this “Song of the Shirt!”

This excerpt from the 19th-century poem by Thomas Hood talks about the labor exploitation of the middle class by the aristocracy. A woman works hard night and day, through tiredness and sickness, with dreams ranging from a simple meal to eternal prosperity. Unfortunately, she drowns in the pit of poverty and despite her efforts, is unable to climb out. This issue has spanned the centuries and labor exploitation remains a problem in the 21st century. Especially in developing countries where instances of trafficking and child labor are all too common. More than 150 million children are subjected to child labor around the world. The U.N. is currently working on enforcing appropriate legislation in countries to absolve the use of child labor.

Refugee Blues

“Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.


Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.”

W.H. Auden, a 20th-century poet, originally wrote this poem about the Jewish refugees who were seeking refugee status in the United States. The theme, however, extends beyond the grim years of World War II. At the end of 2018, there were roughly 71 million forcibly displaced people in the world. They were forced to leave due to conflict, violence or persecution. Many have not found homes or countries that are willing to take them in. Countries are beginning to pay attention. World leaders in the U.N. are working on implementing programs that will help refugees without disappointing host nations.


I saw an old cottage of clay,

And only of mud was the floor;

It was all falling into decay,

And the snow drifted in at the door.

Yet there a poor family dwelt,

In a hovel so dismal and rude;

And though gnawing hunger they felt,

They had not a morsel of food.

The children were crying for bread,

And to their poor mother they’d run;


O then, let the wealthy and gay

But see such a hovel as this,

That in a poor cottage of clay

They may know what true misery is.

And what I may have to bestow

I never will squander away,

While many poor people I know

Around me are wretched as they.

This sorrowful poem written by Jane Taylor in the 19th century paints a vivid picture of the horrid conditions associated with poverty. Taylor writes about a family that lives in an unsafe cottage without an ounce of food. The children starve and beg for food that the mother is incapable of providing. As seen in this poem, poverty is an exclusively uphill battle. There are a million forces exerting pressure on the lives of the impoverished but many must keep persevering to survive.

More than 3 billion people in the world today are living on less than $2.50 per day. More than 1.3 billion are living on less than $1.25 per day. Hundreds of millions of children and adults are malnourished and do not have access to basic healthcare. While this is a depressing statistic, the rate of extreme poverty in the world has decreased in the last several decades.

Poor Children

“They are the future of humanity
But many of them living in poverty
And without shelter homeless on the street
Searching through rubbish bins for scraps of food to eat.
Poor children are victims of circumstance
In life they never really get a chance
Or have opportunities as privileged children do
The road from the poor suburb to prison leads them to.

Poor children without homes and sleeping rough
And life for them already hard enough
At the wrong end of the social divide
Any chance of a good future to them is denied.”

This poem by Francis Duggan, while relatively recent compared the other poems on this list of four poems about poverty, speaks volumes about the struggles associated with child poverty. Roughly one billion children are currently living in poverty and according to UNICEF; approximately 22,000 children die daily due to poverty. A pattern of malnutrition and disease weakens the body to a point of no return. Coupled with the social repercussions of impoverishment, the odds of survival are slim. A recent study revealed that children who succumbed to childhood poverty were seven times more likely to harm themselves and 13 times more likely to engage in violent crime than their more affluent counterparts.

These four poems about poverty are quite striking. They convey deep emotions and spread ideas that have been prevalent for generations. Poverty is not skin-deep; the consequences of impoverishment extend to all elements of life. It is vital that people take action against poverty by reaching out to elected officials who have the ability to implement legislation that aids those in dire need.

Jai Shah
Photo: Flickr

poverty-fighting poetry
Poetry can offer a vision of a more just and fair world, a world which often runs contrary to conventional and established socioeconomic norms. For centuries, poets have used their pens to dispel myths and misconceptions about the poor with poverty-fighting poetry. Especially in the camp of written works, representations of poverty have caused a rift between poetry and the well-circulated novels and plays of renown authors and playwrights. The cryptic undertones of poetry force us to internalize and think about the hardships associated with poverty, while many novels and plays simply use poverty as a setting, or a stage on which authors and playwrights can effectively deploy their storylines.

Poverty-Fighting Poetry

Today, young people are harnessing the power of poetry to emphasize the burdens of poverty and to champion for a better world. Poetry competitions not only serve as a forum to advocate for change but as a means of giving back to the world’s most vulnerable communities.

Poetry at Menstrual Hygiene Day

In the United Kingdom, the Women and Girls organization launched a poetry competition for Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28th) in which British youth were encouraged to write poems about period poverty. The goal of the organization and of the poetry competition is to expand access to sanitary protection and menstrual hygiene products for impoverished women in India. In many parts of South Asia, it is considered taboo to openly talk about menstruation and to even search for period products. This lack of understanding of the importance of female hygiene promotes the inability of women to care for themselves while on their periods, a plight commonly known as period poverty.

One of the judges of the competition, Perdita Cargill, thinks that poetry will help break down misunderstandings of menstruation and barriers to menstrual hygiene: “Let’s talk about periods and write poems about them and do whatever we can to help others get the fair access to sanitary protection they need for dignity and health.” Poverty-fighting poetry encompasses a breadth of struggles related to various forms of impoverishment, from period poverty to more common perceptions of poverty, such as economic inequality and hunger.

The Steps to Happiness Event

In Florence, Italy, the Lorenzo de’Medici school recently held The Steps to Happiness event where students wrote poems to inspire other young people to join Malala Yousafzai’s campaign to provide education for all. The winner of the competition, Katelin Pierce, captures the essence of expanding educational opportunities for young girls:

“These little girls may have little voices

but they have large hearts and many hands

and they grab all they can of letters and words and ideas

whispered to them in hushed tones.”

Hunger in the UK

Another poetry competition in the United Kingdom merged the Young Poets Network with End Hunger UK to address the crisis of food poverty in Britain. Statistics cited by the End Hunger organization claim that 1 in 4 parents with children aged 18 and under skip meals because they lack financial means; in fact, the United Kingdom falls only behind Albania as the second most food insecure country in Europe. The Young Poets Network and End Hunger UK teamed up to challenge British writers aged 11-25 to write about their personal experiences with food insecurity and to offer solutions to solve the food crisis. While poverty-fighting poetry enables young people to speak about their struggles with impoverishment, it also builds bridges of understanding and empathy.

These examples are all instances of poverty-fighting poetry that challenge traditional notions of which means can and cannot be used to address issues of global poverty. Innovative humanities-based approaches to poverty can accomplish something that more clinical and statist-based approaches cannot offer: understanding.

Grayson Cox
Photo: Flickr

Five Poems About PoetryThere are 1.3 billion people around the world who live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.25 a day. However, there are 21 percent fewer people living in extreme poverty than there were in 1990. Additionally, one billion children live in poverty. Over 750 million people live without easy access to clean water. These are not new global problems. By reading poetry, it is easy to tell that poverty has been on the minds and in the hearts of writers for centuries. Here are five poems about poverty.

Poverty by Jane Taylor

Jane Taylor wrote the famous jingle Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. She is best known for her nursery rhymes and novels. She lived in London in the late 18th and early 19th century. The speaker of this poem isn’t someone who lives in poverty, but someone who sees it from the outside. They resolve to never hide from the fight against poverty, saying “I never will squander away/ While many poor people I know/Around me are wretched as they.”

The Curse of Poverty by Ramesh Rai


Poverty is a curse for human society

Poverty prevails there where the injustice is

Poverty exclaims there where the illiteracy is

Poverty is purely man-made

So it has to be eradicated from its root”

The speaker acknowledges the human fault in the creation of poverty. Additionally, they identify the necessity for humans to fix the problem by eliminating it from their “roots.” Click here for more poems by Ramesh Rai.

Each Man For Himself by tyktmy

Another of the five poems of poetry is this poem which resolves that all humankind are one. Further, it is necessary to act this way by helping each other. The speaker points out that, while some are starving and dying, others are doing nothing about it. This puts people in different worlds when they should be living among each other in support.

Stop Child Labor Now by Simon Amu

“It is most happening in Africa.

And far in the corners of Asia

Save them from risk and danger

Make life live wealthy for them

It’s our very very responsibility

To protect the future leaders”

There are 1 billion children worldwide who live in poverty. In addition, according to UNICEF, poverty kills 22,000 children every day.

Children around the world are hungry, even when they are working. Eradicating poverty will save children from diseases they can’t afford medication for, dying from starvation and having to work hard for little pay when they should be in school getting an education.

Mother Africa Wept by Marcus Dawes

“Nations United to collect said cheques due to…

our collective neglect, an inability to keep it all in check.”

This poem features a speaker who is frustrated by the inaction of people around the world and their disconnect from the continent of Africa. While people are distracted by luxuries, they have forgotten about their homeland. So while they enjoy their lives, Africa weeps. This poem makes the reader think about the ways they can be distracted from taking action or the ways they may be ignorant of the suffering due to poverty.

Reading these five poems about poverty and other poetry can be an excellent way to better understand it. One simple way to take action against poverty is to contact elected officials. Senators and representatives act based on their constituencies, so the more communication they receive about a certain issue, like global poverty, the more likely they are to support measures to alleviate it.

– Ava Gambero
Photo: Flickr

simin behbahani
“My poems and the wild mint
bear messages and perfumes.
Don’t let them create a riot with their wild singing.
My heart is greener than green,
flowers sprout from the mud and water of my being.
Don’t let me stand, if you are the enemies of Spring.”

These lines are from the poem “It’s Time to Mow the Flowers” written by the late Simin Behbahani, who was considered by many to be Iran’s most influential poet. Born on July 20, 1927, Behbahani lived and wrote through much of 20th century Iranian history.

She worked from within Iran for six decades and wrote over 600 poems.

Her words became a part of social resistance against a strict and oppressed Iranian culture. Behbahani wrote openly against the repression following the 1979 revolution, as well as about many other issues ranging from egalitarianism to women’s rights to sexism, prostitution, peace, violence and even poverty.

Her poems were well known as some even made their way into popular Iranian love songs. For this she was given the nickname, the “Lioness of Iran.”

Despite censorship and even restricted travel from a government that feared her, Behbahani continued to write and share her ideas with her fellow Iranians. She remained part of Iran’s Writers Association despite the murders of several of its members during the 1990s.

She addressed the social issue of poverty in her book “From the Street”, which is a series of poems she wrote between 1983 and 1985. The poems discuss concerns of homelessness and hunger. One covers the sadness of a hungry boy, while in another a pregnant woman gives birth while she waits for rationed food.

In 2009 she won the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom. This was for her tireless efforts in fighting for women’s rights, as many of her poems delve into women’s freedom.

For example, her poem “The Ballad Of The Brothel” talks about the issue of prostitution in Iran, an issue that continues to be prominently ignored by Iranian society.

Behbahani also spoke out against the controversial elections of 2009, in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad returned to the presidency and protests occurred in Tehran. She wrote a poem titled “Stop Throwing My Country To The Wind.”

The poem points out Ahmadinejad’s dishonesty, pride and his recklessness. At the end she writes—“You may wish to have me burned, or decide to stone me. But in your hand match or stone will lose their power to harm me.”

It was Behbahani’s life’s work to spread the word of justice and freedom—to fight from within the country she loved to help promote social change. She believed that “We [writers] will be truly honored the day when no writer is in jail, no student is under arrest, when journalists are free and their pens are free.”

– Eleni Marino 

Sources: BBC News, NPR, The Guardian, Simin Behbahani Poems, PBS,
Photo: 1000 Kitap

Struck by the catastrophic circumstances of their previous lives in Syria, children in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan spoke of bullets, bombs and death. Nawwar Bulbul wanted to change that. A prominent soap opera actor until being blacklisted by the Syrian government on account of joining in protests against the regime, Bulbul brought his love for theater with him as he fled.

The Zaatari Camp in northern Jordan has ballooned with the recent inundation of Syrian refugees fleeing over the border and, with a lofty 102,704 residents, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, currently stands as the world’s second-largest refugee camp. Basic needs such as food and water are met on a marginalized basis by various international organizations attempting to help quell the trauma of the current Syrian crisis, yet children require more than that in order to live with the hope of successful and fulfilling futures. With less than 40 percent of refugee children attending school, there is a huge deficit of arts and culture among traumatized population.

For over two months, Bulbul has worked to bring happiness to the lives of these children. Because of the impressive initiative taken by this actor-turned-director, 100 refugee children come together to rehearse Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” Translated to classical Arabic from its original Bard’s English, the play brings joy to its performers and a renewed sense of childhood innocence to those who have been stripped of such rights and privileges.

One young girl named Ammari, who came to Jordan along with five sisters and a brother, says she feels the transformation.

“I do not feel lonely any more in this place,” she told reporters. She has found something to finally entertain her and take her mind off of the victims of calamity around her.

Though some may claim that this particular Shakespeare tragedy is not suitable for children, Bulbul argues otherwise. He says he took only the roots of the story for the children’s adaptation, and focused primarily on the differences between lying and telling the truth. While Bulbul’s initiative received no support from international organizations and only minimal support from friends in the Syrian community, the past two months of play practice have shown outstanding success for the youth.

In discussions of Shakespeare’s plays, the participants showed behavioral and emotional development. The children involved learned quite a bit about controlling anger as well as the violent and destructive consequences of seeking revenge. For a group that has spent a good portion of life so far living amid death, destruction and humiliation, these are lessons some may have thought unfathomable in previous months.

Yet Shakespeare is not the only poetry in this situation. Bulbul translates from Arabic to mean bird, or oftentimes nightingale, a bird primarily known for singing in the dark. So as Nawwar Bulbul brings the song of hope and joy to the inner darkness of an overpopulated refugee camp, he does, so beautifully, live up to his name.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Ahram Online, Times of Israel, Global Arab Network
Photo: Times of Israel