The idea of “starting over” comes with the implication that something has been done before. You could be starting over in your career, you relationships, your education, or your physical or mental health. You could be trying to build something back up. Something I’ve found useful while trying to do this, is a shift in perspective. And poems about starting over can sometimes, give just that.
The last two years had us grappling with uncertainty as we navigated the new normal. However, the calendar year is starting over too, and a lot of us have been awaiting the new possibilities it brings. I want to remind myself to slow down and savour life in the coming year. And sometimes, slowing down requires the courage to detach from the commitments made by your past self. It comes with understanding and accepting that your current self wants different things. And somewhere along the way, we stumble on hope, and eventually belief, that starting over is a good thing.
Here’s a list of hopeful poems about starting over. I want to revisit them often as I remind myself to breathe easier in 2022. I hope you can find a line or two to hold on to, too.
Wild Geese By Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
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.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Still I Rise By Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Burning The Old Year by Naomi Shihab Nye
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.
Still Life With Ladder By Susan Rich
Today, the sky saved my life
caught between smoked rum and cornflower.
Today, there is a color I can’t name cruising past
the backdoor — it is the idea of color.
Cloudscapes evaporate like love songs
across lost islands, each a small bit coin of thought.
Today, I am alive and this is a good thing—
clams in the half shell, a lemon rosemary tart.
I live in the day and the day lives past me.
If I could draw a map of the hours, a long
horizon would travel on indefinitely ~ a green, backlit thread.
The sky? It is never the same — it is sour milk
and whipped cream, a sketchbook and flour-dusted jeans.
Today, I am in love with the sky.
It doesn’t care if my father is dead,
or that I live by myself with his Masonic watch.
I sew time with my mother’s button jar.
I’ve improvised my life ~ let the sky pull the strings.
Tonight, I will borrow the golden ladder from the orchard,
travel from this sphere into the next and expunge
the leftover sadness of the hemispheres, to move beyond
the beyond which is here, present, alive in this hyacinth room;
time leaps over itself, after and out of the tangled past
over shadows of weather falling across a back window~
to forgive one another; to try once more to live it right.
Notebook, 1981 By Eileen Myles
I was so willing to pull a page out of my notebook, a day, several bright days and live them as if I was only alive, thirsty, timeless, young enough, to do this one more time, to dare to have nothing so much to lose and to feel that potential dying of the self in the light as the only thing I thought that was spiritual, possible and because I had no other way to call that mind, I called it poetry, but it was flesh and time and bread and friends frightened and free enough to want to have another day that way, tear another page.
What Seems Like Joy By Kaveh Akbar
how much history is enough history before we can agree
to flee our daycares to wash everything away and start over
leaving laptops to be lost in the wet along with housecats and Christ’s
own mother even a lobster climbs away from its shell a few
times a life but every time I open my eyes I find
I am still inside myself each epiphany dull and familiar
oh now I am barefoot oh now I am lighting the wrong end
of a cigarette I just want to be shaken new like a flag whipping
away its dust want to pull out each of my teeth
and replace them with jewels I’m told what seems like joy
is often joy that the soul lives in the throat plinking
like a copper bell I’ve been so young for so many years
it’s all starting to jumble together joy jeweling copper
its plink a throat sometimes I feel beautiful and near dying
like a feather on an arrow shot through a neck other times
I feel tasked only with my own soreness like a scab on the roof
of a mouth my father believed in gardens delighting
at burying each thing in its potential for growth some years
the soil was so hard the water seeped down slower than the green
seeped up still he’d say if you’re not happy in your own yard
you won’t be happy anywhere I’ve never had a yard but I’ve had apartments
where water pipes burst above my head where I’ve scrubbed
a lover’s blood from the kitchen tile such cleaning
takes so much time you expect there to be confetti at the end
what we’ll need in the next life toothpaste party hats
and animal bones every day people charge out of this world
squealing good-bye human behavior! so long acres
of germless chrome! it seems gaudy for them to be so cavalier
with their bliss while I’m still here lurching into my labor
hanging by my hair from the roof of a chapel churchlight thickening
around me or wandering into the woods to pull apart eggshells emptying
them in the dirt then sewing them back together to dry in the sun
For a New Beginning by John O’Donohue
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
“Hope” is The Thing with Feathers By Emily Dickinson
“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —
And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —
I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet — never — in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of me.
If you enjoyed this list of poems about starting over, also check out:
Poems For When Life Is Just Hard, 12 of The Best Slam Poetry Performances To Leave You In Awe and 5 Poetry Challenges To Enrich Your Reading Life.