4 Poems for Asking for & Finding Forgiveness
Forgiveness can be a long, complicated process. However, there’s also clear evidence that it’s a necessary emotional journey. In addition to seeing a benefit in their relationships, people who possess the ability to forgive also report better mental health, lower blood pressure, and less difficulty sleeping. In other words, the process proves both emotionally and physically cathartic. But how can you get there? Whether you need to forgive yourself, need to forgive someone else, or feel an urge to apologize, poetry—with its unique empathy and ability to travel back through moments in time—helps lead the way. These four forgiveness poems will show you how to read and write towards forgiveness, as well as inspire you to reach out.
1. “Parable of Faith” by Louise Glück
National Book Award winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Glück is well-known for writing about topics like dramatic love affairs and family tensions, making forgiveness a prevalent and continually emerging theme. Her poetry also reinvents classic Greek and Roman myths, tracing the importance of forgiveness through the ages.
In “Parable of Faith,” Glück evokes the metaphor of a royal court and its intricate relationships: “He has tried to be / true to the moment; is there another way of being / true to the self? / . . . Yet gladly would the king bear / the grief of his lady: his / is the generous heart, / in pain as in joy.” Despite its description of royalty, the poem contains lessons everyone can learn from, showcasing how integral generosity is to repairing relationships.
2. “Yom Kippur, Taos, New Mexico” by Robin Becker
The Jewish holiday Yom Kippur emphasizes the importance of atonement and repentance. During this time, those who observe the holiday seek forgiveness from those they have wronged. The landscape of Taos, New Mexico adds beauty and richness to this reflection in this poem: “It’s these strange divagations I’ve come to love: midday sun / on pink escarpments; dusk on gray sandstone; / toe-and-finger holes along the three hundred and fifty-seven foot / climb to Acoma Pueblo, where the spirit / of the dead hovers about its earthly home / four days, before the prayer sticks drive it away. / Today all good Jews collect their crimes like old clothes / to be washed and given to the poor.”
3. “The Poet Asks Forgiveness” by Fay Zwicky
Sometimes, we ask forgiveness for the ways we have let ourselves down. For poets, this can be an especially intense process, with imposter syndrome compounding self-doubt. Zwicky, the author of more than four collections of poetry, vulnerably confesses how even award-winning and professional poets struggle with this.
In “The Poet Asks Forgiveness,” Zwicky grapples with the times she hasn’t stayed devoted to the writing process: “Forgive my unwritten poems: / the many I have frozen with irony / the many I have trampled with anger / the many I have rejected in self-defence / the many I have ignored in fear / unaware, blind or fearful / I ignored them. / They clamoured everywhere / those unwritten poems. / They sought me out day and night / and I turned them away.”
By making poetry an active character that “clamoured” and “sought,” Zwicky transforms these instances into real, personal relationships. With her unabashed honesty, Zwicky reveals that poetry requires just as much intimacy and quality time as our closest friendships and connections. Following this logic, we can apologize and turn back to writing after we have left it behind.
4. “Forgiveness” by Christopher Soto
When navigating death and grief, the concept of forgiveness often arises. Latinx poet Soto’s “Forgiveness” is a beautiful and bittersweet testament to this experience. The poem encapsulates the speaker’s last moments with their father, 10 years after they’d last spoken. In speaking from this highly personal and heightened place, the poem indicates how much can be overcome through forgiveness, and suggests it’s never too late to find or extend it.
“I see your fingers / Fumbling in the / Pillbox as if / Earthquakes are in / Your hands,” depicts Soto. “I think it’s time / For us to abandon / Our cruelties / For us to speak / So s o f t / We’re barely / Human.”
Seeking to write your way towards forgiveness? Consider writing an epistolary poem, a poem that takes the form and tone of a letter. The powerful prompt can be a step toward reconciliation.