Birthday Poems

Birthday Poems – 15 Famous Examples You Should Read

Everyone on earth has a birthday. We don’t all celebrate birthdays, and we don’t all much like birthdays, but that does not stop us from having them in the first place! So, of course, there are many different birthday poems out there. There are short poems about birthdays, a birthday poem for a friend or two, some poems aimed at family birthdays, and so on. This article will give you a nice list of 15 birthday poems that you may be interested in. Some of these birthday poems are not necessarily positive or directly about birthdays, but the idea of birthdays will be explored in each of them. So, buckle up for some birthday poems, because this is going to be a bumpy birthday blowout!



Some of the Best Birthday Poems

Let’s immediately get one thing straight when it comes to birthday poems, not everyone likes birthdays enough to want any poems about them. So, if you’re the Grinch who wants to ruin birthdays, then I have some good news for you! There are a number of poems in this list that are not all that positive about birthdays! However, if you’re more the Santa Claus of birthdays and you enjoy celebrating them, then there are also a number of poems in this list for you too!

So long as it is remembered that not all birthday poems will necessarily be positive or negative. In addition, there are plenty of “birthday poems” that are not even about birthdays themselves. There are those that instead use the concept of the birthday as a kind of metaphor or image that can convey some other idea that the poet wishes to convey to the reader. This may be confusing to some as a “birthday poem” should be one that celebrates or rejects birthdays, right?

Famous Birthday Poems

When it comes to poetry in particular, and literature in general, I always tried to remind my old students, and those that I still occasionally assist in literary matters, that even a seemingly positive or neutral concept can be used in ways that you may not otherwise expect. Poetry is a fantastic medium when it comes to the breakdown and use of various, often disparate, topics to explore some other idea. So, expect some of that in some of the 15 poems listed below.

Lastly, it should be noted that there is no such thing as a formalized structure that is a “birthday poem”.

One could write a birthday poem for a friend or family member, but that poem does not need to be a sonnet. It does not need to use any particular structure, rhyme scheme, or metrical structure. There are no rules for what does and does not count as a birthday poem because these particular instances of poetry could be anything! And that should also help to make the list below a far more varied thing! So, that should be good for those who want a few long and short poems about birthdays.


Tenth Birthday (1934) by Marjorie Knapp

Date Published1934
Type of PoemLyric poem
Rhyme SchemeVariable
MeterIambic pentameter

Tenth Birthday is a poem that focuses on the idea of a child who is making her way through the morning of her tenth birthday. This is one of the great examples of birthday poems that are oriented around an actual birthday and the feelings that someone might experience because of that day. The poem tells us about the sense of self-discovery that this young child experiences, and the appreciation for the world that she feels. This is in keeping with the mentality that many children do possess where they are endlessly fascinated by the world around them and allow their curiosity to flourish.

For this reason, this particular birthday poem is a fantastic example of the theme in poetry.

Birthday Poem for a Friend


For K.R. on her Sixtieth Birthday (Between 1947 and 2017) by Richard Wilbur

Date PublishedBetween 1947 and 2017
Type of PoemCelebratory poem
Rhyme SchemeVariable
MeterIambic tetrameter

For K.R. on her Sixtieth Birthday is a poem that fixates on the image of a birthday cake and what it represents. The idea of blowing out the candles is repeated throughout the poem, and there is the idea that despite blowing out the candles, and therefore cutting off the light, the subject of this birthday will not be left in the dark. It has a somewhat melancholic tone, but also one that wants to tell this older woman that the birthday cake, and the birthday in general, is a celebration of her life.

This poem feels deeply personal, but that is the case with many instances of birthday poems.

Exciting Birthday Poems Photograph of the American poet Richard Wilbur (1964) by Pekka Tarkka; Pekka Tarkka, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Poem on his Birthday (1952) by Dylan Thomas

Date Published1952
Type of PoemLyric poem
Rhyme SchemeVariable
TopicTime and youth

Poem on his Birthday is a poem that does not necessarily focus on an actual birthday, but rather what the birthday has come to represent. It is a poem that explores the idea of the passing of yet another year of life. We often celebrate birthdays, but they can also, conversely, be seen as a year closer to death. With every year that we pass by, we come face to face with an aging face and body. This becomes more apparent as we experience more and more birthdays.

This is not a particularly happy poem, but one with a message that many, especially those who are older, will be able to understand.

Happy Birthday Poems Dylan Thomas (nd) by Rosalie Thorne McKenna; Rosalie Thorne McKenna, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


For A Birthday Poem (Between 1954 and 2004) by Thom Gunn

Date PublishedBetween 1954 and 2004
Type of PoemLyric poem
Rhyme SchemeVariable
MeterIambic pentameter
TopicLimits of language

For A Birthday Poem is a poem about age and the limits of the language that we use to describe our thoughts and feelings. The poem does not feel all that much like a birthday poem, but the title of the poem reminds us that with birthdays come age. This has already been explored in the poem above, but in a different way. Language is something that we use to communicate yet it is often woefully inadequate at actually presenting our experiences to others, and so they remain within our minds as yet another birthday ticks by.

This is another example of the more unhappy tradition in birthday poems.


A Birthday Present (1962) by Sylvia Plath

Date Published1962
Type of PoemConfessional poem
Rhyme SchemeNone

A Birthday Present is a poem that, thanks to the poet who wrote it, would never have been a happy poem. The works of Sylvia Plath are often dark and morose, and this is no exception. The poem uses the image of a birthday gift, but the desired gift is death. The poem, like many other Plath poems, explores a number of heavier themes than you may expect out of your usual birthday poems, such as gender roles, submissiveness, femininity, and identity.

The poem is a powerful work that makes use of the metaphor of birthdays to present a far darker and more potent image to the reader.

Depressing Birthday Poems Sylvia Plath (c. 1963); Giovanni Giovannetti/Grazia Neri, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


The Gift (1986) by Li-Young Lee

Date Published1986
Type of PoemFree verse
Rhyme SchemeNone

The Gift is a poem about memory. It is a text that shows us that age and changing in perspective that comes with one birthday after another. The greatest gift that the speaker has received, as they discuss their thoughts within this poem, are the words and actions of kindness and patience that he was shown. These actions are a gift, and the poem shows that the idea of a gift is not as tangible as we may often believe it to be.

A birthday gift does not have to be a thing, it can simply be the way that we are treated in this life.

Sad Birthday Poems Li Young-Lee (2017); Slowking4, GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons


First Birthday (1990) by Brad Leithauser

Date Published1990
Type of PoemCelebratory poem
Rhyme SchemeVariable

First Birthday is, in many ways, a poem about a child rather than necessarily a poem about birthdays. However, we all had to have a first birthday, and we all had to be babies. This particular birthday poem explores the feelings of the parents of this baby as they reach their very first birthday. This is a major milestone in the lives of parents more so than in the lives of the person who has turned one.

At such a young age, you’re hardly aware of the existence of the world in general, but it means something to those who have raised you for those first few months of life.


What I Learned From My Mother (1992) by Julia Kasdorf

Date Published1992
Type of PoemNarrative poem
Rhyme SchemeNone

What I Learned From My Mother is a poem that is about a lot of things. It’s about what all the speaker has learned from his mother throughout his life. While the idea of birthdays is not all that prominent, the poem does end with the image of a chocolate cake. The cake has long come to represent the birthday, and the cake is a thing of comfort and celebration.

You learn from your mother throughout your life, but especially when you are young, and this poem highlights the reality of that aspect of our lives.

Short Birthday Poems Julia Spicher Kasdorf’s signature in an inscribed copy of her book “The Body and the Book” (2023); Jay Dobkin, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


30th Birthday (1993) by Alice Notley

Date Published1993
Type of PoemFree verse
Rhyme SchemeNone
TopicSelf-discovery and beauty

30th Birthday is a poem that does not appear to discuss birthdays themselves but is instead oriented around what one thinks as one reaches that major milestone in life: 30 years of age! The poem explores ideas of self-discovery and understanding the beauty that can be found in the world. It discusses personal thoughts and feelings about various topics.

It uses the idea of changing from one age to the next to explore what all has been and can be experienced in our lives as we age.


Family Stories (2000) by Dorianne Laux

Date Published2000
Type of PoemFree verse
Rhyme SchemeNone

Family Stories is a poem that explores the secrets hidden within families. It is not a poem that explores birthdays in any real depth, but the first few lines contain a mention of a scene in which an argument between father and son led to the father throwing a birthday cake out a window. This is a powerful image and one that explores the idea that within families we can find dark events during moments that are supposed to be some of our happiest.

The juxtaposition of the birthday cake and the throwing of it out a window is a dark and potent one that will likely resonate with many who have experienced similarly difficult times with family.


Birthday Lights (2006) by Calef Brown

Date Published2006
Type of PoemFree verse
Rhyme SchemeNone
TopicBirthday cakes

Birthday Lights is a rather sweet little birthday poem. In this particular poem, it is oriented around the rather cute idea of replacing birthday candles with lightbulbs. The idea is that this would lead to far more convenience, and would that not be better? However, it contrasts that against the tradition of blowing out candles.

The tradition may be less efficient than just having lightbulbs, but we do not engage in traditional activities for the sake of convenience, now do we?


The Book of Failed Descriptions (2009) by Tod Marshall

Date Published2009
Type of PoemNarrative poem
Rhyme SchemeVariable
TopicPersonal experiences and thoughts

The Book of Failed Descriptions is a rather lengthy poem that explores quite a number of different ideas and scenes throughout the disjointed narrative that it tells us. One of those scenes depicts a birthday, or the memory of a birthday, and all that has remained of it are some photographs and cards. Time passes us by, and the events that we experience as we age can shift and change the ways that we see and remember those events.

The poem explores a lot more than only birthdays, but part of the poem is concerned with the idea of this particular yearly event in our lives.


Birthday (2009) by Andrea Gibson

Date Published2009
Type of PoemSpoken word poem
Rhyme SchemeNone
TopicPersonal experiences

Birthday is a poem that explores growing up. It starts with an image of becoming twelve years old and experiencing your first menstrual cycle. It is a poem that takes an unflinching look at what it means to age and become more aware of the world. The beginnings of the entry into the world of adults also comes with hardship, strife, and scars, both physical and mental. The poem explores ideas around personal experience and the human condition.

It was also created as a spoken word poem, and so this is likely the best way to experience a reading of this particular text.


The Party (2009) by Jason Shinder

Date Published2009
Type of PoemSpoken word poem
Rhyme SchemeNone

The Party is a poem that examines what it states that it examines. It looks at the scene of a party. It is not a particularly pleasant party, by how it presents things to us, but it shows that there is festivity in these kinds of events. Everyone gathers together, and while there is often silence and a more restrained means of communication, it is something that allows all to come under one roof to celebrate.

This poem reminds us of the community around birthdays. 


irreplaceable (2020) by Rupi Kaur

Date Published2020
Type of PoemFree verse
Rhyme SchemeNone
TopicThe uniqueness of the individual

irreplaceable is a poem by one of the most well-known contemporary poets. In this poem, the reader is presented with a very simple image of someone who has been created. In this sense, we can see “birthday” as the actual day of birth rather than the celebratory yearly event. The poem tells us about the irreplaceable nature of each individual who is born and therefore lives on this planet. It also compares the creation of this unique individual life to a more divine power that is called the universe.

The poem’s simple language and strong expression make it a stunning example of the kind of poetry that celebrates the birth of each person who comes into being.

Short Poems About Birthdays Rupi Kaur (2016) by Baljit Singh; Baljit Singh, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


With the last of our 15 poems now completed, we come to the conclusion of our discussion about them. This array of poems should give you a good understanding of how both long and short poems about birthdays can make use of the concept of the birthday in general. Some of them directly use the birthday and are actually celebratory texts, while others use the concept of the birthday to explore some other idea or concept. However, this is hardly a comprehensive list of these kinds of poems, but it should be a good start for anyone who wants to look more deeply into birthday poems. It could also be helpful if you need some pointers for writing your own birthday poem for a friend, family member, or partner!




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is a Birthday Poem?

The name is rather self-explanatory in this case. A birthday poem is a poem that is about birthdays. This does not mean that all birthday poems are necessarily directly about birthdays themselves. Some of them instead use the idea of the birthday as a vehicle to explore some other idea. There are a multitude of ways that any concept can be explored. However, there are also many birthday poems that are more positive and celebratory poems that are aimed at actually celebrating someone’s birthday.


Does a Birthday Poem Have to Be About Birthdays?

A so-called birthday poem does not actually have to be about birthdays directly. Some poems simply use the birthday to look at something else. For instance, a poem might use the image of a birthday to explore how we are all aging. A poem about reaching certain birthday milestones could be there to celebrate age or mourn youth! There are many different ways that the birthday can be used in our writings, and so they do not all have to examine the birthday as it is, but there are birthday poems that do that too.


Is There a Specific Poetry Format That Is Most Commonly Used for Birthday Poems?

Some types of poems are determined by structure and some are determined by theme. Birthday poems are very much an example of the latter. A birthday poem does not have to be a sonnet, lyric poem, or anything else. When it comes to birthday poems, they can make use of any structure under the sun! This also means that poets can be a lot freer in their expression when it comes to birthday poems because they do not need to be constrained by any particular poetic format.


What Are the Primary Characteristics of Birthday Poems?

Many birthday poems make use of a more personalized response that is celebratory or inspirational, but these are only examples of birthday poems that tackle birthdays directly. There are not necessarily any actual characteristics for birthday poems other than the fact that the concept of the birthday is used in some or another way. It does not need to be positive or negative. There are many ways that this idea can be explored and interrogated, and so there are infinite possible characteristics that could become affixed to a poem about birthdays.


What Are Some Famous Birthday Poems?

There are so many birthday poems to choose from, but a small selection of some of the best-known birthday poems includes A Birthday Present (1962) by Sylvia Plath, First Birthday (1990) by Brad Leithauser, and Birthday Lights (2006) by Calef Brown. These are not all positive and they are not all directly about birthdays, but this selection of birthday poems should give a great if short overview of the kinds of things that birthday poems are able to accomplish.


Cite this Article

Justin, van Huyssteen, “Birthday Poems – 15 Famous Examples You Should Read.” Art in Context. January 19, 2024. URL:

van Huyssteen, J. (2024, 19 January). Birthday Poems – 15 Famous Examples You Should Read. Art in Context.

van Huyssteen, Justin. “Birthday Poems – 15 Famous Examples You Should Read.” Art in Context, January 19, 2024.

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