Poems about Sunflowers

The Sunflowers have grown as tall as they are going to get this year.  Many of them have lost their bright yellow petals and are leaning over in response to the weight of their heads.  Their drooping indicates the final stages of their growth and the passing of the summer season.

It is perhaps because sunflowers are so noticeable on the landscape that they make ideal subjects for poetry.  


William Blake (1757–1827) originally published his poem “Ah’ Sunflower” in his 1794 book Songs of Experience. It was then republished in 1789 in his book Songs of Innocence and Experience..

“Ah’ Sunflower”

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveler's journey is done.

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

Blake was also a painter and printmaker and “Ah’ Sunflower” was a part of a collection of illustrated poems. The photo below was taken from the collection of Blake’s work at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Blake etching of poem Ah Sunflower

After looking at the illustration, I notice myself asking are questions like: 

  • What is the importance of this poem being in the middle of the illustration?  
  • What is it framed by another power about a Rose Tree and then a Lily? 
  • How do I feel when I read the poem as plain text, or within the illustration?

It is interesting that the poem feels different when you read it in plain text or within the etching.


Another poet that wrote about sunflowers is Kenneth W. Porter (1905-1981).  Porter published “Sunflowers Over the Corn” in a 1935 issue of Poetry Magazine (2) Porter’s poetry incorporates both his experience in rural Kansas and his historical knowledge into verse about the land that he knew so well. 

“Sunflowers Over the Corn

Here where the fierce devouring Sun’s
Arrows of burning gold beat down--
Unfenced by palisades of rain--
Through all the summer, skeletons
Of corn, dust-grey and brittle brown,
Lie on the ruinous battle-plain
Which hordes like those of Timur hold,
Equipped with massive flame-rayed shields
Beaten from freshly-plundered gold:
Vast armies of the Sun’s own flowers
Flooding the wide-horizoned fields
About the empty silo-towers

I am immediately struck by how Porter’s poetry feels very different from Blake’s. Porter’s imagery is aggressive and talks of battles and weaponry.  Blake’s poem is soft and talks about desire and aspiring heavenward.  Porter talks about shields and armies, while Blake talks about virgins and youth.  

However, there seems to be some similarities between the poems.  Both poems have this undercurrent of death or loss.  Blake directly talks about arising from the grave, while Porter talks about skeletons that lie on the battle-plain.    

In writing about these poems I am following Margarita Engel’s suggestion that we start asking, “How does this poem make you feel?” Instead of “What does it mean?”  Because of this shift, I am not getting paralyzed by analysis. Instead, I am sitting with this poem and seeing where it takes me.

I would be interested to hear your reactions to these poems.  Feel free to share below. .  


Resources: 

  1. Wikipedia: “Ah’ Sun Flower”
  2. Porter, Kenneth W. “Sunflowers Over the Corn”. PoetryFoudation.org
  3. Wikipedia: Kenneth Porter (poet)

16 thoughts on “Poems about Sunflowers

Add yours

  1. Oh, I just love Blakes poem AND his illustration! And I too like Margarita Engel’s suggestion for how we think about a poem! Great post! Happy Sunday! 😊🙋‍♂️

  2. I hadn’t heard of Margarita Engel’s advice, but I’m glad you included it here. When gazing at abstract paintings, I used to ask “What’s it supposed to mean?” Until I read someone’s advice like that of Ms. Engel’s. A better question to ask is “What does it mean to me?” and answer it yourself. As for the two poems in your post… I didn’t care much for Porter’s poem, as the battle connection with sun and crops didn’t fit well for me. I preferred Blake’s poem — it feels as a better fit, with a sunflower’s tiredness of growing and looking upward.

    1. Hi Dave, thanks so much for the comment. I agree that Ms. Engel’s advice can really be a game changer when appreciating works of art.
      I agree that difference between these two poems is striking. It does make me wonder what was happening for Porter during the time he wrote that. Thanks again!

  3. The 2nd poem feels like the flowers are part of the sun’s army, standing strong while the general wilts the crops. I feel sorry for the farmer who would rather have harvested corn that never survived than look at shining flowers.

    1. Hi Lisa, Thank you very much for your thoughts on these poems. Porter’s poem is makes you think about the imagery he uses. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  4. Both poems make me feel sorry for those who mourn summer’s end. I am an introvert, and all the summer activity and gregarious fun saps my energy. I feel refreshed as we enter Earth’s quiet time of hidden renewal.

  5. I’m fascinated by the different types of art that is inspired by the humble sunflower! I tend not to give them much thought, but sunflowers have quite a long history, and has inspired artists for generations.

    I really clicked with the military imagery in ““Sunflowers Over the Corn.” I thought of how sunflowers grow along the highways, forming lines that are sometimes miles long.

    1. Hi Tressa, Thanks for the comment. The deeper I dive into the connection between poetry and the natural world, I am noticing all these items that may seem common really have a rich and vibrant history. I am also noticing how some poets are really able to capture that. It is such a great adventure.
      I am glad that your enjoyed the “Sunflowers Over the Corn” . I was wondering if that would resonate with people because of the different perspective the poet used.
      Thanks again for adding to the conversation! Be well.

  6. Hi yes the William Blake poems feel so different when seen as an illustration, as I think they were ordinally meant to be seen, somehow more alive just love the last line ‘Where my Sun-flower wishes to go’ thanks for sharing 🙂

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