Poetry in Film: Movies that Feature Poems

Hollywood seems to love poems because quite a lot of movies quote verses and complete poems. Sometimes, characters quote literary greats like William Shakespeare and Robert Frost. Other times, the poems featured are by new and emerging writers. There are also films that come up with original poetry that is often delivered or read by one of the main characters.

Here are some movies that feature poems or similar literary pieces:

1. Before Sunrise – Featured poem: “As I Walked Out One Evening”

In the movie, Jesse (Ethan Hawke), recites the poem as he tries to imitate Dylan Thomas. He doesn’t deliver the poem in full, though. It is one of the most popular scenes in the movie.

2. Dangerous Minds – Featured poem: “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

LouAnne Johnson (Michelle Pfieffer), a high school teacher, used Dylan Thomas’ poem to introduce poetry to her tough, streetwise students. Before this, she introduces the students to metaphor and symbolism via the lyrics of “Mr Tambourine Man”, a song by Bob Dylan.

3. Dead Poets Society – Featured poem: “O Me! O Life!”

English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) uses the Walt Whitman poem “O Me! O Life!” to introduce poetry to his young students. It is actually one of the many, with “O Captain! My Captain!”, another Whitman masterpiece, being one of the most popular. Williams’ character is a tribute (or reference) to John Keats.

4. Invictus – Featured poem: “Invictus”

“Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul…” These lines were recited by Morgan Freeman, who played Nelson Mandela in the film Invictus. The poem comes up in the scene where Matt Damon’s character, Francois Pienaar, visits Mandela’s prison cell.

5. Four Weddings and a Funeral – Featured poem: “Funeral Blues”

The British romantic comedy that featured an ensemble cast led by Hugh Grant, featured the W.H. Auden poem “Funeral Blues”. The poem was delivered by a heartbroken Matthew (played by John Hannah) at the funeral of his lover. The scene was one of the very few somber ones as the movie was funny all throughout.

6. The Amazing Spider-Man – Featured poem: “The Silkworm”

This Michelangelo Buonarroti poem was delivered by The Lizard/Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans) in his confrontation scene with Spider-Man. He specifically quoted the lines “That, changing like the snake, I might be free…To cast off flesh wherein I dwell confined!”, which can be interpreted as a representation of Dr Connors’ acceptance of his fate – that he would turn into The Lizard. Michelangelo’s poem talks not only about death, but also about metamorphosis. A perfect symbolism of Dr Connors’ character.

7. Hannah and Her Sisters – Featured poem: “somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond”

This E.E. Cummings sonnet is one of the most quoted (next to Robert Frost’s “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening”) poems across generations. In the movie, Elliot (Michael Caine) recites a verse of a part of the poem over the phone while talking to a woman he liked. The most famous lines of the poem are: “the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses; nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.”

8. A.I. Artificial Intelligence – Featured poem: “The Stolen Child”

William Butler Yeats’ poem was featured in the Steven Spielberg film about a robot whose ultimate wish is to become a real boy. The poem was quoted by Dr Know (Robin Williams – voice). Actually, the poem is used several times in the movie. The poem tells the story of a child who leaves the real world and follows a fairy.

9. 10 Things I Hate About You – Featured poem: 10 Things I Hate About You

This is an original poem written for the movie but inspired by sonnet 141. It is recited by Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) in front of their English class. She wrote the poem after Mr Morgan, their teacher, asked them to make their own version of a Shakespearean sonnet they read in class. The most famous lines of the poem? “I hate the way you’re not around. And the fact that you didn’t call. But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you. Not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.”

10. The Outsiders – Featured poem: “Nothing Gold Can Stay”

This Robert Frost poem came out in the 1983 coming-of-age film that featured an all-star cast that included Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, the late Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, C. Thomas Howell, and Diane Lane. The poem was delivered by Ponyboy Curtis (Howell) after one of his fellow gang members accidentally killed a member of the rival gang.