4 Women Using Poetry for Social Change

Meet four female poets who used the power of words to make a difference

By Google Arts & Culture

The Parnassus (1811) by Andrea AppianiGalleria d'Arte Moderna - Milano

The power of words should never be underestimated. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword. And nothing proves that more than the lives and works of the following four women poets who used the power of poetry to drive social change.

P Browning Elizabeth Barrett 1806-1861LIFE Photo Collection

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

One of the most famous poets of the Victorian age, she was a woman who was never afraid to express her views on social or political issues. While other women poets of the period wrote about nature or religion, Barrett Browning covered themes like slavery and industrialisation.

Por Browning Robert Elizabeth BarrettLIFE Photo Collection

Much of her work focused on the problems women faced in society and their role in the wider world. Unafraid to stoke controversy or upset conventional opinions, her 1826 work An Essay on Mind even outlined how she thought poetry could effect social change.

India's Congress Party (1946-05) by Margaret Bourke-WhiteLIFE Photo Collection

Sarojini Naidu

As well as being an exceptional poet, Sarojini Naidu was also a political activist. She was a major proponent of women's and civil rights, joined with Gandhi to help bring about the end of British rule in India, and was the first woman to be an Indian state governor.

Mohandas Gandhi (1931-09-12) by Douglas MillerGetty Images

Her poetry was equally as powerful, authoring three major collections:The Golden Threshold, The Bird of Time, and The Feather of the Dawn - known for the lush depictions of her homelandIt earned her the nickname the 'Nightingale of India' and had a profound social impact.

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Anna Akhmatova

One of the most significant Russian poets of the 20th century her work was characterised by its emotional restraint. It was reflective of the wider state of Soviet society under the Stalinist regime, and included Requiem, her masterpiece about the terror of the regime.

Anna Akhmatova (2004 - 2004) by Katya MedvedevaMuseum of Fine Arts in Peredelkino

The presence of a strong female voice in Russian poetry was unusual, especially one that was openly critical of those in power. Her work was condemned and censored yet she chose to remain in the USSR, chronicling what she saw happening around her.

Black Power/Black Arts (1988) by Margaret RandallSchomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library

Sonia Sanchez

A leading figure in the Black Arts Movement, Sanchez published her debut book of poems Homecoming in 1969. Her work has been a huge influence on African American poets and she was awarded the Robert Frost Medal for her contribution to poetry in 2001.

Sanchez is known for incorporating musical styles such as blues into her work, which often focused on the everyday lives of black men and women. With themes of community and empowerment running through her poems, she consistently advocated for revolutionary change in society.

Poem: The Garden (1915) by Vita Sackville-WestGarden Museum

Meet more inspirational women

You can find more stories about women who have driven social change and made an impact here.

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