Meet Famous Poets Who Lived With Mental Illness

Not only is April Cancer Control Month, but it’s also National Poetry Month!

As a writer, I can’t pass up the opportunity to share with you a list of poets with mental illness. These are just a few of the men and women who lived with mental illness and still managed to do what they loved – write poetry! (Of course, some would argue their mental health is what made the writers so talented, or that their careers as writers helped lead to their mental illness, but, that’s a completely different conversation altogether.)

Recognize any of these names?


Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art -
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite

- John Keats, Bright Star


Anthony Storr and Nancy Andreasen, M.D. wrote about John Keats and his mental illness in The Dynamics of Creation and The Broken Brain: The Biological Revolution in Psychiatry, respectively.




This is the fluid in which we meet each other,
This haloey radiance that seems to breathe
And lets our shadows wither
Only to blow
Them huge again, violent giants on the wall.
One match scratch makes you real.

- Sylvia Plath, By Candlelight


Also well known for her novel The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath struggled with severe depression for most of her life until she completed suicide at the age of 30. b5media’s own Kristen King wrote about Sylvia Plath here at Mental Health Notes: Sylvia Plath: Glimpse Into The Writer’s Mind.




I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more.

- John Clare, First Love


After he continued to increase his alcohol consumption and his mental health seemed to be waning, John Clare was placed in High Beach Asylum where he rewrote works by Lord Byron and at times took credit for William Shakespeare’s works. Roger Sales wrote about it all in John Clare: A Literary Life.




Too many, Lord, abuse Thy grace
In this licentious day,
And while they boast they see Thy face,
They turn their own away.

- William Cowper, Abuse of the Gospel


Also a hymnodist, William Cowper focused a great deal on religious themes in his poetry. Cowper suffered periods of severe depression and tried to commit suicide several times before being placed in an asylum. He wrote Hatred and vengeance, my eternal portion after the suicide attempts.




I myself spent nine years in an insane asylum and I never had the obsession of suicide, but I know that each conversation with a psychiatrist, every morning at the time of his visit, made me want to hang myself, realizing that I would not be able to cut his throat.
- Antonin Artaud, French playwright, poet, actor and director


I can’t find any complete poems by Antonin Artaud online (though you can read The Reinvention Of The Human Face, his poem-like introduction to a 1947 exhibition of his portraits and drawings), but this man is interesting enough without having any of his poems to peruse. Especially brow-raising is his Theatre of Cruelty. Check out this Web site dedicated to Antonin Artaud to learn more.


Have anymore poets with mental illness to add to the list? Share ‘em in the comments! In the meantime – and unrelated to mental health – check out Astronomy Buff blogger Tony Darnell’s haiku about his beloved blog!


Image source and credit.

Are you a mental health consumer also doing what you love? Check out This Is Why I ROCK! for details on how to strut your stuff!

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    • Julie

      I saw your link to Tony’s blog, astronomybuff, and had to comment!

      I would add Christopher Smart, who wrote his poetry behind the walls of a mental institution.

      “For tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamborer.” from jubilate agno

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    • Alicia Sparks, NAMI Affiliation Leader

      Thanks for the heads up, Julie! I’m off to check him out now!

    • Angelique

      I truly believe that many true poets and artists experience mental illness in one form or another, such as depression. Isn’t that strange… and yet amazing?

    • Alicia Sparks, NAMI Affiliation Leader

      @ Angelique: I agree; it’s both strange and amazing! It also makes me wonder about all the stigma in the world. So many people “shun” even the discussion of mental illness, yet we turn around and embrace works of art, literature, etc. of the mentally ill. That’s one reason I’m always really happy when I see folks who are inspired or encouraged by the accomplishments (and even creativity and insight) of people with mental health conditions!

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    • Kaye Dennan

      For the last 18 months I have been teaching an art class to a group of people who suffer from various mental illness. These are lovely talented people who unfortunately suffer from a daily basis with their disorders. We have a lot of fun and freely discuss their illnesses and medications.

      Yes, it is true that a lot of mentally ill people have heightened artistic ability. Look at the Films ‘Rainman’ and ‘Beautiful Mind’ these so eloquently show the life of the mentally ill.

      I have today completed an ebook ‘Managing MENTAL ILLNESS – Coping Strategies for the Carer’. Hopefully, it will go on my website tomorrow.

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    • brenda

      life is bliss.. continue to drive my way but going against the flow, which is a place of harrassment from others about myself….

    • Zooming Epoché

      Gerard Manley Hopkins!

    • K.C.Jones

      Of course, Anne Sexton and John Barrymore.