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Most Famous Poems in the English Language

Most Famous Poems

Naturally, the older a poem is, the more famous it becomes. Someone like Byron has had centuries after years of drowning in public awareness for his work; Poets like Dylan Thomas are only a few decades old. For this reason, when I was researching the most famous poems to write this article, they were almost exclusively Victorian or earlier.

It is for this reason that the most famous poems tend to be older, they often have different rhyming schemes throughout the rhyme. Although I personally think rhythmic poems are generally ‘good’, and this is also partly responsible for their reputation, I understand how thematic this adjective is. Moreover, non-rhythmic poetry has played an important role in literature, especially in the last century. Indeed, the impact of poems such as Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’  on his followers would probably be difficult to overestimate. Instead of confining myself to old, rhythmic poems that usually make such a list, so I picked and chose to ensure a full range of poets. It reflects a more diverse canon.

I have limited myself to poems written mainly in English. Below is a fairly eclectic collection and they are in no particular order, but I hope you enjoy it!

NB. that I confine myself to Famous poems per poet — which means that the inspiration for this list actually pushes for the widely quoted (and misunderstood) “The Road Not Taken”, but so it goes. I also omitted book-length poems, because they are really a different form. Finally, despite the title, I’m sure there are many, many iconic poems I’ve missed — so feel free to expand this list in the comments. But for now, happy reading (and re-reading):

 

1)  The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

2) The Raven 

by Edgar Allen Poe

Deep into that darkness peering,

Long I stood there, wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals

Ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken,

And the stillness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken

Was the whispered word, “Lenore!”

This I whispered, and an echo

Murmured back the word, “Lenore!”

Merely this, and nothing more.

 

3)  Because I could not stop for Death

by Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality.

 

4)  Kubla Khan 

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

Weave a circle round him thrice,

And close your eyes with holy dread

For he on honey-dew hath fed,

And drunk the milk of Paradise.

5)  Sonnet 18

by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

 

6)  The Second Coming 

by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

7) She Walks in Beauty 

by Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

Thus mellowed to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

8) The Lady of Shalott 

by Alffred, Lord Tennyson

Willows whiten, aspens shiver.

The sunbeam showers break and quiver

In the stream that runneth ever

By the island in the river

Flowing down to Camelot.

Four gray walls, and four gray towers

Overlook a space of flowers,

And the silent isle imbowers

The Lady of Shalott.

 

9) O Captain! My Captain! 

by Walt Whitman

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning

10) I’m nobody! Who are you?

by Emily Dickinson

I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!

They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

11) I Have a Rendezvous With Death 

by Alan Seeger

I have a rendezvous with Death

At some disputed barricade

When Spring comes back with rustling shade

And apple blossoms fill the air.

I have a rendezvous with Death

When Spring brings back blue days and fair

 

12) Ode to a Nightingale 

by John Keats

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,

Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

But on the viewless wings of Poesy,

Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:

Already with thee! tender is the night,

And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,

Clustered around by all her starry Fays;

But here there is no light,

Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown

Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways

13) The Waste Land 

by T.S. Eliot

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.

14) The Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens

15) Paul Revere’s Ride

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

But mostly he watched with eager search

The belfry tower of the Old North Church,

As it rose above the graves on the hill,

Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.

And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height

A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!

He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,

But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight

A second lamp in the belfry burns.

 

16) Fire and Ice

by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

17) If— 

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

[…]

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

18) Ozymandias 

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

 

19) We Wear the Mask 

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

 

20) Jabberwocky 

by Lewis Carroll

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

21) Unnamed

by Rupi Kaur

“i stand

on the sacrifices

of a million women before me

thinking

what can i do

to make this mountain taller

so the women after me

can see farther

– legacy”

22) Still I Rise 

by Maya Angelou

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

23) Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds

by Kristina Louisa Carr

A kaleidoscopic mirage is born from the light

While words spoken in whispers calmly excite

Snowflakes of feathers are refreshing in July

A dragon is crowned visiting from Shanghai

Strawberries become mountains to explore

A room without doors I’m trying to ignore

From the corner the North Wind is blowing

Green marbles in a vase are brightly glowing

24) How Do I Love Thee? 

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

 

25) A Lesson for This Sunday 

by Derek Walcott

The mind swings inward on itself in fear

Swayed towards nausea from each normal sign.

Heredity of cruelty everywhere,

And everywhere the frocks of summer torn,

The long look back to see where choice is born,

As summer grass sways to the scythe’s design.

26) Who Said It Was Simple

by Audre Lord

There are so many roots to the tree of anger

that sometimes the branches shatter

before they bear.

Sitting in Nedicks

the women rally before they march

discussing the problematic girls

they hire to make them free.

An almost white counterman passes

a waiting brother to serve them first

and the ladies neither notice nor reject

the slighter pleasures of their slavery.

But I who am bound by my mirror

as well as my bed

see causes in colour

as well as sex

and sit here wondering

which me will survive

all these liberations.

27) Once Upon a Time 

by Gabriel Okara

And I have learned too

to laugh with only my teeth

and shake hands without my heart.

I have also learned to say,’Goodbye’,

when I mean ‘Good-riddance’:

to say ‘Glad to meet you’,

without being glad; and to say ‘It’s been

nice talking to you’, after being bored.

 

28) Where the Sidewalk Ends 

by Shel Silverstein

There is a place where the sidewalk ends

And before the street begins,

And there the grass grows soft and white,

And there the sun burns crimson bright,

And there the moon-bird rests from his flight

To cool in the peppermint wind.

29)  The Return 

by Ezra Pound

See, they return; ah, see the tentative

Movements, and the slow feet,

The trouble in the pace and the uncertain

Wavering!

See, they return, one, and by one,

With fear, as half-awakened;

As if the snow should hesitate

And murmur in the wind,

and half turn back;

These were the “Wing’d-with-Awe,”

inviolable.

Gods of the wingèd shoe!

With them the silver hounds,

sniffing the trace of air!

Haie! Haie!

These were the swift to harry;

These the keen-scented;

These were the souls of blood.

Slow on the leash,

pallid the leash-men!

30)  Anecdote of the Jar

by Wallace Stevens

I placed a jar in Tennessee,

And round it was, upon a hill.

It made the slovenly wilderness

Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,

And sprawled around, no longer wild.

The jar was round upon the ground

And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.

The jar was gray and bare.

It did not give of bird or bush,

Like nothing else in Tennessee.

 

31)  My Shadow 

by Robert Louis Stevenson

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,

And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.

He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;

And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

  1. Theme for English B

by Langston Hughes

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me

at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what

I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:

hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.

(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

32)  No Man Is an Island

by John Donne

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

 

33)  Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

by William Wordsworth

This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,

Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky;

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;

Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

34)  The Fish

by Marianne Moore

wade
through black jade.
       Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
       adjusting the ash-heaps;
              opening and shutting itself like

an
injured fan.
       The barnacles which encrust the side
       of the wave, cannot hide
              there for the submerged shafts of the

sun,
split like spun
       glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
       into the crevices—
              in and out, illuminatingthe
turquoise sea
       of bodies. The water drives a wedge
       of iron through the iron edge
              of the cliff; whereupon the stars,

pink
rice-grains, ink-
       bespattered jelly fish, crabs like green
       lilies, and submarine
              toadstools, slide each on the other.

 

35)  The People Upstairs

by Ogden Nash

The people upstairs all practise ballet

Their living room is a bowling alley

Their bedroom is full of conducted tours.

Their radio is louder than yours,

They celebrate week-ends all the week.

When they take a shower, your ceilings leak.

They try to get their parties to mix

By supplying their guests with Pogo sticks,

And when their fun at last abates,

They go to the bathroom on roller skates.

I might love the people upstairs more

If only they lived on another floor.

 

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