Updated: July 1, 2023

by Evan Mantyk

What is poetry? What is great poetry? The poems below answer these questions. From least greatest (10) to greatest greatest (1), the poems in this list are limited to ones originally written in the English language and which are under 50 lines, excluding poems like Homer’s Iliad, Edgar Allan Poe’s “Raven,” Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, and Lord Byron’s mock epic Don Juan. Each poem is followed by some brief analysis. Many good poems and poets had to be left off of this list. In the comments section below, feel free to make additions or construct your own lists. You can also submit analyses of classic poetry to submissions@classicalpoets.org. They will be considered for publication on this website.

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10. “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
Robert Frost poetAnd sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Analysis of the Poem

This poem deals with that big noble question of “How to make a difference in the world?” On first reading, it tells us that the choice one makes really does matter, ending: “I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”

A closer reading reveals that the lonely choice that was made earlier by our traveling narrator maybe wasn’t all that significant since both roads were pretty much the same anyway (“Had warn them really about the same”) and it is only in the remembering and retelling that it made a difference. We are left to ponder if the narrator had instead traveled down “The Road Not Taken” might it have also made a difference as well. In a sense, “The Road Not Taken” tears apart the traditional view of individualism, which hinges on the importance of choice, as in the case of democracy in general (choosing a candidate), as well as various constitutional freedoms: choice of religion, choice of words (freedom of speech), choice of group (freedom of assembly), and choice of source of information (freedom of press). For example, we might imagine a young man choosing between being a carpenter or a banker later seeing great significance in his choice to be a banker, but in fact there was not much in his original decision at all other than a passing fancy. In this, we see the universality of human beings: the roads leading to carpenter and banker being basically the same and the carpenters and bankers at the end of them—seeming like individuals who made significant choices—really being just part of the collective of the human race.

Then is this poem not about the question “How to make a difference in the world?” after all? No. It is still about this question. The ending is the most clear and striking part. If nothing else, readers are left with the impression that our narrator, who commands beautiful verse, profound imagery, and time itself (“ages and ages hence”) puts value on striving to make a difference. The striving is reconstituted and complicated here in reflection, but our hero wants to make a difference and so should we. That is why this is a great poem, from a basic or close reading perspective.





9. “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)

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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


Analysis of the Poem

Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, this sonnet may have the greatest placement of any English poem. It also has one of the greatest placements in history. Lazarus compares the Statue of Liberty to the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Like the Statue of Liberty, the Colossus of Rhodes was an enormous god-like statue positioned in a harbor. Although the Colossus of Rhodes no longer stands, it symbolizes the ancient Greek world and the greatness of the ancient Greek and Roman civilization, which was lost for a thousand years to the West, and only fully recovered again during the Renaissance. “The New Colossus” succinctly crystallizes the connection between the ancient world and America, a modern nation. It’s a connection that can be seen in the White House and other state and judicial buildings across America that architecturally mirror ancient Greek and Roman buildings; and in the American political system that mirrors Athenian Democracy and Roman Republicanism.

In the midst of this vast comparison of the ancient and the American, Lazarus still manages to clearly render America’s distinct character. It is the can-do spirit of taking those persecuted and poor from around the world and giving them a new opportunity and hope for the future, what she calls “the golden door.” It is a uniquely scrappy and compassionate quality that sets Americans apart from the ancients. The relevance of this poem stretches all the way back to the pilgrims fleeing religious persecution in Europe to the controversies surrounding modern immigrants from Mexico and the Middle East. While circumstances today have changed drastically, there is no denying that this open door was part of what made America great once upon a time. It’s the perfect depiction of this quintessential Americanness that makes “The New Colossus” also outstanding.




8. “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘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.”


Analysis of the Poem

In this winding story within a story within a poem, Shelley paints for us the image of the ruins of a statue of ancient Egyptian king Ozymandias, who is today commonly known as Ramesses II. This king is still regarded as the greatest and most powerful Egyptian pharaoh. Yet, all that’s left of the statue are his legs, which tell us it was huge and impressive; the shattered head and snarling face, which tell us how tyrannical he was; and his inscribed quote hailing the magnificent structures that he built and that have been reduced to dust, which tells us they might not have been quite as magnificent as Ozymandias imagined. The image of a dictator-like king whose kingdom is no more creates a palpable irony. But, beyond that there is a perennial lesson about the inescapable and destructive forces of time, history, and nature. Success, fame, power, money, health, and prosperity can only last so long before fading into “lone and level sands.”


There are yet more layers of meaning here that elevate this into one of the greatest poems. In terms of lost civilizations that show the ephemeralness of human pursuits, there is no better example than the Egyptians—who we associate with such dazzling monuments as the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid at Giza (that stands far taller than the Statue of Liberty)—yet who completely lost their spectacular language, culture, and civilization. If the forces of time, history, and nature can take down the Egyptian civilization, it begs the question, “Who’s next?” Additionally, Ozymandias is believed to have been the villainous pharaoh who enslaved the ancient Hebrews and who Moses led the exodus from. If all ordinary pursuits, such as power and fame, are but dust, what remains, the poem suggests, are spirituality and morality—embodied by the ancient Hebrew faith. If you don’t have those then in the long run you are a “colossal wreck.” Thus, the perfectly composed scene itself, the Egyptian imagery, and the Biblical backstory convey a perennial message and make this a great poem.



John_Keats_by_William_Hilton7. “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats (1795-1821)

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!


Keats’s own drawing of the Grecian Urn.

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”


Analysis of the Poem

As if in response to Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” offers a sort of antidote to the inescapable and destructive force of time. Indeed, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” was published in 1819 just a year or so after “Ozymandias.” The antidote is simple: art. The art on the Grecian urn—which is basically a decorative pot from ancient Greece—has survived for thousands of years. While empires rose and fell, the Grecian urn survived. Musicians, trees, lovers, heifers, and priests all continue dying decade after decade and century after century, but their artistic depictions on the Grecian urn live on for what seems eternity.

This realization about the timeless nature of art is not new now nor was it in the 1800s, but Keats has chosen a perfect example since ancient Greek civilization so famously disappeared into the ages, being subsumed by the Romans, and mostly lost until the Renaissance a thousand years later. Now, the ancient Greeks are all certainly dead (like the king Ozymandias in Shelley’s poem) but the Greek art and culture live on through Renaissance painters, the Olympic Games, endemic Neoclassical architecture, and, of course, the Grecian urn.

Further, what is depicted on the Grecian urn is a variety of life that makes the otherwise cold urn feel alive and vibrant. This aliveness is accentuated by Keats’s barrage of questions and blaring exclamations: “More happy love! more happy, happy love!” Art, he seems to suggest, is more alive and real than we might imagine. Indeed, the last two lines can be read as the urn itself talking: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” In these profound lines, Keats places us within ignorance, suggesting that what we know on earth is limited, but that artistic beauty, which he has now established is alive, is connected with truth. Thus, we can escape ignorance, humanness, and certain death and approach another form of life and truth through the beauty of art. This effectively completes the thought that began in Ozymandias and makes this a great poem one notch up from its predecessor.



NPG 212; William Blake6. “The Tiger” by William Blake (1757-1827)

Tiger Tiger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tiger Tiger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


Analysis of the Poem

This poem contemplates a question arising from the idea of creation by an intelligent creator. The question is this: If there is a loving, compassionate God or gods who created human beings and whose great powers exceed the comprehension of human beings, as many major religions hold, then why would such a powerful being allow evil into the world. Evil here is represented by a tiger that might, should you be strolling in the Indian or Chinese wild in the 1700s, have leapt out and killed you. What would have created such a dangerous and evil creature? How could it possibly be the same divine blacksmith who created a cute harmless fluffy lamb or who created Jesus, also known as the “Lamb of God” (which the devoutly Christian Blake was probably also referring to here). To put it another way, why would such a divine blacksmith create beautiful innocent children and then also allow such children to be slaughtered. The battery of questions brings this mystery to life with lavish intensity.

Does Blake offer an answer to this question of evil from a good God? It would seem not on the surface. But, this wouldn’t be a great poem if it were really that open ended. The answer comes in the way that Blake explains the question. Blake’s language peels away the mundane world and offers a look at the super-reality to which poets are privy. We fly about in “forests of the night” through “distant deeps or skies” looking for where the fire in the tiger’s eye was taken from by the Creator. This is the reality of expanded time, space, and perception that Blake so clearly elucidates elsewhere with the lines “To see a world in a grain of sand / And a heaven in a wild flower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour” (“Auguries of Innocence”). This indirectly tells us that the reality that we ordinarily know and perceive is really insufficient, shallow, and deceptive. Where we perceive the injustice of the wild tiger something else entirely may be transpiring. What we ordinarily take for truth may really be far from it: a thought that is scary, yet also sublime or beautiful—like the beautiful and fearsome tiger. Thus, this poem is great because it concisely and compellingly presents a question that still plagues humanity today, as well as a key clue to the answer.



milton5. “On His Blindness” by John Milton (1608-1674)

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”


Analysis of the Poem

This poem deals with one’s limitations and shortcomings in life. Everyone has them and Milton’s blindness is a perfect example of this. His eyesight gradually worsened and he became totally blind at the age of 42. This happened after he served in an eminent position under Oliver Cromwell’s revolutionary Puritan government in England. To put it simply, Milton rose to the highest position an English writer might at the time and then sank all the way down to a state of being unable read or write on his own. How pathetic!

The genius of this poem comes in the way that Milton transcends the misery he feels. First, he frames himself, not as an individual suffering or lonely, but as a failed servant to the Creator: God. While Milton is disabled, God here is enabled through imagery of a king commanding thousands. This celestial monarch, his ministers and troops, and his kingdom itself are invisible to human eyes anyway, so already Milton has subtly undone much of his failing by subverting the necessity for human vision. More straightforwardly, through the voice of Patience, Milton explains that serving the celestial monarch only requires bearing those hardships, which really aren’t that bad (he calls them “mild”) that life has burdened you with (like a “yoke” put on an ox). This grand mission from heaven may be as simple as standing and waiting, having patience, and understanding the order of the universe. Thus, this is a great poem because Milton has not only dispelled sadness over a major shortcoming in life but also shown how the shortcoming is itself imbued with an extraordinary and uplifting purpose.



Henry_Wadsworth_Longfellow_by_Thomas_Buchanan_Read_IMG_44144. “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

What the heart of the young man said to the Psalmist

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!A_Psalm_of_Life

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;—

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Analysis of the Poem

In this nine-stanza poem, the first six stanzas are rather vague since each stanza seems to begin a new thought. Instead, the emphasis here is on a feeling rather than a rational train of thought. What feeling? It seems to be a reaction against science, which is focused on calculations (“mournful numbers”) and empirical evidence, of which there is no, or very little, to prove the existence of the soul. Longfellow lived when the Industrial Revolution was in high gear and the ideals of science, rationality, and reason flourished. From this perspective, the fact that the first six stanzas do not follow a rational train of thought makes perfect sense.

According to the poem, the force of science seems to restrain one’s spirit or soul (“for the soul is dead that slumbers”), lead to inaction and complacency from which we must break free (“Act,—act in the living Present! / Heart within, and God o’erhead!”) for lofty purposes such as Art, Heart, and God before time runs out (“Art is long, and Time is fleeting”). The last three stanzas—which, having broken free from science by this point in the poem, read more smoothly—suggest that this acting for lofty purposes can lead to greatness and can help our fellow man.

We might think of the entire poem as a clarion call to do great things, however insignificant they may seem in the present and on the empirically observable surface. That may mean writing a poem and entering it into a poetry contest, when you know the chances of your poem winning are very small; risking your life for something you believe in when you know it is not popular or it is misunderstood; or volunteering for a cause that, although it may seem hopeless, you feel is truly important. Thus, the greatness of this poem lies in its ability to so clearly prescribe a method for greatness in our modern world.




3. “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


Analysis of the Poem

Through the narrator’s chance encounter with a field of daffodils by the water, we are presented with the power and beauty of the natural world. It sounds simple enough, but there are several factors that contribute to this poem’s greatness. First, the poem comes at a time when the Western world is industrializing and man feels spiritually lonely in the face of an increasingly godless worldview. This feeling is perfectly harnessed by the depiction of wandering through the wilderness “lonely as a cloud” and by the ending scene of the narrator sadly lying on his couch “in vacant or in pensive mood” and finding happiness in solitude. The daffodils then become more than nature; they become a companion and a source of personal joy. Second, the very simplicity itself of enjoying nature—flowers, trees, the sea, the sky, the mountains etc.—is perfectly manifested by the simplicity of the poem: the four stanzas simply begin with daffodils, describe daffodils, compare daffodils to something else, and end on daffodils, respectively. Any common reader can easily get this poem, as easily as her or she might enjoy a walk around a lake.

Third, Wordsworth has subtly put forward more than just an ode to nature here. Every stanza mentions dancing and the third stanza even calls the daffodils “a show.” At this time in England, one might have paid money to see an opera or other performance of high artistic quality. Here, Wordsworth is putting forward the idea that nature can offer similar joys and even give you “wealth” instead of taking it from you, undoing the idea that beauty is attached to earthly money and social status. This, coupled with the language and topic of the poem, which are both relatively accessible to the common man, make for a great poem that demonstrates the all-encompassing and accessible nature of beauty and its associates, truth and bliss.




2. “Holy Sonnet 10: Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne (1572-1631)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.


Analysis of the Poem

Death is a perennial subject of fear and despair. But, this sonnet seems to say that it need not be this way. The highly focused attack on Death’s sense of pride uses a grocery list of rhetorical attacks: First, sleep, which is the closest human experience to death, is actually quite nice. Second, all great people die sooner or later and the process of death could be viewed as joining them. Third, Death is under the command of higher authorities such as fate, which controls accidents, and kings, who wage wars; from this perspective, Death seems no more than a pawn in a larger chess game within the universe. Fourth, Death must associate with some unsavory characters: “poison, wars, and sickness.” Yikes! They must make unpleasant coworkers! (You can almost see Donne laughing as he wrote this.) Fifth, “poppy and charms” (drugs) can do the sleep job as well as Death or better. Death, you’re fired!

The sixth, most compelling, and most serious reason is that if one truly believes in a soul then Death is really nothing to worry about. The soul lives eternally and this explains line 4, when Donne says that Death can’t kill him. If you recognize the subordinate position of the body in the universe and identify more fully with your soul, then you can’t be killed in an ordinary sense. Further, this poem is so great because of its universal application. Fear of death is so natural an instinct and Death itself so all-encompassing and inescapable for people, that the spirit of this poem and applicability of it extends to almost any fear or weakness of character that one might have. Confronting, head on, such a fear or weakness, as Donne has done here, allows human beings to transcend their condition and their perception of Death, more fully perhaps than one might through art by itself—as many poets from this top ten list seem to say—since the art may or may not survive may or may not be any good, but the intrinsic quality of one’s soul lives eternally. Thus, Donne leaves a powerful lesson to learn from: confront what you fear head on and remember that there is nothing to fear on earth if you believe in a soul.



Cobbe_portrait_of_Shakespeare1. “Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

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.


Analysis of the Poem

Basically, the narrator tells someone he esteems highly that this person is better than a summer’s day because a summer’s day is often too hot and too windy, and especially because a summer’s day doesn’t last; it must fade away just as people, plants, and animals die. But, this esteemed person does not lose beauty or fade away like a summer’s day because he or she is eternally preserved in the narrator’s own poetry. “So long lives this, and this gives life to thee” means “This poetry lives long, and this poetry gives life to you.”

From a modern perspective this poem might come off as pompous (assuming the greatness of one’s own poetry), arbitrary (criticizing a summer’s day upon what seems a whim), and sycophantic (praising someone without substantial evidence). How then could this possibly be number one? After the bad taste of an old flavor to a modern tongue wears off, we realize that this is the very best of poetry. This is not pompous because Shakespeare actually achieves greatness and creates an eternal poem. It is okay to recognize poetry as great if it is great and it is okay to recognize an artistic hierarchy. In fact, it is absolutely necessary in educating, guiding, and leading others. The attack on a summer’s day is not arbitrary. Woven throughout the language is an implicit connection between human beings, the natural world (“a summer’s day”), and heaven (the sun is “the eye of heaven”). A comparison of a human being to a summer’s day immediately opens the mind to unconventional possibilities; to spiritual perspectives; to the ethereal realm of poetry and beauty. The unabashed praise for someone without a hint as to even the gender or accomplishments of the person is not irrational or sycophantic. It is a pure and simple way of approaching our relationships with other people, assuming the best. It is a happier way to live—immediately free from the depression, stress, and cynicism that creeps into our hearts. Thus, this poem is strikingly and refreshingly bold, profound, and uplifting.

Finally, as to the question of overcoming death, fear, and the decay of time, an overarching question in these great poems, Shakespeare adroitly answers them all by skipping the question, suggesting it is of no consequence. He wields such sublime power that he is unmoved and can instead offer remedy, his verse, at will to those he sees befitting. How marvelous!



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244 Responses

  1. Reid McGrath

    What an interesting enterprise, Evan? I have always loved lists. Thank you for taking the time to write out all of these insightful analyses. You really know how to capture a person’s attention with your headlines. “Ten Greatest Poems Ever Written” reminded me of what first drew me to your site in the first place, a few years back. I believe it was something as blunt and as brazen as this: “Poetry should be metered, because metered poetry is, quite simply, better than free verse.”

    While my list may be different than yours (I probably would add a Yeats and Millay or a Hardy), it would obviously be difficult to bench any of the all-stars you have in your present lineup. What would make it easier, or more amenable to more great poems being subsumed in more lists, would be to narrow the scope of the lists. For example, Ten Greatest Sonnets Ever, Ten Greatest Ballads Ever, Ten Greatest Romantic Poems Ever, Ten Greatest Twentieth-Century Sonnets Ever, Ten Greatest Eulogies and Elegies Ever, etc.. For what constitutes a poem? We are obviously excluding Epics.

    I have invariably been drawn to your brazenness though. You know how to get a crowd into it…

    Concerning your analyses, I thought that it was interesting that you associated “mournful numbers” with a “reaction against science.” I have always been under the impression that Longfellow was referring to “morbid poems” or psalms: as Petrarch often called his poems “numbers,” which in a sense metered poetry is, a compilation of syllables and stresses (i.e. music); but your postulation seems to work as well, and would function propitiously in an essay for one of your students comparing and contrasting Poe’s “Sonnet–To Science” and Whitman’s (hate him or love him–unlike Pound, I have still not made my pact) “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.”

    I will have to start working on my own lists; although I believe it could be an eternal task, for “man is a giddy thing,” as Shakespeare wrote, and I thoroughly love so many diverse poems.

    • Evan

      Thanks, Reid. I mention at the beginning that it is only short poems, not longer works or excerpts of longer works, so epics are out. If you want to make a top ten (or five?) list for specific poetry fields for the Society that would be great! I am contemplating one on war poems (again, short poems, not epics or excerpts). Any ideas?

      For “numbers” in Psalm of Life, I’ve seen interpretations such as poetic meter, Bible or poetic verses, or the Book of Numbers in the Bible specifically. After studying Longfellow quite a bit and particularly this poem, memorizing it and teaching it to my students, my own interpretation is that Longfellow is basically saying “don’t be daunted by the odds” “take some risks” or “don’t approach things in such a calculating and scientific way” If you take a look at a map of the U.S. in the 1830s, you’ll see that most of the U.S. is territories, much of it unsettled. This was the time of the Wild West and Manifest Destiny (the pitfalls in expansion can be seen in Little House on the Prairie and that was 40 years later). Doing things by the numbers would not have meant a healthy, expanding U.S. in the long run. This also fits in with the recurring war theme since enlisting is a similarly risky proposition. IMO.

      • Manar

        Arabic poetry is the best in history, it has far more words for description and it has deep meanings. But I see that this list should’ve been called ” In European History” since there’s no variety.

      • Geoffrey

        “Numbers” definitely means “verse” here, and nothing else at all. It is a Latinism. You can forget any other ideas!

      • Katy

        Hello! For war poems, you can’t possibly go past Wilfred Owen’s ‘Futility’. Or any others of his. Oh, I see this is all so old. Oh well. It’s 2020 now and Wilfred Owen’s poems are still great!

      • B Dehury

        Felt very happy to know world-class literatures.

    • Marie

      It was my first time reading the poem and I thought it meant the mournfully high number of people who say such things.

      • Evan

        I like it. Maybe occam’s razor (the simplest explanation is most likely the right one) may apply here. We may be reading too much into it. Thank you!

      • Vishwas

        This was my first thought too. I remember my high school teacher interpreting it in a similar way. Simple and succinct.

      • swetyhamza

        poetry is not compared , because it is the sum of feelings and emotions < even thoughts…the one has ….so no way but to find beauty in each and every line of verse

    • jasim

      After the rock poem to inst. of quer to way another charactor… in the poem of shask.

      To ask to people in the near way of life

      music could be than to Dead of new archeology in the world

    • Navita

      Nice collection. It took me to the flashback, reminded of schooldays & collage as well. Can still imagine my lecturer standing & explaining in her own style.

    • Romeo

      You to change the title,, 10 of the best english poem ” . I do not like at least one of them. IF by Kipling is far far away more beautiful than this list. Man and Women by Victor Hugo, Eminescu. You should read more poem to do the best 10 ever written.

      • William A Martin

        Kipling sensibly NEVER would have proclaimed he was a finer poet than any of these listed here (except possibly for Frost and Longfellow, whose styles are clearly closest to his). Still it seems strange not to mention Gerard Manley Hopkin, TSE, or Emily Dickinson, though I suspect you wouldn’t champion any of those three either.

    • Julie A Morello

      The title of this article should read “10 Greatest Poems Ever Written IN ENGLISH”. Anything written in other languages- poetry, literature, lyrics, etc. lose their beauty with translation.

  2. BJM

    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 dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    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!

      • erika johnson

        good but how can i find jack and jill went up the hill

      • Nissim Levy

        what do you think of this poem?

        I reminisced of a time long ago when I was only twenty years old.
        I was studying English 101 at the University Of British Columbia in the summer of Eighty-Four.
        It was at a summer session because I had failed English 101 two years before.
        A failure due more to my citizenship in a different realm than to the failings of my intellect, aptitude or the magnanimity of my core.
        “You have such a poignant and evocative writing style,” wrote my teacher on the short-story I had submitted the week before.
        I had written about a lonely sojourn on a desolate beach in the pregnant moment,
        When sunset injures day’s abandon and grants night the freedom to roam.
        I had written about the mighty North Shore mountains,
        Hoary with age and reverberating with an energy ineffable to the mind,
        But savored by the soul.
        I remembered how exhausting of mind, but above all of the soul, writing that short-story had been.
        I tried to reveal my spirit bare and exposed.
        I tried to destroy the ramparts and blow open the heavy gates shielding my secretive core.
        But through my exhausting efforts I had only succeeded in weakening the facade between me and the world,
        Usually held at arm’s length,
        But through my story then, only slightly nearer yet still remote.
        There is an essence within everyone hidden in a chamber far beneath the veneer that encrusts our core.
        We seldom allow it expression beyond just its fractured shadows dancing on an external wall.
        But if we all dig deep and reach into this secretive chamber,
        We will, to our astonishment, discover we are all reaching into the same chamber,
        Not a separate one for each within the all.
        And then we will grasp each other’s same-hand.
        We all share the same soul.
        I knew that in the novel of my compulsion I would have to expose this chamber,
        Ramparts and heavy gates destroyed once and for all.
        And my novel would then cry out from this collective chamber,
        And speak for my left and for my right with one voice for all.
        It would be the ineffable ground of being reaching out to humanity from the navel of Creation,
        Proclaiming the dawn of a Third Age.
        It would announce the sunset of the Second Age before this coming dawn.
        A moment pregnant with change that will forever be remembered in the annals of the Civilization of Man.
        It would herald a paradigm shift far greater than the Renaissance,
        Not just an age of reason, but of reason and divinity intertwined as an inseparable whole.
        I envision the Third Age to be promoting the two primordial dancers,
        The abstract magical and the other its complementary whole.
        To engage in the Dance and thence unshard into the Eternal Garden from whence we all came forth.
        They are in Eternity entwined, but sharded into the realms of space and time.
        They are shards of the divine.
        Would composing such a novel be an arduous journey,
        Exhausting my body and above all my core?
        Would I be as a drowning man,
        Gasping for breath,
        Kicking and screaming while with futility grasping for shore?
        But would every paragraph and page exhaust me,
        Yet also leave me yearning for more?
        It would I am sure.
        This arduous compulsion will also uplift and invigorate me with waves of catharsis and frisson.
        And I pray dearly for the same in my reader,
        of soul-piercing joy.
        If I fail to evoke the same in my audience then I would have failed to breach the ramparts and the gates shielding my innermost chamber,
        Our collective soul.
        Only within this innermost shared sanctum can I truly touch someone’s soul.
        And by touching one, I will be touching them all.

    • Ronald Cohen

      Well chosen.
      I always believed that “If” is without a doubt, the best poem ever written and the best message ever given about life…

    • kishore babu anugu

      Its eternal advice to all. Wonderfully, whole heartedly written poetry. Hats off to the poet.

  3. Reid McGrath

    In the words of Auden: “[Time] Worships language and forgives / Everyone by whom it lives… Time that with this strange excuse / Pardoned Kipling and his views.” THE JUNGLE BOOK was one of my favorite stories as a kid and “IF” is an unforgettable poem.

  4. james sale

    I love this series of the ten best. To comment on the first two – whilst not disagreeing with Evan’s analysis, I think there is even more technical genius in this poem: for example, the rhyming of ‘hence’ obliquely with ‘difference’, that off-rhyme conveys just that sense of uncertainty about choice that Evan outlines. And as for Emma Lazarus – isn’t her surname part of the poem: America, the land where the dead came back and were welcomed to life? So brilliantly synchronous!

    • your mum

      Honey what are you doing on this website you are grounded for 5 months

  5. Lew Icarus Bede

    In this data-rich period of the last 100 years, we have seen myriads of lists composed, the top 10 vehicles of the last fifty years, the top 40 songs of the week, the top 100 contributers to humanity of the last 1000 years, the 500 richest people in the World this year, and so forth. It is a way for us in mass society to make sense of all the information that comes our way. Another reason for compiling such lists is that it clarifies our own visions, artistic, scientific, philosophical, etc.

    However, all lists are at best provisional. They are works in progress. Things change. The most popular meme this week might not be the most popular meme next week. Our favourite cuisine this season may not be our favourite the next. In fact, we are creatures of change. We thrive on variety. So it should not come as a surprise to anyone that even our own lists will alter over time.

    Mr. Evan Mantyk has done us a great service in posting his list of the 10 Greatest Poems Ever Written, not because he was right (after all, who could be right? De gustibus non est disputandum.), but because he gets us thinking. As Mr. Mantyk knows, by emphasizing poems of 50 lines or less (not his exact requirement, but his example), one must exclude epics, poetic plays, narrative poems, dramatic monologues, didactic verse essays, satires and epistles, etc. One of the paradoxes of making a list of the greatest short poems ever written is in attributing greatness to the smaller works, when the very meaning of greatness implies a largeness of expanse, of vision, etc.

    Perhaps his title could have been retitled The Ten Short Poems in English I Admire Most. However, his title is catchier, and may even draw more readers in to this growing site; but I can’t imagine anyone would have the exact same list in the exact same order. Even he, I suspect, will change his list over time. Here is his list.
    1. Sonnet 18, Shall I Compare Thee William Shakespeare
    2. Death, Be Not Proud John Donne
    3. Daffodils William Wordsworth
    4. A Psalm of Life Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    5. On His Blindness John Milton
    6. The Tyger William Blake
    7. Ode on a Grecian Urn John Keats
    8. Ozymandias Percy Bysshe Shelley
    9. The New Colossus Emma Lazarus
    10. The Road Not Taken Robert Frost
    What is remarkable about his list is its specificity and his analyses, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. As I read his list, however, I kept thinking, but what about this poem, or that poem?

    First off, on his list, Shakespeare’s sonnet which begins with “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” is a wonderful choice. I have always enjoyed his comparison with a summer’s day, because for me a summer’s day has always seemed the best of days, and Shakespeare indicates its flaws in marvelous diction. Yet, the theme of love being preserved in verse Shakespeare has used elsewhere, as so has Edmund Spenser in Amoretti, Sonnet 75, “Where whenas death shall all the world subdue,/ Our love shall live, and later life renew.” In addition, Spenser’s sonnet, which takes place upon a beach next to a sea, sets up a dramatic contrast of two points of view on the topic, in a dialogue between a man and a woman. Other Shakespearean sonnets are also in competition with Sonnet 30. One could, in fact, make a top 10 of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Sonnet 116 for me has always had a special place, because in its delivery, Shakespeare even goes so far as to suggest that if true love does not exist, then he never wrote a thing. It is the Shakespearean sonnet that most moves me, so much so I recited it at the wedding of my college roommate many years ago. This shows one of the pitfalls of poetic placement; various poems may suggest more to us than others because of our own particular circumstances. One more example will suffice. Although I do not think it superior (nor inferior) to Wordsworth’s Daffodils, his sonnet Composed On Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802, has stirred me to write my own sonnet on Westminster Bridge in London. What appeals to me in that sonnet is its unusual vantage point, its precision, the use of particular words, like steep, and its terse landscaping.

    Mr. Mantyk’s second choice, Death, Be Not Proud is a fine sonnet as well. As in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, what appeals to me is the audacity of the author, “And death shall be no more. Death thou shalt die.” One would be hard-pressed to find such confidence in the face of death in any writer since. But for me, the John Donne poem that takes my breath away is A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, with its extraordinary conceit of love with a mathematical compass. It is a linguistic tour de force that sweeps me away with its idealism, its learning, and its paradoxically intricate simplicity. For me, nothing like it in English poetry reaches such a refined, intellectual brilliance; and for a long time, it has seemed a worthy paradigm to emulate in my poetry.

    I agree with Reid McGrath that it would be difficult to bench any of the all-stars Mr. Mantyk has in his present lineup, and concur with his idea that there could be more lists with the narrowing of the scope, as one’s ten top sonnets, etc. I do admit to favouring Shelley’s Ozymandias over Ode to the West Wind, but is it a better poem? Blake’s The Tyger may be the most anthologized poem in English literature, but is it superior to Ode on a Grecian Urn? And at 50 lines long shouldn’t Keats’ Ode rather be compared to works, like Jonson’s To the Memory of My Beloved Author, Mr. William Shakespeare, Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress, Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Browning’s My Last Duchess, Tennyson’s Ulysses, Poe’s The Raven, Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride, T. S. Eliot’s The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill, Robert Lowell’s Mr. Edwards and the Spider, etc. I do think Frost’s The Road Not Taken is his best performance, but I very much admire Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. And other poems come to mind: Auld Lang Syne author Burns’ lively To a Mouse, A. E. Housman’s terse To an Athlete Dying Young, (BJM’s offer of) Rudyard Kipling’s inspiring If, Matthew Arnold’s visionary, melancholic Dover Beach, Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est, Thomas’ villanelle Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night…the list going on to the crack of doom.

  6. Eric King

    a hundred years from now at least one or two of the poems on your list
    will be voted off by future scholars (if humans have not already
    destroyed themselves), and bob dylan’s desolation row will be half way
    up the list.

    And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
    Fighting in the captain’s tower
    While calypso singers laugh at them
    And fishermen hold flowers

    for my two cents worth the choices you made aren’t bad.

    a lot of people now believe that the most beautiful image to be found
    anywhere in poetry is:
    “to dance beneath the diamond sky
    with one hand waving free,
    silhouetted by the sea…”

    i never finished my ph.d. in english lit at uc berkeley. timothy leary
    whispered the siren words in my ear, “turn on, tune in, drop out,” but
    before i did, i read a lot of poetry, so my opinion is not without some
    professional value.

    i love the silly and absurd as in laverne baker’s
    “jim dandy in a submarine
    got a message from a mermaid queen.
    she was hangin’ from a fishin’ line.
    jim dandy didn’t waste no time.
    jim dandy to the rescue.
    jim dandy to the rescue.”

    hank williams cold, cold heart is one of the greatest poetic
    commentaries on love ever written.

  7. Mike Vandeman

    O Captain! My Captain!
    By Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

    O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather’d every rack,
    the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
    While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring; 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
    For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
    Here Captain! dear father!
    This arm beneath your head!
    It is some dream that on the deck,
    You’ve fallen cold and dead.

    My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
    My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
    The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
    From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
    Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
    But I with mournful tread,
    Walk the deck my Captain lies,
    Fallen cold and dead.

    • Dustin Pickering

      I think your analysis of “The Tyger” is mistaken. Critics such as Harold Bloom have suggested the Tyger is actually a gentle, playful creature. It is seen in his carvings as a smiling, toy-like beast. I sometimes quote “The Tyger” when discussing inspiration as a Promethean current, the fire in the eyes being like the fire given to Man. However, the poet (as in Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound) is a Satanic figure, rebelling against orthodoxy. There was an error in Romantic literature that Satan was the hero of Paradise Lost but contemporary analysis suggests Adam is the hero, with Satan as an antihero. Satan became a mythical revolutionary telling God where to stick it for His oppressions. Blake in “The Tyger”, I think, is indicating that wisdom and inspiration are stolen from God Himself, a la Satan or Prometheus. I think this is validated by the lines “What immortal hand or eye/dare frame thy fearful symmetry?” The poet, as mythmaker, must have a solid set of experiences with the God he/she wishes to mythologize. Symmetry implies that order is addressed, a fearful order because it is misunderstood or new to the seer. The fact that Blake uses the word immortal in reference to eye and hand makes the poem extra enchanting– because he is calling poetry an immortal art that would not be what it is without a touch of the forbidden and the divine frenzy.


      its really heart touching poem ,,,,,
      i know it was sung by american poet on the death of
      great leader ABRHAM LINCON,,,,,,,,

  8. Dr. Monsy Thomas Mathai

    The list was great,
    like all lists go by,
    interesting ……
    But once the shopping done,
    To the bin of time it goes.
    For another one is on its way,
    for needs are different every day.
    So when a list is made
    one should realise,
    to add an “all time” tag,
    Is indeed the greatest folly.
    So forget it.
    Learn to shop from your heart.

  9. Tomás Ó Cárthaigh

    Where do I start? Half this list was on my school curriculum in Ireland in the “Soundings” books…

    If I take Irish poets, I suggest Paudric Columb. While known more in America as a storyteller for children, he is best known in Ireland as a poet…

    “A Drover”

    To Meath of the pastures,
    From wet hills by the sea,
    Through Leitrim and Longford
    Go my cattle and me.
    I hear in the darkness
    Their slipping and breathing.
    I name them the bye-ways
    They’re to pass without heeding.
    Then the wet, winding roads,
    Brown bogs with black water;
    And my thoughts on white ships
    And the King o’ Spain’s daughter.
    O! farmer, strong farmer!
    You can spend at the fair
    But your face you must turn
    To your crops and your care.
    And soldiers—red soldiers!
    You’ve seen many lands;
    But you walk two by two,
    And by captain’s commands.
    O! the smell of the beasts,
    The wet wind in the morn;
    And the proud and hard earth
    Never broken for corn;
    And the crowds at the fair,
    The herds loosened and blind,
    Loud words and dark faces
    And the wild blood behind.
    (O! strong men with your best
    I would strive breast to breast
    I could quiet your herds
    With my words, with my words.)
    I will bring you, my kine,
    Where there’s grass to the knee;
    But you’ll think of scant croppings
    Harsh with salt of the sea.

  10. Ariel

    The poems are beautiful, but the title is wrong. I mean, this are not THE 10 greatest poems ever, they are YOUR favorite 10 poems. But, anyway, I love your list. I’m a big romantic myself, specially a big fan of Shelley. Cheers!

  11. chialo

    passionately loving poem and so moved by words . poem makes my life grow with esteemed spirit.

  12. Nigel H

    Invictus – W.E. Henley

    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.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate,
    I am the captain of my soul.

  13. Jac

    Nothing by Goethe, Rilke, or Schiller? Nothing by Rumi, Homer, Li Bai, Dante Alighieri etc…? Or are great poems written only by native English speakers?

    • Juanita Hamilton

      from the first line…

      the poems in this list are limited to ones originally written in the English language and which are under 50 lines, excluding poems like Homer’s Iliad and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Raven.”

      • Peter

        First Letter
        by M. Eminescu (1850-1889)
        When at night with a sleepy eye I blow the candle,
        The length of time’s flow: only the clock can handle.
        And as I pull the drapes in my room to the right,
        The moon engulfs everything with its warm light.
        It retrieves from my memory, endless thoughts.
        I feel the whole lot like in dreams that come in lots.
        You move on Earth’s dome, Moon you, mistress of the sea.
        You give life to one’s thoughts, and you lessen one’s misery.
        Virgin one you, thousand of wilds glow in your light.
        How many forests hide shimmer of water in their shade?
        As on top of the rough sheer size of the seas you drift,
        Over how many thousands of waves does your light shift?
        How many blossoming shores, what forts and castles too,
        Which flooded by your beauty, to yourself you put on view.
        Into how many thousands of homes, you gently touch?
        How many heads full of thought, you quietly watch?
        You spot a king, who webs the globe with plans for a century,
        While a poor guy dares not to think about the next day…
        While a new rank was drawn from the urn of fate for each guy,
        Your ray and the skill of death, rule them in the same way.
        To the same chain of passions, both guys are addicted,
        Be they weak or strong, stupid or smart.
        Some guy looks in the mirror and his hair he styles.
        Some other guy seeks the truth in this world, and in these times.
        From stained old files, thousand small pieces he folds.
        Their short-lived names he writes down on the script he holds.
        And some guy at his office desk carves up the world, and he tallies
        How much gold, the sea is hauling in its dark ships hulls.
        And there is the old professor, with his coat faded at the elbows.
        He searches, and in an endless count, he assesses.
        And he buttons up his old robe, of cold he freezes,
        He sinks his neck in his collar, plugs his ears, and he sneezes.
        Skinny as he is, frail and feeble as he appears,
        The vast Universe is in his reach, and it nears.
        Since at the back of his brow, the past and the future unite.
        On files, he makes sense of eternity’s deep night.
        Like Atlas of ancient times, who propped the sky on his shoulder,
        So, our professor props the space and the eternal time in a number.
        While over the old scripts, the moon lights with its glow,
        His thought takes him back billions of years, right now:
        To the beginning, when a living or nonliving thing there was not,
        When life and will, lacked for the whole lot,
        When hidden was nil, though the lot was out of sight,
        When weighed down with wisdom, the Hidden One relaxed His might.
        Was it a deep rift? Was it a sheer fall? Was it a vastness of water? Right…
        A conscious world, or a mind to figure it out, wasn’t in sight.
        Because there was darkness, like a sea without a ray of light,
        But there was nothing to look at, nor eye to see into the night.
        The shape of the un-formed did not start yet to work loose
        And the endless peace rules at ease…
        But all of a sudden, the first and the only one, a point stirs rather…
        Look how out of the chaos it forms a mother, and it grows to be the Father.
        That point of motion, even weaker than a bubble,
        It has total control over the entire Universe, without any trouble…
        Since then, the endless night sorts out in galaxies.
        Since then, come to light the Sun, the Earth, the Moon and the stars…
        Since then, up until now, colonies of lost worlds — with tales —
        Come from grey valleys of chaos on unknown trails.
        And they spring in swarms that glow from outer space.
        And by a boundless craving are lured to existence.
        And in this vast deep-space, we the tiny world’s brood
        We put together anthills on our globe, and we think it’s good.
        Tiny nations, kings, soldiers and the well read,
        We come in generations and we think we know everything from A to Z.
        Like flies that live a day, in a tiny world that is measured by the foot,
        In that deep space with no end, we spin following the same route.
        And we quite forget that this entire life is a poised instant,
        And at the beginning and at the end night is revealed, although is distant.
        As specks of dust move about in a ray-of-light’s field,
        Thousands of brisk specks waste away with the light.
        And so, in the on and on night that never ends,
        We have the instant; we have the ray that still stands…
        When it will switch off, everything will vanish, like a shadow into the night.
        Since the hazy deep space is a dream of nothingness. But wait…
        Now, the thinker doesn’t stop his search, and in the twinkling of an eye
        His contemplation takes him billions of years to the future to see a ray.
        The Sun that now shines, he sees it dim and red, like veiled in dust,
        How, like a wound among dark clouds, it goes bust.
        Everything freezes up. And in space, like rebels the spheres fling,
        And flee beyond the light’s reign, and Sun’s gravity ring.
        And the altar screen of the world has dimmed altogether its ray
        Like the autumn leaves, all the stars have gone astray.
        The ended time spreads out what’s left, and it turns into infinity,
        Since the bleak stretch is full of serenity.
        And all is quiet. All plunges into the night of non-existence.
        And in a state of ease, the eternal peace gets going again in this instance.
        From the lowest rung of the crowd, up stepping,
        And to the royal heads, climbing ranking,
        Of his or her life mystery, everyone puzzled we see,
        With no way to say, worse off who will it be.
        The same as one is in all, all is in one.
        Ahead of the others, gets the one who can.
        While others with meek heart stand-alone and sigh,
        And do not grasp that like the unseen foam they quietly die.
        Whatever they want or think, what should the blind fate agonize?
        It is like wind that blows in gales over the folks’ days.
        Shall the whole world accept him? Shall writers cause him to feel at ease?
        What will the old professor gain out of all of these?
        Eternal life, they shall say. It is true that all his time,
        Like ivy on a tree, he clings to an aim.
        “If I die”— he says to himself, like the sages —
        “My name will pass on through the ages.
        Forever, in all places they shall pass it on, all the same,
        By word of mouth, by means of my fame,
        My writings shall find shelter in a spot of some head.”
        Oh, poor guy! Do you call to mind what in life you’ve read?
        What crossed in front of you? Or what to yourself you’ve said?
        Not much. From here or from there: a sketch’s bit,
        You remember you’ve done on a scrap of paper, or a hint of a thought.
        And when your own life, you don’t know by heart how it goes,
        Shall others be so keen to know how it was?
        Maybe over a century, a fussy man with his green eye,
        He shall sit among books of no use — himself, a redundant horse, let’s say —
        Your gift of style, he shall assess.
        Your book’s dust, he shall blow from his glasses.
        And he shall stack your work on two lines, in a tiny footnote.
        On a silly page, he shall put you last, with a dot.
        You can build a whole way of life. You can wreck it.
        Whatever you say, a shovel of dust shall stack over the whole lot.
        The hand that wanted the sceptre of the Universe, and higher ranks…
        And with vision to grasp the Cosmos, fits perfect in four planks.
        And with cold stares, like they are mocking you too,
        In the best funeral-procession, they shall walk behind you.
        And a shortie shall speak above everybody, reading your eulogy,
        Not to praise you… to polish himself in the shade of your celebrity.
        Look what awaits you. Oh yes, you shall see…
        The time yet to come, is even with more impartiality.
        They shall clap at your life’s skin-deep tale.
        It will aim to show that you weren’t big deal.
        You were a man like they are… everyone is content.
        Much more than him or her you weren’t.
        And in literary meetings, each guy with an ironic expression
        Will widen his or her nose, when about you they talk in session.
        It has to be said sincerely,
        With words, they shall praise you dearly.
        And so, fallen in the hands of anyone, they shall assess your toil.
        Everything they won’t be aware of, they shall soil.
        And apart from that, about your life, they shall stick their nose in.
        They shall look for dirt, faults and for some sin.
        All these brings you closer to them… Not the enlightenment
        That you shed on the world, but the sins, flaws and excitement,
        And blunders, and weak moments, and guilt from the past,
        Which, are linked in a fatal way to a hand of dust.
        All the little mess of a wretched soul that you’ve got
        Shall captivate them much more than all you’ve thought.
        Among the walls, flanked by the trees that shed flowers
        In the same way the full moon glows with gentle light for hours,
        It gets back much painful feeling from the faintness of our memories
        Eased is the pain, we feel everything like in dreams.
        As, it opens the star gate to our own dimension in a twinkling,
        And once the candle is quenched, it releases much inkling.
        Many a wilderness, glares in your glow, virgin one you.
        How many a forest, hide in its shade shimmer of springs, from your view?
        Over how many thousands of waves, does your glow shift
        When, over the rough expanse of the seas, your light shall drift?
        And everything that under the power of fate in this world stays,
        It’s ruled in the same way by the skill of the death and your rays.

        (1881 February the 1st.)

  14. Davis

    Words and a phrase and a song
    Repeating on and on
    In my head, in my brain
    Telling me just what to say
    But i dont cause i can’t
    Cause I’m not quite ready to
    let go yet

    Mist, there’s a mist coming in
    Gold and silver on the clouds
    Riding high, look around
    And you just might see it
    Wait there’s a weight on the world
    And its falling but I can’t
    Let go yet

    Fire, wildfire in my eyes
    Ragin loose and running wild
    In my head ‘til I’m dead
    And I’m going crazy
    What, what to say, but I know

    Am I really ready to
    Let go yet

    Thoughts, deepest thoughts
    On a page in a song
    Words, wary words
    In my mind they’re all wrong
    Write, write till i die
    Nothing else
    Nothing left

    • Kelly Kasper

      I absolutely love this one! I wish I could say I have achieved the privilege of mastering the worlds greatest poets, but blessed that I can appreciate ones beauty of expression! Can I ask who the poet is who wrote this and where you found it? Thank you!!

  15. JK

    Great list. Ozymandias my favorite short-form poem ever. But where is something from Dickinson, the Bard of Amherst? Brilliant poems too numerous to enumerate…

  16. Geoff

    A good list apart from number one by Shakespeare. This sonnet fails because it claims to give life to the subject but says nothing specific through which the reader could know anything about the subject; it’s just an ordinary rhyme. Number two by Donne is not bad. Number four by Longfellow is also okay especially the line “Be not like dumb driven cattle, be a hero in the strife”.

    • Kelly Kasper

      why would you say such things? How ironic are you to judge something and have zero information to explain or prove your words, yet your judgement words are identical to your expression of what you think of “mundane” is!!!

    • Cody Ferguson

      “but says nothing specific through which the reader could know anything about the subject;” What more about the subject do you wish to know? Perhaps he should have listed off her favorite foods.

      • Geoff

        I would have liked to know what made her interesting, unique or out of the ordinary; what she did with her life; what her personality was like; and / or what virtues she possessed. Or even something about her physical appearance would have been better than nothing. There really is nothing about her, assuming it is a she. Shakespeare is grossly overrated. Most of his work is unremarkable but gets more attention because when he was writing hardly anyone had written anything.

  17. Laya

    Persian poetry is the best in the history of poems;
    Our poets like “Hafez” and “sa’di shirazy” were unparalleled.
    If you read their poems you will sea they were great.
    Many people on the world have ridden them for many years… .

    • Cody Ferguson

      Did you intentionally use “sea” instead of “see”? Very clever. Persian poems are as great as the sea is expansive.

  18. Aiden

    No mention of Invictus? That’s a shame. One of my personal favourites, Henley’s poem is. It evokes such raw willpower as to overcome any inner demon.

    • Evan

      There seems to be a ground swell of support for Henley’s Invictus, so I may have to consider an Honorable Mention. That said, there is a sense, to me anyway, of godlessness to it. The depth of the darkness and terror is almost overwhelming, the gods “may be,” and you are “master” of your own fate. These strike me as relatively hollow reflections compared to those on the list. I’m still thinking this one over anyway.

      • Ron

        I came across your list only yesterday. I think it’s terrific. At most, there may be a couple of substitutes I might make, but I’m not even sure of that. Great choices. By the way, I happen to agree with you regarding Invictus.


      • Kelly Kasper

        Please don’t change anything, unless it’s in your heart to do so. Your list is so beautiful, inspiring and for me personally extremely therapeutic! Whether or not your list gets changed, is most meaningful when it’s done by your own will. Again in my personal opinion ones own view is by far more interesting, pure and appreciated! Thank you for this list! As someone who’s been really struggling daily for almost a year now due to tragedy, heartache that proved to be very traumatic for me, reading your pick of poems for a moment soothed the pain I’ve been feeling as well as reminded me just how powerful expression and perception are. Most importantly it is not right nor wrong and should just simply (not literally) be appreciated! Thank you for lifting a tiny piece of fog that’s clouding my brain at this time!!!

      • Evan

        Thank you, Kelly! Yours are some of the most encouraging words I think anyone’s poetry analysis could hope to receive.

      • thatpoetrychick420

        thank you for these deep and inspirational words! keep up your ongoing effort to expand your vocabulary (vocabulary means words that you know)

  19. David

    I don’t understand the last line of The Road Not Taken. Why does Frost say that his choice has made all the difference if the intent is that it hasn’t?

    • Evan

      My understanding is that Frost is implying two different principles:

      (1) what we think makes a difference may not make any difference at all. For instance, suppose you feel someone has wronged you, say a politician or perhaps someone close to you, and the actions you take driven by irrational emotion you realize later were silly. That person’s original actions you realize didn’t make a difference and your own subsequent actions didn’t make a difference.

      (2) We should strive to make a positive difference in our world, even in whatever small and insignificant way it may seem. If something appears in need of attention and underserved or underutilized, as in the less warn path, then we should naturally feel inclined to help and participate where it is needed. We should naturally be open minded and compassionate to our fellow man, even if they suffer for a sound reason.

      The two principles are perhaps contradictory, but I think Frost has experienced them and recognizes that he has them internalized, so the poem is an expression of that contradictory experience and elucidates the sometimes seemingly contradictory nature of life itself.

      If there are layers of consciousness and layers of reality then the truth can perhaps be more closely approached. Principle 2 applies to ordinary human interactions at the most surface level and principle 1 demonstrates a larger scale principle that we can reflect upon in a more spiritual or philosophical state of mind but cannot entirely attain when confined to a human body.

    • Cody Ferguson

      An individuals choices will make a difference in their own life but will have no effect whatsoever on society as a whole in most cases.

    • Kyle

      It’s because he knows that it is a lie. The poem mentions: “I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence”. He is sighing because he knows that it’s wrong to lie about his past, but he also knows that people crave excitement, and that ordinary things go overlooked. So he makes it seem as if taking the path less traveled is what made the difference, when really, the were either the same, or there would have been no way to differentiate to begin with.

  20. David

    Thanks Evan. I do agree with those principles (#1 borne out many times) but the last line still flummoxes me a bit. I’m new to poetry though and suspect I’m approaching it with too much concrete thinking.

    • thatpoetrychick420

      did you mean these were the nicest poems that you’ve ever read or this was one of the nicest poems that you’ve ever read? re-read your comment before you post it next time Jenica 🙂

      • Sarah

        Unnecessary. Maybe the original poster is not a native English speaker. Don’t be condescending and rude.

  21. Dom

    A great list. I would add one more though, High Flight by John Magee

    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
    Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
    Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
    I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air . . .

    Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
    I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
    Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
    And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
    The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
    Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

    • Ron


      Great thought. I love that poem also. The story that goes with it makes it all the more moving.


    • Ron Visco

      Yes — wonderful poem, but a sad story. Very moving. Good thought!

  22. Cherish

    Thank you for taking the time to compile this list. I was inspired to revisit poetry after teaching it to my 3rd grade students. They seem to really enjoy poetry and grasping meaning from it. After reading all the comments, it’s reassuring to know that adults take the time to slow down and contemplate such written work. Thank you again!

  23. Shahzad

    I would love to understand these poems. Even reading them gives me a good feeling.

  24. Mr Ala Gan

    I like poems full of internal music , rich in rhythm ,touching mature thought ,of well-engineered words … please should you come across one of these ,be kind to send … Christina Rossetti’s poems are readable for me . … Good list !

  25. James A. Tweedie

    I suspect that if Wordsworth had compiled a list of his best 10 poems, Daffodils would not have been on it. It’s funny how time and criticism (both formal and popular) separates out who and what is “great” whether in poetry, music, painting or any of the the arts. Personally, I would have had Burns in there somewhere, either “To a Louse” or “To a Mouse.” Even so, each poem in the list is worthy of admiration and the analysis is, for the most part, spot on. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ron Visco

      I suspect you’re probably right about Wordsworth not including Daffodils, but that doesn’t change my love of it one bit, and most people I know feel the same. Plus, as you’re aware, Wordsworth’s “greatest” list would have a number over the 50-line limit, so we’d have to set them aside to meet the criteria.
      By the way, I love your mention of “To a Mouse” — one of my favorites.


    I really Thanks to All Friends thos who shared these poems
    because these poems are related to our study course in ( ENGLISH LITERATURE )

  27. Anthony

    Hi Evan,

    What a wonderful set of poems! Thank you for sharing.

    I was also thinking of John Donne’s beautiful poem a little bit more as you shared it, along with your thoughts. As you outline it, the sixth reason death is not to be feared is that death is not extinction for John Donne. But what is the victory he imagines? What does it mean that death will die?

    Certainly John Donne believed in an enduring soul, but I would submit that the reason in his poem hinges instead on his Christian belief in the resurrection of the body, not on the continuation of a non-physical soul. I would suggest it is not primarily a realization that the body is subordinate, nor that there is a greater identification with the soul. It is that one day, “when we wake” as he says, the body will be remade. And in that day, corruption, decay, and death will no longer exist. This is the source of his hope and how he sees the powerlessness of death.

    The most obvious reason for this is that in the last line of his poem there is a clear allusion, if not a direct quote, from his treasured scriptures, “And death shall be no more” (Rev 21:4). The reality he is undoubtedly picturing is this same reality the writer of Revelation is picturing. It is a physical world that is being remade. It is not a world of disembodied souls. It is a world where the former order of things has passed away, corruption and death itself have become extinct. As the poem says, death thou shalt die.

    And if this is true, I wonder if the possible applications you envision might need to be narrowed a bit more. Love to hear your thoughts. Thanks again for sharing.

    • Evan

      Dear Anthony,

      Thank you for your thoughtful analysis and question. Given Donne’s Christian background, you have a solid case for that interpretation for sure.

      To me, there is not necessarily any contradiction between our two interpretations. If the soul is made of matter, possibly itself composed of yet unknown or yet enigmatic particles that far exceed current scientific understanding, then from the perspective of the other side, from heavenly realms, the soul is the real body, potentially capable of regenerating or reconstituting lesser forms of matter, which include what we human beings perceive to be the physical human body. Perhaps it is like a photograph. The human body is flat and two dimensional and captures a mere glimpse of the person, but the source of the photo, capable of generating more photos, is the soul. Both we might say present to us a complete physical body and a complete being, although the person obviously trumps the photo.

      • Anthony

        Okay, you hooked me into another question! It sounds like what you’re envisioning is a deeper physical reality, that perhaps science has not uncovered. You definitely have a revision of the traditional understanding of the soul when you say it can be composed of physical matter. But I’d be intrigued to know how the regeneration and reconstitution would work as you see it? When a person dies and all their physical parts decompose, are you imagining a scenario where some of those physical particles of matter (the ones that make up the “soul”) would actually reform together through natural processes… such that the same conscious soul is truly regenerated?

  28. Evan

    Dear Anthony, hahaha, we are getting very theoretical now and I’m not sure that I’m understanding the terms you’re using correctly. I apologize if I am not. I am imagining that the physical matter, or super matter, never usually decomposes, just what we perceive on the surface as the physical body decomposes. Another metaphor: the physical body is like clothing and the soul is the body, so the consciousness is the same. At death, it is merely that the dirty or worn clothes are taken off. Without the restraints of this physical dimension there is an expanded consciousness encompassing our human consciousness. To put it another way, if someone dies, the atoms don’t stop working. The electrons keep spinning and they maintain their atomic structure. Our bodies are made of cells and molecules that maintain an overall macro-structure, so it could be that our souls are composed of atoms and subatomic particles and also have an overall macro-structure. If you were to destroy the atoms or split them, then you would be destroying the soul and releasing a huge amount of energy, which is basically a nuclear explosion or nuclear energy. That is the power of but a few particles of the soul (I cannot mention this last metaphor and proceeding discourse without citing my own spiritual mentor Master Li Hongzhi: http://en.falundafa.org/eng/pdf/ZFL2014.pdf)

  29. Bill

    I disagree with the title of this list. It should be the “10 most famous and memorable poems”. These are definitely not the 10 greatest poems ever written. At least half of these poems are quaint trifles. The list also exaggerates the importance of rhyme in English poetry. Let’s face it, the great classical poets (including Milton and Wordsworth) and most modern poets eventually rejected rhyme as an annoying and embarrassing, pointless hindrance and good riddance. Or they transformed the way rhyme is used to make it less conspicuous and awkward. Furthermore, the under-representation of modern poetry in this list gives the impression that the compiler of the list hasn’t actually read that much poetry. Compare the poems in this list to the power and wizardry of a work like “The Windhover” by G.M. Hopkins.

    • Evan

      Dear Bill,

      You give a passionate attack on rhyme and then go on to cite a sonnet, Hopkins’ “The Windhover,” (which I have pasted below) which is bursting not only with an only somewhat subtle Petrarchan rhyme scheme but also copious and completely conspicuous alliteration. Alliteration predates rhyme as the “annoying and embarrassing” English poetry device of choice. Perhaps, if you try this argument elsewhere, you may consider using a different example.

      (Hopkins by the way is featured in our 10 Greatest Poems about Death: http://classicalpoets.org/10-greatest-poems-about-death-a-grim-reader/)

      You do have an interesting point in which you correlate power and wizardry to greatness, but do no correlate posthumous fame or memorableness to greatness. What exactly is found in this “power and wizardry” of which you speak? Perhaps you have your own top ten list that you can compile and share.

      I think in the future the list will need to be rewritten or expanded to include 21st century poets too, but we are not there yet.

      The Windhover
      By Gerard Manley Hopkins
      To Christ our Lord

      I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
      dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
      Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
      High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
      In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
      As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
      Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
      Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

      Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
      Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
      Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

      No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
      Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
      Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

      Kind regards,
      The Author

      • Bill

        Dear Evan,

        thank you for your response. I would argue that Hopkins is using rhyme here in a very natural and unique manner, not in the service of an awkward convention. The sheer number of internal rhymes and alliterative and assonant phrases in this poem that do not feel forced is impressive. The experimental technical elements of the poem and its exciting rhythm do not in any way impair the poem’s ability to convey its principal theme, which is “being inspired by nature and the mundane”. In, fact I think they help to convey this theme most powerfully. I have not read enough to confidently conclude, as one critic did, that it is the “most beautiful poem in the English language”, but I think it is up there among the greatest. Hopkins himself said it was the best thing he ever wrote.

  30. Rick Smith

    Poetry is our hearts, our lives, our pain, and pleasure all penned for sheer enjoyment or reflection. I enjoyed the list (Shake’s is a amazing) especially to measure my own works against how clearly the others conveyed their message and the emotion they were trying to reach. My own poem below is my personal favorite amongst those I’ve written, but friends love many others because they find a personal message in the words I’ve written. Enjoy and comment on the below.

    “The Test”

    What mettle are you made of my son?
    From what fiber have you been cast?
    In glass, or wood, or iron are thee?
    By your life are these questions asked.

    You may learn much about a man
    By his fortitude and his grain,
    Only in time will each be tested
    Under stress, through fire, or disdain.

    When life’s pressures are brought to bear
    On the road which you have been sent,
    Will you shatter or splinter in angst,
    Or will your mettle only be bent?

    When love is blessed, but then meets dour;
    Enter your heart ‘pon the funeral pyre,
    Will you warp and crack, or fume in rage,
    Or shall you temper while engulfed by fire?

    Now a man of glass can be seen through
    With simply a look or a glance.
    A man of wood, or what’s left of him
    Is by grace of hatchet or lance.

    But an iron man, steadfast and true,
    With fortitude that time has shapened,
    May be bent, and marred, and hardened, but
    He can laugh at the test he’s taken.

    L.F. Richard Smith December 18, 1994

  31. Jack

    It is a shame a summer day come to, I
    for summers’ day is not a day, I am bequeathed to tie.
    Thine self ist warned that such a bond be worthy not at all,
    but thine forgets the words of thou when he has lost it all.

  32. Bob S.

    Dirge Without Music Launch Audio in a New Window
    I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
    So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
    Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
    With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

    Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
    Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
    A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
    A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

    The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
    They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
    Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
    More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

    Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
    Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
    Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
    I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

  33. sydney

    William Blake’s poem is actually called “The Tyger” rather than “The Tiger” (common mistake)

  34. may

    Most of the interpretations of these poems are not profound at all. Very shallow. Also the writer used the word “basically” which if informal and not appropriate for the caliber of writing glorified by classicalpoets.org

    • Evan

      Dear May,

      Thank you for your feedback. Feel free to offer your own interpretation of any of the poems, either in the comments section or for submission for publication to submissions@classicalpoets.org. Alternatively, you may post a link to an interpretation that you feel is worthy.

      Perhaps the style is too informal in places, I agree. However, recently I’ve found my self de-formalizing my prose because I feel it quickly becomes stuffy, inaccessible, and irrelevant. It seems to me that the place of “the writer” currently is to reach people of all socioeconomic backgrounds across a large segment of the world, not echo hallow sentiments in small and entrenched communities. The Society of Classical Poets is hopefully raising poetry to greater heights and opening it up to common people who find that prevailing modes of poetry nonsensical and dull, and again inaccessible and irrelevant.

      The Writer

      • Aditya Roy

        As a writer, one can express their ideas in any form of prose that suits them. However, the poems listed here are unlike counterculture lyric, haiku, limerick, mock poems, shape, and free verse poetry. They demonstrate immense skill in producing lyric and cohesiveness in thought through the use of innovative prosodic features and metrics, respectively; writing a basic explanation for them needs to be done by not only making the analysis accessible but, also slightly learned and comprehensive. Hitherto, all discussion on sonnets is done in a formal manner of writing, so I agree with the reader wholeheartedly, that being said, writing has to be made readable and understandable to prevent redundancy that is so common with “stuffy” formal prose. Notwithstanding, the excellent approach, the use of some phrases seems questionable such as ‘succinctly crystallized’ (I would prefer conflated) and ‘architecturally mirror’ (?).

  35. Natasha Singh

    Rabindranath Tagore…. An Indian writer….
    Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
    Where knowledge is free;
    Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
    Where words come out from the depth of truth;
    Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection:
    Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
    Where the mind is lead forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action–
    Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

    Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads!
    Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut?
    Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!
    He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground
    and where the pathmaker is breaking stones.
    He is with them in sun and in shower,
    and his garment is covered with dust.
    Put off thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!

    The poem ‘Leave This’ addresses the hypocrisy within our hearts in the name of religion. In our pursuit of God, we truly seem to be running away from Him.

    ‘Let Me Not Forget’

    If it is not my portion to meet thee in this life
    then let me ever feel that I have missed thy sight
    —let me not forget for a moment,
    let me carry the pangs of this sorrow in my dreams
    and in my wakeful hours.
    As my days pass in the crowded market of this world
    and my hands grow full with the daily profits,
    let me ever feel that I have gained nothing
    —let me not forget for a moment,
    let me carry the pangs of this sorrow in my dreams
    and in my wakeful hours.
    When I sit by the roadside, tired and panting,
    when I spread my bed low in the dust,
    let me ever feel that the long journey is still before me
    —let me not forget a moment,
    let me carry the pangs of this sorrow in my dreams
    and in my wakeful hours.
    When my rooms have been decked out and the flutes sound
    and the laughter there is loud,
    let me ever feel that I have not invited thee to my house
    —let me not forget for a moment,
    let me carry the pangs of this sorrow in my dreams
    and in my wakeful hours.

    This exquisite piece of poetry, ‘Let Me Not Forget’ expresses the melancholic emptiness behind missing the beloved. The lines are beautiful yet they carry spasms of distress.

    And many more….

    Try and the logophiles like me would definitely enjoy with mirth because words rearranged beautifully always fascinate the likes of us…

  36. Natasha Singh

    A good thesis when we mention the list but the fact that the greatest poems cannot be listed ,as there are innumerable languages in the world and the essence of a poem felt in its own language cannot be easily engrossed in a translation, cannot be ignored. Thanking you.

    • Nicholas

      Hitting the nail on its head! Incidentally, there are many more and better English poems than these listed. What is a great poem? What is a good poem? What is a classic poem? What is simply a brilliant poem? People tend to get fixated on classic poets.

    • Noah Edelson

      I disagree. While there are subtleties of semantics that evade translation and wordplay can be lost unless it is specifically explained outside of a poem, the truly great poems are universally transcendent. In my subjective opinion, I mean. And ALL poetry’s value is subjective in nature; so any metric necessarily involves the consciousness of the person reading a poem.

      Because all of the above poems on the top 10 list have been written by white men (excepting Lazarus, who is also white), it seems to me there is a sort of confirmation bias at work here. It is a pretty easy thing to forget that other cultures exist when one is steeped in the a given academic tradition. The author above seems to be heavily invested in his European progenitors’ literary traditions. I share much of that bias- regarded Blake, Dante, and Shakespeare as Holy Men. (I still do, but have extended my notion of Holy along various avenues. One example of Holiness: ‘that which does not privilege a particular inertial reference frame.’)

      It is also fairly typical to regard more modern poets as less profound because they may have recognition outside of academic cultures. I tend to regard some sermons as a kind of poem. If “Howl” is a poem, then “I have a Dream” is too. Both would be included in my personal top 10. I would be tempted to add Dr. Dre’s “N.W.A” in Straight Outta Compton, but I suppose Dr King’s “Dream” already fulfills the Black socialist bracket. I am partial to socialist poetry, I may as well admit it. Take for instance what George Orwell wrote in _Why I Write_, reflecting on a poem he wrote while recuperating from a Fascist bullet in the throat that he received while fighting in Spain (skipping the first half or so):

      But girl’s bellies and apricots,
      Roach in a shaded stream,
      Horses, ducks in flight at dawn,
      All these are a dream.

      It is forbidden to dream again;
      We maim our joys or hide them:
      Horses are made of chromium steel
      And little fat men shall ride them.

      I am the worm who never turned,
      The eunuch without a harem;
      Between the priest and the commissar
      I walk like Eugene Aram;

      And the commissar is telling my fortune
      While the radio plays,
      But the priest has promised an Austin Seven,
      For Duggie always pays.

      I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls,
      And woke to find it true;
      I wasn’t born for an age like this;
      Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?

      Speaking of dreams, this is my all-time favorite poem:

      Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly,
      fluttering hither and thither,
      to all intents and purposes a butterfly.
      I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly,
      unaware that I was myself.
      Soon I awakened, and there I was,
      veritably myself again.
      Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly,
      or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”
      ― Zhuangzi, (Chuang-tzu) (369 BCE to 286 BCE)

      ps: I hadn’t read that particular Wordsworth or Milton. Thank you!

  37. William

    I rather like the list, but I think there is some room for debate and discourse. With that being said, allow me to throw my favorite poem in the ring.

    “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    And you, my father, there on the sad height,
    Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
    Do not go gentle into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  38. Gage Edwards

    Smallest and Comforted,
    sitting on the rock,
    in the field.

    Insulated and alone,
    sitting in my room,

    Sleeping and burned,
    Gone and lost to the wind,
    not seen again.

    Chuckling and snickering,
    Taking my breath away,
    In my room.

    Wiggling and eating,
    In the garbage,
    Eat what they can get.

  39. Nicholas

    Definitely great poems. But what are the ‘greatest’? In my opinion not the best ever written. And these are for the English language. In German, Dutch, French and Afrikaans poems just as great or even better have been written

  40. Kevin Joyce

    I always liked Richard Cory, Winifred Owen’s “dulce et decorum est” and in a similar vein ” death of a ball turret gunner. All are kind of shocking, and some may feel cheap. But I think they are good.

    But I like them. I DO think you could pull out a Wadsworth and throw in an Emily Dickinson. ( and there are a lot of hers to consider)

    Frost likely has 4 poems worth considering. The two mentioned above as well as “out, out-” and ” mending wall”.

    Overall a great list

    • Kevin Joyce

      BTW… I know Wadsworth wrote one, and Wadsworth Longfellow wrote two…. but I had guessed you would catch my drift

  41. Fernando

    Genial me encantan los poemas cortos en ingles, me gustaria que uno de ustedes me ayude a escribir algunos poemas cortos cuánto me cobran?

  42. Etta Mae Kibby

    I enjoyed your list and your commentary on each poem. I ran into it looking for a poem that I memorized at least 60 years ago. I do not know who wrote it, do you?
    This is my memory of it.
    “Some look behind and say, Alas, alack!
    If only I could go back.
    Some look ahead and say , Ah then
    I will be happy then.
    But I, I look out on today,
    I clasp it close and kiss it’s radiant brow.
    Here in the perfect present let me stay
    For I am happy now. “

    • The Society

      I believe that this is the poem you are looking for:

      by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
      One looks behind him to some vanished time
      And says, Ah, I was happy then, alack!
      I did not know it was my life’s best prime —
      Oh, if I could go back!
      Another looks, with eager eyes aglow,
      To some glad day of joy that yet will dawn,
      And sighs, I shall be happy then, I know.
      Oh, let me hurry on.
      But I – I look out on my fair To-day;
      I clasp it close and kiss its radiant brow,
      Here with the perfect present let me stay,
      For I am happy now!

  43. Anamika

    This is definitely an amazing collection but I believe that everyone has a different perspective of analyzing a piece of poetry. So, coming up with a single meaning is not just and it often hinders the feelings with which a poets writes his poetry. Poems are worth feeling than understanding and no poem is great or the greatest its just the reader’s connection with it that makes it great.
    Moreover, I loved the collection as it was more about the truth of the world rather than some orthodox philosophy.

  44. SK Sharma

    How many different ways to describe just one fleeting facet ofGod’s Creation – life. And obversely Death. These significantly beautiful Poems and the import latent in them takes my mind right to the meaning imparted by the sculptures created on the walls of The Holy Temples of Angkor. Each Pilgrim visiting Angkor carries back as varied meanings from the Temples as any reader shall after making a serious endeavor of understanding these lovely pieces of literary art.

    Though these Poems and those Temples belong to entirely different time-frames in our Historical past, both underscore the beauty of God’s Creativity and its understanding by the human being, perhaps as He might have willed.

    My mind also goes to yet another time slot when visionaries such as Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato also threw light on virtues related to inner-bliss and well-being of humanity and creativity of our maker in order to facilitate a better understanding of the ethereal facets of our existence. And after that.

    Hope that we all individually as also collectively are able to make some tiny difference to the times that we all live in.

  45. nobodyinparticular

    Re: Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” commentary:

    Sometimes commentaries reflect the personal obsessions of the individual writing them far more than they do the poem itself. I believe that is what’s going on here. Robert Frost’s short, profound poem is about many different things and can have many different interpretations. But the last thing I see it as being about is the simple heroic narrative: making a difference in the world because the Hero Knows which is the Right Path to take.

    To me it’s a commentary on tremendous unknown complexity of the world around us and how an almost random minor decision or event leads one, over time to a vastly different and completely unpredictable future than one ever imagined for oneself.

    The individual at the crossroads is jejune, a immature youth or an innocent mind, inexperienced with life, who believes his clear choices, even ones make for shallow, almost random reasons, are always for the good or are always right, reflect deep intelligence and thought, and always have a strong impact on the world.

    The individual looking back on that early decision point in time is a more experienced and wiser man and understands the effect of randomness on human beings, creatures who always falsely try to force order and “narrative” (to use that self-important and egregious popular term in the way that is a bit more accurate), a soothing coherent self-lullaby onto ones’ life. As one ages and one learns, however, you start to see how really random and chaotic the world (and your own personal “life story”) is. One starts to get a bit more honest and clear-sighted. One starts to grasp that one’s neat little life story (I did *this* very clearly and consciously because of *that*) isn’t actually how things actually transpired: happenstance and random chance played a far greater role in one’s life than one’s personal (and, to be honest, immature) meaningful heroic narrative allowed one to admit. With experience and age, the ego starts to get over itself, and other, more relevant information than that allowed by one’s youthful personal self-absorbed heroic fairy tale, starts to seep in. Or, at least, that’s what happens if one is lucky and one’s mental maturity progresses in pace with one’s physical aging.

    The Road Less Traveled looks at a youthful decision-point, one of many, and sees how this rather light and ego-driven (I’ll be cool and do what others _don’t_ do) decision had echoing repercussions down the halls of time and made a tremendous difference on the narrator’s life. We aren’t told if the repercussions were good or bad (it’s the egotistic desire to believe one always chooses rightly, even when one is young and inexperienced that leads the reader to that conclusion). What we are told is that one minor, almost trivial decision had a tremendous effect on the writer’s life over time. It hints at the way little actions or choices can snowball as they roll forward into time and have tremendous effects. It’s not a warning to “choose wisely” because we can’t do that, really, at any time in life. We just haven’t enough information, except in the most overly simplistic of cases.

    And yet we try. We always strive to know more, to get an edge, to discover the secrets that will make “it all” make sense. That’s human nature, and results in some of the finest behavior and effects on society. But sometimes I do wonder if we’re striving in the right direction. As people mature, they start to see how precarious, unknown, and unpredictable the world and one’s life in it actually is. Life can turn on the drop of a can of soup in a grocery aisle. To me, Frost’s poem gently suggests the reader take a break from self-absorbed life-story narratives (or fairy tales, from one perspective) and start looking a bit more closely at how the world actually works. There may be something worth learning from that.

    • Gobbledygook

      Yes. This. So much this. We forgo pragmatism (and why not of course, it’s boring!) for loftiness; our head in the clouds filled with rabbit holes lit by the light of our own ideals and self involved interpretation. We come by it earnest if only by basic human nature but even moreso because we are thinkers, creators, dreamers, seekers of beauty and purpose and mystery- and all those things that make some of us to be perceived as a little weird and seemingly irrelevant. Pointless observation perhaps, as I lack any formal training whatsoever in the way of dictation of observation or rhetoric or what have you. I just love the music of word- or the attempt to happen upon a piece or compose something akin to the type of melodies that provoke a chill or a tear or a feeling in the pit of your stomach. Beautiful art. How weird of me to leave a comment like this.

  46. Gobbledygook

    The Road Not Taken seems to be an inadvertent inspiration or source for cause to pause and ponder in wonderment for some; A happy unintentional gift, to it’s now readers. A closer look, however, may reveal a question that begs to be unavoidable and sneeringly unanswerable at the readers expense. The way it is written romances us into false wonderment and sense of security about the choices we have made. however, there’s still the matter of: what about the Road not Taken? What about that sigh?
    I think it’s interesting how we analyze and have a need to interpret a deep meaning and we expect so much purpose from the writings of others. And that we actually find deep meaning in the poetry of others. It can bring healing to our souls even when not intended to do so. This poem actually originated as an ironic jest written for Frost’s friend Edward Thomas (with whom he would take frequent walks in the woods and without fail, Thomas would always grumble about choosing the wrong path or wrong way or wrong turn while they walked and talked. But Thomas’ personality and temperament was such that the he took the poem seriously as somewhat of a slight towards his inability to make decisions and make the right decisions that it affected his confidence about his own writings and seemed have an affect on his impending decision to fight in the war- even though Frost related to him the playfulness of spirit in which it was written). All of it is just intersting and it reveals something about the nature of humans in general. I wonder what Frost would have to say about the the influence and popularity and sheer endearment of his poem that was written out of playfulness.

  47. Hamilton Delany

    There must be at least 6 Keats poems which I prefer to the Urn. Autumn and/or Nightingale must be included in any top 10.

    These are all great poets and yet the superiority of Shakespeare is astounding. He is on a different level, inhabiting a different world, speaking a different language. Was he a man or an alien or a god? How the hell did he do it? Astonishing.

    • Ron Visco

      I respect your opinion, but allow me to point out that Nightingale is longer than 50 lines, and thus ineligible for the list.

  48. M

    “Where the mind is without fear
    and the head is held high,
    where knowledge is free.
    Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.
    Where words come out from the depth of truth,
    where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection.
    Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
    into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.
    Where the mind is led forward by thee
    into ever widening thought and action.
    In to that heaven of freedom, my father,
    ― Nobel Prize Winner Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali

  49. Ron

    I enjoyed the immense dialogue. Here’s one of mine:
    In interstices of contingency
    every task can find its mastery.
    So then the crisis unfolding in folding time
    discloses its wine and roses rhapsody.
    Ronald Thorpe Jorgensen

  50. Kieran Morford

    I must say that Columbus, by Joaquin Miller, is my favorite of all time.

    Behind him lay the gray Azores,
    Behind the Gates of Hercules;
    Before him not the ghost of shores,
    Before him only shoreless seas.
    The good mate said: “Now must we pray,
    For lo! the very stars are gone.
    Brave Admiral, speak, what shall I say?”
    “Why, say, ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’”

    “My men grow mutinous day by day;
    My men grow ghastly wan and weak.”
    The stout mate thought of home; a spray
    Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.
    “What shall I say, brave Admiral, say,
    If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
    “Why, you shall say at break of day,
    ‘Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!’”

    They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
    Until at last the blanched mate said:
    “Why, now not even God would know
    Should I and all my men fall dead.
    These very winds forget their way,
    For God from these dread seas is gone.
    Now speak, brave Admiral, speak and say”—
    He said: “Sail on! sail on! and on!”

    They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:
    “This mad sea shows his teeth to-night.
    He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
    With lifted teeth, as if to bite!
    Brave Admiral, say but one good word:
    What shall we do when hope is gone?”
    The words leapt like a leaping sword:
    “Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”

    Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,
    And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
    Of all dark nights! And then a speck—
    A light! A light! A light! A light!
    It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
    It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
    He gained a world; he gave that world
    Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!”

    • anon

      Great list, thanks.
      Sea Fever by John Masefield gives me goosebumps:

      „I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky…

      • Lucas

        Which do you choose??
        Good or bad, love or hate, anger or joy, happy or sad, heaven or hell, tears or smile pain or gain
        “I would pick the pain in the gain so I never forget how the game is being played
        Learn to love as much as I hate
        To every tears in my eye I put a smile in another person’s face
        Good or bad I don’t judge cause am not God
        Hell is a place but I pray I die save cause heaven is a place of joy and I don’t want to have everlasting sadness…… Make your poem with those words from the heart and see how deep the wound hurt……

      • Ron Visco

        I feel the same way. My wonderful 10th grade English teacher read it to our class and it gave me chills.

    • Ron Visco

      Ode to a Nightingale is truly great, but longer than 50 lines, so it doesn’t meet the criteria.

  51. Jaybo Hood

    Thanks for taking the time to write all of that out. You are clearly very knowledgable and passionate about poetry.

    *whispers* Just one thing though, they don’t have wild tigers in Africa.

    *even quieter* My favourite is The Jabberwocky.

    I’ll get my coat.

    • Mike

      Me too, but say it loud – jabberwocky rocks! Take your coat off and join me by the fire!

  52. Paul

    I’m sure everyone reading this has their own top ten, likely completely different from everyone else’s.

  53. Paul

    Thinking more about this, how could anyone who knows poetry at all list whom they think wrote the 10 greatest poems and leave out Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, ee cummings, Wallace Stevens, WS Graham, and other modern poets? Haven’t you been paying attention to what’s been going on in poetry since the 19th century?

  54. Ojo Emmanuel Olumide

    People *_names_*
    All like a _*game*_
    Cus all they _*say*_
    *Is lose or gain*

    Names are *_symbolic_*
    And some even *_diabolic_* ♂️

    *If you know, you know*

    *But ain’t basing on this* ♂♂♂

    People give themselves *_titles_* ☹
    Which they ain’t *_fit_*
    They say *_this_*
    But at the end, they don’t *_fulfill it_* *_
    Why give yourselves title_* ♂♂♂
    When you know *_inside_*
    You aren’t *_dim fit_*
    Lots of *_pretence everywhere_*
    In order to get their *_wants_*
    But at the *_end_*
    We don’t *_exist anymore_*

    *Rather than give yourself a name*
    *Rather than give yourself a title*
    *Rather than give yourself a post*
    *Why not let those who see you*
    *Give you as you dim fit*
    *_Cus what you portray on the inside_*
    *_Attracts what’s on the outside_*

    *_Remember the day you were born_*
    *_You didn’t chose your name_*
    *_But was given to you_*
    *_As you dim fit…_*
    *_By those who see you…_*
    *_By those who see your worth…_*
    *_And felt the mirth…_*

    “`*So as for me*“`

    I don’t wanna give myself a *~title~*
    I don’t wanna say *~this~*
    And ~*I don’t fulfill it*~

    But it’s your *_choice_* ☺
    To give as you *_dim fit_*
    Cus it’s what you see of *_me_*
    That I’ll portray to *_all_* ♂

    So take a *jotter*
    Inscribe with your *pen*
    And give a *name* Of what you *see*
    Cus it’s what I’ll *be*
    *To you*


    Remember *Emmanuel cares*☺

    Written by: *_OJO EMMANUEL OLUMIDE_*

    *_all by the inspiration of the HolySpirit_*

  55. Ojo Emmanuel Olumide

    *Which do you choose??*
    *Good or bad,*
    *love or hate,*
    *anger or joy,*
    *happiness or sadness,*
    *heaven or hell,*
    *tears or smile,*
    *pain or gain*

    Have a taste of *sadness*
    To know the value of *happiness*
    Cus you can’t *love*
    If you never *hate*

    Or *smile* ☺
    Without tasting *pain*
    In the midst of *anger*

    But there is always an insight of *joy*

    Whatever *bad*‍♂
    Or *good*
    None can *exist*
    Without the *other being dominant or successive*

    With lots of *tears*
    Cus *hell* is *near*
    And I don’t wanna go *there*
    Save *heaven*

    If only you could *hear*
    To avoid what’s *there*

    Inscribe in your *heart*♥
    *_All is here to take you there_* (heaven) cus it’s your *gain*

    Remember *Emmanuel cares*☺

    Written by: *_OJO EMMANUEL OLUMIDE_*

    *_all by the inspiration of the HolySpirit_*

  56. Frank Keenan

    My favourite poem is Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”. Wonderful, unique story and exquisitly constructed.



    • KH

      That truly is one facet of reality. Some of the poems in this list speak to it. Keats and Wordsworth both acknowledge it, urging us to hold on to ecstatic, in-the-flow moments that can live in us always. Lazarus urges us to compassion — recent challenge to that stance led me, at least, to consider the many humanitarian achievements of the 20thC (the dissolution of empires, the notion of civil rights for all, criminalizing the beating of women children & animals…). If we look only at the century’s faults we’ll be mired in despair, but there is actually much to build on and building is ongoing. Longfellow says: the present moment is where we live — don’t be stuck in longing for or regretting the past, nor in fearing or dreaming of the future; one can only make a little progress in the now, but one can do that, and it will give heart to others. All I’m getting at is — yes, what you write is true, and so are some other things, and some of these poets hold out a way to get to those too.

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  59. Butterknife

    None of these have edge, have a joker’s tone, have a being that is not sculpted to a monolith of plainness, or do they? It’s posh poetry birthed from the ridges of aristocracy or docile humanity. We desire fire, all you have to do is look in the mirror.

    • KH

      Edgy thought need not be conveyed in edgy words. Hope you will give them another shot, ignoring the form & listening to the content.

      At least three say, in various ways, “What, are you Stupid? you are stuck in trivialities when there is greatness to be seen and done.” A different set of three explores aspects of the inherent brutality of existence. One that purports to be about the soul is disputing the sinfulness of suicide. Another offers a counter to despair. At least one endorses transgressive action. Several represent a moment of exaltation with such vivid presence as to remind one, even in the dumps, that it’s possible.

      Thing is — these are mostly 19thC or earlier, a somewhat different culture, so one has to think beyond the surface. Blake’s Tyger for example relies on a gentleman’s literary education to catch the allusions to Icarus who dared to attempt flight, Prometheus who stole fire from heaven, Hephaestus (iron-worker) who tried to thwart Zeus, and Lucifer who challenged God — and also historical awareness of the time, viz. the terrible mob that overthrew the divinely-sanctioned earthly order in the French Revolution of 1789, year of the poem’s publication. Is that power — the tiger — also divinely sanctioned? Remember: today we think the democratic revolutionaries justified, but at the time that was not at all a consensus. The question of whether & when transgression is “right” is very much alive — and edgy — today.

  60. Rakesh Sardar

    Its not be good to compare with any poet to anyone, but Its 100000% true that no one can be near to Rabindranath Tagore.

    (If you don’t know the language then learn Bengali most beautiful language ever, sweetest language in the world). Its better than any other poet in the world.

    Thanks me letter

    • Wade

      I would have to agree that Bengali is much better than your butchery of the English language.

  61. Nathan w

    these poems are awsome pleas give me a responce i want to tell you my poem it is called roads

  62. Wade

    I am by no means a poetry buff, but of the poetry I have read my favorite is ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ by Oscar Wilde. Great list though, I recognized seven out of ten.

  63. Douglas Ronald BraytonII

    X~God came to me in a dream
    a vaporous image hot like steam with a bright luminous golden gleem. I was an Albatross lost in a sea of chaos
    S~spoke was his voice a trumpets noise and the whispers of a ghost
    the Angel was my Savior my maker my host
    E~ everyone was counted His palm the ocean his fingers the seas
    seven the number Heavened sentences blessed this message
    V~ veiled was the Mother wailed was the child nailed was the cross
    a snow white dove leads a wayward Albatross
    E~eternity was the taste of the clouds
    R~ red was the blood of the lamb Wet were the tears of the lost abandoned and fearful
    S~ speaking from the flames a burning snake screams my name
    I~ invited denied blighted we die incited we try
    silver tongue tied taut Spittle burst forth steamy and hot
    brimstone burns an image of rot
    U~ undying invincible invisible this principality of life
    S~ shall the savior deliver the lost Albatross
    caught in a storm of pain loss and chaos


  64. Douglas R Brayton II

    give it a try you will like it
    I end with no lie
    Lost no more in life’s awesome anonymous riot
    Now lay me down soothing soul so quiet
    As I bask with the comets and stars come night
    May my spirit float streamingly softly effortlessly light
    As I question the inevitable and Heaven and might
    To surmise it all ends in darkness this plight
    Arduous it seems
    this life of surprise delights romance and fights
    I succeed to no longer breathe in this earthly existence battle
    As it all unravels
    and drips to the bottom of my pitter patter heart rattle
    Summers end and Autumns frost brings these things
    Sun gleams on tears from cheeks as they stream
    Crossing my trembling lips they sting
    It seems my desires are embers from yesterday’s fires
    No longer to be in darkness be mired
    Dreaming of dying no Hearts beside me nothing but hate
    Screaming inside so hard my insides ached


  65. Richard Paulson

    On William Blake’s “Tiger” poem.

    Tiger Tiger, burning bright,
    In the forests of the night;
    What immortal hand or eye,
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    If the hand or eye is immortal, it could succeed in doing that.

    Tiger Tiger burning bright,
    In the forests of the night:
    What immortal hand or eye,
    Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

    If the hand or eye is immortal, it should be able to dare to do so.

    I suppose he means that the hand or eye can only be “immortal” if it did so. However he didn’t say that. Could he or dare he if he is immortal? Could he or dare he to become immortal?

    He could if the Tiger is viewed from a safe distance or in a cage. He dare not if he is before a wild Tiger while attempting to draw or paint it. He certainly is not likely to live long while attempting that.

    • PPaul O

      Your comment reveals a few confusions. “Framing” the fearful symmetry is talking about designing the organism, the tiger in this case. Being a “safe distance” from it or not is irrelevant.

      And what does immortality have to do with anything here? If someone designed a building, or a sculpture, or anything – how does that make that person immortal?

      I believe you’re conflating or confusing or mashing together several notions, neither of which have anything at all to do with any other notion.

      • Richard Paulson

        PPaul O,

        My comment does not have any confusions. You are giving the poem a meaning which it doesn’t have, and are not understanding me. Even what you are saying is not clear. What do you mean by “designing the organism”? I am just reading exactly what is written in Blake’s poem. If Blake meant for the poem to have “hidden meaning,” that’s fine, however, the meaning of the words must work on a surface level also, to be logical.

        Further, what makes you think he did not speak of “framing” the symmetry of the Tiger in the sense of actually capturing it in some form of artwork? If he did not, his meaning is unclear and therefore his verse is not even “good”. But if he does mean this, then of course, it is not good because he is not logically considering his words or meaning, but is simply being enamored with the sound of his own words because of its effect. That’s not enough to make a good poem. Speaking for effect in a poem is good but not if it doesn’t flow logically.

        And why would anyone not “dare” to frame the Tiger’s symmetry? Looking for hidden meaning without first following the clear surface meaning of words is just ignoring what he is actually saying. What he is actually saying, I proved to be without good sense. For he uses the word “immortal” pointlessly, for example.

        Not even your comments make sense, and I am not confusing anything. It is not I that used the word “immortal,” but I am just reading what is there in the poem, and proving that Blake is pointlessly using the word or not making sense with that word. One can just imagine any meaning he likes, however, what Blake is saying is just for effect, not because he has clearly comprehended what his own words are saying. That’s why I spoke to make my points sound funny (considering only the first and last verses), because it is funny. And yet people would imagine something so “profound” when it doesn’t even make sense properly on a surface level.

      • Richard Paulson

        PPaul O

        Actually, I was confused, and yet justifiably so. Perhaps by not taking the poem seriously enough. For Blake is speaking about God making the Tiger.

        In what distant deeps or skies.
        Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
        On what wings dare he aspire?
        What the hand, dare seize the fire?

        And what shoulder, and what art,
        Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
        And when thy heart began to beat,
        What dread hand? and what dread feet?

        What the hammer? what the chain,
        In what furnace was thy brain?
        What the anvil? what dread grasp,
        Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

        When the stars threw down their spears
        And water’d heaven with their tears:
        Did he smile his work to see?
        Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

        So all Blake is saying is stating the obvious then. God made the Tiger. But he is confusing me. I should have read it better, yet even then it doesn’t work for me. Why would it be a “dare” for an immortal God to make a Tiger? Of course God “could” frame or design him. And of course God could “dare” to make him. God is not so easily frightened.

        I read it superficially not knowing immediately that he was speaking of God throughout. But why did I make this mistake? Because I see that God is not awed or frightened by a Tiger. Blake wrongly then makes the Tiger approach the greatness of God.

        “On what wings dare he aspire?
        What the hand, dare seize the fire?”


        “What the anvil? what dread grasp,
        Dare its deadly terrors clasp!”

        Really now? What a tiny concept of God in this poem. No wonder I missed this. His “Tiger” is more terrible than the mightiness of God, so that it was a “dare” for God to make him. This sounds like exalting the creature over the Creator. So the poem is STILL not a good one. But I admit to you that I was blinded; and I see why. Because my concept of God is infinitely bigger than a Tiger.

        This is a poem that is apparently supposed to exalt God in his creation, however, it does the opposite in exalting the Tiger (the creation) rather than God.

  66. adsense hack

    Everything is very open with a clear clarification of the challenges.
    It was really informative. Your site is useful.
    Thank you for sharing!

  67. D. J. Irvine

    Fantastic collection of poems with a very thoughtful writeup. I couldn’t pick a favourite as I thought they were all very powerful. Do you post new and upcoming poets? Just wondered.

  68. Khushi Rahman

    Everything is very open with a clear clarification of the challenges.
    It was really informative. Your site is useful.
    Thank you for sharing!

  69. Rita Verbist

    What a tremendous discovery to have stumbled accidently over this website !

  70. Rita Verbist

    I discovered this site by sheer accident – will definitely follow up in the future.

  71. L.jerk

    Awesome assortment of poems with an attentive writeup. I was unable to pick a most loved as I suspected they were all incredible. Do you post new and up and coming writers? Just pondered.

  72. Khushi Rahman

    Everything is very open with a clear clarification of the challenges.
    It was really informative. Your site is useful.
    Thank you for sharing!…

  73. Rishi

    Dear Evan,
    I am a novice at poetry myself but fortunately I can admire the greatness of classics and love your list. I would, however, like to improve my own poetry and would be grateful if the classicalpoets society could help. If I could send you, or the society, a mail with my poetry attached and get a opinion on it privately I’d be very grateful.

    • The Society

      You have to be a Member to receive feedback. To become a Member, you have to purchase the newest Journal and email me the receipt. If you live somewhere, such as India, where it is expensive to ship, or if your income is very limited, you may make a $15 USD donation and receive Membership and a PDF of the Journal.

  74. Ars

    I wrote poems and this whole poem give me hope and passion. I really love it and it also help especially for those who don’t express their feeling by talking but writing.

  75. Alhanoof

    These are definitely not the 10 greatest poems ever written. I read poems in Arabic, they’re 10 times better, they have deeper meaning and they’re so so beautiful. I’m pretty sure there are better poems in other languages too! the list should’ve been called: “10 Greatest Poems Ever Written In English”. But thank you for the list.

  76. A. M. Mitchell

    I have a publication that cites the title of Wordsworths poem as “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud.” Not “Daffodils”.

    It would be great if someone could clarify as this is one of my favorites.

    • Ann Mitchell

      Also, I love the idea of the daffodils being a surprise to the poet and if they are in the title they are not the gift they should be if the title is “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”

  77. Ryan

    “The Road Not Taken” and “Daffodils” are two which I really love. All the poem are good. Thanks for sharing this list.

  78. Ian Digby

    I love these poems and they’re well chosen, as works in English. The heading ‘Greatest poems ever written’ is however myopic and embarrassing. What about the great Persian works by Rumi, Hafez et al? The countless masterpieces in dozens of other languages?

    • Mike Bryant

      And how embarrassing and short-sighted of YOU, Mr Digby, to be commenting in English, of all languages, when there are so many beautiful languages available! On my God!! And I find myself so utterly embarrassed that I am speaking in English as well. Enough of the self-loathing. Talk about nit-picking…

    • The Society

      Dear Ian Digby, as with any list, there are parameters. The list states in its opening paragraph: “the poems in this list are limited to ones originally written in the English language and which are under 50 lines.”

      -Evan Mantyk

  79. Anup

    The Tiger is the one of the best poem for me. This is very funny to read. But the actual meaning of this poem is so great.

  80. Bill Montague

    Falling in Love
    Falling in love
    is like jumping in the
    Cold open water.
    It’s impossible to
    Describe the feeling!
    But you know it
    When your in it.

    Bill Montague 4-17-2013


    This is a great list of eminent personalities in English Poetry. No doubt. However, I am shocked to find the absense of any mention about Sri Aurobindo. For those who are immersed in the world of poetry, it would be noteworthy to know that the well known Hindu mystic, author, philosopher, and yes poet, of the twentieth century, is omitted from this great list. Is it an act of deliberate exclusion? More likely, it is an oversight. I would rather hope it is the latter because poets are expected to harbor an inclusive, contemplative outlook by nature. Aurobindo wrote “Savitri – A Legend and a Symbol”, recognized as the longest poem in English literature. Its 24,000 lines are packed with words that convey beauty and power. While the subject matter of the poem may not deal with the mundane world, at least the style and language should have caught the attention of those in this august body. Let me quote few lines from the beginning of this epic composition for those who are new to his work:

    The Symbol Dawn

    IT WAS the hour before the Gods awake.
    Across the path of the divine Event
    The huge foreboding mind of Night, alone
    In her unlit temple of eternity,
    Lay stretched immobile upon Silence’ marge.
    Almost one felt, opaque, impenetrable,
    In the sombre symbol of her eyeless muse
    The abysm of the unbodied Infinite;
    A fathomless zero occupied the world.
    A power of fallen boundless self awake
    Between the first and the last Nothingness,
    Recalling the tenebrous womb from which it came,
    Turned from the insoluble mystery of birth
    And the tardy process of mortality
    And longed to reach its end in vacant Nought.
    As in a dark beginning of all things,
    A mute featureless semblance of the Unknown
    Repeating for ever the unconscious act,
    Prolonging for ever the unseeing will,
    Cradled the cosmic drowse of ignorant Force
    Whose moved creative slumber kindles the suns
    And carries our lives in its somnambulist whirl.
    Athwart the vain enormous trance of Space,
    Its formless stupor without mind or life,
    A shadow spinning through a soulless Void,
    Thrown back once more into unthinking dreams,
    Earth wheeled abandoned in the hollow gulfs
    Forgetful of her spirit and her fate.
    The impassive skies were neutral, empty, still.
    Then something in the inscrutable darkness stirred;
    A nameless movement, an unthought Idea
    BOOK I: The Book of Beginnings 2
    Insistent, dissatisfied, without an aim,
    Something that wished but knew not how to be,
    Teased the Inconscient to wake Ignorance.
    A throe that came and left a quivering trace,
    Gave room for an old tired want unfilled,
    At peace in its subconscient moonless cave
    To raise its head and look for absent light,
    Straining closed eyes of vanished memory,
    Like one who searches for a bygone self
    And only meets the corpse of his desire.
    It was as though even in this Nought’s profound,
    Even in this ultimate dissolution’s core,
    There lurked an unremembering entity,
    Survivor of a slain and buried past
    Condemned to resume the effort and the pang,
    Reviving in another frustrate world.
    An unshaped consciousness desired light
    And a blank prescience yearned towards distant change.
    As if a childlike finger laid on a cheek
    Reminded of the endless need in things
    The heedless Mother of the universe,
    An infant longing clutched the sombre Vast.
    Insensibly somewhere a breach began:
    A long lone line of hesitating hue
    Like a vague smile tempting a desert heart
    Troubled the far rim of life’s obscure sleep.
    Arrived from the other side of boundlessness
    An eye of deity peered through the dumb deeps;
    A scout in a reconnaissance from the sun,
    It seemed amid a heavy cosmic rest,
    The torpor of a sick and weary world,
    To seek for a spirit sole and desolate
    Too fallen to recollect forgotten bliss.
    Intervening in a mindless universe,
    Its message crept through the reluctant hush
    Calling the adventure of consciousness and joy
    CANTO I: The Symbol Dawn 3
    And, conquering Nature’s disillusioned breast,
    Compelled renewed consent to see and feel.
    A thought was sown in the unsounded Void,
    A sense was born within the darkness’ depths,
    A memory quivered in the heart of Time
    As if a soul long dead were moved to live:
    But the oblivion that succeeds the fall,
    Had blotted the crowded tablets of the past,
    And all that was destroyed must be rebuilt
    And old experience laboured out once more.
    All can be done if the god-touch is there.
    A hope stole in that hardly dared to be
    Amid the Night’s forlorn indifference.
    As if solicited in an alien world
    With timid and hazardous instinctive grace,
    Orphaned and driven out to seek a home,
    An errant marvel with no place to live,
    Into a far-off nook of heaven there came
    A slow miraculous gesture’s dim appeal.
    The persistent thrill of a transfiguring touch
    Persuaded the inert black quietude
    And beauty and wonder disturbed the fields of God.
    A wandering hand of pale enchanted light
    That glowed along a fading moment’s brink,
    Fixed with gold panel and opalescent hinge
    A gate of dreams ajar on mystery’s verge.
    One lucent corner windowing hidden things
    Forced the world’s blind immensity to sight.
    The darkness failed and slipped like a falling cloak
    From the reclining body of a god.
    Then through the pallid rift that seemed at first
    Hardly enough for a trickle from the suns,
    Outpoured the revelation and the flame.
    The brief perpetual sign recurred above.
    A glamour from unreached transcendences
    Iridescent with the glory of the Unseen,
    BOOK I: The Book of Beginnings 4
    A message from the unknown immortal Light
    Ablaze upon creation’s quivering edge,
    Dawn built her aura of magnificent hues
    And buried its seed of grandeur in the hours.
    An instant’s visitor the godhead shone.
    On life’s thin border awhile the Vision stood
    And bent over earth’s pondering forehead curve.
    Interpreting a recondite beauty and bliss
    In colour’s hieroglyphs of mystic sense,
    It wrote the lines of a significant myth
    Telling of a greatness of spiritual dawns,
    A brilliant code penned with the sky for page.
    Almost that day the epiphany was disclosed
    Of which our thoughts and hopes are signal flares;
    A lonely splendour from the invisible goal
    Almost was flung on the opaque Inane.
    Once more a tread perturbed the vacant Vasts;
    Infinity’s centre, a Face of rapturous calm
    Parted the eternal lids that open heaven;
    A Form from far beatitudes seemed to near.
    Ambassadress twixt eternity and change,
    The omniscient Goddess leaned across the breadths
    That wrap the fated journeyings of the stars
    And saw the spaces ready for her feet.
    Once she half looked behind for her veiled sun,
    Then, thoughtful, went to her immortal work.
    Earth felt the Imperishable’s passage close:
    The waking ear of Nature heard her steps
    And wideness turned to her its limitless eye,
    And, scattered on sealed depths, her luminous smile
    Kindled to fire the silence of the worlds.
    All grew a consecration and a rite.
    Air was a vibrant link between earth and heaven;
    The wide-winged hymn of a great priestly wind
    Arose and failed upon the altar hills;
    The high boughs prayed in a revealing sky.

    For the curious who wish to read the entire text of the poem, please click here:


  82. Sanya Singh

    These english poems are very good to read, i remember, few of them i learn when i was a kid of near about 9 or 10 years old. Thanks for sharing this, subscribed your blog for more updates.

  83. B. K. Neifert

    What if I really enjoy writing poetry like this? You said that Shakespeare’s Sonnet to Hamnet is “Pompous” “Arbitrary” and whatnot. Well, what if I really like to write poems in this style? Does that make me pompous? Maybe I like the style of poetry, and think modern poetry is full of hubris and arbitrariness.

    Frankly, the modern taste is a pissing mannequin. I think if poetry is rebellion, going back to the classical style is as much of a rebellion against the modern era as there can be. As I find modern poets Kitsch. Robert Frost’s poem is okay, yet according to modern literary analyses, the poem is just about taking a walk in the park, and does not mean anything about making a decision. That’s real literary theory going on right now. I think you ought to reconsider this idea that Shakespeare is stale. There’s nothing stale about him. If you’d just read him and understand he’s singing about the death of his son—who probably died while courting a woman, and died because he was black—then we wouldn’t be sitting here calling his praise to his son arbitrary. It even mentions how Hamnet will be immortalized in verse.

    For a classical society, there’s not much class.

  84. Supriya

    Isn’t it beautiful just to read this. and your analysis is just what we needed next!
    Beautiful work Evan!
    thank you for taking time to do this!

  85. Mukesh Kumar

    This is definitely an amazing collection but I believe that everyone has a different perspective of analyzing a piece of poetry. So, coming up with a single meaning is not just and it often hinders the feelings with which a poets writes his poetry. Poems are worth feeling than understanding and no poem is great or the greatest its just the reader’s connection with it that makes it great.

  86. Gloria O'Brien

    What an enhancing afternoon, to get some ideas, learn some history and feel such enlightenment with the poem about daffodils. Very good..GO

  87. Liyana Anam

    Isn’t it beautiful just to read this. and your analysis is just what we needed next!
    Beautiful work Evan!
    Thank you so much for taking time to do this!

  88. Nirbhya Singh

    Though all are the great poems but what seems to me is of Robert Frost. His poems always appeal me and especially this poems ‘The Road Not Taken”. When you read this poems it feels that it is urging us to follow our dreams the roads you afraid to go on while you must. And this line “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference”, is all the courage and motivation.

  89. Asad Ali

    “I absolutely loved reading this post about the 10 greatest poems ever written. As a lover of literature, I appreciate the care and consideration that went into selecting these works. Each poem on this list is a masterpiece in its own right, and it’s wonderful to see such a diverse range of writers and styles represented. From the epic scale of Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’ to the intimate beauty of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Because I could not stop for Death,’ these poems have the power to move, inspire, and transform us. Reading them is like taking a journey through the history of human experience, and I feel privileged to have been introduced to these incredible works. Thank you for sharing this list – it’s a true treasure trove for any lover of poetry.”

  90. kurye

    Thank you for showcasing the beauty of the natural world through your blog. Your vivid descriptions and stunning photography transport me to breathtaking landscapes and awaken a deep appreciation for our planet’s wonders.

  91. Abbas

    I absolutely loved reading this post about the 10 greatest poems ever written. As a lover of literature, I appreciate the care and consideration that went into selecting these works. Each poem on this list is a masterpiece in its own right, and it’s wonderful to see such a diverse range of writers and styles represented. From the epic scale of Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’ to the intimate beauty of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Because I could not stop for Death,’ these poems have the power to move, inspire, and transform us. Reading them is like taking a journey through the history of human experience, and I feel privileged to have been introduced to these incredible works. Thank you for sharing this list – it’s a true treasure trove for any lover of poetry.

  92. 지투지벳

    This sonnet is not only a celebration of the beloved’s enduring beauty but also serves as a testament to the power of poetry itself, as it immortalizes the beloved’s beauty in the verses of the poem.


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