20 Top Poems Of All Time: Best Poems In English

Poetry has been used to communicate thoughts and feelings since ancient times, and today it continues to serve as a means of self-expression for many people.

Through the ages, many great poets and writers have emerged and written poems that stood through the storms of time.

The following article lists the 20 top poems of all time that survived the storms and left the world in awe.

While some of the top poems of all time listed below are older classics, others date from more recent times. But if there’s one thing they share, they’re all fantastic reads and indeed great poems!

Here’s a quick look at 20 top poems of all time we’ve handpicked that won’t only stick with you long after you’ve read them but will also inspire generations to come.

best poem
Best poems of all time

The Road not taken By Robert Frost (1874-1963)

The road not taken is a poem written in 1915. This poem is not only one of the most well-known poems in the world, but it also contains multiple meanings and can be interpreted in different ways 

While it could be interpreted as the difficulty or uncertainty one faces when stuck between two decisions, it’s also popularly interpreted as rugged individualism, that is, thinking differently from others. 

Here’s a snippet from this great poem…

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And 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,”

The New Colossus By Emma Lazarus(1849 – 1887)

Published in 1883, the new Colossus was, according to some, the first poem ever that talked about and made sense of the statue of liberty. 

Here’s a preview

“… 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 …”

Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?  By Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

As one of the greatest writers whose works have survived the storms of time, Our list of top poems of all time isn’t complete if we don’t include one of Shakespeare’s works.

And although “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” is the 18th of a 154 sonnet collection, this particular piece is extremely exquisite and has been a sensation in the poetry world.

Here’s a quick look at this great poem

“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; …”

IF  By  RUDYARD KIPLING (1865–1936)

Written in 1985, “IF” is an inspirational poem from a father to his son about the attitudes one should have towards life. This great poem incorporates the ups and downs of life alongside how to react to it. 

The below line is the most popular line of this great poem and is even written on the player’s entrance at Centre Court Wimbledon in England.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
  And treat those two impostors just the same

Here’s a snippet of the poem

“… 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!”

The Waste Land By T.S Eliot (1888 –1965)

This poem is considered one of the most important poems of the 20th century, written in 1922. Divided into 5 sections, this great poem is popular for its oddity as it doesn’t follow most poetry styles.

This poem tells the story of London after the first world war about the disturbing loss and the war’s social, emotional, and psychological effects upon the then-current society.

“April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers.…”

Ode to a Nightingale By John Keats (1785 – 1821)

Although he died in his prime, the poems written by John Keats are not only amazingly beautiful but have also endured the test of time.

The ode to a Nightingale an amazingly great poem is an ode, and it discusses the speakers’ mixed feelings of joy, melancholy, and envy of the nightingale’s life as opposed to human mortality. 

Keats expressively compares a nightingale’s lack of negativities in life, like sorrow, exhaustion, etc., to humans who have to face all these negativities.

“Darkling I listen; and, for many a time

I have been half in love with easeful Death,

Called him soft names in many a mused rhyme,

To take into the air my quiet breath;

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,

To cease upon the midnight with no pain,

While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad

In such an ecstasy!

Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—…”

Related Poem; Fragrance of Tranquility

Still I Rise  By Maya Angelou (1928 -2014)

Recognized for her popular autobiography piece “I know why the caged bird sings” – Maya Angelou is one of those powerful world-famous writers who used first narratives in her works.

The great poem “Still I Rise” was published in 1978. In the poem, the speaker talks about how no matter how tough it gets, she’ll never relent and will always and still rise again!

“…You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns…”

Phenomenal Woman By Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)

Formerly published with her collection “Still I Rise” in 1978, the phenomenal woman was later published in the “Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women” in 1995.

This infamous top poem from Maya Angelou projects a self-confident woman who takes pride in her identity and every aspect of herself. This great poem continues by implying that beauty radiates from within and not from how others perceive it.

“I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,   

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.   

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.   

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes…”

The Raven By Edgar Allan (1809-1849)

Like Maya Angelou, Edgar Allan is one of these powerful writers who wrote poems in the first person narrative, although he died in his prime. Most of Allan’s poems are usually centered around grief, emotional loss, and healing scars, as he’s someone who experienced emotional turmoil.

The Raven, one of his most famous written pieces, was published in 1845, and the speaker expresses his traumas and scars caused by the loss of a beloved one.

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

 Only this and nothing more.…” 

Annabel Lee By Edgar Allan Poe(1809 – 1849)

“Annabel Lee” is another of Edgar Alan’s poems and is the last one he wrote before he died in 1849 from tuberculosis. 

And like his style, this poem was written in the first person narrative and talked about the death of Annabel lee – a beautiful young woman who was the speaker’s lover.

“It was many and many a year ago,

In a kingdom by the sea,

That a maiden there lived whom you may know

By the name of Annabel Lee;

And this maiden she lived with no other thought

Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child….”

Ozymandias By Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

Ozymandias was written in 1817 by Shelley, one of the major English romantic poets.

But Contrary to his usual romantic writing style,  Ozymandias, which happens to be his most known poem amongst his poems, isn’t a romance poem.

But rather, this great poem is a sonnet that leans more toward the political and social theme and touches a little on humanity’s pride

“…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…”

The Lady of Shalott (1832) By Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892)

The Lady of Shalott” is a worldwide famous piece written by the romantic poet Tennyson in 1842.

This fantastic poem is a popular ballad (a poem that tells a short story) that creatively tells the story of a cursed isolated woman on the island of Shalott. The lady of Shalott is often depicted as a representation of the writer’s solitary life.

Take a sneak peek at this great poem

“On either side the river lie

Long fields of barley and of rye,

That clothe the wold and meet the sky;

And thro’ the field the road runs by

To many-tower’d Camelot;

The yellow-leaved waterlily

The green-sheathed daffodilly

Tremble in the water chilly

Round about Shalott.…”

Jabberwocky By Lewis Carroll (1832–1898)

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, an infamous nonsensical fiction writer, was written in 1871.

As Lewis is a great nonsensical writer, Jabberwocky, one of his great poems, naturally falls under nonsensical literature.

Nonsense literature is a genre of literature that involves using nonsensical words or words that a reader would not understand alongside meaningful words. It is popularly used as a humorous element in literary texts.

While Jabberwocky is a ballad, the use of nonsense words like jubjub, frumious, and so on wouldn’t allow one to understand this poem fully. However, still, it’s a very pleasant read as the nonsensical words are humorous.

“Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII By Pablo Neruda

One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII’ by Pablo Neruda is a great poem that was originally written in Spanish before it was translated to English by Mark Eisner.

Published in 1959, This poem is a sonnet that was dedicated to the writer’s wife and spoke about the speaker’s unrefined and deep love for his love

“I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,   

or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:   

I love you as one loves certain obscure things,   

secretly, between the shadow and the soul.…”

Related love poem : Roses are Red

A Bend In The Road Poem By Helen Steiner

Do you Remember the popular bend in the road poem by Helen Steiner Rice in the 1980s? 

Probably not, but this poem was one of the few poems in the modern era to give people a reason to keep moving and fight for success 

Here’s a snippet of this great poem.

The road will go on and get smoother
And after we’ve stopped for a rest,
The path that lies hidden beyond us
Is often the best path

So rest and relax and grow stronger
Let go, and let God share your load,

People By D. H. Lawrence (1885 – 1930)

The great poem “people,” written by Lawrence in the first person narrative, mainly reflects modernity. This piece talks about industrialization and its effects on people.

“The great gold apples of night

Hang from the street’s long bough

Dripping their light

On the faces that drift below,

On the faces that drift and blow

Down the night-time, out of sight…”

Song of Myself (1892 version)

Even though this song was not given the name “song of myself” till 1881, it has been published since 1855.

This top poem of all time by Whitman explores all catalog of life, and the speaker talks about his constant search for boundaries – a classical epic

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air…”

O Captain! My Captain! By Walt Whitman

This great poem and one of Whitman’s masterpieces was a heart-touching elegy written to commemorate President Abraham Lincoln’s death in 1865.

As opposed to the joyful atmosphere that was supposed to take place after the end of the American civil war, the poem depicts utter sorrow and sadness the American populace was thrown into due to the loss of a great dead captain – President Abraham Lincoln

” 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…”

I carry your heart with me(I carry it in] By E. E. Cummings ( 1894 – 1962)

Recognized as one of the most important poets in the modern era, Cumming wrote a volume of poetry titled  “complete poems” from  1904 – 1962. In this volume of poetry, his most known love poem, “I carry your heart with me( I carry it in) ” was published in 1952.

In this great poem, the speaker implies that his unnamed lover’s heart is infused with his, and whatever personal decision he makes is influenced by her best interest.

“I carry your heart with me(I carry it in

my heart)I am never without it(anywhere

I go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

I fear

no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet)i want

no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you…”

My Shadow By Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894)

Published in 1885, this top poem of all time is written in the first narrative. It is a straightforward poem written from a child’s perspective.

Because of the simplicity of this great poem, it’s very easy for anyone to read, especially children. And as it discusses the joy a child finds in his own shadow; even an adult could relive joyful moments reading this piece.

A peek at this poem…

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

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

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

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

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Yusirat Oyetunji


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