The world is full of great creations. From awe-inspiring paintings to poems that connect to the heart. So in this celebration of creativity, we decided to make a list of some of the most famous short poems ever written!
Do note that this article has famous short poems and not all the poems, so brilliant pieces like Song of Myself by Walt Whitman or The Wasteland by T.S Elliot are not included.
With that said, let’s get into the list and look at the 11 most famous short poems that you need to read. Let’s see how many you have read before.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
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, 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.
The most famous American piece of poetry in the world, The Road Not Taken, in many ways defines English poetry. From the beginner reader to the most prolific poet, everyone knows about this poem.
The Road Not Taken is about making a choice and moving ahead in life rather than just wasting your time thinking about the consequences. It is about the permanent presence of regret, no matter what you choose.
One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster. Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn’t hard to master. Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster. I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went. The art of losing isn’t hard to master. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. —Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident the art of losing’s not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
One Art is a poem about coping with loss but in a very blunt way. Bishop is very direct and unaffected by loss, as she teaches people how to “practice” losing.
The poet turns this deeply impactful event into something that one can “master.” This contrast between the emotion and the way the poetess is talking about it makes this poem so unique.
Because I Could Not Stop for Death
Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality. We slowly drove – He knew no haste And I had put away My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility – We passed the School, where Children strove At Recess – in the Ring – We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – We passed the Setting Sun – Or rather – He passed Us – The Dews drew quivering and Chill – For only Gossamer, my Gown – My Tippet – only Tulle – We paused before a House that seemed A Swelling of the Ground – The Roof was scarcely visible – The Cornice – in the Ground – Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet Feels shorter than the Day I first surmised the Horses' Heads Were toward Eternity –
How could we talk about the greatest English poems ever written and not include one by Emily Dickinson? Almost all of her poems can qualify for this list.
But Because I Could Not Stop for Death stands apart from the rest. It deals with the subject of death, personifies it, and then presents it as a gentleman.
The poem deals with the concept of death and presents a completely different light on it. A deeply profound and thoughtful poem.
Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
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, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I'll rise. Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops, Weakened by my soulful cries? Does my haughtiness offend you? Don't you take it awful hard ’Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines Diggin’ in my own backyard. You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise. Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise That I dance like I've got diamonds At the meeting of my thighs? Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise Up from a past that’s rooted in pain I rise I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.
Perhaps the most famous modern American poem, Still I Rise by Maya Angelou is a powerful poem that will charge you up.
Impactful lines, powerful metaphors, and an intense, contagious passion; that’s how you can describe the poem “Still I Rise.”
The Tyger by William Blake
Tyger Tyger, 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, & what art, Could twist the sinews of thy heart? And when thy heart began to beat. What dread hand? & 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? Tyger Tyger burning bright, In the forests of the night: What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Probably every one of us has read The Tyger in middle school. It is one of the most recognizable English poems ever written. From the different spelling of “tiger” to the mythological metaphor, there are many interesting things about this poem.
The Second Coming by W.B Yeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Perhaps the most famous poem by W.B Yeats, “The Second Coming” is about the arrival of Christ but in a very different and devastating way. Horrific scenes, apocalyptic setting, and a deep message, that’s what you get in this poem.
Do Not Go Gentle into the 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.
Dylan Thomas was one of the most influential poets of our time and his works have enjoyed an unending popularity in pop culture as well.
“Do Not Go Gentle Into the Good Night” is a poem that many may have heard in the movie Interstellar, but this magnificent poem about the will to keep fighting has been popularized way before that.
I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud by William Wordsworth
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.
The classic romantic poem that has ruled the English books of all middle schoolers. I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth. Sweet, simple, but powerful and memorable, we could not skip this poem from this list.
If by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: If you can 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!
If by Rudyard Kipling is a powerful poem that speaks to the readers rather than the readers reading it. Written as if the poet is talking to his son, it tells us what it takes to be a strong person. Read the poem and you’ll find out how motivational the poem is.
Shall I Compare Thee by William Shakespeare
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date; Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimm'd; And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm'd; But thy eternal summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st; Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st: So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
William Shakespeare has to be on the list when it is about the greatest poems ever written. The selection of this poem is based on the popularity of it, but many other works of the poet can be included as well.
A Psalm of Life by H.W Longfellow
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 to-morrow Find us farther than to-day. 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! 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.
A Psalm of Life is a beautiful poem that would make anyone love life and all of its struggles. Longfellow does a wonderful job of delivering the message in a very simple way.
Without the use of complex words or metaphors, Longfellow delivers a profound message with just a few lines.