Top 20 Famous Poems: Inspiring Poems For Your Next Essay

Are you looking for famous poems to study for your next essay? Then, check out these top 20 poems to inspire your next writing project.

Poetry has a way of capturing human emotion and conveying it in the written word through rhyme and meter. Many famous poets have made their mark on literature worldwide, writing everything from love poems to nonsense poems that explore the way words can work together to create verse.

Taking a closer look at famous poems can help to truly understand the impact that poetry has had. Here are 20 works of famous poetry that have impacted the world of literature.

1.“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Still I Rise” is in the third poetry collection by American poet Maya Angelou. This poem pays homage to the human spirit even as it overcomes discrimination and hardship. To write, Angelou tapped into her experiences as a black American woman.

In the poem, Angelou talks bout how others have downplayed her, her accomplishment, and her people, trying to break her spirit. And yet, she rises above these problems to find success.

“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.”

2. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

Written in 1922, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” uses imagery, personification, and repetition to create a memorable poem. It displays iambic tetrameter and appears on the surface to have a simple meaning. This poem is distinctive in how simple it appears, yet how well it holds to the meter and rhyme scheme. Simplicity and accuracy are not easy to attain.

“Whose woods these are I think I know. 
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.“

3. “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

Perhaps one of the most commonly-studied poems in American literature, “The Road Not Taken,” talks about a young man traveling through the forest when he comes to a fork in the road. He chooses the “one less traveled by” and states it has made all the difference. The final lines of this poem have become part of modern society, showing up in movies, commercials, and graduation speeches every year.

Many people know the final lines of this poem, even if they do not know that they came from a famous American poet. The poem’s lines are now part of over 400 book titles or subtitles, and that fact alone, combined with its general popularity, earns it a spot on this list.

“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.”

4. Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

Perhaps one of his most famous love poems, Sonnet 18, starts with one of Shakespeare’s most iconic lines. As he compares his lady love to a summer’s day, hearts swoon, and romantics take note.

Sonnet 18 follows the 14-line structure of most English sonnets. It has three quatrains and a couplet and follows iambic pentameter. The poem’s romantic lines make it a favorite to quote to an object of affection.

“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.”

5. “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas

This famous poem by Dylan Thomas is read at two out of every three funerals. It captures the feelings brought on by death and highlights how people who love someone want them to fight against the reality of the end of life.

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” is particularly popular because it sounds so beautiful when read aloud. Thomas got much of his income from working on the radio, and as such, he learned the power of the spoken human voice. This understanding is reflected in the cadence of his verses.

“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.”

6. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth

Also known as “Daffodils,” this famous poem from William Wordsworth was written in the early 1800s. It took its inspiration from a walk Wordsworth took with his sister around Glencoyne Bay, where the two came upon a large field of daffodils.

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” is popular due to its rich imagery. When someone reads it, they can picture the daffodils dancing on the hill. However, unlike other famous poems, it does not necessarily have a double meaning but is simply a tribute to something beautiful in nature.

“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.”

7. “How Do I Love Thee?” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning via Wikipedia, Public Domain

How Do I Love Thee” is the title of Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This romantic poem indicates that the different ways the speaker loves the object of her affections simply cannot be counted.

Throughout the poem, Browning exudes her passionate love for her husband. She even indicates that her love fills the quiet moments that happen in a home when two people live together. It follows the traditional abba, abba, cd, cd, cd sonnet rhyme scheme.

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.”

8. “She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron

This short, lyrical poem follows the iambic tetrameter pattern. It was written in 1814 by Lord Byron, who was inspired by Anne Beatrix Wilmont, his first cousin’s wife when he saw her at a party. “She Walks in Beauty” was put to music by Isaac Nation and is considered an excellent example of Romanticism in poetry.

This poem is on the list of famous poetry because of how many times it has been quoted. It has references in The Philadelphian, television shows like M.A.S.H., Bridgerton, and White Collar, among others.

“She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.”

9. “The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot

Considered one of the most influential poems of the 20th century, this poem has dissonance that mirrors what Eliot felt was the fracture of his time. Even though it was written for the 20th century, it still holds value in modern society when society still feels quite disjointed.

Throughout the lines of this poem, Eliot explores his disgust at the state of society following World War I. “The Waste Land” explores the thought of spiritual emptiness, which is what Eliot believed he saw in the world around him.

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

10. “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

Considered one of the first poems written in America, “The Raven” holds a special place in literature. This poem is considered one about grief, showing several examples of onomatopoeia with the raven tapping and rapping on the chamber door.

The repetition in “The Raven” drives the reader towards the end of the poem, where the author quotes the final “nevermore.” The death of his wife, Virginia, in the event that likely triggered the poem because of Poe’s grief over the loss of his wife.

“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 some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.’”

11. “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll was a novelist, but he often used poetry in his novels. “Jabberwocky” is a nonsense poem that was part of Carroll’s 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass. It tells the story of killing a mythical creature named “the Jabberwock.” In the book, Alice finds the poem in a book when she visits the Red Queen.

With so many unknown words, “Jabberwocky” confuses even Alice in the book. The poem is in ballad style, an exciting way to study the style with nonsensical words. Yet it leaves many unanswered questions, which fits the world of Wonderland that Carroll is trying to create.

“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”

12. “O Captain My Captain” by Walt Whitman

“O Captain, My Captain” is a poem that shows an extended metaphor style. Whitman wrote it in 1865 after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The poem is a tribute to Lincoln and his impact on the country during such a pivotal time in history.

In the three-stanza poem, Whitman compares Lincoln to a ship’s captain. Whitman also uses the literary device of juxtaposition to show the difference between the victory the country was experiencing and the death of its leader, who could not enjoy the victory. In the final stanza, he uses personification when talking about the shores, potentially representing the masses of people welcoming the ship, not knowing that the captain is slain.

“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.”

13. “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

Invictus” is an important poem in British literature written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley. Its final quatrain is the most famous of the piece, indicating that each master the fate of their soul.

Henley battled tubercular arthritis throughout his life, diagnosed at just 12 years of age. This painful disease was challenging to live with, and he was in the hospital for the amputation of his knee when he wrote “Invictus.” Knowing the personal trials, the author was dealing with makes the poem even more inspiring to the reader.

“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.”

14. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is another famous piece by T.S. Eliot. It was his first professionally-published poem, and literary critics believe it marked the initiation of the shift between Romantic verse and Modernism.

The poem looks at the psyche of a modern man, who is simultaneously eloquent but emotionally stilted. In the poem, the speaker indicates he wants to reach out to his love interest, only to feel he cannot do so. What follows is a monologue that laments the lack of emotional connection that the author can create. Looking for more famous poems, check out our list of Mary Oliver poems.

“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.”

15. “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost

Poet laureate Robert Frost has another short poem that is among the most famous in literature. “Fire and Ice” discusses the end of the world using an untraditional rhyme scheme. It asks whether the world will end in an inferno or an ice storm.

Some literary scholars believe “Fire and Ice” were inspired by Dante’s Inferno, while others claim a conversation with astronomer Harlow Shapley was the basis. In the end, Frost wrote a poem that did not draw any conclusion about how the world will end but instead left the idea up to the reader.

“Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.”

16. “Every Day You Play” by Pablo Neruda

Not all of the poets on this list come from American or English literature. For example, Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda was from Chile and won the Prize for his contributions to literature. He was known for his ability to produce poems full of deep passion, even when talking about everyday things.

Every Day You Play” is a romantic poem that implies sensuality and references flowers while talking about the love interest. It contains one of Neruda’s most famous literary lines, “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”

“My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
Until I even believe that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.
I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”

17. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson

“Because I Could Not Stop for Death” is an elegy poem by Emily Dickinson. The six-stanza poem is written as a personal encounter with Death, a male character who drives a carriage. It indicates the speaker is not afraid of Death, which is a kind companion on this final journey.

This poem is divided into quatrains with an abcb rhyming pattern. The drive-in in the story symbolizes Dickinson’s life, and eventually, Death takes her into the afterlife. The final stanza, in which the speaker is now dead, is more abstract than the rest of the poem. If you are interested in learning about poems, learn the answer to the question is Dr. Seuss poetry.

“Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves— 
And Immortality.”

18. “If-” by Rudyard Kipling

Though he is more famous for his novels, including The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling was also a skilled poet named English Nobel laureate for his work. “If-” is, perhaps, his most famous poem. The work is written to serve as parental advice to Kipling’s son, John, advocating for him to look beyond what other people think of him and to make the most out of life’s difficult situations.

Each couplet in the poem starts with the word “if.” it expresses its meaning clearly, serving as a mantra to live by, which may have been Kipling’s goal. Throughout the lines, Kipling gives practical advice for dreaming and planning while keeping one’s head grounded in realistic goals.

“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;”

19. “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow via Wikipedia, Public Domain

Longfellow is often revered as one of the most influential American poets, and “Paul Revere’s Ride” is one of his most famous pieces. While this poem does not have much literary analysis because it tells the tale of Revere’s famous ride, its regular rhyme and measure give the impression of a horse galloping through the towns.

Through this poem, Longfellow memorialized Paul Revere’s famous ride. He received inspiration from a tour of Boston he took, giving him the chance to see many of the sights of the famous day for himself. He did take some poetic license in his work, but his line “one, if by land, and two, if by sea” immortalized the signal lanterns that were part of the historic event.

“Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.”

20. “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ozymandias” is a sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley, a 19th-century English Romantic poet. The poem received its inspiration from the Rameses II statue on display at the British Museum during Shelley’s time. It warns against hubris and arrogance, which are common in great leaders.

The sonnet uses iambic pentameter. It showcases the sad image of a fallen statue that once stood to head the greatness of the Pharaoh. Where once a mighty king ruled the land, nothing is left but a decaying, wrecked statute. To learn more, check out our round-up of the best 10 concrete poems!

“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.”