The Ten Best Poems of All Time
What is poetry and how do we define what makes a poem great? According to Merriam-Webster, poetry is “writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm.”
National Poetry Month may be nearing its end, but at The Strand, we can never get enough poetry. If you’re like us, you’ll enjoy our attempt to list the top ten poems of all time. These poems are in no particular order and we decided to limit one poem per poet, otherwise we might have never narrowed it down to ten. Let us know if we left out one of your favorites!
“Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314) by Emily Dickinson
Though the word “bird” is used just once, the creature practically flies out of the page when reading this poem. Choosing just one Dickinson poem for this list was no easy task, but given everything happening in the world right now, her poem centered on hope seemed just right.
The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
This poem is regarded by many as the most influential poem of the 20th century. Although it was first published nearly 100 years ago, this beautiful reflection on mental illness and its effect on relationships still resonates in 2021.
Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
If having its own Google Doodle isn’t proof that a poem has officially become worthy to land on this list, then we don’t know what is. Since its publication in 1978, the poem has inspired artists and activists around the world.
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare
Any number of Shakespeare’s poems could claim a spot on this list, but none have been quoted and remembered quite like this one. It is simple and straightforward, while also managing to be every bit as romantic and touching as any of Shakespeare’s works.
O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman
While O Captain! My Captain! is certainly a beautifully written poem, it’s also remembered because of its historical context. Written as a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, the poem celebrates his leadership and success in ending The Civil War.
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
We had such a hard time choosing just one of Poe’s poems that, well, we cheated and made a list of his top ten poems! For this list, we decided that The Raven was most deserving of a spot, since it’s his most well-known and referenced poem. I mean, the poem has a movie and a NFL team named after it!
Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas
In this poem, Thomas challenges the common idealism in dying peacefully. Rather, in Do not go gentle into that good night, Thomas begs his father to fight for every last breath.
i carry your heart with me by e.e. cummings
One of the most famous poems by e.e. cummings, i carry your heart with me is the love poem of all love poems. His stylistic omission of capital letters and proper punctuation seen here is an aspect that many contemporary poets have since adopted in their own work.
Power by Audre Lorde
Lorde wrote this poem acquittal of the officer who, in 1973, shot and killed an unarmed Black boy named Clifford Glover. In this piece, Lorde chooses to abandon the typical constraints of poetry to provide a factual and detailed description of the case. This heartbreaking poem highlights a problem we sadly still see all too often in America.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Another poet who easily could have several poems on this list, we chose The Road Not Taken for its popularity despite being one of the most misquoted poems of all time.