- 01. 1. Classic Poetry: Homer, The Iliad & The Odyssey
- 02. 2. Willian Shakespeare And Poetry
- 03. 4. Edgar Allan Poe, the Gothic Poet
- 04. 5. Maya Angelou, The Heart Of Modern America
- 05. 6. Oscar Wilde, The Irish Poet
- 06. 7. Walt Whitman, A Humanist
- 07. 8. Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Romantic Spirit
- 08. 9. John Milton, The English Civil Servant
- 09. 10. T.S Eliot, Noble Prize Winner
- 10. The Most Famous Poems
- 11. The Most Famous Love Poems
- 12. Do You Want To Learn Poetry?
Humanity has been writing poems since the ancient time of the Greeks. It is a writing genre that has passed the test of time and it is still very popular today.
Like any literary genre, it has evolved differently across the planet, from the classic Greek prose of Homer and the Odyssey to Japan's most famous haikus poet, Matsuo Basho.
The Epic Of Gilgamesh was written in Sumerian more than 7000 years ago. It is, to this day, the oldest piece of literature ever found.
Poetry is a literary genre that goes as old as some of the most ancient texts archaeologists ever found.
Some of the earliest poetry writers can be traced all the way back to Ancient Greece, almost 3000 years ago. Since then, poetry has flourished, evolved, and developed in many different styles, all over the world, from Japanese short haikus to major romantic British poets Percy Bysshe Shelley or William Wordsworth and American poetry figures such as Charles Bukowski, Shel Silverstein, or Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The Oxford dictionary gives the following definition: "Literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm".
Below is a list of ten of the most famous poets of all time whose work influenced their poet peers forever.
“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”
- Emily Dickinson, American poet
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1. Classic Poetry: Homer, The Iliad & The Odyssey
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The origins of Homer are so unclear that some scholar describes him as a myth. Many legends about this ancient Greek author circulated; one of the most common is that he was a blind wandering bard from Chios, a city on the Anatolian coast of what is Turkey today.
Even the two major poetry works that are commonly attributed to Homer are a subject of controversy. Some academics think that both texts were written by the same man, a poetry genius, while others consider that the Iliad and the Odyssey are the work and re-writing of many contributors, which eventually were all labelled as belonging to the Homeric tradition.
Nonetheless, those two poems are seen today as a timeless classic, taught in most western schools curriculums, still inspiring writers, artists, and even movie directors, to this day.
The Iliad is set during the Trojan War and tells the tale of the siege of the city of Troy. Mixing historical facts, legendary stories, and Greek mythology, this ancient Greek epic poem in dactylic hexameter (verse of six-foot, each feet being one long and two short syllables).
His fame came after his death and he eventually became one of the most beloved of all English poets. His style was characterised by sensual imagery typical of the Romantic movement. Some of his works became so popular that it ranked amongst the most analysed piece of English literature. Of the most famous piece of poetry he wrote, the "Ode to a Nightingale" is probably the most well-known.
The Odyssey focuses on Odysseus (most commonly known as Ulysses) and his ten-year journey back to his kingdom of Ithaca.
“Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men. Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth, now the living timber bursts with the new buds, and spring comes round again. And so with men: as one generation comes to life, another dies away.”
Homer, The Iliad
2. Willian Shakespeare And Poetry
Maybe the most famous author of all English literature, Shakespeare was a poet, playwright, and actor. He is still regarded today as the world’s most eminent dramatist.
While he is mainly known by the public for his numerous theatre play, among which Romeo And Juliet, the most famous romantic tragedy of all times, has been adapted countless times, both for the theatre, Broadway, or Hollywood.
Shakespeare’s plays are still performed today all around the world, and at any given time of the year, it is not surprising to find more than one of his plays being acted on the stage of Broadway.
The public might not know as much about Shakespeare’s sonnets and narrative poems.
Published in 1609, towards the end of his life, Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets were probably never meant to be published, and the order they have been printed in most likely did not reflect their actual chronology nor the author’s wishes.
William Shakespeare's sonnets, even though not very well known to the public compared to his playwright work, including some of the most beautiful love verses ever written. Sonnet 18, 116, 147 are amongst the best.
“Unthrifty loveliness why dost thou spend,
Upon thy self thy beauty’s legacy?
Nature’s bequest gives nothing but doth lend,
And being frank she lends to those are free:
Then beauteous niggard why dost thou abuse,
The bounteous largess given thee to give?
Profitless usurer why dost thou use
So great a sum of sums yet canst not live?
For having traffic with thy self alone,
Thou of thy self thy sweet self-dost deceive,
Then how when nature calls thee to be gone,
What acceptable audit canst thou leave?
Thy unused beauty must be tombed with thee,
Which used lives th’ executor to be.”
Willian Shakespeare, The Fair Youth, Sonnet 5
3. John Keats And Romantic Poetry
John Keats is also amongst the most famous poets of all time, despite or maybe because of his short-lived career.
Born in 1795, Keats was part of the second wave of Romantic poets, the artistic movement born in Europe towards the end of the 18th century.
Keats died at the age of 25 years old from tuberculosis. Even though critics did not receive his poems very well during his lifetime, his fame came after his death, and he eventually became one of the most beloved of all English poets.
His style was characterized by a sensual imagery typical of the Romantic movement.
Some of his works became so popular that it ranked amongst the most analyzed piece of English literature. Of the most famous piece of poetry he wrote, the “Ode to a Nightingale” is probably the most well-known.
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,
That thou, light-wingèd Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease”
- John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale, lines 5 to 10
4. Edgar Allan Poe, the Gothic Poet
Maybe one of the most famous American poets along with Robert Frost, Walt Whiteman, Langston Hughes , or Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, was born in Boston in 1849.
Edgar Allan Poe was one of the first American writers to try to live solely from his writings. He only succeeded to do so in his late 20’s after joining the Southern Literary Messenger (which he was fired for drunkenness but eventually re-hired).
Poe had a tumultuous life, abandoned by his father when he was one year old, his mother died a year later. He was adopted by the Allan family with whom he had a rocky relationship.
Maybe because of his tragic background or because the genre please his public tastes, his work often approached themes such as death, the reanimation of the dead, and mourning.
Most of his work is considered to be part of the dark romanticism genre, in opposition to transcendentalism, which Poe openly abhorred.
During his career, Poe was one of the first American authors to become popular in Europe, especially in France, where his work was translated by another famous poet, Charles Baudelaire.
He notably inspired the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, who said: “Each of Poe’s detective stories is a root from which a whole literature has developed.... Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?”.
Not many copies of Poe’s first book survived, and one of them reached a price of $662,500 in 2009 during an auction in New York. It is believed to be the highest price ever paid for a work of American literature.
“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.”
- Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven
5. Maya Angelou, The Heart Of Modern America
Maya Angelou has had an extraordinary life. Born in 1928, in the Southern state of Missouri, she recounted her troubled childhood in her autobiography and international best-seller, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969.
Her book, the first of a seven-volume series, described how she overcame racism and trauma through love and determination.
Her first poetry work dates from her childhood, during which she used literature as a healing tool. Her first published work only occurred after she performed various jobs, such as a cast member for the Porgy and Bess European tour and calypso music performer during the 1950’s.
Her first volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water’ fore I Diiie, published in 1971, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
During Bill Clinton Presidential inauguration, she recited “On the Pulse of Morning” and became the first African American and woman to read a poem at a presidential inauguration. She won a Grammy Award the following year for “Best Spoken Words.”
She mentioned in her autobiographies that she was greatly affected by the work of William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, or Douglas Johnson during her childhood.
She, in turned had a huge impact on African American literature, and her poetry influenced modern hip-hop musicians such as Kanye West, Tupac Shakur, or Nicki Minaj.
“A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Mark the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spelling words
Armed for slaughter.”
- Maya Angelou, On The Pulse Of Morning
6. Oscar Wilde, The Irish Poet
Oscar Wilde brings us a variety of phenomenal poetry works. Be it the exemplary novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” or the fairy tales and critical essays; Oscar Wilde has produced some iconic work.
His work reflected artistic qualities with wit, emotions, drama, and philosophy as he gained inspiration from Walter Pater and John Ruskin, laying focus on aesthetic intensity in life.
Unfortunately, with time, the flamboyant and witty poet soon fell into controversies for his unmasculine devotion towards the arts.
However, he was keen enough to continue his work to widen the scope of his genre. Therefore, he went on to take inspiration from French poets and created “Intentions.”
Wilde’s success didn’t stop there; he tried his hand at society comedy and did equally well in that genre. In addition, by creating the right mix of social intrigue and paradoxical wit, he built some valuable written pieces.
As a result of his clever comedy, the literary circles of English theatre experienced a kind of revolution in the 19th century.
Therefore, according to many, he had finally landed on the highest plane of modern English drama.
Furthermore, his writing on Victorian hypocrisies yielded him great success. Then, however, all his work began to be devalued as he was charged for indecency in his works.
Consequently, Wilde was imprisoned for two years. And sadly, after being released, he died in poverty.
While the private life of Wilde was pretty dramatic, his poetic career brings innumerable contributions to English literature.
Apart from all the comic work, his narrative on the timeless theme of sin and punishment is of great importance, bringing him significant prominence.
Some of his notable poetry includes:
- The Burden of Itys
- The Garden of Eros
- A Villanelle
- The Sphinx
- The Ballad of Reading Gaol
However, even after being accused of indecency and losing valuable years to imprisonment, his work has stood the test of time, making him one of the most quotable poets of history.
7. Walt Whitman, A Humanist
Walt Whitman was an American and one of the best poets in history – in the mold of Homer and Shakespeare. He developed a love for written words at the tender age of twelve.
Initially, Whitman’s work did not seem as promising and reflected low literacy adherence. However, his written pieces soon gained positive attention, albeit he couldn’t build a phenomenal career with poetry.
With his artistic work, the poet celebrated love, friendship, nature, and democracy. His creative and inventive work led him to become an inspiration for later poets such:
- William Carlos Williams
- Simon Ortiz
- K. Williams
- Ezra Pound
- Martín Espada
- Allen Ginsberg
Walt’s poetry embraced different aspects of life; the human body, beauty, soul, and the undeniable concept of death.
However, the reason audiences didn’t immediately accept him was because of his unique style. His writing consisted of wit and wisdom, new to America during the 19th century.
As a result, he seemed to escape the conventional patterns of poetry and rhyme. Instead, he emphasized the rhetorical strategies of poetry, collecting plaudits for his work with time.
However, the poet also received some severe criticism for his stylistic innovations and openness toward sex. Regardless, Whitman regularly praised human dignity.
In 1862, he moved in with his brother, who had gotten severely injured during the outbreak of the civil war. Shocked by the inhumane conditions in Washington, Whitman prolonged his stay and served at the hospital for eleven years.
Unfortunately, he was fired when people found out that he was the writer behind “Leaves of Grass,” an explicitly sexual piece of writing.
Then, in 1873, Whitman suffered a paralysis attack, after which his health continued to decline. Yet, despite the controversy, he is fondly remembered as a revered part of the poetic fraternity.
His most notable works include:
- Song of Myself
- I Sing the Body Electric
- I Hear America Singing
- When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d
- O, Captain! My Captain!
- A Noiseless Patient Spider
- Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand
8. Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Romantic Spirit
Shelley produced rich literary work with an emphasis on English romanticism. Be it blissful ecstasy or brooding distress, he creates visual imagery in the reader’s minds with her sharp and meticulous use of words.
He successfully created a niche for himself with themes such as rebellion, love, nature, and the spirit of freedom.
However, the unique element of Shelley’s work was that his personal life reflected his writings.
He was in love with his cousin; however, their relationship was met with disapproval by their families. This narrative often made it into his writings.
Shelley began his career at the age of 17. When he entered college, he developed an inclination towards writing.
And his prominence echoes still. At every stage of his career, and even today, the poet’s name is quoted with utmost passion and abundant praise.
One of Shelley’s earliest inspirations was Dr. James Lind, a physician to a royal household, who he looked up to for his knowledge and free spirit. It was Dr. Lind’s library that helped Shelly gain access to an extensive literature.
Furthermore, he was fascinated by thinkers and revolutionaries; hence his work spoke volumes about his passions. These personalities included:
- Robert Southey
- Walter Scott
The poet’s life was all about loving and writing, creating a romantic narrative, pleasing the English literature audience of the time. He also felt more and more interested in Gothic romances.
Moreover, some of his characters are still quoted. Specifically, Verezzi, Julia, Matilda, and Zastrozzi are widely known for their heretical and atheistical opinions.
Unfortunately, like most other famous poets, he also met significant criticism through this poetic journey.
His work was often called tales of horror and sentimental absurdity; however, he is unquestionably one of the best poets ever.
9. John Milton, The English Civil Servant
The writer of the widely known poem, ‘Paradise Lost,’ has earned the rank of one of the best male poets in history.
His work majorly consisted of political philosophy while opposing tyranny and the state-sanctioned religion.
However, the most significant part of his career is when his writings began to influence the French revolution.
Furthermore, Milton also worked on theology, expressing the value of conscience. He shed light on the importance of scriptures concerning faith and religious tolerance for dissidents.
Upon returning to England in 1639, he was considered aptly educated. By that time, he had learned several languages, making him an adept translator and versatile poet.
He had great regard for Shakespeare and took inspiration from him. So even the work of Milton has a lot to do with the literature produced by Shakespeare.
For example, while Shakespeare talks about daytime, Milton celebrates the sound and emotions of darkness.
Moreover, while Shakespeare focused on liveliness and positive thoughts, Milton’s writings embrace melancholy and pensive temperaments.
Resulting from his inspirations, ‘Comus’ and ‘Lycidas’ are the most significant contributions of Milton towards English literature.
Later, Milton diverted attention from poetry and poems to prose. But doing so brought him unwanted controversies. His domestic life also gave him a pretty tough time after his wife divorced him.
The poet breathed his last in 1674, after which his rich poetry gained widespread popularity and applause. His most famous poems are:
- Samson Agonistes
- On His Deceased Wife
- On Shakespeare
- On Cyriack Skinner
- On Arriving at the Age of Twenty-Three
10. T.S Eliot, Noble Prize Winner
T.S Eliot is among the most versatile poets in the history of English literature. Be it modern literature, poetry, literary criticism, drama, editing, or publishing, the writer has embraced all fields beautifully.
He has written several poems that count as milestones in the history of literature. Designing unique themes, he offered readers an escape from the generic 19th century English literature.
He continued to push landmark poems one after another, including ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’ ‘Gerontion,’ and ‘The Waste Land.’ But that was just the start; several others followed.
Soon after, by adopting universal themes, the poet created modern and influential poems. And while studying at Harvard, he found inspiration in a number of male poets and philosophers, including:
- George Santayana
- Irving Babbitt
Eliot had a unique writing style inspired by Dante, John Webster, and the French writer Jules Laforgue. Moreover, his anti-romantic sentiments seem to mirror the thoughts of Babbitt.
He is one of the most intellectual and witty poets of his time, and he has been responsible for producing several masterpieces.
Additionally, while promoting the ‘actual language of men,’ Eliot helped bring about a 20th-century poetic revolution. He spoke of a poetic diction that would neither be vulgar nor fussy.
Hence, his work towards literature was considered rich. And the evidence to back that claim came when he produced “Gerontion,” nothing of this standard existed in English literature.
Eliot even created his theory of poetry, namely “objective correlative.” This theory referred to the vagueness in Victorian rhetorics.
Moreover, he talked about changes in English poetry over time, bringing about an uplift in the interest around poetry from the 17th century.
Sadly, Eliot passed away in London in 1965, leaving behind monumental written pieces.
The Most Famous Poems
The Poetry Foundation was founded in 1941 to support the publication of Poetry magazine, whose first edition was printed in 1912. On its online platform, the foundation lists more than 40,000 of the most famous poems. Its editors read more than 150,000 poems every year and publish about 600 of them in their monthly printed magazine.
On the website, you can find your favourite poets, from Emily Dickinson to Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Edgar Allan Poe or Sylvia Plath.
Poetry is a literary form that is thousands of years old, but which has never perished and on the contrary flourished over time. This unique genre allows the writers to transcend the semantic meaning of words by using the "words' baggage" and transmit the readers their emotions, feelings and ideas.
Being used to convey a romantic missive, a meditative note, a phantasmagoric depiction or a protest pitch, poems have often carried more weight than their prosaic novel counterparts.
By appealing to the feelings and emotions of the readers, poets have been able to impart their message compellingly. But amongst the hundreds of thousands of poems ever written, some have stood out either for their writing style, the history behind them or the subject they approached.
Matsuo Basho, who is credited to have founded the modern Japanese haiku poem style during the 17th century, is the author of some of the best work of the genre. Haikus such as "An Old Pond" reached writers well over Japan's borders, inspiring many Western poets.
The Most Famous Love Poems
Poetry has always been a literary genre that tapped into the deepest and strongest emotions of poetry writers. Because of the figurative writing style often used in poetry, poems have often been open to interpretation and poets used that to convey to the readers their deepest, most intimate feelings, sometimes going against the literary world etiquette.
"Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O no! it is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wand’ring bark, Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved."
- William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116, Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds
Some of the most famous love poems were often written by troubled writers, who's tortuous life stories inspired them the most delicate and sensitive poems of all times. From Elizabeth Barrett Browning who escaped a reclusive life and an overprotective father at the age of 40 to W.B. Yeats who only married when he was 51 years old after pursuing an unrequited love for 20 years.
Do You Want To Learn Poetry?
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