On this list, readers can find a few of the best poems ever written. It’s tough to narrow down a list of the best English-language poems, but here are several of the best. They were penned by authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Christina Rossetti and touch on topics like love, death, and loss.
Note: This list is a compilation of what we think are some of the best poems ever written. However, it is almost impossible to narrow the list down to ten. We would love you to comment on what you think are the best poems ever, at the bottom of this article.
Best Poems of All Time
- 1 Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
- 2 Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas
- 3 Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
- 4 Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
- 5 Remember by Christina Rossetti
- 6 The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
- 7 “Hope” is the thing with feathers— by Emily Dickinson
- 8 Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare thee to the summer’s day? by William Shakespeare
- 9 The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- 10 Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
- 11 FAQs
Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
This famous piece of poetry describes a ruined statue of a king in an empty desert. The figure has a powerful message emblazoned on it, saying, “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair.” The works, as the poem describes, are long gone. Setting up one of the most memorable poems in the English language. Here are a few lines:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Discover more Percy Bysshe Shelley poems.
Undoubtedly, Dylan Thomas’ best-known work, ‘Do not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,’ was first published in 1951. Dylan Thomas was inspired to write this poem after his father’s death. Through the lines, he does confine his thoughts to his situation. Instead, he sues the lines to address the universality of death and encourages the reader to remain strong until the end. Here are a few lines from this piece:
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.
Through powerful and skillfully composed language, Thomas encourages his father and the larger population to realize the importance of their own lives by fighting back against the dark.
Explore more Dylan Thomas poetry.
‘Still I Rise’ is a poem about confidence and empowerment. The speaker stands up to prejudice and preconceived notions of who she should be. She determines that she is valuable and deserving of respect. Here are a few lines from the poem:
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.
The refrain, “I rise,” is used throughout, gaining intensity as the poem progresses. Towards the end, the speaker proudly states that she is leaving behind her history and the “nights of terror and fear.” She is headed into the light, bringing with her the “gifts that [her] ancestors gave.”
Read more Maya Angelou poems.
This well-loved poem is one of Frost’s best-known. It was supposedly inspired by real events. He was in the woods and despairing over his financial state. He did not have the money to provide for his family but chose to continue on rather than give up and walk into the forest. This was a difficult and courageous choice as the woods provided an easy escape from the hardships of his life. Often, readers consider this poem on another level—as one about suicide. Consider these lines:
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.
Several Frost poems could feature on this list, mostly due to the way that he was able to use fairly simple language to tap into universal themes, appealing to a very wide variety of readers.
Read more Robert Frost poems.
‘Remember’ is one of the poet’s best-known works. It was written in 1849 and explored the themes of love, death, and more. The poem takes the form of a sonnet, one that talks directly to the speaker’s lover. It addresses the couple’s future and the speaker’s desire to be remembered but not if it causes her lover sadness. Here are the first four lines:
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
She tells her lover not to remember anything about her and instead be happy in his life after she’s gone.
Discover more Christina Rossetti poems.
‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is today considered one of T.S. Eliot’s most important contributions to modernism. It is considered by scholars to be one of the best poems in the English language. It was published in the 1915 issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse and features the inner monologue of a city gentleman who is stricken by feelings of isolation and inadequacy and incapability of taking decisive action. Here are a few memorable lines:
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:
‘Prufrock,’ as it’s commonly referred to, is a complicated poem. It’s hard to decide exactly what the poem is about. It is often described as a fragmented landscape of poetic imagery.
Explore more T.S. Eliot poems.
In this famous poem, Dickinson compares a bird to “hope.” The poem is lighter than the majority of her poetry and focuses on the personification of hope. Hope is, the speaker says, a bird that perches inside her soul and sings. The bird asks for nothing. It is at peace and is, therefore, able to impart the same hope and peace to the speaker. Here are a few lines:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
She can depend on it and take pleasure from it. The text is also a prime example of the way that Dickinson used nature as a metaphor for the most complicated of human emotions.
Explore Emily Dickinson’s poetry.
Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare thee to the summer’s day? by William Shakespeare
A list of the best poems ever to have been written would not be complete without a mention of one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. In fact, some consider Sonnet 18 to be the most beautiful love poem ever to be written.
Sonnet 18 is a love poem to a mysterious male figure called the ‘Fair Youth’.
The poem attempts to justify the speaker’s beloved’s beauty by comparing it to a summer’s day, and comes to the conclusion that his beloved is better after listing some of the summer’s negative qualities
Here are the opening lines:
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 dimmed,
Explore more William Shakespeare poems.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
This poem was written between 1797 and 1798 and first appeared in Lyrical Ballads. It is a frame narrative, following the words of a mariner who experienced a series of incredible events at sea. It describes his choice to shoot down an albatross and the bad luck that strikes the ship afterward. Here are a few lines:
Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.
Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.
The poem is regarded as one of the most important in the English language. It’s certainly one of the most important Romantic poems of the 1700s and 1800s.
Read more Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems.
In this wonderful poem, the speaker describes his love for Annabel Lee. He also notes how, in jealousy, the angels took her away from him. Their love was too strong and pure to exist on earth. He accepts this, but it’s clearly something that pains him deeply. Here are a few of the most famous lines:
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
Many readers, throughout time, have been moved by Poe’s words. This is even more true when one considers the personal losses the poet experienced.
Discover more Edgar Allan Poe poems.
The longest poem ever written is the Indian poem ‘Mahabharata.’ It is described as 10x as long as The Iliad and The Odyssey combined.
This depends on the type of poems you are into, in the sense that whatever the answer is going to leave out incredible poems. However, notable mentions include ‘If—‘ by Rudyard Kipling, ‘Invictus‘ by William Ernest Henley, ‘The Raven‘ by Edgar Allan Poe, and ‘The Tyger‘ by William Blake.