20 Poetry Books You Have to Own as a Poetry Lover

On this list are twenty of the most important collections of poems published throughout history, from 600 BC to the present day.

The collections on this list include the work of poets as diverse as Rupi Kaur, Pablo Neruda, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson. Whether you’re interested in free verse, lyrics, ballads, odes, elegies, or something in-between, there is a collection of poems on this list to suit every reader’s interest. 

Best Poetry Books


Mountain Interval by Robert Frost

Published: 1916
Important Poems: Birchesand ‘The Road Not Taken

Mountain Interval is Frost’s third collection of poetry, published in 1916. It contains some of his best-known poems. It is commonly regarded as one of his most important literary accomplishments and is a must-have for any poetry lover. 

Mother Love by Rita Dove

Published: 1996
Important Poems: ‘Demeter’s Prayer to Hades’ and ‘Persephone, Falling

A wonderful, well-known collection in which Dove explores themes like relationships and loss. Throughout, readers can explore the characters of Demeter and Persephone, removed from their mythological context and remade in the contemporary world. 

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda 

Published: 1924
Important Poems:Everyday You Play‘ and ‘I Like For You To Be Still

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, or Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada by Pablo Neruda, is a collection of romantic poems first published in Spanish in 1924. The collection is one of the best-selling Spanish language books of all time. 

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg 

Published: 1956
Important Poems: ‘Howl,’ America,’ and A Supermarket in California

Howl and Other Poems is one of the most important American collections of the mid-20th century. It contains Ginsberg’s best-known poem as well as others that are considered to be landmarks of the Beat Generation

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Sappho(Translated by Anne Carson) 

Published: 2002 (written around 600 BC)
Important Poems: One Girland The Anactoria Poem

A collection of the fragments of ancient Greek lyric poet Sappho’s poems. Of all her work (around 10,000 lines), only one complete poem survives. Within this collection, Carson presents readers with both the Greek version and the English translation.

Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake 

Published: 1789 and 1794
Important Poems: The Tygerand The Chimney Sweeper’ 

Songs of Innocence and Experience is one of the most important collections of English-language poems. It contains the collected works from Songs of Innocence, first published in 1789, and Songs of Experience, published in 1794. 

milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

Published: 2014
Important Poems: ‘how is it so easy for you’ and ‘i do not want to have you’

A well-loved contemporary collection of poems that’s divided into four sections: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, and the healing. It has sold over 3 million copies and was on The New York Times Bestseller list for 165 weeks. 

The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes 

Published: 1926
Important Poems: ‘The Weary Blues’ and ‘As I Grew Older

The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes is a landmark collection of the Harlem Renaissance and the best-known collection of Hughes’ poems. The poet was only twenty-four years old when this collection was released, and it has since become an American classic. 

The Essential Rumi by Rumi 

Published: 2010
Important Poems: When I Dieand ‘The Guest House’ 

The Essential Rumi is a collection of Rumi’s best-known poems, many of which are read, in various languages, around the world. 

Ariel by Sylvia Plath 

Published: 1965
Important Poems: Arieland Lady Lazarus’ 

Ariel is Plath’s best-known collection. It was published two years after the poet took her life, in 1965. Throughout, readers can find poems that engage with themes of suicide and depression. 

On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho by Basho 

Published: 1986 (written mid-1600s)
Important Poems: The Old Pond

Matsuo Bashō was a 17th-century Japanese poet whose haiku are still read worldwide today. His work was incredibly influential in spreading the popularity of this short poetic form

Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney

Published: 1966
Important Poems: Diggingand Mid-Term Break

This award-winning collection was first published in 1966. It was Heaney’s first major collection and is concerned with themes like rural life, relationships, childhood, and family. It helped bring Heaney’s work into the public spotlight.

Wild Iris by Louise Glück 

Published: 1992
Important Poems: The Wild Irisand Mock Orange’ 

Wild Iris by Louise Glück is a collection of more than fifty poems that depict changes in a garden. Each is written in the voice of a different flower. It speaks to universal themes, like time and death. Glück was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for this collection in 1993. 

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein 

Published: 1974
Important Poems: Show It At the Beachand Whatif’ 

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein is a collection of memorable children’s poems accompanied by illustrations. It addresses themes of interest to young readers like imagination and growing up

And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou 

Published: 1978
Important Poems: Still I Riseand Phenomenal Woman’ 

And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou was the poet’s third collection. It contains some of her best-known and commonly-read pieces. When this book was published, Angelou was already an established voice in American literature, having written three autobiographies. 

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman 

Published: 1855
Important Poems: ‘Song of Myself’ and I Sing the Body Electric’ 

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman is one of the most important collections by an American poet from any period. Whitman worked on this collection throughout his life, demonstrating his interest in free verse poetry and themes like spirituality, individuality, sexuality, and freedom. 

Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge 

Published: 1798
Important Poems: The Rime of the Ancient Marinerand Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey

Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a landmark volume in the history of poetry. With the publication of this collection, the Romanticism movement began in Europe and Britain. The collection includes some of the most commonly studied poems in the English language. 

The Complete Sonnets and Poems by William Shakespeare 

Published: 1608
Important Poems: Sonnet 130and Sonnet 116

William Shakespeare’s poems are commonly regarded as some of the most influential in the history of literature. Within this collection, readers can explore his 154 sonnets as well as his longer poems.

 

The Complete Poems by Emily Dickinson 

Published: 1896
Important Poems: Because I could not stop for deathand Hope is the thing with feathers’ 

Dickinson’s complete poems were only published after her death but since her work has become some of the most popular and important in the English language. 

Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters 

Published: 1915
Important Poems: Fiddler Jonesand Achibald Higbie’ 

Spoon River Anthology is a unique collection in American poetry. Masters created this series of poems based on his experiences in his home town with each written as an elegy to a resident of Spoon River who passed away. 

FAQs

What is the best poetry book of all time?

The title of “best poetry book of all time” is very subjective but is often given to William Shakespeare’s and Emily Dickinson’s collected works, as well as Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman and Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 

What poetry book should I read as a beginner?

Some poetry books are easier to understand than others. For example, Wild Iris by Louise Glück is easier to read, in part, than Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Some other good beginning collections include Emily Dickinson’s collected works and the collected works of Maya Angelou. 

What is a good poetry book to read?

Some of the best poetry books to read include Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, the sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, and Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.

What is the top-selling poetry book of all time?

Some of the best-selling poetry books of all time include Rupi Kaur’s milk and honey, William Shakespeare’s collected works, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson’s collected works. 

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Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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