Explore the Greatest Poetry

25 Short Famous Classic Poems

On this list, you’ll find twenty-five of the best short, classic poems that are great to memorize. These poems range in length, but not in quality. Each one presents the reader with a memorable narrative or depiction of an emotional scene that makes them perfect to devote time to and always have ready to recite.

Top 25 Short Famous Classic Poems To Memorize of All Time


‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ by William Wordsworth 

The first poem on this list is one of the most popular and the easiest to love. ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud,’ sometimes known as ‘Daffodils’ is a beautiful and uplifting poem that speaks about life, love, and happy memories in moments of despair. Plus, it’s not too long at only four stanzas of six lines each. Here are the first lines of the poem: 

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


‘Sonnet 18’ by William Shakespeare 

Anyone, not just lovers of poetry, will likely know at least a few lines from Sonnet 18’. Here are the first four: 

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;

Shakespeare’s poetry, and his plays, are easy to memorize due to his consistent use of rhyme schemes and iambic pentameter or at the very least blank verse. This particular poem is so popular that the opening lines are becoming a cliche. 


‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost

‘The Road Not Taken’ is likely Frost’s most popular poem. He uses language that is easy to understand and relate to. His poem is about a fork in the road in a speaker’s life and his choice to take one particular path. The melancholic but beautiful language makes memorizing this poem a pleasure. 

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both


Death Be Not Proud’ by John Donne 

This poem is also known as ‘Holy Sonnet 10’. In it, John personifies death and depicts “him” as something that we should not be afraid of. Here are the first two lines of the poem: 

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so


‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley

In the opinion of some, this is Shelley’s best short poem. In it, he describing meting a trailer form “an antique land,” likely Egypt. He describes visiting that land and seeing the half-buried statue of a great leader. At only fourteen lines, ‘Ozymandias’ is easy to memorize. Here are the first lines: 

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


‘Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carroll

‘Jabberwocky’ is certainly Lewis Carrol’s most famous poem. It is longer than a few of the others on this list but its nonsensical language makes it a pleasure to read over and over again. The internal rhymes also make it easy to remember. Here are the first four lines: 

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves 

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: 

All mimsy were the borogoves, 

And the mome raths outgrabe. 


‘Sonnet 130’ by William Shakespeare

Like with ‘Sonnet 18,’ ‘Sonnet 130’ is easy to remember due to Shakespeare’s consistent use of iambic pentameter and the rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG. ‘Sonnet 130’ is a little less well-known than ‘Sonnet 18,’ but most lovers of poetry would recognize it from the opening lines: 

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;


‘Ode to a Nightingale’ by John Keats 

Of Keats’ odes, this is the most famous and the longest. Despite this fact, the narrative nature of the poem and its beauty make it entrancing and easy to read. There are also several allusions to mythology which are interesting. The poem begins with: 

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk


Sonnet 43: How do I love thee?’ by Elizabeth Barret Browning 

This fourteen-line sonnet is one of Browning’s best-known poems. In it, she professes her deep love for her husband, Robert Browning. It is one of the most recognizable poems in the English language, making it perfect to memorize.

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.


‘The Tyger’ by William Blake

The Tyger’ is not a simplistic poem as it yields many interpretations. However, its strong, resonating rhyming drives the key concept in the reader’s mind efficiently. The poem begins with the lines:

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright

In the forests of the night

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry


‘The Lamb’ by William Blake

‘The Tyger‘ and ‘The Lamb’ are right next to one another on this list because of their fundamentally linked structures and publication history. They are two of the most famous poems of all time and are easy to remember, partially because the lines are so familiar. ‘The Lamb’ reads with the following first lines:

Little Lamb who made thee

Dost thou know who made thee

Gave thee life & bid thee feed.

By the stream & o’er the mead;


‘On His Blindness’ by John Milton

‘On His Blindness’ is also known as ‘Sonnet 19’. In it, Milton addresses his oncoming blindness, his fears, and his faith. It’s fourteen lines long, making it easy to remember. Plus, it’s an emotional poem so it should be enjoyable to read. 

The first lines read: 

When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,


‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ by Robert Frost

This lovely poem is about the fleeting nature of life and beauty. He speaks on time and the natural world as well as how their beauty is emphasized. There are several examples of alliteration and a number of interesting images in the poem which should make it interesting and easy to read. It is also benefited by Frost’s use of language and direct syntax. The poem starts with the line:

Nature’s first green is gold


‘Because I could not stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson

This poem is Dickinson’s most famous. In it, she depicts the arrival of death and the journey into the afterlife. Like some of the other poems on this list, the lines are familiar, making it easier to remember them. Plus, since this poem is somewhat narrative in nature, the progression of the story is also helpful. 

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality


Annabel Lee’ by Edgar Allan Poe

This poem is dark and beautiful, as all of Poe’s poetry is. In it, his speaker depicts the death of the woman he loved and his belief that the angels took her out of jealousy. The perfect rhyme scheme in ‘Annabel Lee’ and the short lines make it a perfect choice to memorize. 

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


‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas 

‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ is Thomas’ most quoted poem. It has appeared in novels and films, read aloud by characters at important, life-changing plot points. The use of repetition in this poem, and the moving nature of the verse, make it pleasurable to read and memorize. 

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.


‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’ by John Keats

This is another of Keats’ most famous odes. In it, he addresses a Grecian Urn and the story that’s playing out on its sides. This is one of the most complicated choices on this list but its beauty makes it worth the effort. Here are the first four lines: 

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,

Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,

Sylvan historian, who canst thus express

A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:


‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson 

This distinctly memorable poem uses repetition, a very helpful device when one is seeking to memorize poetry. Tennyson wrote it in response to a battle in which a British cavalry group charged over open terrain in the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. The first four lines of the first stanza read: 

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.


‘A Psalm of Life’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

‘A Psalm of Life’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one of the lesser-known poems on this list but once you read it, you won’t forget it. In it, Longfellow speaks on the purpose of life and the possible ways of handling sorrow along the way. The first stanza reads: 

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem


‘The New Colossus’ by Emma Lazarus 

Lazarus’ most famous poem was made that way due to the fact that it is featured on the Statue of Liberty. The poem is about the American dream and America as a country that is accepting of all those who come to its shores seeking out a better life. These lines from the final stanza of the poem are some of the most commonly quoted. They read: 

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.


‘Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey’ by William Wordsworth 

This poem is one of Wordsworth’s most commonly studied. It is part dramatic monologue and part lyrical ballad. Wordsworth’s use of meter in the poem is very consistent, something that always contributes to easy to remember lines. In the poem, he returns to a spot he loved on the banks of the river Wye that he hasn’t been to for five years. There, he meditates on the “beauteous forms” of the landscape. 

Five years have past; five summers, with the length

Of five long winters! and again I hear

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

With a soft inland murmur.—Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs


‘Oh Captain! My Captain!’ by Walt Whitman 

In this famous poem, Whitman describes Abraham Lincoln’s death through the image of a ship coming to shore. The famous repetitive line “O Captain! My Captain!” echoes throughout the poem is haunting. Here are the first lines: 

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;


‘Casey at the Bat’ by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

This poem is by far Thayer’s most famous poem. He wrote it in 1888 about baseball and published it under a pseudonym in The Daily Examiner. It is now one of the best-loved poems in American literature. The first four lines read: 

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:

The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,

And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,

A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game


‘Trees’ by Joyce Kilmer 

In ‘Trees’ Kilmer discusses the beauty of trees and how humankind is never going to be able to make anything, even a poem, that is as beautiful as God’s trees. The poem is quite short, making it one of the best poems on this list to memorize. 

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.


‘Sonnet I’ by Sir Philip Sidney 

‘Sonnet I’ is the first in Sidney’s sonnet sequence Astrophil and Stella. In total, it is made up of 108 sonnets. In this one, the speaker presents the belief that if his lover reads these lines that she is going to return his affections. It is a Shakespearean sonnet, meaning that it is fourteen lines long and rhymes in the standard pattern of ABABCDCDEFEFGG with the first lines of: 

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,

That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain,

Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,

Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,—

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
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.
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Got a question? Ask an expert.x
Share to...