American Poems

American poetry has had a significant impact on the literary landscape not only in the United States but also worldwide. American poets have been influential in shaping poetry as a form of expression and have contributed to the development of modernism and postmodernism.

Walt Whitman, known as the “father of free verse,” is considered one of the most important American poets. His collection, “Leaves of Grass,” challenged traditional forms of poetry and explored themes of democracy, individualism, and sexuality. Emily Dickinson, another influential American poet, is known for her distinctive style and exploration of themes such as death, immortality, and nature.

The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 30s also had a profound impact on American poetry. Poets such as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Claude McKay explored themes of race, identity, and the African American experience in their works.

Contemporary American poets such as Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, and Robert Frost have continued to shape the literary landscape with their unique styles and exploration of a variety of themes. American poetry remains a vibrant and influential art form, inspiring and challenging readers and writers alike.

Because I could not stop for Death

by Emily Dickinson

‘Because I could not stop for death,’ Dickinson’s best-known poem, is a depiction of one speaker’s journey into the afterlife with personified “Death” leading the way.

This is an incredibly important American poem and is often cited as one of the best American poems of all time. It is a significant contribution to American literature and culture. It is widely taught in schools and universities and has been the subject of countless literary analyses and interpretations. Its popularity and influence have helped to cement Dickinson's place in the canon of American poets.

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

The Raven

by Edgar Allan Poe

‘The Raven’ is commonly considered to be Edgar Allan Poe’s poetic masterpiece. It details a harrowing night in the speaker’s life that includes incessant knocking and a talking raven that only says one word–“Nevermore.”

This is a prime example of American poetry, reflecting the unique perspective of American writers during the 19th century. Poe's unique style and themes challenged traditional views of poetry, influencing the development of modernist poetry in the early 20th century. His exploration of the macabre and supernatural, as well as his introspective and romantic themes, has cemented his place as one of America's most influential poets.

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

O Captain! My Captain!

by Walt Whitman

Saddened by the results of the American civil war, Walt Whitman wrote the elegy, ‘O Captain! My Captain!’ in memory of deceased American President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. The civil war occurred during his lifetime with Whitman a staunch supporter of unionists.

Whitman is considered one of the most important American poets, and 'O Captain! My Captain!' is one of his most well-known poems. The poem celebrates American history and the sacrifices made by its leaders while also expressing the pain and sadness felt at the loss of a great president. Whitman's use of free verse and his celebration of everyday life helped to establish a new form of American poetry.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

by Robert Frost

Robert Frost, aka ‘nature boy,’ penned this lovely poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ in 1922, subsequently published with his long poem, ‘New Hampshire’.

Frost is known for his quintessentially American poetry, which often reflects the rugged and independent spirit of the American people. 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening' is no exception, with its focus on the individual's journey and decision-making. The poem's introspective and reflective tone also reflects the values of individualism and self-reliance that are often associated with American culture. The speaker's contemplation of death and the unknown aspects of life illustrates the American tendency to confront and face challenges head-on rather than shying away from them.

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.

The Red Wheelbarrow

by William Carlos Williams

‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ by William Carlos Williams depicts, in very simple language, a red wheelbarrow outside in the rain.

American poetry is a broad and diverse tradition, but Williams is widely regarded as one of its most important figures. His focus on the everyday and his use of free verse helped to revolutionize poetry in the 20th century, inspiring generations of poets to come. "The Red Wheelbarrow" is a testament to Williams' influence on American poetry and his lasting legacy as a poet of the ordinary and the everyday.

so much depends upon a red wheel barrow  


by Allen Ginsberg

‘Howl’ is Allen Ginsberg’s best-known poem and is commonly considered his greatest work. It is an indictment of modern society and a celebration of anyone living outside it.

This poem is a quintessentially American piece of verse, both in terms of its subject matter and its style. The poem reflects the counterculture of the Beat Generation, a movement that emerged in the United States in the 1950s and rejected mainstream American culture and values. The poem critiques the conformism and consumerism of American society, as well as the dehumanizing effects of industrialization. He also celebrates the individuality, creativity, and freedom that he sees as essential to the American spirit.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,



by Sylvia Plath

‘Daddy’ by Sylvia Plath uses emotional, and sometimes, painful metaphors to depict the poet’s own opinion of her father.

The poem is widely regarded as one of the most significant and influential poems of 20th-century American poetry, and it has profoundly impacted the world of poetry and literature. It was published in 1965, shortly after Plath's death by suicide, and is known for its powerful imagery and use of personal experience to explore broader themes of trauma, identity, and the complex relationships between fathers and daughters.

You do not do, you do not do

Any more, black shoe

In which I have lived like a foot

For thirty years, poor and white,

Harlem (A Dream Deferred)

by Langston Hughes

‘Harlem (A Dream Deferred)’ by Langston Hughes is a powerful poem. The poet wrote it in response to what he felt as a black man navigating a career and personal life in a white-dominated world.

Langston Hughes is one of the most important American poets of the 20th century, and his poetry is often cited as a defining example of American literature. 'Harlem (A Dream Deferred)' is a powerful exploration of the African American experience and reflects many of the central themes and concerns of American poetry as a whole.

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?


Still I Rise

by Maya Angelou

‘Still I Rise’ is an inspiring and emotional poem that’s based around Maya Angelou’s experiences as a Black woman in America. It encourages readers to love themselves fully and persevere in the face of every hardship.

Maya Angelou is a key figure in American poetry, with her works often speaking to the unique struggles and experiences of being Black in America. This poem is no different. It is commonly regarded as one of the best poems of the 20th century. The poem was first published in her 1978 book, "And Still I Rise." Through its repetition of the phrase "I rise" and its use of vivid imagery, the poem celebrates the strength and courage of the human spirit, particularly that of Black women who have faced discrimination and oppression throughout history.

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.

In Memory of the Utah Stars

by William Matthews

‘In Memory of the Utah Stars’ captures the manner in which memories can provide us with both pleasure and pain.

The poem is very concerned with America, specifically the state of Utah but it speaks to the nation more broadly due to its focus on one of America's most beloved sports.

Each of them must have terrified

his parents by being so big, obsessive

and exact so young, already gone

and leaving, like a big tipper,

Explore more American poems

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

by Emily Dickinson

‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain’ by Emily Dickinson is a popular poem. In it, she depicts a very unusual idea of life after death.

This poem is regarded as an exemplary work of American poetry. It reflects the unique style and thematic preoccupations often associated with American poets, such as introspection, individualism, and a focus on the inner workings of the human mind.

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

And Mourners to and fro

Kept treading - treading - till it seemed

That Sense was breaking through -

The Dancing

by Gerald Stern

‘The Dancing’ by Gerald Stern is an emotionally complex poem that wrestles with feelings of joy and bittersweetness inspired by a fond memory.

As the second generation child to immigrant parents, born and raised in Pittsburgh, Sterns perspective is an important and enlightening one.

In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture

and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots

I have never seen a postwar Philco

with the automatic eye

The Hill We Climb

by Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman’s poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ is a moving depiction of the United States as it was on the cusp of President Biden’s inauguration in 2021. 

This is an important American poem that is firmly situated within American history. It was read at a presidential inauguration and gained a worldwide fame that few other inaugural poems have.

When day comes we ask ourselves,

where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry,

a sea we must wade.


What now?

by Gary Soto

‘What Now?’ by Gary Soto is a contemporary poem that speaks to the universal experience of aging and learning.

Gary Soto is an American poet, writer, and educator born in 1952 in Fresno, California. He grew up in a Mexican-American community, which heavily influenced his writing. This poem is a great example of his works which often explore themes of identity, culture, and the experiences of the working class. He has published numerous collections of poetry, short stories, and children's books, earning recognition for his poignant and accessible storytelling.

Where did the shooting stars go?

They flit across my childhood sky

vAnd by my teens I no longer looked upward—

My face instead peered through the windshield


by Carl Sandburg

‘Cahoots’ by Carl Sandburg delves into the dark underbelly of a corrupt city, exposing the collusion and exploitation that thrive within its power structures.

This is a remarkable poem that showcases the poet's mastery of language and imagery. Compared to other poems from America, 'Cahoots' stands out for its raw and gritty portrayal of societal corruption, exploring themes of power, greed, and disillusionment. Sandburg's use of vivid and evocative language, coupled with his unique perspective on American society, creates a captivating and thought-provoking experience. The poem's relevance and enduring impact solidify Sandburg's importance as a significant figure in American poetry.

Play it across the table.

What if we steal this city blind?

If they want any thing let 'em nail it down.

Harness bulls, dicks, front office men,

Childhood Ideogram

by Larry Levis

‘Childhood Ideogram’ by Larry Levis immerses readers in a nostalgic journey, where vivid imagery and contemplative reflections unravel the complexities of identity, memory, and the transient nature of time.

This poem shares some similarities with other poems from America in terms of its themes and poetic techniques. Like many American poems, it explores themes of memory, identity, and the passage of time. It also exhibits a reflective and introspective tone, common in American poetry. While it may share some thematic and tonal similarities with other American poems, its individual style and subject matter contribute to its distinctiveness within the broader context of American poetry.

I lay my head sideways on the desk,

My fingers interlocked under my cheekbones,

My eyes closed. It was a three-room schoolhouse,

White, with a small bell tower, an oak tree

Nude Interrogation

by Yusef Komunyakaa

‘Nude Interrogation’ by Yusef Komunyakaa is one of the best examples of prose poetry, and it captures the struggles of Vietnam War veterans after their return home.

'Nude Interrogation' is an excellent example of American poetry. This poem casually captures many Americans' thoughts about the Vietnam War, America's issues with providing help and mental health care to its veterans, and the struggles soldiers must face when they return home.

Did you kill anyone over there? Angelica shifts her gaze from Janis Joplin poster to the Jimi Hendrix, lifting the pale muslin blouse over her head.

Primer for Blacks

by Gwendolyn Brooks

‘Primer For Blacks’ by Gwendolyn Brooks speaks on the necessity of accepting one’s black heritage and a possible unified future for all black people.

The poem is a product of American poetry and speaks to the unique experiences and struggles faced by Black people in America. It is a highly important poem that is read around the world.


is a title,

is a preoccupation,

is a commitment Blacks

A New National Anthem

by Ada Limón

‘A New National Anthem’ is a prose poem expressing disapproval of the National Anthem, especially the part that was conspicuously removed.

Ada Limón is an American poet best known for her honest observations of life and its events, especially those concerning her country. Her masterpiece, ‘A New National Anthem,’ is a very important addition to American Literature. The poem ranks very high when it comes to poems written by Americans. This one from Ada Limón is brilliantly written.

The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National

Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good song.

All the Tired Horses in the Sun

by Joy Harjo

‘All the Tired Horses in the Sun’ by Joy Harjo is a short but deeply somber poem that seeks to express an all too potent existential exhaustion felt by indigenous communities.

Joy Harjo is a Muscogee-American poet from Tulsa, OK. Born in 1951, she became the first Indigenous person to serve as a U.S. poet-laureate. As a result, her poems have helped uplift the voices of other Indigenous writers like herself while also giving voice to their experiences in America regarding identity and the generational effects of colonialism.


And ever.

And ever.

There’s my cousin. Auntie. Uncle.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

by Emily Dickinson

‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’ by Emily Dickinson is a poem about hope. It is depicted through the famous metaphor of a bird.

While not the most important American poem of all time, it is a highly influential and inspirational piece.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -

How Things Work

by Gary Soto

‘How Things Work’ by Gary Soto is a moving poem that envisions an optimistic perception of the way people support one another through financial altruism.

Soto was born in Fresno, California, in the 1950s and would become renowned as both a poet and educator. His poems often focused on the experience of the Chicano community in his home state, offering insight into run-ins with racism and poverty. This poem is a great example of the care with which he brings to life such intimate and personal moments.

Today it’s going to cost us twenty dollars

To live. Five for a softball. Four for a book,

A handful of ones for coffee and two sweet rolls,

Bus fare, rosin for your mother’s violin.

Lady Lazarus

by Sylvia Plath

‘Lady Lazarus’ is one of the best poems of Sylvia Plath and an ideal example of Plath’s diction. This poem contains Plath’s poetic expression of her suicidal thoughts.

This poem is significant for its exploration of identity, power, and gender and its stark portrayal of mental illness and suicide. But, it is not the best-known American poem of all time.

I have done it again.

One year in every ten

I manage it——


by Gwendolyn Brooks

‘Riot’ by Gwendolyn Brooks is a poem that illustrates the dissonance that exists between the privileged and those who are driven to desperation to riot.

Brooks was and remains an important poet that gave voice to racial tensions in the United States. Her poems still resound with truth and meaning today. They serve as a thoughtful rumination on Black identity, a guard against virulent racism, and a rallying point for greater empathy through verse. Her poems are central to this country's continued navigation out of its racist past.

John Cabot, out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe,

all whitebluerose below his golden hair,

wrapped richly in right linen and right wool,

almost forgot his Jaguar and Lake Bluff;

She Had Some Horses

by Joy Harjo

‘She Had Some Horses’ by Joy Harjo illustrates the plurality of differences among people.

Harjo's poem is crucial to understanding not just the experiences and narratives of Indigenous groups. It also presents paradoxical themes of plurality and similarity, presenting the horses as distinctly different but then calling them the same. In a way, the poem is indicative of America's ever touted "melting-pot" moniker, revealing the discordant xenophobia that exists right along side myths and values of unity out of variety.

She had some horses.

She had horses who were bodies of sand.

She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.

She had horses who were skins of ocean water.

Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem

by Helene Johnson

‘Sonnet to a Negro in Harlem’ by Helene Johnson is a deeply affecting poem that lucidly attempts to uncover a man’s shortcomings alongside all that makes his superbly admirable.

Johnson was an American poet remembered as one of the youngest writers active during the Harlem Renaissance. Although she published numerous poems during this period, she would eventually cease all publishing, though she did still continue to write and appear in new anthologies of poetry. Poems like this one are a great example of why her poems are so crucial to Black identity.

You are disdainful and magnificent—

Your perfect body and your pompous gait,

Your dark eyes flashing solemnly with hate,

Small wonder that you are incompetent

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

by T.S. Eliot

Breaking away from Victorian diction, T.S. Eliot presents the distinct realities of his time in the stream of consciousness by experimenting with poetic form.

Eliot was an American citizen, and 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' presents American and European concerns of its times. It was published in the American magazine 'Poetry', founded by American literary critic, editor, patron of arts, and poet Harriet Monroe. The poem is part of Eliot's 'Boston Verse,' which critiques the upper classes, deriving its name from an American upper class called Boston Brahmins.

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 Present Crisis

by James Russell Lowell

‘The Present Crisis’ by James Russell Lowell is an anthem against slavery and, by extension, other racially-induced crimes. Penned in 1845 as a protest against the permission of slavery in Texas, this long poem now serves as a voice for all people of color who continue to face discrimination today.

The nationality is important because of the poet's cause, audience, and the poem itself is inspired by the events that occurred in 19th-century America; it is also written for Americans. Slavery and its abolition were hot topics then.

Slavery, the earth-born Cyclops, fellest of the giant brood,

Sons of brutish Force and Darkness, who have drenched the earth with blood,

Famished in his self-made desert, blinded by our purer day,

Gropes in yet unblasted regions for his miserable prey;—

Dream Variations

by Langston Hughes

‘Dream Variations’ by Langston Hughes details two slightly different dreams a Black speaker has as he is confronted with the “white day.”

To fling my arms wide

In some place of the sun,

To whirl and to dance

Till the white day is done.

A Dream within a Dream

by Edgar Allan Poe

Published in 1849, ‘A Dream Within a Dream’ by Edgar Allan Poe examines the subtleties of time and perspective.

Take this kiss upon the brow!

And, in parting from you now,

Thus much let me avow —

You are not wrong, who deem

That my days have been a dream;

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