English Poems

English poetry has a long history dating back to the medieval period, with important works such as ‘Beowulf’ and ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’ However, it was during the Renaissance period that English poetry truly flourished, with the works of William Shakespeare, John Donne, and Ben Jonson, among others.

In the 18th century, the Romantic movement emerged, with poets such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Lord Byron pushing the boundaries of poetic expression with their emotive and personal works. This era also saw the rise of female poets such as Mary Shelley and Charlotte Smith, who challenged societal norms with their feminist and revolutionary ideas.

The Victorian period saw the rise of poets such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who explored themes of love, death, and morality. The 20th century brought about the modernist movement, with poets such as T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, and Dylan Thomas experimenting with language and form to create works that were both intellectually challenging and emotionally resonant.

Sonnet 18

by William Shakespeare

‘Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?,’ also known as ‘Sonnet 18,’ is one of the Fair Youth poems. It is addressed to a mysterious male figure that scholars have been unable to identify.

This poem is a classic example of English poetry, reflecting the tradition's emphasis on beauty, emotion, and the power of language to capture the complexity of human experience. English poetry has a rich and diverse history, encompassing a wide range of styles, genres, and themes. William Shakespeare is one of the most celebrated poets of the English tradition, renowned for his mastery of language and his enduring literary legacy.

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:

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

by William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth’s literary classic, ‘Daffodils,’ also known as ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,’ is one of the most popular poems in the English language. It is a quintessential poem of the Romantic movement.

This a quintessentially English poem, showcasing the beauty of the natural world and the power of the imagination. The poem is a masterful example of English Romantic poetry, which emphasized individualism, emotion, and the beauty of the natural world. The poem's focus on the joyfulness of everyday experiences and the power of memory has made it a beloved classic of English literature.

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;

Kubla Khan (Xanadu)

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘Kubla Khan’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a poem that describes the poet’s dream of visiting the palace of Kubla Khan, a Mongol emperor who ruled over the ancient Chinese Yuan Dynasty.

This poem is one of the most famous poems to come out of England, and it is often considered a masterpiece of Romantic poetry. Its influence can be seen in the work of later poets, such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. The poem has also appeared as a reference point in other poems, novels, and even in television shows.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey

by William Wordsworth

‘Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’ by William Wordsworth is a well-loved poem that describes a speaker’s return to a specific spot along the banks of the River Wye and his understanding of nature.

This English poem is often cited as a key example of the Romantic literary tradition. The poem is celebrated for its emphasis on the beauty and power of nature and for its exploration of the ways in which memories of past experiences can shape our understanding of the world around us.

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

Goblin Market

by Christina Rossetti

‘Goblin Market’ is one of Christina Rossetti’s most famous and well-studied poems. The symbolism in the poem has led to a number of interpretations. One could argue that it is a metaphor for drug addiction or female purity.

This poem is an important work of English poetry and is celebrated for its lyrical beauty, its exploration of complex themes, and its innovative use of language and imagery. The poem is considered to be a key example of Victorian poetry and has had a lasting influence on the literary tradition. The poem's use of language, imagery, and structure reflects the best of English poetry, from the use of rhyme and meter to the incorporation of myth and folklore.

Morning and evening

Maids heard the goblins cry:

“Come buy our orchard fruits,

Come buy, come buy:

Ode to a Nightingale

by John Keats

‘Ode to a Nightingale’ was written in 1819, and it is the longest one, with 8 stanzas of 10 lines each and is one of six famous odes John Keats wrote.

This poem is a masterpiece of English poetry and one of the most beloved poems in the English language. Keats' use of language and imagery is masterful, and the poem has had a profound influence on subsequent generations of poets and writers. It is a complex and deeply moving work that explores some of the most fundamental questions of the human experience. It is a testament to Keats' skill as a poet and his ability to capture the beauty and pain of life in words.

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:

Ozymandias

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

‘Ozymandias’ is about the nature of power. It is an important piece that features how a great ruler like Ozymandias, and his legacy, was prone to impermanence and decay.

This poem is a brilliant example of English poetry, showcasing Percy Bysshe Shelley's poetic talents and the power of language to explore universal themes. The poem's enduring popularity is a testament to its timelessness and the relevance of its message.

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,

 

Bards of Passion and of Mirth

by John Keats

‘Bards of Passion and of Mirth’ by John Keats is one of the poet’s early odes. In it, Keats confirms that bards, or authors, have two souls, with one rising to heaven, and the other staying on earth.

Before he died, Keats write to his brother "I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death." Keats did, indeed, rise among the ranks of the great English poets, and he is still considered to be one of the very best poets of England, accompanied in the rankings by Chaucer, Wordsworth, and Byron.

    Bards of Passion and of Mirth,  

Ye have left your souls on earth!  

Have ye souls in heaven too,  

Doubled-lived in regions new?  

Jabberwocky

by Lewis Carroll

‘Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carroll is a brilliant nonsense poem. It tells the story of one person’s quest to slay the Jabberwock and the incredible creatures they meet along the way.

This poem showcases his imaginative spirit and inventive use of language, which challenged traditional poetic conventions and pushed the boundaries of literature. The poem's nonsensical language and imagery have captured the imagination of readers for over a century, making it a timeless work of English literature. Additionally, 'Jabberwocky' has influenced other writers and artists, inspiring new works and interpretations.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

Sonnet 138

by William Shakespeare

‘Sonnet 138,’ also known as ‘When my love swears that she is made of truth,’ is a poem about the lies at the heart of a relationship. It depicts the necessity of two lovers misleading one another. 

William Shakespeare is one of the most prominent English poets, often called England's national poet. He not only wrote the greatest work in English but significantly modulated the language and form for the generations to come. Similarly, despite being timeless and universal, his sonnets represent the dominant literary tradition, themes, and culture of Elizabethan England.

When my love swears that she is made of truth,

I do believe her though I know she lies,

That she might think me some untutored youth,

Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.

Explore more English poems

The Soldier

by Rupert Brooke

‘The Soldier’ is a poem by famed war poet Rupert Brooke. It celebrates the sacrifices of soldiers during World War I.

This poem reflects many of the themes and concerns of English poetry, including a celebration of beauty and a reflection on mortality. The poem's focus on patriotism and sacrifice also reflects the tradition of English poetry that celebrates the heroic actions of soldiers and other figures.

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England. There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

The Tyger

by William Blake

‘The Tyger’ is a well-known poem by William Blake. It explores the dark and destructive side of God and his creation.

This poem is a fantastic example of English poetry and is often cited as one of the greatest poems in the English language. 'The Tyger' exemplifies the Romantic movement, with its emphasis on emotion, individualism, and nature and its use of vivid imagery, symbolism, and rhetorical questioning. Today, it is one of the most commonly-studied Romantic poems.

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

If—

by Rudyard Kipling

Many people consider ‘If—’ to be one of the most inspirational poems ever written. It is certainly a poem that has garnered a great deal of attention in popular culture.

This is a highly important English poem. It has an impressively enduring popularity, timeless wisdom, and an ability to resonate with readers across generations. Since its publication in 1910, the poem has gained widespread recognition and has been celebrated for its moral guidance and inspirational messages. Its concise and impactful verses offer a roadmap for ethical conduct and personal growth.

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

 

Parrot

by Stevie Smith

‘Parrot’ is a moving exploration of imprisonment and suffering set against the backdrop of the modern, urban world.

Smith was born in England and lived there all her life. The poem is clearly concerned with life in London.

The old sick green parrot

High in a dingy cage

Sick with malevolent rage

Beadily glutted his furious eye

A Dead Rose

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

‘A Dead Rose’ mourns the short-lived nature of beauty, with vivid imagery and poignant emotions.

This is a remarkable poem that showcases the poet's mastery of language and imagery. The poem's vivid descriptions and emotional depth captivate readers, evoking a range of emotions such as nostalgia, regret, and empathy. Barrett Browning's skillful use of poetic techniques, such as metaphor and personification, enhances the poem's impact. While considering the poet's significance, the focus remains primarily on the poem itself, which stands as a poignant and thought-provoking piece of literature that demonstrates Barrett Browning's exceptional talent as a poet.

O Rose! who dares to name thee?

No longer roseate now, nor soft, nor sweet;

But pale, and hard, and dry, as stubble-wheat,—-

Kept seven years in a drawer—-thy titles shame thee.

Childhood

by Frances Cornford

‘Childhood’ explores the transitory moment when a child becomes aware of the passing of time, and the process of growing old.

Cornford was as established in British high society as any writer in her period.

I used to think that grown-up people chose

To have stiff backs and wrinkles round their nose,

And veins like small fat snakes on either hand,

On purpose to be grand.

Dover Beach

by Matthew Arnold

‘Dover Beach’ by Matthew Arnold is dramatic monologue lamenting the loss of true Christian faith in England during the mid 1800s.

This is a very famous English poem, often cited as ranking among the most important of the 20th century. The poem touches on relatable topics like nature and religion while also alluding to the contemporary moment the poet was experiencing.

The sea is calm tonight.

The tide is full, the moon lies fair

Upon the straits; on the French coast the light

Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,

Huge Vapours Brood above the Clifted Shore

by Charlotte Smith

‘Huge Vapours Brood above the Clifted Shore’ by Charlotte Smith describes a brooding storm the lighted paths of life one might choose to follow. 

As an example of 18th-century English poetry, the poem fits within a broader tradition that focuses on individualism and emotional complexity. It demonstrates the English poetic trend of employing natural landscapes as metaphors for human experiences.

Huge vapours brood above the clifted shore,

Night o’er the ocean settles, dark and mute,

Save where is heard the repercussive roar

Of drowsy billows, on the rugged foot

La Belle Dame sans Merci

by John Keats

‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ is Keats’ life and emotions set into verse. It is a story of unrequited love, illness, and the impossibility of being with whom one cares for when they are from different social classes.

'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' by John Keats is one of the most famous English poems. This short, digestible ballad about a knight who is captured by a supernatural woman is widely considered the best ballad of all time, and it is often used to teach people about ballad form.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,

Alone and palely loitering?

The sedge has withered from the lake,

And no birds sing.

Sonnet 116

by William Shakespeare

Sonnet 116: ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds’ by William Shakespeare is easily one of the most recognizable sonnets of all time. It explores the nature of love and what “true love” is.

This poem stands as an iconic piece within the canon of English poetry. It has inspired numerous interpretations and adaptations and continues to be a focal point in literary studies, reflecting the universal and timeless nature of its themes.

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:

The Walrus and the Carpenter

by Lewis Carroll

‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ is a narrative poem by Lewis Carroll. It was included in his 1871 novel ‘Through the Looking-Glass.’

This is a great English poem written in the 19th century by famed children's writer Lewis Caroll. His poetry is well-regarded worldwide, and he is widely considered one of the most important English writers ever.

The sun was shining on the sea,

Shining with all his might;

He did his very best to make

The billows smooth and bright—

 

To a Skylark

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

‘To a Skylark’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley is an ode. It celebrates the beauty of nature and the bliss of a skylark’s song.

Percy Bysshe Shelley is one of the greatest poets in the English language, known for his lyrical and imaginative style and his celebration of the beauty and majesty of nature. This poem is regarded as one of his best.

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! 

Bird thou never wert, 

That from Heaven, or near it,

A Farewell

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

‘A Farewell’ challenges the reader to reflect upon the fleeting nature of human life, especially when compared to nature.

Written by the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom and clearly set in the English countryside, the poem is deeply embedded within the cultural fabric of the nation.

Flow down, cold rivulet, to the sea,

Thy tribute wave deliver:

No more by thee my steps shall be,

For ever and for ever.

Ode to the West Wind

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

‘Ode to the West Wind’ was written in Cascine Woods, outside of Florence, Italy, and published in 1820. It focuses on death’s necessary destruction and the possibilities of rebirth.

As a cornerstone of English poetry, 'Ode to the West Wind' reflects the impressive tradition of using poetic form to delve into universal themes. It is an exemplary piece that merges form with a multiplicity of themes, making it a significant contribution to the canon of English poetry.

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,

The Wreck of the Hesperus

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

‘The Wreck of the Hesperus’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a narrative poem about a shipwreck and the dangers of pride in an emergency.

This poem's powerful storytelling, vivid imagery, and memorable language have made it a beloved piece of English poetry that continues to be studied and appreciated by readers and scholars alike. It is regarded as one of the best poems in the English language.

It was the schooner Hesperus,

That sailed the wintry sea;

And the skipper had taken his little daughtèr,

To bear him company.

Part I: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner By S.T. Coleridge

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is a lyrical ballad about a mysterious sea-faring wedding guest who tells a long story of a dangerous journey. It was written between 1797 and 1798.

He holds him with his glittering eye—

The Wedding-Guest stood still,

And listens like a three years' child:

The Mariner hath his will.

Peckham Rye Lane

by Amy Blakemore
The poem's depiction of modern London is every bit as engaging as Blake's iteration of London in the late eighteenth century.

The sun, today –

it leaks desperation,

Gunmetal droplets of perspiration

The Solitary Reaper

by William Wordsworth

“The Solitary Reaper” by William Wordsworth is a recollection of the poet’s emotional experience as he listens to a woman singing in the fields.

Behold her, single in the field,

Yon solitary Highland Lass!

Reaping and singing by herself;

Stop here, or gently pass!

Horatius

by Thomas Babington Macaulay

‘Horatius’ by Thomas Babington Macaulay is a long narrative ballad about Horatius Cocles, a legendary hero from early Roman history.

While 'Horatius' is primarily about Roman History, it is by a very eminent British author, Thomas Babington Macaulay. This poem also uses ballad form for ease of reading, which emulates the form of folktale songs in early Britain. Additionally, it is best known as Winston Churchill's favorite poem, so it has a lot of British history behind it.

LARS Porsena of Clusium

By the Nine Gods he swore

That the great house of Tarquin

Should suffer wrong no more.

Epigram Engraved on the Collar of a Dog Which I Gave to His Royal Highness

by Alexander Pope

‘Epigram Engraved on the Collar of a Dog’ is a humorous, playful, and extremely concise poem that presents the dog’s feelings of superiority.

The poem is firmly associated with England as the titular dog and collar were gifts to Prince Frederick, a member of the British royal family.

I am his Highness' dog at Kew;

Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?

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