19th Century Poems

The influential verse of the 19th century included the work of poets like William Wordsworth, John Keats, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, and many more. 19th-century poets are among the most influential and well-read of all time. Their incredible work has inspired generations of writers, reaching to the present day.

I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl

by Emily Dickinson

‘I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl’ by Emily Dickinson is a deeply melancholic poem that elucidates the ways in which people try to go on living when they’ve lost all love of life.

The poem presents a striking snapshot of life in the 19th century and a timelessly human observation of life's existential growing pains. It is not the most famous poem of the period, but it still reveals the way her poetry stood out from other Transcendentalists and Dark Romantics despite being greatly influenced by them herself.

I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl—

Life's little duties do—precisely—

As the very least

Were infinite—to me—

L’Envoi (1881)

by Rudyard Kipling

‘L’Envoi’ by Rudyard Kipling reflects on the nature and purpose of poetry and considers the poet’s legacy.

As a prominent figure in 19th-century poetry, Rudyard Kipling's work reflects the prevailing literary trends of his time. His writing is characterized by its attention to detail and its exploration of universal themes, both of which are exemplified in 'L'Envoi.'

Rhymes, or of grief or of sorrow

Pass and are not,

Rhymes of today—tomorrow 

  Lie forgot.

More Strong Than Time

by Victor Hugo

‘More Strong Than Time’ by Victor Hugo is a powerfully romantic poem that declares love as withstanding the withering effects of time.

This 19th-century poem by Hugo has several characteristics indicative of the Romantic movement of the period. There is the overflowing passion and emotion that gushes from its imagery and figurative language, as well as the poet's challenging and bold spirit that is released through the speaker when they dare time just to try and eradicate their love.

Since I have set my lips to your full cup, my sweet,

Since I my pallid face between your hands have laid,

Since I have known your soul, and all the bloom of it,

And all the perfume rare, now buried in the shade;

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun

by Emily Dickinson

‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun’ by Emily Dickinson is a complex, metaphorical poem. The poet depicts a woman who is under a man’s control and sleeps like a load gun.

A great, memorable poem of the 19th century.

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -

In Corners - till a Day

The Owner passed - identified -

And carried Me away -

Paraphrase on Anacreon: Ode to the Swallow

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

‘Paraphrase on Anacreon: Ode to the Swallow,’ is a translation of a Greek lyric poem in which the speaker explains that love constantly (and annoyingly) inhabits their heart.

'Paraphrase on Anacreon: Ode to the Swallow' is both Romantic and Neo-Classical in nature, which makes it an excellent representative of English poetics during the early 1800s. This Victorian poem, which is naturally heavily inspired by Classical poetry, is also a very personal and emotional love lyric, foreshadowing the emphasis on lyricism in the later generations of poets.

Thou indeed, little Swallow,

A sweet yearly comer.

Art building a hollow

New nest every summer.


by Victor Hugo

‘Sunset’ by Victor Hugo is a poignant poem that uses the setting sun to explore the speaker’s views on time and life’s various cycles, coming to the conclusion that the grim finality of human life is softened by the continuation of nature’s beauty.

Hugo was one of the premiere poets in France during the 19th century, and this poem underscores some of the reasons why, from his effluent imagery in this poem that captures the awe and beauty of nature to his humble perception of humanity's meager purpose on Earth. The poem is rife with Romantic sentiment that celebrates and honors all aspects of life, even death.

The sun set this evening in masses of cloud,

The storm comes to-morrow, then calm be the night,

Then the Dawn in her chariot refulgent and proud,

Then more nights, and still days, steps of Time in his flight.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant

by Emily Dickinson

‘Tell the truth but tell it slant’ by Emily Dickinson is one of Dickinson’s best-loved poems. It explores an unknown “truth” that readers must interpret in their own way.

A great poem of the 19th century but doesn't represent the period completely.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth's superb surprise

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 19th century marks the beginning of the abolitionist movement, from which this poem was born. Usually, poems written in this particular century symbolized a new style of writing or a new movement, thereby making the period relevant. This poem symbolizes a political and social movement, especially in 19th-century America.

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;—


by Lord Byron

‘Solitude’ describes how a person can feel content and supported in nature, yet isolated and alone when surrounded by other people.

While the poem's content is seemingly applicable across different contexts, its central belief in the restorative power of nature ensures it is closely linked with the Romantic era of the early nineteenth century. This makes it a good example of the poetry of this period.

To sit on rocks, to muse o'er flood and fell,

To slowly trace the forest's shady scene,

Where things that own not man's dominion dwell,

And mortal foot hath ne'er or rarely been;

Maud Muller

by John Greenleaf Whittier

‘Maud Muller’ by John Greenleaf Whittier is a classic narrative ballad that recounts how the poor peasant, Maud, and an urban judge fantasize about getting married and living together. However, neither of them ever takes action, which fills their lives with regret.

The form and structure of this poem, written in the 1850s, are rather typical of Romantic-era ballads, but this verse is unique in that it is an American pastoral Ballad. While the poets overseas in England were writing stories a lot like Maud's in their poetry, Whittier often put an American spin on his poems, rooting his scenes and images in the experiences of American commoners.

God pity them both! and pity us all,

Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

by Edward Lear

‘The Owl and the Pussy-Cat’ by Edward Lear is a simple, joy-filled poem that tells the marriage story of an owl and a cat. 

This poem was written in the 19th century, a time when poetry was sometimes seen as a form of entertainment rather than a high art form. The poem reflects this trend with its playful language and whimsical imagery designed to entertain and delight readers.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea-green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money,

Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died

by Emily Dickinson

‘I heard a Fly Buzz – when I died’ by Emily Dickinson is an unforgettable depiction of the moments before death. The speaker emphasizes the stillness of the room and the movements of a single fly.

This is a great poem written during the 19th century but it is not representative of the best work of the period.

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -

The Stillness in the Room

Was like the Stillness in the Air -

Between the Heaves of Storm -

The Badger

by John Clare

‘The Badger’ by John Clare is a narrative poem that portrays the cruelty and danger that animals face in the natural world.

This poem exemplifies John Clare's unique poetic style, which often focuses on the natural world and the lives of rural people. The poem's use of the quatrain form adds a sense of structure and balance to the narrative. It is a good, although not very well-known, example of 19th-century poetry.

When midnight comes a host of dogs and men

Go out and track the badger to his den,

And put a sack within the hole, and lie

Till the old grunting badger passes by.

The Crocodile

by Lewis Carroll

‘The Crocodile’ by Lewis Carroll tells, very briefly, of a crocodile who sneakily attracts fish and then swallows them with a big smile on his face.

This poem was written in the 19th century, a time when poetry was characterized by its focus on emotion, nature, and imagination. Carroll's use of vivid imagery and playful language reflects the trends of the era while also adding his unique spin on the genre.

How doth the little crocodile

     Improve his shining tail,

And pour the waters of the Nile

     On every golden scale!

To a Butterfly

by William Wordsworth

There are two poems by the title ‘To a Butterfly’ in William Wordsworth’s 1807 poetry collection, “Poems, in Two Volumes.” The first poem is the best-known in comparison to the latter one.

'To A Butterfly' is a quintessential example of 19th-century Romantic poetry, emphasizing emotion, nature, and imagination. The poem's focus on the beauty of the natural world and its ability to inspire and uplift the human spirit is characteristic of the Romantic movement.

Stay near me - do not take thy flight!

A little longer stay in sight!

Much converse do I find in thee,

Historian of my infancy!

Tomorrow, At Dawn

by Victor Hugo

‘Tomorrow, At Dawn’ by Victor Hugo follows the speaker as they journey to the grave of a loved one, capturing all the ways in which grief has become their sole fixation.

Hugo was an important writer in 19th-century France and used his work to highlight much of the human suffering endured during his time. But his poetry was also fueled by personal experience and tragedy. This poem offers a glimpse into his struggle to deal with such profound grief and offers a powerful catharsis to anyone dealing with something similar.

Tomorrow, at dawn, at the hour when the countryside whitens,

I will set out. You see, I know that you wait for me.

I will go by the forest, I will go by the mountain.

I can no longer remain far from you.


City of Orgies

by Walt Whitman

‘City of Orgies’ by Walt Whitman is a poem written by the celebrated American poet Walt Whitman. The poem is a reflection on the city of Manhattan and Whitman’s experiences in the midst of its bustling urban culture. 

The 19th century was a time of great change in poetry, marked by the rise of Romanticism and the emergence of free verse poetry. 'City of Orgies' reflects this era of poetic experimentation and expression. Poets such as Walt Whitman explored new forms and themes, giving voice to the individual experience and emotions.

City of orgies, walks and joys,

City whom that I have lived and sung in your midst will one day

make you illustrious,

Not the pageants of you, not your shifting tableaus, your specta-

cles, repay me,

Knee-Deep In June

by James Whitcomb Riley

‘Knee-Deep In June’ by James Whitcomb Riley is a pastoral poem advocating nature’s joys amid the luscious warmth of June as a must-do escape from the daily humdrum.

This is a good, but not well-known example of a poem written in the nineteenth century. It was included in Riley's poem collection "Old-Fashioned Roses." Despite being a late-nineteenth-century poem, this piece is widely read today by poetry enthusiasts and is considered a timeless piece of American poetry.

Tell you what I like the best --

'Long about knee-deep in June,

'Bout the time strawberries melts

On the vine, -- some afternoon

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.

Although written in the nineteenth century, during which Tennyson was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, the poem's themes are timeless as the poet was preoccupied with questions of brevity and eternity.

Flow down, cold rivulet, to the sea,

Thy tribute wave deliver:

No more by thee my steps shall be,

For ever and for ever.


The Eagle

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

‘The Eagle’ is a powerful poem that captures the majesty and strength of the majestic bird, inspiring readers to reach for the heights of their own potential.

The poetry of this era often celebrated the beauty and power of nature while also grappling with the complexities of industrialization and societal change. Thi sis something that's seen in 'The Eagle' in its short, effective lines.

He clasps the crag with crooked hands; 

Close to the sun in lonely lands, 

Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.


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.

The 19th century was a period of great change and upheaval in literature, marked by the Romantic movement, which emphasized emotion and imagination. This poem explores much of what readers would expect from and be surprised about 19th-century poetry.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.


by Walt Whitman

‘Mannahatta’ by Walt Whitman is a stunning poem that marvels over a city deeply admired by the poet, encompassing all the wondrous elements of its populace.

This poem by Whitman captures a remarkable image of the island borough of Manhattan as it might have appeared to those viewing it in the 19th century. As a result, the sprawling imagery that ensues within offers a kind of cinematic detail and vividness that transports the reader into the awe-inspiring midsts of the cityscape. Engaging nearly all the senses, Whitman uses his characteristic breathless voice to whisk you away.

I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city,

Whereupon lo! upsprang the aboriginal name.

Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient,

I see that the word of my city is that word from of old,

After Killing a Spider

by Masaoka Shiki

‘After Killing a Spider’ by Masaoka Shiki is a thoughtful poem. It describes the negative and dark effects of killing a spider.

This period saw the rise of Romanticism, which emphasized individual emotion and the beauty of nature. 'After Killing A Spider' shares some similarities with Romantic poetry in its focus on nature and human emotion, but it also demonstrates the influence of traditional Japanese poetry forms.

After killing

a spider, how lonely I feel

June (from “The Vision of Sir Launfal”)

by James Russell Lowell

‘June’ by James Russell Lowell is a religiously-charged romantic narrative poem about the overwhelming beauty and rejuvenating power of summer. 

This poem, published in the mid-1800s, is a stellar example of American Romantic poetry. However, compared to other romantic poets, Lowell doesn't have much chance of ranking too highly.

And what is so rare as a day in June?

Then, if ever, come perfect days;

Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,

And over it softly her warm ear lays:

Over the wintry

by Natsume Sōseki

‘Over the wintry’ by Natsume Sōseki is a short, evocative poem that captures the desolate beauty of a winter landscape. It’s written in the form of a haiku.

In the context of 19th century poetry, Sōseki's poem stands as a unique contribution to the Japanese literary tradition. While it's not the best-known haiku of all time, it is a really wonderful example of the long-lasting influence of the haiku style and its related themes. 'Over the wintry' is more important as an example of the poet's verse-writing than it is an example of 19th-century poetry, though.

Over the wintry

forest, winds howl in rage

with no leaves to blow.

An Hour With Thee

by Sir Walter Scott

‘An Hour With Thee’ by Sir Walter Scott is a poem about the speaker’s appreciation for spending time with an unnamed character. Despite his difficult life, an hour with this person can make his situation tolerable.

Sir Walter Scott's 'An Hour With Thee' is written in a style that mimics earlier, medieval poetry. This rondel feels antiquated, almost like a stodgy hymn, and, thus, isn't a great representative of the Romantic era of poetry. However, Scott's revival of historical, courtly forms is a great example of Romantic poets' usage and revival of various, older poetic forms.

An hour with thee! When earliest day

Dapples with gold the eastern gray,

Oh, what can frame my mind to bear

The toil and turmoil, cark and care,


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 this poem is nowhere near as complex or meaningful as some other 19th century poems by poets such as Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelly, and Byron, it is still an enduring testament to the Romantic era's revival of the ballad form. Likewise, it does not have too much depth and uses plain language to create a good story above all else.

LARS Porsena of Clusium

By the Nine Gods he swore

That the great house of Tarquin

Should suffer wrong no more.

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