- O Captain! My Captain by Walt Whitman
Whitman's tribute poem to Abraham Lincoln, memorably taught by John Keating in the movie, Dead Poets Society.
- The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
The poem isn't what most people think it's about, read it again to find out whether you're on the right track.
- Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
A bit apocalyptic, Frost speculates how it will end.
- The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll
- Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll
"'Twas brilling, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe..." [It's just fun to read aloud!i>]
- Chuang Tzu and the Butterfly by Li Bai
"Chuang Tzu in dream became a butterfly, and the butterfly became Chuang Tzu at waking. Which was the real-- the butterfly or the man?"
- The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
A must-read, setting the standard for gothic poetry.
- The Railway Train by Emily Dickinson
You can rename it I Like to See It Lap the Miles in case you want to read it to someone as a riddle.
- Little Women (poem) by Louisa May Alcott
As in Little Women
, one of Louisa's sisters died. "Four sisters parted for an hour, none lost, one only gone before, made by love's immortal power, nearest and dearest evermore."
- To Louisa May Alcott. By Her Father by Louisa May Alcott
Louisa May Alcott's father pays tribute to Louisa's service nursing woulded soldiers during the Civil War.
- The Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe
What became the most popular song for the Union during the Civil War, Howe wrote the acclaimed lyrics, "Mine eyes have seen the glory" after an inspiring visit with President Lincoln in 1862.
- Pastoral by William Carlos Williams
"The little sparrows hop ingenuously about the pavement quarreling with sharp voices over those things that interest them."
- To the Spring. Or of the Fables of the Ancients. by Giacomo Leopardi
"Say, O gentle Spring, canst thou this icy heart inspire, and melt, that in the bloom of youth, the frost of age hath felt?"
- The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"Ye whose hearts are fresh and simple, who have faith in God and Nature, who believe that in all ages every human heart is human, that in even savage bosoms there are longings, yearnings, strivings."
- Paris in Spring by Sara Teasdale
"But the rain-drops still are clinging and falling one by one. Oh, it's Paris, it's Paris, and spring-time has begun."
- Perplexed Music by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
"Experience, like a pale musician, holds a dulcimer of patience in his hand, whence harmonies we cannot understand."
- Wraith by Edna St. Vincent Millay
"Thin Rain, whom are you haunting, that you haunt my door?"
- The Song of Wandering Aengus by William Butler Yeats
Yeats offers vivid hyperbole and the literary devices, and explore the relationship between poetry and music.
- Goliath and David by Robert Graves
Spoiler alert: David can't beat Goliath EVERY time.
- The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson
"Their's not to reason why, Their's but to do and die, Into the valley of Death."
- Paul Revere's Ride by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"Listen, my children, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere..." is a poem that canonized this legendary event in history.
- In Flanders Fields by John McCrae
"In Flanders fields the poppies grow between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly scarce heard amid the guns below."
- Nothing Will Die by Alfred Lord Tennyson
This metaphysical verse will cheer you up after reading his last one, The Charge of the Light Brigade.
- I, Too, Sing America by Langston Hughes
Hughes launched jazz poetry during the Harlem Renaissance and shed light on the black experience between 1920 to 1960.
- Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
A traveler's description of a ruined statue of the Egyptian King Ramses II, 13th century BCE.
- Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley
"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, pestilence-stricken multitudes!"
- Song: Go and catch a falling star by John Donne
A metaphysical poem chalk-full of spiritual metaphors.
- Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
One of the most influential and greatest poems of all times, from Whitman's collection, Leaves of Grass.
- Mending Wall by Robert Frost
This poem is where the expression comes from: "Good fences make good neighbors."
- Bless God, he went as soldiers by Emily Dickinson
Though her work was most intense and prolific during the Civil War, she rarely wrote explicitly about it. There's no ambiguity in this poem's references.
- When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd by Walt Whitman
Whitman wrote this poem in 1865, juxtaposing Lincoln's death with Spring's bursting forth of life and renewal.
- Each and All by Ralph Waldo Emerson
The transcendalist who wrote the essay, Self-Reliance
offers this poem steeped in nature, "Beauty through my senses stole; I yielded myself to the perfect whole."
- How Do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Remember that Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd spoof? Here's the source: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."
- All the World's a Stage by William Shakespeare
This oft-quoted sonnet is excerpted from Shakespeare's comedy, As You Like It.
- My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Barrett's poems are described as a fresh, strange music. She expresses her love and loss of her dear friend, and coming to terms with her own imminent death.
- Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare
Each quatrain artfully applies different metaphor to the experiences of growing old.
- Doubt No More That Oberon by Edna St. Vincent Millay
- Spring by Edna St. Vincent Millay
"You can no longer quiet me with the redness of little leaves opening stickily. I know what I know."
- Alms by Edna St. Vincent Millay
"My heart is what it was before, A house where people come and go...".
- Oily Weather by Ernest Hemingway
"The sea rolls with love, surging and caressing, undulating its great loving belly."
- Ultimately by Ernest Hemingway
"He tried to spit out the truth, dry mouthed at first..."
- We Grow Accustomed to the Dark by Emily Dickinson
A powerful poem using the end-of-the-day as a metaphor for life's struggles.
- Winter in the Boulevard by D.H. Lawrence
"Their abundant summery wordage silenced, caught in the grim undertow; naked the trees confront implacable winter's long, cross-questioning brunt."
- A Day of Sunshine by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It's one of those days that makes you feel exhilarated! "I feel the electric thrill, the touch / Of life, that seems almost too much."
- She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron
One of England's greatest poets and leader of the romantic movement, Byron composed this piece in 1813 after being mesmerized by a lady dressed in black at a ball, his cousin by marriage.
- Our Country by Julia Ward Howe
"Let Justice with the faultless scales hold fast the worship of they sons."
- A Nameless Grave by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"A soldier of the Union mustered out," is the inscription on an unknown grave in Newport News, Virginia.
- Daybreak by Jack London
You may not think of Jack London as a poet, acclaimed for The Call of the Wild
and man versus nature themes; which makes this tender poem an unexpected treat.
- A Shropshire Lad - II - Loveliest of Trees by A.E. Housman
A lovely poem marking the seasons of pastoral beauty compared to fleeting youth and growing old.
- There Will Come Soft Rains by Sara Teasdale
One of Teasdale's best known poems about nature's resilience after the Great War's destruction. "Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, if mankind perished utterly."
- A November Night by Sara Teasdale
The imagery of lights and love are simply elegant.
- Ebb Tide by Sara Teasdale
"To the empty beach at ebb tide, bare with its rocks and scars, come back like the sea with singing, and light of a million stars."
- Magdalen Walks by Oscar Wilde
Wilde's poem simply "pops" with the joy of the Spring!
- A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne
This is a metaphysical poem you should know, John Donne's finest.
- A Pinch of Salt by Robert Graves
"When a dream is born in you with a sudden clamorous pain, when you know the dream is true and lovely, with no flaw nor stain..."
- The River Merchant's Wife by Li Bai
Li Bai wrote and Ezra Pound
skillfully translated this poem rich in allegory, metaphor and symbols. A must read.
- A Poem of Changgan by Li Bai
Written from the voice of an 8th century Chinese woman, Bai juxtaposed images to convey emotions.
- The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
Here's a day in the life of a really insecure man who wants you to think he's cool.
- I Taught Myself to Live Simply by Anna Akhmatova
The acclaimed Russian modernist poet, having survived a totalitarian regime, offers verses to keep us from "superfluous worry."
- Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats
The biggest of Keats' "odes": "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
- I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by William Wordsworth
You can almost see those daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze with Wordsworth's skillful similes!
- The World is Too Much With Us by William Wordsworth
An environmentalist's cautionary tale: "Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: Little we see in Nature that is ours;..."
- Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes
"O, let my land be a land where Liberty is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, but opportunity is real, and life is free, equality is the air we breathe."
- As I Grow Older by Langston Hughes
"Help me to shatter this darkness, to smash this night, to break this shadow into a thousand lights of sun..."
- The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
Considered one of the most influential modernist poems of the twentieth century for its cerebral, sparse, and haunting vision of society after the First World War. "I will show you fear in a handful of dust."
- To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick
You know this one from Dead Poets Society: "Gather yee rosebuds while yee may..." A carpe diem theme poem.
- Awake! Young Men of England by George Orwell
The author of 1984 was an activist committed to democratic socialism, and is credited with introducing the terms "cold war," "thought police," and "big brother." What was his intention with this poem?
- A Little Poem by George Orwell
Orwell's poem provokes social commentary, "It is forbidden to dream again; We maim our joys or hide them;..."
- The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope
This mock-heroic poem diffused an actual feud between two aristocratic families subject to the Test Act, which imposed harsher penalities on non-Anglicans.
- Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson
One of Dickinson's most celebrated poems for its symbols, imagery, and imperfectly rhyming quatrains.
- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Read where these expressions came from: "having an albatross around one's neck" and "water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink."
- I Cannot Live Without You by Emily Dickinson
Her similes and metaphors are so riveting; giving the impression of straddling between life and death.
- If by Rudyard Kipling
Kipling offers such a large body of work; this poem offers provocative "if" statements: "If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken / Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,..."
- A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe
Poe's metaphysical reality is worth pondering: "All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream."
- A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever by John Keats
"Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness; but still will keep a bower quiet for us, and a sleep full of sweet dreams..."
- Love and Friendship by Emily Bronte
Bronte, author of Wuthering Heights
, offers similes using the wild rose-briar and the holly-tree to contrast the endurance of both types of relationships.
- A Poison Tree by William Blake
- To the Friend of My Youth: To Kitty by Kate Chopin
This may be Chopin's final poem, a lovely tribute to an enduring friendship.