12 Classic Poems Everyone Should Know

Poetry That Shapes English Through the Ages

Collection of old, classic books on a shelf.

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There are some essential classic poems everyone should know. These poems form the tradition of the English language, linger in the memory, and shape our thoughts. You may recognize some of these lines, but knowing the author and the date will improve your claim to cultural literacy.

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love (1598)

“Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove...”

Christopher Marlowe

This first line of this poem is the best known. With the vowel shift in the English language, the lines no longer rhyme as they would at the time. This poem inspired Walter Raleigh's "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd."

Sonnet 29 (1609)

“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state...”

Feeling sorry for yourself? So was this protagonist, envious of others and cursing his fate. But he ends on a hopeful note when remembering his beloved.

A Red, Red Rose (1794)

“O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June...”

Known also for "Auld Lang Syne," Burns is Scotland's most famous poet. He wrote in English but included bits of Scottish dialect.

The Tyger (1794)

“Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?...”

William Blake

William Blake (1757–1827) penned this poem that is still considered to be worthy of study today.

Kubla Khan (1797)

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Gothic/Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) wrote this incomplete poem in an opium dream.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (1804)

“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills...”

William Wordsworth

British Romantic Poet William Wordsworth (1770–1850)​ is also known for his poem “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.”

Ode on a Grecian Urn (1820)

"a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'"

John Keats

English Romantic poet John Keats divided critics with the final line of this work, with some thinking it devalued the rest of the poem.

I taste a liquor never brewed (#214)

“I taste a liquor never brewed—
From Tankards scooped in Pearl—...”

Emily Dickinson

An American icon, Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) was also known as the “Belle of Amherst." This poem celebrates being drunk on life, rather than liquor.

Jabberwocky (1871)

“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe....”

This poem is an example of amphigory, or nonsensical writing.

I Hear America Singing (1900)

“I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong...”

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915)

“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table....”

T.S. Eliot

The Second Coming (1920)

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold...”

William Butler Yeats

Irish mystical and historical poet William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) produced many poems. “The Second Coming” expresses his apocalyptic sense at the end of World War I and the Easter Uprising.