A Complete List of Classic Poems Everyone Should Know

Poetry That Shapes English Through the Ages

Certain poems are worth knowing
A list of poems that are worth committing to memory. Getty Images

Here’s a list of essential classics everyone should know. These old poems form the tradition of the English language, linger in the memory of English speakers, 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” by Christopher Marlowe (1598)

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

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

"Sonnet 29" by William Shakespeare (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.

“Song—A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns (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” by William Blake (1794)

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

William Blake (1757–1827) penned this poem with is worthy of study today.

“Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1797)

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

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

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth (1804)

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

“Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats (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.'"

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

“I taste a liquor never brewed—” (#214) by Emily Dickinson

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

American Icon/“Belle of Amherst” Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) celebrates being drunk on life rather than liquor.

“Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll (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” by Walt Whitman (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” by T.S. Eliot (1915)

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

“The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats (1920)

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

Irish Mystical/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.