The Best Poems in English

Any attempt at anthologising poetry will always be open to critique, particularly when the anthologiser pretends to choose the “best” poems ever written. Questions such as “How can such and such a poem not be included?”, “Why is that period not represented?”, “Where are all the women?” are therefore to be expected and I can only address them by explaining that the authors and poems listed below were chosen through the lens of my own taste and experience and that when read, I found something of worth in them.

With all that said, I want to make it clear that I am not an aesthetic relativist and firmly believe in the absolute quality of every single poem included here.

So what is the goal of this anthology and in the end, of this website as a whole? If nothing else, then this: that it will simply act as a roadmap through the poetic landscape of the English language. There are many lanes and byways that are not charted on it and I hope that the inquisitive reader, traversing some of the more clearly-beaten paths, will feel inspired to take those turns and see where they end up taking him or her.

The poems in the lists are accessed by clicking on the respective authors’ names and scrolling through the page. If you find any inconsistencies or mistakes, please let me know by writing an email to [email protected] so I can correct them

Enjoy!

Anonymous (14th century)

  • Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)

  • An ABC (The Prayer of Our Lady)
  • Rondel
  • Virelai
  • Words unto Adam his Scrivener
  • Balade de Bon Conseyl
  • Canterbury Tales
  • Troilus and Criseyde
  • The Book of the Duchess

William Dunbar (1459?-1530)

  • Lament for the Makars
  • On the Nativity of Christ

Sir John Skelton (1463-1529)

  • Though ye suppose all jeopardies are past
  • Upon a Dead Man’s Head

Anonymous (16th century)

  • Tom O’ Bedlam’s Song

Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542)

  • Whoso list to hunt
  • They flee from me
  • My lute awake
  • The pillar perish’d

Thomas Vaux (1509-1556)

  • He Renounceth All the Effects of Love
  • The Aged Lover Renounceth Love

Henry Howard (1516/1517-1547)

  • So Cruel Prison

George Gascoigne (1535-1577)

  • The Lullaby of a Lover
  • And if I Did, What Then?

Edmund Spenser (1552?-1599)

  • Amoretti LXXV: One Day I Wrote Her Name
  • The Faerie Queen

Sir Walter Ralegh (1552-1618)

  • The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd
  • Epitaph
  • Farewell to the Court
  • Conceit Begotten by the Eyes
  • Nature, That Washed Her Hands in Milk
  • The Lie
  • The Sun May Set and Rise

Fulke Greville (1554-1628)

  • Caelica 7: The world, that all contains
  • Caelica 83: You that seek what life is in death

King James Bible

  • Psalm 19
  • Psalm 23
  • Psalm 91
  • Psalm 139
  • Ecclesiastes
  • The Song of Solomon
  • The Book of Job
  • The Sermon on the Mount
  • 1 Corinthians 13

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

  • A Guiltless Heart
  • Life

Chidiock Tichborne (1562-1586)

  • Elegy

Michael Drayton (1563-1631)

  • To the Virginian Voyage
  • Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part

Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

  • The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
  • Hero and Leander

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

  • Sonnet 3
  • Sonnet 12
  • Sonnet 15
  • Sonnet 18
  • Sonnet 29
  • Sonnet 30
  • Sonnet 53
  • Sonnet 64
  • Sonnet 65
  • Sonnet 104

Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)

  • In Time of Plague

Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1639)

  • A Hymn to God in a Night of My Late Sickness
  • Hymn

Thomas Campion (1570-1620)

  • Follow Thy Fair Sun
  • My Sweetest Lesbia
  • The Man of Life Upright
  • Now Winter Nights Enlarge

Sir Robert Aytoun (1570-1638)

  • Upon Platonic Love: To Mistress Cicely Crofts, Maid of Honour
  • On Tobacco

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

  • Song: To Celia
  • To Celia
  • The Noble Nature
  • To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare

John Donne (1572-1631)

  • Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness
  • Song: Go and Catch a Falling Star
  • The Flea
  • A Hymn to God the Father
  • A Hymn to Christ, at the Author’s Last Going into Germany
  • The Sun Rising
  • The Canonisation
  • A Nocturnal upon Saint Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day

John Webster (1580-1634)

  • Vanitas Vanitatum

Aurelian Townshend (1583-1649)

  • Though Regions Far Divided
  • To the Lady May

Francis Beaumont (1584-1616)

  • On the Tombs in Westminster Abbey
  • On the Marriage of a Beauteous Young Gentlewoman with an Ancient Man

Edward Herbert (1583-1648)

  • The Thought
  • Elegy
  • A Meditation upon His Wax Candle Burning Out
  • Tears, Flow No More

Francis Kynaston (1587-1642)

  • To Cynthia
  • To Cynthia: On Her Embraces
  • To Cynthia: On Her Coyness
  • To Cynthia: An Apology
  • To Cynthia: On a Parting Kiss
  • To Cynthia: On the Concealment of Her Beauty

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

  • To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
  • To Daffodils
  • The Coming of Good Luck
  • The Night Piece, to Julia
  • Upon Julia’s Clothes
  • Corinna’s Going a Maying

Henry King (1592-1669)

  • Sic Vita

Francis Quarles (1592-1644)

  • On a Monument
  • An Ecstasy

George Herbert (1593-1633)

  • Virtue
  • Easter Wings
  • Church Monuments
  • The Pearl

Thomas Carew (1595-1640)

  • A Rapture
  • A Song
  • An Elegy upon the Death of the Dean of Saint Paul’s, Doctor John Donne
  • A Cruel Mistress

James Paulin (15th-16th century?)

  • Love’s Contentment

James Shirley (1596-1666)

  • Death the Leveller

William Habington (1605-1654)

  • Nox Nocti Indicat Scientiam

William Davenant (1606-1688)

  • Song

Edmund Waller (1606-1687)

  • Go, Lovely Rose

John Milton (1608-1674)

  • How soon hath Time, the subtle thief of youth
  • On the Late Massacre in Piedmont
  • When I consider how my light is spent
  • On Shakespeare
  • On Time
  • At a Solemn Music
  • Lycidas
  • L’Allegro
  • On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity
  • Paradise Lost
  • Samson Agonistes

John Suckling (1609-1641)

  • Sonnet: Of thee, kind boy, I ask no red and white

Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)

  • Before the Birth of One of Her Children

Richard Crashaw (1613-1649)

  • A Song
  • An Epitaph upon Husband and Wife Who Died and Were Buried Together

Samuel Butler (1613-1658)

  • Hudibras

Thomas Philipot (ca. 1616-1682)

  • On Myself being Sick of a Fever

Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

  • To His Coy Mistress

John Hall (1627-1656)

  • Call

John Dryden (1631-1700)

  • A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day
  • To the Memory of Mr. Oldham
  • Epigram on Milton

Earl of Rochester (1647-1680)

  • A Song of a Young Lady to Her Ancient Lover
  • Upon His Leaving His Mistress
  • Impromptu on Charles II
  • The Imperfect Enjoyment

Matthew Prior (1664-1721)

  • An Ode

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

  • On Stella’s Birth-day
  • The Place of the Damned
  • Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, D.S.P.D.

William Congreve (1670-1729)

  • Buxom Joan

Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

  • An Essay on Criticism
  • Verses from The Dunciad

James Thomson (1700-1748)

  • The Seasons

Thomas Gray (1716-1771)

  • On the Death of Richard West
  • Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

William Cowper (1731-1800)

  • A Comparison
  • Light Shining out of Darkness
  • The Nightingale and Glow-Worm
  • The Castaway
  • The Task

George Crabbe (1754-1832)

  • The Newspaper
  • The Village

William Blake (1757-1827)

  • London

Robert Burns (1759-1796)

  • A Red, Red Rose
  • Green Grow the Rashes
  • Tam O’ Shanter

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

  • Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1802)
  • Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour. July 13, 1798
  • Surprised by Joy
  • Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

  • Answer
  • The Lay of the Last Minstrel
  • The Lady of the Lake

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

  • The Eolian Harp
  • This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison
  • Frost at Midnight
  • The Pains of Sleep
  • The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)

  • The Destruction of Sennacherib
  • Stanzas for Music
  • January 22nd, Missolonghi
  • Don Juan
  • Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

  • Ozymandias
  • With a Guitar—to Jane
  • Mont Blanc
  • Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude
  • The Triumph of Life

John Clare (1793-1864)

  • The Nightingale’s Nest
  • I Am!
  • An Invite to Eternity

William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

  • Thanatopsis

John Keats (1795-1821)

  • When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be
  • Bright Star, Would I Were Stedfast as Thou Art
  • Ode on a Grecian Urn
  • Ode to a Nightingale

Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (1800-1842)

  • Sweet Willy

Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849)

  • Song

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

  • A Musical Instrument
  • Aurora Leigh

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

  • Snow-flakes

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

  • Ulysses
  • Tithonus
  • From The Princess: Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal
  • In Memoriam

Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883)

  • The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Edward Lear (1812-1888)

  • The Owl and the Pussy-cat
  • “How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear”

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

  • Home Thoughts, from Abroad
  • Love among the Ruins
  • Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came

Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861)

  • Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

  • As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life
  • When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
  • Night on the Prairies
  • Song of Myself

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (1821-1873)

  • Sometimes I Walk Where the Deep Water Dips
  • Dank Fens of Cedar, Hemlock-branches Gray

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)

  • Growing Old
  • Dover Beach
  • Shakespeare

Coventry Patmore (1823-1896)

  • Magna Est Veritas
  • The Two Deserts

William McGonagall (1825-1902)

  • The Tay Bridge Disaster

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

  • I cannot dance upon my Toes
  • Because that you are going
  • A Bird came down the Walk
  • The Tint I cannot take—is best
  • Before I got my eye put out
  • After great pain, a formal feeling comes
  • The saddest noise, the sweetest noise
  • Success is counted sweetest

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

  • A Birthday
  • Remember
  • When I Am Dead, My Dearest

James Thomson (1834-1883)

  • The City of Dreadful Night

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

  • A Match
  • The Garden of Proserpine
  • A Sonnet Between Two Seas

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

  • He Never Expected Much
  • The Convergence of the Twain
  • At Castle Boterel
  • A Broken Appointment
  • I Look into My Glass
  • Drummer Hodge
  • Rome at the Pyramid of Cestius, Near the Grave of Shelley and Keats
  • In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations’
  • He Resolves to Say No More

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

  • The New Decalogue
  • Insectivora

Sidney Lanier (1842-1881)

  • A Song of Eternity in Time
  • Evening Song

Robert Seymour Bridges (1844-1930)

  • I Will Not Let Thee Go
  • I Have Loved Flowers That Fade

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

  • The Windhover
  • Binsey Poplars
  • God’s Grandeur
  • No Worst, There Is None. Pitched Past Pitch of Grief
  • I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day
  • Spring
  • Pied Beauty
  • The Fine Delight that Fathers Thought; the Strong

A.E. Housman (1859-1936)

  • Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries
  • When I Was One and Twenty

Willam Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

  • The Stolen Child
  • The Fisherman
  • An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
  • Easter, 1916
  • The Wild Swans at Coole
  • Sailing to Byzantium
  • Byzantium
  • The Second Coming
  • Those Images
  • The Lamentation of the Old Pensioner

Mary Gilmore (1865-1962)

  • Sing with the Wind

Ernest Dowson (1867-1900)

  • April Love
  • Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam

Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)

  • Luke Havergal

John McCrae (1872-1918)

  • In Flanders Fields

Walter de la Mare (1873-1956)

  • November
  • The Railway Junction

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

  • Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
  • Nothing Gold Can Stay

Amy Lowell (1874-1925)

  • Venus Transiens

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

  • Tea at the Palaz of Hoon
  • The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad
  • The Snow Man
  • The Emperor of Ice Cream
  • Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself
  • A Postcard from the Volcano
  • Peter Quince at the Clavier
  • Of Mere Being
  • Sunday Morning
  • The Idea of Order at Key West
  • Nomad Exquisite
  • Stars at Tallapoosa
  • Auroras of Autumn

John Drinkwater (1882-1937)

  • Reciprocity

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy (1883-1929)

  • Roses in December

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

  • Postlude
  • Portrait of a Lady
  • Queen-Anne’s Lace

Geoffrey Scott (1884-1929)

  • All Our Joy is Enough

James Elroy Flecker (1884-1915)

  • Yasmin (A Ghazel)
  • Oak and Olive
  • I rose from dreamless hours
  • Epithalamion
  • To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence

D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

  • Piano
  • Shadows
  • Snake
  • The Mess of Love

Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

  • And the Days Are Not Full Enough
  • Hugh Selwyn Mauberley

H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) (1886-1961)

  • Helen

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962)

  • Shine, Perishing Republic

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

  • The Soldier

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

  • The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
  • La Figlia Che Piange
  • Ash Wednesday

Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918)

  • Returning, We Hear the Larks
  • Dead Man’s Dump
  • Expression

Conrad Aiken (1889-1973)

  • Morning Song of Senlin
  • Evening Song of Senlin

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

  • Insensibility
  • Anthem for a Doomed Youth
  • Dulce et Decorum Est
  • Strange Meeting
  • Spring Offensive
  • The End

ee cummings (1894-1962)

  • Thy fingers make early flowers of
  • somewhere I have never travelled,gladly beyond
  • i carry your heart with me(I carry it in
  • O sweet spontaneous
  • The Eagle

John Brooks Wheelwright (1897-1940)

  • Fish Food (An Obituary to Hart Crane)

Louise Bogan (1897-1970)

  • Song for the Last Act

Léonie Adams (1899-1988)

  • Apostate
  • Kennst du das land

Allen Tate (1899-1979)

  • Ode to the Confederate Dead
  • The Mediterranean

Hart Crane (1899-1932)

  • Repose of Rivers
  • My Grandmother’s Love Letters
  • At Melville’s Tomb
  • To Brooklyn Bridge
  • Atlantis
  • The Broken Tower

Basil Bunting (1900-1985)

  • A Song for Rustam

Roy Campbell (1901-1957)

  • The Zebras
  • Tristan da Cunha
  • Choosing a Mast
  • The Flaming Terrapin

Kenneth Slessor (1901-1971)

  • Five Bells

Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

  • Yet I Do Marvel
  • Heritage

Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967)

  • Inniskeen Road: July Evening

Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989)

  • Heart of Autumn

John Betjeman (1906-1984)

  • Slough
  • In Westminster Abbey

W.H. Auden (1907-1973)

  • Lullaby
  • On this Island
  • Musée des Beaux Arts
  • As I Walked Out One Evening
  • September 1, 1939

Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)

  • The Sunlight on the Garden
  • Snow

A.D. Hope (1907-2000)

  • Imperial Adam
  • The Double Looking-Glass
  • The Mayan Books

W.R. Rodgers (1909-1969)

  • Life’s Circumnavigators
  • The Swan
  • Song for War

Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990)

  • Delos

May Swenson (1913-1989)

  • Staring at the Sea on the Day of the Death of Another

Robert Hayden (1913-1980)

  • Those Winter Sundays

R.S. Thomas (1913-2000)

  • The Other

Weldon Kees (1914-1955)

  • A Musician’s Wife
  • For My Daughter

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

  • Twenty-four Years
  • A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London
  • Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night
  • And Death Shall Have No Dominion
  • In My Craft or Sullen Art

John Manifold (1915-1985)

  • Fife Tune
  • The Tomb of Lt. John Learmonth, A.I.F.

Judith Wright (1915-2000)

  • Bora Ring
  • Bullocky
  • Nigger’s Leap, New England
  • Sanctuary

Gwen Harwood (1920-1995)

  • I: Barn Owl
  • II: Nightfall

Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

  • Church Going
  • Going, Going
  • High Windows

Anthony Hecht (1923-2004)

  • More Light! More Light!
  • A Letter

Edgar Bowers (1924-2000)

  • Amor Vincit Omnia
  • For Louis Pasteur

A.R. Ammons (1926-2001)

  • Mansion
  • Corson’s Inlet
  • Gravelly Run
  • Easter Morning

Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001)

  • A Song at the Beginning of Autumn
  • Rembrandt’s Late Self-Portraits
  • One Flesh

James K. Baxter (1926- 1972)

  • New Zealand
  • Rocket Show
  • Elegy for My Father’s Father
  • The Farmhand
  • The Infant of Biafra
  • Poem in the Matukituki Valley

Charles Tomlinson (1927-2015)

  • Ararat
  • A Rose for Janet
  • All Aboard

John Montague (1929-2016)

  • Adam’s Apple

Peter Porter (1929-2010)

  • An Angel in Blythburgh Church
  • An Exequy

Derek Walcott (1930-2017)

  • Sea Grapes
  • Midsummer, Tobago
  • Omeros

Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016)

  • September Song
  • Requiem for the Plantagenet Kings

Tony Harrison (1937-)

  • A Kumquat for John Keats
  • A Cold Coming
  • V

Les Murray (1938-2019)

  • Noonday Axeman
  • An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow
  • The Last Hellos

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

  • The Harvest Bow
  • Beacons at Bealtaine

Billy Collins (1941-)

  • Forgetfulness
  • Sonnet
  • Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in The House

Derek Mahon (1941-2020)

  • In Carrowdore Churchyard
  • Achill
  • Everything is Going to be Alright

Wendy Cope (1945-)

  • From June to December: Summer Villanelle
  • Engineers’ Corner
  • Spared

John Whitworth (1945-2019)

  • God Squad
  • Dog Days
  • Palinode
  • A Song of Plurals

R.S. Gwynn (1948-)

  • Approaching a Significant Birthday, He Peruses The Norton Anthology of Poetry

Ann Drysdale (?-)

  • Perfect Binding

Gjertrud Schnackenberg (1953-)

  • Darwin in 1881
  • Supernatural Love
  • The Paperweight

Li-Young Lee (1957-)

  • Nativity
  • From Blossoms
  • The Cleaving

Don Paterson (1963-)

  • Waking with Russell

Sophie Hannah (1971-)

  • Long for This World

Michael Robbins (?)

  • Walkman
  • You Haven’t Texted Me Since Saturda