When it comes to poetry and choosing the most famous poems in the history of literature, we might face the impossible task of bringing to an agreement thousands of critics and literature historians, together with millions of pages dedicated to the subject. However, listing the most famous poems as deemed by some of the most enlightened minds of the Society of Classical Poets after comparing them to the popularity rankings offered by the public, is not such a difficult endeavor. After a careful selection, thus, we were able to highlight five most famous poems in history. Keep in mind that we won’t categorize them into “short poems”, “love poems” or “English poems about life” sub-classes, but offer you a more general view on those poems we all should read, feel and live by.
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare
A love poem at a first glance, Sonnet 18 is, in fact, a testament of the author’s views on life, death, decay and passing of the human spirit. The ethereal realm of poetry and beauty has never been so subtly, yet eloquently, analyzed as it has been in this true masterpiece. A firm believer that poetry itself can grant eternal life to a person because poetry itself is eternal, Shakespeare seems to have encompassed in this short poem the quintessence of love, splendor, and artistic expression.
2. If by Rudyard Kipling
While we mostly know Kipling for The Jungle Book, the writer was a master of poetry and If proves this beyond a doubt. One of the most powerful statements of what means to be a good, strong and beautiful human, If is a poem we all should live by and take to our hearts in our attempt of becoming better people. The poem’s message keeps its validity throughout all generations, being a beacon of light, hope and powerful teachings for all mankind.
3. A Dream Within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe
All Edgar Allan Poe poems and stories have double and triple meanings. They are masterpieces of layered imagery, messages, feelings, spirituality, and beauty. A Dream Within a Dream, among others, is perhaps the best example that the author was a genius of mixing the pure beauty of poetry with an intrinsic and sometimes baffling psychological and philosophical web of concepts and meanings.
4. On His Blindness by John Milton
Short, but extremely powerful to this day, On His Blindness deals with one’s limitations in life, being inspired by Milton’s personal story of losing his eyesight. What makes this poem, however, a wonder of literature is the underlying message that one can transcend personal shortcomings and misery through understanding the powers of the divine and embracing the order and mystery of the universe. While emphasizing on a disability, Milton’s poem is in fact about the human spirit finding purpose and hope despite all obstacles.
5. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas
If you remember the famous Dangerous Minds movie and the “Dylan – Dylan” competition, one might find interesting the fact that Bob Dylan was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. However, poetry experts and critics still believe that Dylan Thomas is probably one of the greatest poets that have ever lived and written, in all the world, in all the languages. As subjective as this opinion may be, one cannot deny that Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night is still one of the best, most haunting, most powerful and most meaningful of poems ever written. An elegy to his dying father, the poem stood the test of time and the numerous changes in cultural perspectives and tastes, being still considered a work of art. Using unusual words, like “spindrift” and creating complex emotions with the use of just words, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night still gives you shivers down your spine no matter your age or past life experiences.
What are your favorite most famous poems on this list or in the history of literature? Do you have others that speak to your heart?
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