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10 Beautiful English Poems Everyone Must Know

Poetry is an elusive, sometimes inscrutable art, where every word bears the weight of an entire prose paragraph, burdened as it is with meaning and metaphor. It is a form of literary art that is simultaneously concise and abstract, seeking to say the most in the least amount of words, which is why we can sometimes spend hours on end debating what exactly the poet was trying to say. If you like poetry as much as I do, you will be sure to enjoy these beautiful poems.
1. The Lake Isle of Innisfree, by W. B. Yeats
Poems: Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Coming at the heels of the great Romantic poets of the early 19th century, there is no doubt this lovely poem is in part a response to the disillusionment with the dreary and heavily-industrialized urban life, but there is so much more here. While there are several islands with a similar name to Innisfree in Ireland, none are in the middle of a lake. Rather, Yeats is alluding here to two things: one is within the name of the isle, in-is-free, the other hearkens to Irish legends of Tír na nÓg, an island of eternal youth and beauty, a Celtic paradise.
2. Amores (II), by E.E. Cummings
Poems: Cummings

in the rain-
darkness,        the sunset
being sheathed i sit and
think of you

the holy
city which is your face
your little cheeks the streets
of smiles

your eyes half-
half-angel and your drowsy
lips where float flowers of kiss

there is the sweet shy pirouette
your hair
and then

your dancesong
soul.      rarely-beloved
a single star is
uttered,and i

           of you

An enemy of capitalization and sensible line breaks, Cummings was still unmatched in portraying passion and love through words.
3. Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night, by Dylan Thomas
Poems: Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

One of the most potent poems ever written on the topics of old age and death, the furious tirade against the inevitability of death literally echoes out through the use of repetition throughout the poem.
4. Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Poems: Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
One of the most quoted poems in modern history, it serves as a powerful indictment against the folly of man, who believes history will remember him forever.
5. Lines, by Emily Brontë
Poems: Bronte

I die but when the grave shall press
The heart so long endeared to thee
When earthly cares no more distress
And earthly joys are naught to me

Weep not, but think that I have past
Before thee o’er a sea of gloom
Have anchored safe and rest at last
Where tears and mourning cannot come

‘Tis I should weep to leave thee here
On the dark Ocean sailing drear
With storms around and fears before
And no kind light to point the shore

But long or short though life may be
‘Tis nothing to eternity
We part below to meet on high
Where blissful ages never die

The poem is all the more tear-jerking when considering the biography of the young Brontë sister, who died at the age of 30, a mere three months after the death of her beloved brother Branwell.
6. Sonnet 25, by William Shakespeare
Poems: Shakespeare
Let those who are in favor with their stars
Of public honor and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook'd for joy in that I honor most.
Great princes' favorites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun's eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foil'd,
Is from the book of honor razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toil'd:
Then happy I, that love and am beloved
Where I may not remove nor be removed.
This poem may sound rich, coming from the most famous and celebrated English poet and playwright in history, but one must remember that, like many other artistic geniuses, most of Shakespeare's recognition was earned after the man was dead.
7. I’m Nobody! Who Are You? By Emily Dickinson
Poems: Dickinson

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one's name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

A delightfully humoristic reiteration of that same idea about the folly of fame expressed in the previous poem.
8. The Lesson, by Maya Angelou
Poems: Angelou
I keep on dying again.
Veins collapse, opening like the
Small fists of sleeping
Memory of old tombs,
Rotting flesh and worms do
Not convince me against
The challenge. The years
And cold defeat live deep in
Lines along my face.
They dull my eyes, yet
I keep on dying,
Because I love to live.
Never give up on life, because life is always worth it.
9. Eldorado, by Edgar Allan Poe

Gaily bedight, 
   A gallant knight, 
In sunshine and in shadow,   
   Had journeyed long,   
   Singing a song, 
In search of Eldorado. 

   But he grew old— 
   This knight so bold—   
And o’er his heart a shadow—   
   Fell as he found 
   No spot of ground 
That looked like Eldorado. 

   And, as his strength   
   Failed him at length, 
He met a pilgrim shadow—   
   ‘Shadow,’ said he,   
   ‘Where can it be— 
This land of Eldorado?’ 

   ‘Over the Mountains 
   Of the Moon, 
Down the Valley of the Shadow,   
   Ride, boldly ride,’ 
   The shade replied,— 
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’

While legends of a lost city of gold enticed the imaginations of entire generations, much like the lake isle of Innisfree, there is much more to Eldorado than a physical location which may or may not exist. Eldorado is everything the soul longs for, be it material or spiritual riches. It is the money and fame you want in life and eludes you, and the heaven which may await you at life's end.
10. Symphony in Yellow, by Oscar Wilde
Poems: Wilde

An omnibus across the bridge
Crawls like a yellow butterfly,
And, here and there a passer-by
Shows like a little restless midge.

Big barges full of yellow hay
Are moored against the shadowy wharf,
And, like a yellow silken scarf,
The thick fog hangs along the quay.

The yellow leaves begin to fade
And flutter from the temple elms,
And at my feet the pale green Thames
Lies like a rod of rippled jade.

And sometimes, all poetry strives to do is simply paint a beautiful picture.
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