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5 of the Greatest Poems Ever Written

 The world of poetry has been developing for centuries, and some of the greatest poems around have the ability to fill us with joy, hope, wonder, or even despair. Many outstanding poems also have the uncanny ability to make us contemplate some of life's greatest and most complex questions. Below, you'll find some of the greatest poems that the history of literature has ever seen, along with a detailed analysis to complement them.
1. 'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - 
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

In what is considered to be Robert Frost's most iconic poem ever, Frost writes about a time when he encountered a fork in the path, during a stroll through a yellowing wood. He chose the path which he thought was the least worn, even though we later find out that both paths were probably very similar. Whilst taking his first few steps on the chosen path, he initially decides to come back and take the other route on a different occasion, but has a sneaking suspicion that he'll probably never return. At the end of the poem, Frost imagines that in the future he'll retell this story, giving a great deal of significance to his choice.

This poem deals with the role that choice and free will play in our lives. At first glance, it can be taken to mean that the choices we make often have a very significant impact on our lives, as can be implied from the last two lines: “I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference.”

However, on a closer reading, these choices might actually seem less significant than many first imagine. In fact, we are told that both roads had been traveled "really about the same," and it may just be an illusory memory that they were actually very different in the first place. This, of course, is an allegory of our own lives as social beings. While we might think that there are billions of different choices open to us at any given point in time, most people tend to follow a rather predictable path, rendering many of their choices meaningless in the long-run.

2. 'The Tiger' by William Blake (1757-1827)

Tiger Tiger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, and what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tiger Tiger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

This brilliant poem deals with the question of how a loving creator can allow evil to exist in the world. Evil is represented in this poem in the form of a tiger, and Blake questions how the same divine blacksmith that forged it could also forge a harmless lamb or even Jesus Christ, since he is known by Christians as the Lamb of God. This and the many other questions found within this poem help bring this mystery to life.

On the surface, it seems that Blake never really gives these questions an answer, however many critics have gathered their own answers from the way in which the questions are worded. When talking about "the forests of the night" and "distant deeps or skies" we are no longer present in our own world, but have moved into a reality of expanded perception, space, and time. This means that our own state of consciousness is too shallow to comprehend certain experiences and events, and as a result such questions still plague us today.

3. 'Daffodils' by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Through Wordsworth's random encounter with a waterside field of daffodils, we are here presented with a display of the power and beauty of nature. It might sound simple enough, but there are quite a few factors that contribute to the greatness of this poem. First of all, 'Daffodils' was written during a time of heavy industrialization, leaving man feeling isolated and surrounded by increasingly godless points of view, which could explain why he was wandering "lonely as a cloud." Thus, the daffodils represent a comforting source of personal joy in these troubled times.

Another reason for this poem's popularity is that, at face value, it's a glorification of nature's simple pleasures. Each stanza begins with daffodils, carefully describes daffodils, compares daffodils to other things, and ends with daffodils too, making this poem easily accessible. Finally, throughout 'Daffodils,' Wordsworth makes use of imagery related to dance and writes that the daffodils put on a show. Here, he is insinuating that nature is perfectly capable of providing an entertaining spectacle, and there is no need to have piles of money and possessions to have a good time.

4. 'Holy Sonnet 10: Death, Be Not Proud' by John Donne (1572-1631)
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Death has always been a subject that's instilled people with terror and despair, yet Donne's famous sonnet provides us with a comforting ray of hope. Throughout this poem, Donne brings forward a number of compelling arguments against the fear of death. When he says "From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, / Much pleasure," he compares death to being asleep, making it sound a lot less terrifying. Similarly, when he says "One short sleep past, we wake eternally / And death shall be no more," he explains that if one truly believes in the eternal life of the soul, then death is nothing but a blessing.  

One of the reasons behind this sonnet's greatness is due to the fact that it's practically universally applicable, since death is so ever-present in our lives, and the fear of death is undoubtedly a natural instinct. What's more, the spirit of this poem can be applied to other fears or weaknesses. Confronting them, as Donne has done here, may be the key to helping us overcome them.

5. 'Sonnet 18' by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Here, we find Shakespeare praising someone (possibly a lover, mentor or great artist) so much that he says they're actually better than a summer's day. This is due to the fact that summer days can sometimes be too windy or hot, and also because they inevitably come to an end. This person is better than that, because not only are they already perfect, but they will also never fade because Shakespeare himself has immortalized them in his poetry. This is what he means when he writes " So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."

What makes 'Sonnet 18' even more special is the spiritual element that such a comparison provides. The unabashed praise for a person without even a hint of their accomplishments and gender is a pure and straightforward approach to relationships with others. Living without such mental boundaries will lead to a happier life, and thus this poem is refreshingly uplifting, bold, and profound.

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