10 of the Best and Most Famous Short Poems of All Time


As quoted by most of my teachers and in the words of Wordsworth himself, poetry is "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility".

Like other forms of literature, poetry may seek to tell a story, describe an emotion, recollect an event from the past etc. It is as beautiful as it is meaningful. Some many attribute to poetry certain patterns such as a regular beat or rhythm.

Most poems have a specific rhyme scheme giving it a musical element. Poetry focuses on the musical element present in language. Throughout time poetry all over the world has one through many changes.

Today students learn poetry from different time periods and different schools of movements. In this article readers will be introduced to ten short poems written by famous poets.


1. Sweeney Among the Nightingales by T. S. Eliot

Eliot had written several poems featuring ‘Sweeney’ who was the twentieth-century representation of a knuckle-dragger.

In “Sweeney Among the Nightingales”, he’s in a house of ill-repute. Sweeney among the nightingale is about the depraved coldness, callousness and cowardice of modern life as embodied in Sweeney's uneventful encounter with two call girls in a sleazy pub.

Sweeney’s encounters to several characters through the short duration of the poem alludes to several other stories like Agamemnon, the story of Philomela and towards the end, Jesus Christ.


2. Dreams by Langston Hughes

This poem is an eight lined two stanza poem that speaks of the importance of dreaming. It is one of the many poems Hughes had written about dreams. Even today the lines remain popular,

“Hold fast to dreams / For if dreams die / Life is a broken-winged bird / That cannot fly. / Hold fast to dreams / For when dreams go / Life is a barren field / Frozen with snow.”


3. Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

This 20-line poem outlines a mother’s words to her son about the difficulties she had to face in life. Using the analogy of climbing stairs with ‘tacks’ and ‘splinters’ she emphasizes on the difficult life she’d led.

Towards the end of this short poem, she encourages her son to not give up and persevere. To keep climbing up as she has done. Never to look back and never to fall.

“So boy, don’t you turn back / Don’t you set down on the steps / ’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard / Don’t you fall now / For I’se still goin’, honey / I’se still climbin’ / And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”


3. The Tyger by William Blake

‘The Tyger’ first appeared in the 1794 collection Song of Experience. is a lyrical poem that deals with the nature of God and his creations. In the poem, the animal is represented as a powerful symbolic figure.

It conveys a sense of beauty as well as terror that is associated with its creator. The poem suggests the existence of evil alongside the loving innocence of God.


4. Kubla Khan by S.T. Coleridge

Kubla Khan along with ‘The Rime of The Ancient mariner’ is one of Coleridge’s most famous and enduring poems. The full title of this poem is ‘Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment.

As the title suggests, the inspiration for writing the poem came from a dream the writer had, while under the influence of opium and reading about the summer palace (Xanadu) of Kubla Khan, the Mongol ruler. 

Coleridge also claims that he was interrupted by a person with business from Porlock while writing, and could therefore not finish the poem as he has planned. Its verse and theme contributed to the growth of Romanticism in England.


5. The Night of the Scorpion by Nissim Ezekiel

This poem is a re-imagination of a childhood memory. It is a reflection of the poet's keen eye for details and brilliant psychological observations.

It offers a brilliant analysis of the superstitions and folk beliefs that exist in Indian society. Nissim Ezekiel employs the use of irony and subdued mockery in the poem as he recounts the night, his mother is stung by a Scorpion.


6. My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

Robert Browning’s most famous dramatic monologue, ‘My Last Duchess’ is spoken by the Duke of Ferrara, chatting away to an envoy from the Count of Tyrol (who had come to discuss the marriage of the Duke and the Count’s daughter) revealing a sinister back-story lurking behind the portrait of his late wife, the Duchess, that hangs on the wall.

The poem is not a narrative poem as it has a speaker. Though, the only one who speaks throughout the poem the is the Duke. Browning masterfully unveils the truly sinister and jealous nature of the Duke by employing the use of dramatic monologue.

It tells a story of a doomed marriage, a man capable only of irrational jealousy and possessiveness, arrogance, privilege and male pride. By the end of the poem, the Duke casually confesses the murder of his wife and threatens the envoy of the same fate awaiting his next wife, the daughter of Count Tyrol, if she proves to be lacking in his eyes.


7. How Do I Love Thee by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Sonnet 43, often called “How do I love thee?” from its memorable first words, is the best-known sonnet of the “Sonnet from the Portuguese” collection by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

It is also one of the most quoted love poems in English Literature. Unlike usual Elizabethan love sonnets, this sonnet was Italian. It was written in a fourteen-line iambic pentameter and had a specific rhyme scheme.

The first line of the poem poses a question and the following lines answers the question. The poet quotes seven different ways in which she loves her lover.


8. Fire and Ice by Robert Frost

This nine-line poem captures the post-war mood after the end of the second world war. This was a time when revolution, apocalypse, social and political chaos was on everyone’s mind. It is much shorter than even Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”.


9. Partition by W.H. Auden

Auden's 1966 poem 'Partition' is a critical evaluation of the five weeks Sir Cyril Radcliffe spent in the Indian subcontinent drawing up the borders between India and Pakistan. The poem draws attention to the struggle face by Sir Radcliffe a British barrister called upon by his country to take up this herculean task.

He was given merely five weeks to dictate the fate of a land so vast, with diverse faith, traditions and cultures. He also had no specialized knowledge in the procedures that required him to draw the boundary.

The poem speaks of the other difficulties he faces such as communal tensions, outdated maps, incorrect census data, weather conditions and even interference from the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten. The poem concludes on a satiric note.


10. Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

‘Ozymandias’ is perhaps Percy Bysshe Shelley’s most well-known and enduring poems. It is a sonnet about the remnants of a statue standing alone in a desert. The statue was perhaps once a part of a great nation led by ‘Ozymandias’ – The king of kings as it was inscribed on the statue.

The poem is a haunting meditation on the fall of civilizations and the transiency of mankind and its superficiality. A reminder of the futility of all human endeavor.


Written by – Christeena George

Edited by – Adrija Saha

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