From Book Riot: MOST FAMOUS POEMS: 20 OF THE BEST
Seems like that should be two different categories. Do you want the 20 most famous poems or the 20 best poems?
Poems that are famous:
The one about the plums in the icebox, which everyone can recite from memory. (You can, right?)
The one about the red wheelbarrow, which ditto. (Right?)
The Road Not Taken. Also, maybe Fire and Ice. Or perhaps Nothing Gold Can Stay. I think Frost’s short poems are likely to be remembered by everyone, especially the ones that rhyme, whereas The Death of the Hired Man, say, is less likely to spring to mind.
I’m Nobody, Who Are You? Come to think of it, everyone can probably recite that one from memory too. What’s another truly famous poem by Dickinson? Because I Could Not Stop for Death, maybe. Quite a few others. A Certain Slant of Light.
The Walrus and the Carpenter. I could recite a lot of this at one time, but that was ages ago. I can just recall the most familiar lines now. Jabberwocky, although I recently discovered that a (well-read) coworker apparently had never heard of it.
Shall I Compare Thee To a Summer Day?
Let me see, what else? Oh, of course: The Raven. Lenore too, but I doubt that’s as famous as The Raven.
A good handful of other poems are probably leaping to mind for everyone.
This is hardly the same as the 20 best poems. Regardless of my various literature teachers’ opinions, I’m unimpressed by either the plums or the wheelbarrow. It’s an uphill battle making those poems look particularly impressive to the average student, I expect. Anyway, I never had an English teacher who made me believe that.
I’m not widely enough read to have opinions about which 20 poems in all the world are the best. But I would probably pick:
A Forsaken Garden by Swinburne
The Garden of Prosopine by Swinburne. What can I say? I really like Swinburne.
Ozymandias by Shelly
To Make a Prairie by Dickinson. I know this isn’t one of the famous ones. I really like it, though.
The Second Coming by Yeats
Crossing the Bar by Tennyson
Up Hill by Rossetti
Song by Adrienne Rich
What is that, eight? Yes, I know there’s a preponderance of death themes in the above choices. That has just always seemed like a great theme for a poem to me.
I’ll stop there, take a look at the Book Riot post, and see if they define best in any way other than “iconic” or “well-known” or whatever.
As a consequence of the fact that the most famous poems tend to be the older ones, they also often have distinct rhyme schemes threaded throughout the verses. While I personally do think rhyming poems are generally ‘better’, and that partially also accounts for their fame, …
I’ll pause there. I also generally prefer rhymed poems (with strong rhythm, too), I think the important thing in this context is that poems with strong rhyme are easier (a LOT easier) to remember. They stick in the mind well. If everyone in the world believed that rhymed and unrhymed poems were equally good, people would still remember rhymed poems better and they’d have a better chance to become famous.
Despite this, as you can see, I picked one unrhymed poem for my list. I’ve loved “Song” by Rich ever since I saw it in a literature class. I can’t remember whether it was assigned or just in the book, but it’s stuck with me for decades.
All right, looking to see what the Book Riot post actually picks …
Oh, The Highwayman! Yes, I love that one, but I hate highwayman’s mad ride to death at the end. What good did that do anyone? The way the highwayman throws away Bess’ sacrifice makes me furious. I wouldn’t mind writing a retelling in prose form and giving it a different ending, perhaps not happy, but not one that wastes her courage.
Here’s Loreena McKinnett’s version of The Highwayman. I love this, even though I still dislike the plot of the story.
Here’s her version of The Lady of Shalott, which I also love — more than The Highwayman, because although this is a tragic ending, it’s not the same kind of pointless tragedy.
Okay, Crossing the Bar makes an appearance on this post. That’s nice to see, though not surprising; it’s so famous.
The Road Not Taken, of course.
Oh, here’s If by Kipling. I should have thought of that one.
Because I Could Not Stop for Death. It’s a great poem, no doubt. I like it, but I got somewhat tired of it while it was being assigned in one class after another.
This is a pretty good list, really. Many famous poems, plus a couple I’m not familiar with. I do like most of the selections. I must confess, I’ve never especially liked sonnets. These are familiar, and yep, I still wouldn’t pick them.
If you were going to put a poem on a “best ever” list, what would it be?