10 Must-Read American Poets (& Their 5 Must-Read Poems)

Originally posted on April 13, 2011 at 9:17 AM

(in chronological order)

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)

• Concord Hymn
• The Rhodora
• Each and All
• The Snowstorm
• Give All To Love

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849)

• A Dream Within a Dream
• Annabel Lee
• The Raven
• The Bells
• Romance

Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

• Oh Captain my Captain
• To You
• One’s-Self I Sing.
• O Me! O Life!
• As I Ponder’d in Silence.

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

• Not in Vain
• There is another sky
• If those I loved were lost
• I’m Nobody! Who are you?
• Because I could not stop for Death

Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)

• The Road Not Taken
• Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
• Mending Wall
• Nothing Gold Can Stay
• Fire and Ice

T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965)

• The Wasteland
• The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
• The Hollow Men
• The Naming Of Cats
• Journey Of The Magi

E.E. Cummings (1894 – 1962)

• i carry your heart with me
• anyone lived in a pretty how town
• Somewhere I have never traveled, gladly beyond
• Seeker of truth
• a pretty a day

Hart Crane (1899 – 1932)

• Chaplinesque
• For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen
• Lachrymae Christi
• Voyages
• To Brooklyn Bridge

Maya Angelou (1928 – present)

• I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
• Phenomenal Woman
• Still I Rise
• Touched by an Angel
• Men

Billy Collins (1941 – present)

• Litany
• The Lanyard
• The Art Of Drowning
• Introduction To Poetry
• Snow Day

5 Extra Credit Poets (5 pts. a Poem)

William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963)

• This is Just to Say
• The Red Wheelbarrow
• Poem (As the cat)
• Spring and All
• The Dance

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950)

• First Fig
• Renascence
• What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, And Where, And Why (Sonnet XLIII)
• Love Is Not All
• Travel

Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)

• Dream Deferred
• Let America be America Again
• I, Too, Sing America
• Life is Fine
• Mother to Son

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)

• A Life
• Metaphors
• Daddy
• Mad Girl’s Love Song
• Lady Lazarus

Wallace Stevens (1941 – present)

• Anecdote Of The Jar
• Thirteen Ways Of Looking At A Blackbird
• The Emperor Of Ice-Cream
• The Snow Man
• Sunday Morning

I know these are mostly old (read: dead), but I’m not a prophet. I’m not even a poetry critic (maybe in another life). I can’t predict who will stand the test of time. But don’t let that deter you; there are dozens of excellent contemporary poets out there.

This post is obviously subjective. It involved a lot more “compiling” than “writing,” and ended up being a combination of my opinion, experts’ opinions, and the popular vote. Disagree with one of my choices? Think I left out someone very important? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

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  • anurag

    The above list is perfect. I am trying to finis it by this month end. Would you please suggest some contemporary american poets.

    • Thank you! I’m glad to hear it. =) As far as contemporary American poets, I recommend starting with Billy Collins (on this list), Jane Hirshfield, and Mary Oliver. Good luck!