Poetry is an archaic yet powerful means of expression and communication. For many of us, there will be some we can recite by memory from our school days. Reading poetry can be a great way to find time for relaxation and unwinding. Today, there has been a drop in poetry being written and read but we thought it important to take a look back at this neglected art form. We have examined some of the best poems out there, by some of the best writers. Through gaining a better understanding of the meaning of these poems, we hope that in turn, you will fall in love with poetry all over again.
1, We are Seven – William Wordsworth
Wordsworth tells the tale of a man who meets a little girl and enquires about her family and how many siblings she has. The girl responds that she is one of seven even though two of her siblings have died and the narrative voice struggles to understand why she still claims to be one of seven. It is profound as it focuses on the perspective of those living in the Victorian era and their perceptions of death. The little girl challenges traditional ideas and does so unwaveringly, even when confronted by the man addressing her. The poem is charming and heart-warming, focusing on the irreversible bond formed as a family.
2, No, Thank You, John – Christina Rossetti
A funny and light-hearted reversal of a ‘Dear John’ letter, Rossetti recounts turning down a man that wants to court her. Somewhat of a revolutionary, this was written during the Victorian Era and rejected typical notions of how women were to behave. The narrative voice that Rossetti creates here is one of a bold and independent woman, defiant to traditional social norms.
3, Still I Rise – Maya Angelou
Angelou’s poetry prowess is not a secret, but this poem is an unsung hero of her collection. It depicts the narrative voice rejecting any attempt to bring her down or make her feel less than. Her words are empowering and fearless as she has an enviable self-confidence. It also speaks of the slave era; when those of Maya Angelou’s complexion would have been treated horribly and she defiantly expresses that “[she] is the dream and the hope of the slave”. She has become an embodiment of the slave era and promises to live as if she has been freed from the chains herself. This poem is beautiful, powerful and moving.
4, Invictus – William Ernest Henley
This poem is short but extremely profound as its narrative voice has an uncompromising and unconquerable soul. It is one that once read, gives the reader a revitalised sense of determination to face problems head-on no matter what life may throw at you. Henley is a fantastic writer who closes the gap between reader and narrative voice.
5, The Raven – Edgar Allan Poe
This is one of those poems that everyone has heard of, but few have read. The narrator here spends a short while dwelling over his lost love. Suddenly he hears a knocking at his door and window. He opens both to have a raven fly in and utter the words “nevermore”. The raven itself is a representation of death to the speaker. The voice attempts to find meaning in the word the bird speaks. The narrator slowly begins to unravel whilst he tries to make sense of what is happening. The poem is a representation of the narrative voice’s loss and his attempt to navigate a world without his beloved.
6, “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers – Emily Dickinson
A short but beautiful poem about having hope and the impact it can have on the human spirit. The narrative voice explains that hope can be found in the strangest and most hostile conditions and its perseverance is a testament to the human condition. The poem is sweet and uplifting in nature and is known to many as one of those poems to read when you need a pick-me-up.
7, This is Just to Say – William Carlos Williams
This poem is incredibly short consisting of just 12 lines, but not is all as it seems with Williams’ poem. On the surface, it appears to be about someone admitting to eating some plumbs that somebody else was likely saving. However, the poem is confessional in nature but of something apparently far more sinister than eating plums. It is not difficult to speculate that the narrative voice is referring to an affair that has taken place, referring to his lover as ‘sweet’ and ‘delicious’, indicative of youth. The writer also uses extremely short lines throughout the poem. This creates a feeling of suspense in the reader and a willingness to know more.
8, If You Forget Me – Pablo Neruda
This is the final poem of our list and it’s a good one. Wonderfully written, the poem explores a narrative voice deeply, but not blindly, in love. The narrator is afraid to be alone and insists if his love leaves him then he shall stop loving her. The voice has a childish manner as he moves from a romantic tone to hostile and back to romantic again. The poem itself is a lovely read with artistic language choice and awesome imagery – this poem is a must-read.
9, The Ecchoing Green – William Blake
William Blake is known for being an important figure in the Romantic age. His famous illustrated work ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’ focus on contrasts and parallels. He frequently juxtaposes the innocence of childhood with the adult world of corruption.
The poem ‘The Ecchoing Green’ depicts a pastoral setting on which birdsong can be heard and children can be found playing on the green. There are strong themes of innocence and naivety running through, which is a pleasant read but with a classic ‘Blake-esque’ twist as he lingers wordlessly on the fragility of the innocent state in the poem. The poem is one of Blake’s many thought-provoking poems.
10, Requiescat – Oscar Wilde
The title for Wilde’s short poem translates roughly into ‘(May he or she) rest in peace’. It was inspired by the death of Wilde’s sister; Isola Wilde. It is touching and heartfelt, and focuses on Wilde’s turmoil of not wanting to let his sister go, but knowing burying her needs to happen. Whilst it certainly isn’t a lighthearted poem, it is hugely moving. We’d recommend it to anyone who may want a more sombre, powerful poem.
We hope this list has reinvigorated your love for poetry with these lesser-known poems. If you enjoyed this then you may want to read our blog on Harper Lee. If you feel we’ve missed any crucial ones off the list, be sure to let us know!