It is difficult to define a short poem. In this article, we have included only those poems which are shorter than a sonnet, or a 14 line poem. We have also excluded some poems based on their long lines. Thus the poems in this article are extremely short. Among the most famous writers who are known for their short verses are Robert Frost, E.E. Cummings and most prominently Emily Dickinson. Frost and Dickinson feature twice on the list while Cummings also features once. The earliest poem on the list is the 1794 poem by William Blake titled The Sick Rose while the latest is 1982 poem This Is Just To Say by William Carlos Williams. Here are the 10 most famous short poems of all time.
#10 Buffalo Bill’s
Poet: Edward Estlin Cummings
E. E. Cummings was an American writer whose poetry is radical for its unconventional punctuation and phrasing. Also, satire is pervasive in his poems. Most of Cummings’ verse is in lowercase and he capitalizes words only when it is relevant to the work. William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody was one of the most popular and colorful figures of the American Old West who performed on shows with cowboy themes. The beauty of Cummings’ poem on Cody is that it may be read as describing him as handsome, accomplished and full of life; but the reader can also consider it as a satirical poem on traditional heroism. Buffalo Bill’s also lays stress on the certainty that no matter who you may be, a day will come when you will be defunct.
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
#9 Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
Poet: William Butler Yeats
Later titled He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, this poem is one of the shortest poems of W. B. Yeats, a leading figure of 20th century literature and Ireland’s most famous poet. In the poem, the speaker tells his beloved that he would have spread “heavens’ embroidered cloths” under her feet if he possessed them but, as he is poor, he only has his dreams to spread under her feet and hence she should tread softly. Aedh is an Irish God of Death. Aedh appears in several works by Yeats as a pale and lovelorn man. It is thought that Aedh in this poem is Yeats, who is expressing his feelings for his muse Maud Gonne. Yeats was deeply in love with Gonne but she turned down at least four marriage proposals from him; and instead married Major John MacBride.
Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
#8 The Eagle
Poet: Alfred Lord Tennyson
Alfred Lord Tennyson was the leading poet of the Victorian age who remains one of the most renowned poets in the English language. This poem is one of his shortest pieces of literature. It consists of only two stanzas of three lines each. Literary scholars often cite the shortness of the poem to emphasize the deeper meaning in nature itself, that the readers have to find themselves. In the poem, Tennyson uses the technique of alliteration, which is repetition of similar sounds in the beginning of words, like in the words ‘clasps,’ ‘crag’ and ‘crooked’ in the first line. The hard ‘c’ sound is used to make the reader stop and consider the meaning of the line. In addition to alliteration, Tennyson uses personification (crooked ‘hands’) and simile (‘like a thunderbolt’) to enhance the reader’s experience of imagining an eagle.
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
#7 I’m nobody! Who are you?
Poet: Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson is considered among the greatest poets in English literature. She is known for her unusual use of form and syntax; and for being “The poet of paradox“. In this poem the narrator considers that being nobody is a luxury and it is depressingly repetitive to be somebody, who like a frog has a compulsion to croak all the time. The most talked about detail of Dickinson’s life is perhaps that only a handful of her nearly 1800 works were published during her lifetime and she lived her life in anonymity. This and the fact that the poem is about the popular subject of “us against them” makes it one of the most famous short poems in the English language.
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you — Nobody — Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! They’d banish us — you know!
How dreary — to be — Somebody!
How public — like a Frog —
To tell one’s name — the livelong June —
To an admiring Bog!
#6 This Is Just To Say
Poet: William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams was a Puerto Rican-American poet closely associated with Imagism, a poetic movement that favored precision of imagery and clear, sharp language. This is a famous short imagist poem which appears like a piece of found poetry. It can be seen as a note left on a kitchen table for a person with whom the speaker is living. The speaker simply says that he ate the plums which were in the icebox and asks for forgiveness from his mate; as his mate had been probably saving them for breakfast. Though a very simple poem, This Is Just To Say is a very popular short poem and one of Williams’ most famous works.
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
#5 The Sick Rose
Poet: William Blake
William Blake is considered a highly influential figure in the history of poetry who has written such renowned works as The Tyger and London. This is a short poem of two quatrains in which the speaker addresses a rose that is sick as an “invisible“ worm has wriggled its way in and infected it. The “dark secret love” of this worm is destroying the rose’s life. The Sick Rose is regarded as one of the most enigmatic poems in the English language. There are numerous interpretations of the poem and many critics interpret it as a poem related to sex. Others consider the worm in the poem to be an agent of corruption and regard it as the direct equivalent of Man. The Sick Rose remains one of the most popular short poems for its perplexing symbolism and various interpretations.
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
#4 Harlem (Dream Deferred)
Poet: Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes was an African American writer who, apart from being a famous poet, was the leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance. The dream in this poem refers to the American dream of rights; equality of opportunity for prosperity and success; liberty; and democracy; which at the time when Hughes wrote the poem was denied to most African Americans. In response to his question at the beginning of the poem, Hughes gives examples of what happens to things with deferral and negligence and asks whether the same is happening to the African American dream. Hughes brilliantly uses neat one syllable rhymes, as used in nursery rhymes, suggesting simplicity but accompanies it with imagery and rhythm which tell a more uncomfortable and hurtful tale. The famous last line of the poem then gives warning of dire consequences for everyone if the dream continues to be deferred.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
#3 Nothing Gold Can Stay
Poet: Robert Frost
Robert Lee Frost is considered by many as the greatest American poet of the 20th century. Gold in this poem refers to the color of vegetation in its first stage. The speaker says that the rich hue of gold, after a brief while, gives way to the green of life. In the second couplet, this is emphasized again, this time with the analogy of a leaf existing as a flower briefly before taking its true form. The Fall of Man is a term used to refer to the story of Adam and Eve committing the sin of disobedience by consuming the fruit from the tree of knowledge leading to their expulsion from paradise. Frost uses metaphors, like that of the Fall and of dawn transforming to day, to comment on the necessity of the transformation of life from its rich, beautiful and even paradise like state, to that which is wholesome and complete. Nothing Gold Can Stay is one of Frost’s most brilliant short verses and is renowned for its rich symbolism.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.
#2 Hope is the Thing with Feathers
Poet: Emily Dickinson
The most famous poem by Emily Dickinson, Hope is the Thing with Feathers is one of the best known short poems in the English language. It metaphorically describes hope as a feathered bird that rests in the soul. It sings without words and continuously, never stopping in its quest to inspire. It sounds sweetest in hardships and it must take an extremely troubling situation to abash this “little Bird” that gives warmth and comfort to so many people in difficult times. Moreover, despite serving in the direst circumstances, it never demands anything. Hope is the Thing with Feathers is an early poem of Dickinson but despite its simple style, it remains hugely popular.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
#1 Fire and Ice
Poet: Robert Frost
Fire and Ice discusses whether the world will end in fire or in ice. The force of fire is equated to the emotion of desire while that of ice is equated to hate. Frost brilliantly uses casual language in the poem which contrasts with the terror of apocalypse he talks about. The poem is considered by some to be a compression of Inferno, the first part of Dante’s epic poem Divine Comedy. In Inferno, the worst offenders of hell, are submerged, while in a fiery hell, up to their necks in ice. Prominent American astronomer Harlow Shapley, also claimed to have inspired the poem by telling Frost during a chat that the world would end either due to explosion of the sun or by slowly freezing in deep space. Fire and Ice is one of the best-known and most anthologized poems in the English language.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.