The best poems by Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman (1819-92), with his innovative free verse and celebration of the American landscape, made his poetry a sort of literary declaration of independence, seeking to move away from the literary tradition associated with the Old World and forge a new, distinctly American literature. Below are ten of Whitman’s greatest poems which demonstrate how he did this.
‘Song of Myself’. Where better to begin our pick of Whitman’s best poems than here, with the poem which seems best to embody his call for literary independence and self-expression? When Whitman’s 1855 volume Leaves of Grass was published at Whitman’s own expense – the first edition containing just a dozen untitled poems – ‘Song of Myself’ headed the collection. This statement of selfhood contains the famous line ‘I am large, I contain multitudes’.
‘I Sing the Body Electric’. This is perhaps Whitman’s best-known poem, and also featured in the original 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass. It does what its title (added later) announces, with Whitman writing about his own body and its various components – but concluding that these are also part of his soul, since soul and body are one. Read the rest of this entry
The best poems by Shelley
Percy Shelley (1792-1822) wrote a considerable amount of poetry in his short life, as well as penning pamphlets such as The Necessity of Atheism (which got him expelled from Oxford) and ‘A Defence of Poetry’ (which contains his famous declaration that ‘poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’). But which are Shelley’s very best poems. Undoubtedly, a number of poems immediately spring to mind. Below are what we consider to be Shelley’s ‘top ten’. What’s your favourite Shelley poem?
‘Ozymandias’. Published in The Examiner on 11 January 1818, ‘Ozymandias’ is perhaps Percy Bysshe Shelley’s most celebrated and best-known poem. A sonnet about the remnants of a statue standing alone in a desert – a desert which was once the vast civilisation of Ozymandias, ‘King of Kings’ – the poem is a haunting meditation on the fall of civilisations and the futility of all human endeavour. Shelley wrote the poem as part of a competition with his friend, Horace Smith. Read the rest of this entry
The best poems about home
Houses and homes are not featured so prominently in poetry as, say, fields, hedgerows, or the moon, but they’re obviously important in their lives, and many poets have sought to reflect our feelings about home, and our attitudes to houses of all kinds. Here are ten of the finest poems about houses and homes – from the humblest abodes to the stately homes of England.
Andrew Marvell, ‘Upon Appleton House’. The longest poem on this list is ‘Upon Appleton House’, which is an example of a ‘country house poem’. Marvell wrote the poem for Thomas Fairfax, the father of the girl he was tutoring in the early 1650s, just after the end of the English Civil War, and the poem reflects many of the contemporary political issues of the mid-seventeenth century. ‘Appleton House’ is the Nun Appleton estate belonging to Fairfax in Yorkshire.
John Clare, ‘Home’. This wonderful little-known poem from one of English literature’s greatest nature poets isn’t available online anywhere, so we’ve reproduced it below. In the poem, Clare (1793-1864) extols the virtue of home as a place to return to at the end of a hard day, a place of comfort and belonging. Read the rest of this entry