We explain what poetry is, its origin, how it is classified and why it is important. Also, what are its characteristics and list of some greatest poets.

What is poetry?

Poetry: What Is It, Classification, Characteristics and Greatest Poets List

Poetry is one of the literary genres and perhaps the most emblematic in terms of freedoms and expressive powers. Works of the genre are called poems . Verse is usually written, of a line or less in duration, although there is a genre (sometimes considered a hybrid) of prose poetry.

Those who cultivate this literary genre are called poets and are usually attributed a particular sensitivity to life. However, poetry is not only about feelings , emotions , songs of love or spite. Any subject is worthy of becoming a poem.

Poetry is distinguished from other literary genres: narrative , essay and dramaturgy, mainly because of their differences: poetry does not narrate a story (narrative), nor does it discuss a topic (essay) , nor does it reproduce a situation in front of the reader (dramaturgy).

Making generalizations, we can say that is a description of subjective , metaphorical and more or less tight of a situation or thought , transmitted with a language also subjective. Hence, poetry often lends itself to multiple interpretations.

Origin of poetry

Poetry, as we understand it today, has its roots in the lyric.

This ancient genre consisted of songs accompanied by music and sometimes even dance .

It narrated epic episodes, praising the gods or heroes and their historical feats.

It was widely cultivated in Ancient Greece, where the first texts that studied it as a textual genre emerged. However, its composition dates back to even before the invention of writing , and was passed on orally from one generation to the next.

History of poetry

History of poetry

Poetry has had several golden ages throughout history . The first was classical antiquity , in which epic poetry was cultivated. It was a form of mythological story that was sung at festivals, rituals and was transmitted orally, halfway between song and prayer.

Variants more or less similar in purpose and expressive forms existed in the different corners of the planet . Later, during the European Middle Ages , poetry and culture in general went hand in hand with the Christian religious imaginary . For this reason, it was generally linked to the exaltation of divine values or the encounter with God , the so-called mystical poetry.

In modern times , poetry experienced different moments of renewal and reinvention , especially those linked to the avant-garde. These poetic movements of the late 19th and 20th centuries undertook experimentation in various ways:

  • Liberation of the verse.
  • overcoming traditional ways of writing poems (with meter and rhyme, for example).
  • Experimentation with language and its limits, even playing with pure image and sound .

Classification of poetry

Classification of poetry

A first distinction between the forms of poetry recognizes two types of poem:

  • Written in verse:  They present an interrupted structure, in which each verse lasts a line or less, with spaces between them and total freedom of distribution of the text on the page.
  • Written in prose:  They are written in one or more continuous paragraphs.

On the other hand, poems can also be classified based on their content, in an almost infinite number of categories, among which we highlight:

  • Epic poetry: It was cultivated in ancient times. Written in verses of very specific rhyme, since in many cases it was composed before the invention of writing (and the rhyme served to memorize it). It narrates mythological, heroic or foundational events of ancient cultures.
  • Mystical poetry: It explores as a theme the relationship of man with God, generally from a specific religious or ecclesiastical perspective, that is, from a religious tradition and its imagination.
  • Love poetry: Its theme is love and the erotic, the passion and devotion of one lover to another. Usually he exalts love and its madness, or worships the lost loved one.
  • Surreal poetry: The one that explores in its forms and use of language the edges of human reason and thought , trying to recreate the unconscious and dream language through metaphor.
  • Concrete poetry: This is how it is said to a type of poetry that combines the linguistic with the visual and spatial, creating forms with the text on the page and transmitting with them certain poetic content.
  • Epigrams: A genre between the poem and the aphorism, which expresses a satirical or poetic content in a short and witty phrase.

Why is poetry important?

Poetry from its beginnings has been a vital genre in the cultural production of nations . Perhaps because its musical and melodic forms served primitive man to remember certain contents and messages in the absence of the written word, which was invented later.

Later, when writing already existed, poetry served to explore the edges of language , to evaluate and change its relationship with that powerful tool.

The poem

The poem

Poetry is manifested in the poem, which is a total unit, with its own meaning , in which different forms and expressions are put into play . The poems are made up of verses, which in turn make up stanzas, and can be of different length and theme.

Often he says poetry to the poems , but the latter term is preferred not to confuse the literary genre with its productions.

Poetic prose

There is a prose form highly charged with poetic meaning, with a lot of musicality and the presence of metaphors and verbal games , which in the absence of other terms is known as poetic prose .

Poetic prose does not stop being prose, that is, it is not entirely equivalent to prose poetry , but is a way of writing what is written: a story , an essay, a note can be in poetic prose and in that sense turn out to be very similar to poetry.

Rhyme and meter

Rhyme and meter

form of sound memory is called rhyme , which is based on the similarity of the endings of two or more verses. On the one hand, it allows the poet to remember what comes next. On the other hand, it offers a sound game for the listener's pleasure. At present its use is not very frequent.

The rhyme can be:

  • Consonant: When the last whole syllable of the verse coincides (spider-mountain).
  • Assonant: When only the last vowel (mountain-screen) matches.

The meter is a form (also in disuse) of measuring the verses of a poem. The unit of measurement is the syllable. The verses are then classified according to the number of syllables that compose them, and the stanzas based on how many verses of each type they contain.

For example, a sonnet is a type of poem composed of two quartets (stanzas of four lines) and two triplets (of three). If the verses are greater than eight syllables, they are "major art" verses, and if they are less than eight, then "minor art" verses.

Poems and anthologies

Poetry books collect a certain number of poems. They may be:

  • Poetry: The poems are by the same author, who has arranged them in a personal journey and organized around a specific theme or topic.
  • Anthology: They are compilations made by third parties, be they editors, scholars or other writers, of the work of the same author or of several, using an anthological criterion such as dates, nationalities or themes.

Famous poets

Famous poets

Some celebrated cultists of poetry in the English language of all time are:

Edgar Allen Poe

Birthplace: Boston

Famous poem: ”The Raven”

Famous quote: ”I have great faith in fools — self-confidence my friends call it.”

William Shakespeare

Birthplace: Stratford-upon-Avon, England

Famous poem: ”Sonnet XVIII” (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?)

Famous quote: ”All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts. His acts being seven ages.”

Maya Angelou

Birthplace: St. Louis

Famous poem: ”On the Pulse of Morning”

Famous quote: ”I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Emily Dickinson

Birthplace: Amherst, Massachusetts

Famous poem: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers”

Famous quote: “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul — and sings the tunes without the words — and never stops at all.”

Shel Silverstein

Birthplace: Chicago

Famous poem: “Where the Sidewalk Ends”

Famous quote: ”What I do is good. I wouldn’t let it out if I didn’t think it was.”

Robert Frost

Birthplace: San Francisco

Famous poem: “The Road Not Taken”

Famous quote: “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

Pablo Neruda

Birthplace: Parral, Chile

Famous poem: “I Do Not Love You Except Because I Love You”

Famous quote: “To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life.”

E. E. Cummings

Birthplace: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Famous poem: “i carry your heart with me”

Famous quote: “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

Langston Hughes

Birthplace: Joplin, Missouri

Famous poem: “I Too Sing America”

Famous quote: “Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.”

Walt Whitman

Birthplace: Long Island, New York

Famous poem: “I Hear America Singing”

Famous quote: “Either define the moment or the moment will define you.”

Thomas Hardy

Birthplace: Dorset, England

Famous poem: “Hap”

Famous quote: “The main object of religion is not to get a man into heaven, but to get heaven into him.”

Rudyard Kipling

Birthplace: Bombay Presidency, British India

Famous poem: “Gunga Din”

Famous quote: “We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.”

Oscar Wilde

Birthplace: Dublin, Ireland

Famous poem: “A Vision”

Famous quote: “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.”

John Keats

Birthplace: London

Famous poem: “A Thing of Beauty (Endymion)”

Famous quote: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever; its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Birthplace: Durham, England

Famous poem: “How Do I Love Thee?”

Famous quote: “If you desire faith, then you have faith enough.”

William Blake

Birthplace: London

Famous poem: “The Tyger”

Famous quote: “The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.”

Sylvia Plath

Birthplace: Boston

Famous poem: “Daddy”

Famous quote: “Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it and the imagination to improvise.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Birthplace: Portland, Maine

Famous poem: “The Song of Hiawatha”

Famous quote: “Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.”

William Wordsworth

Birthplace: Cumberland, England

Famous poem: “The Prelude”

Famous quote: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

Mark Twain

Birthplace: Florida, Missouri

Famous poem: “Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec’d.”

Famous quote: “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Birthplace: Boston

Famous poem: “Uriel”

Famous quote: “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.”

John Donne

Birthplace: London

Famous poem: “No Man Is An Island”

Famous quote: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

W.B. Yeats

Birthplace: County Dublin, Ireland

Famous poem: “The Second Coming”

Famous quote: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

Lord Byron

Birthplace: London

Famous poem: “She Walks in Beauty”

Famous quote: “There is no instinct like that of the heart.”

Lewis Carroll

Birthplace: Cheshire, England

Famous poem: “Jabberwocky”

Famous quote: “It is one of the great secrets of life that those things which are most worth doing, we do for others.”

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Birthplace: Lincolnshire, England

Famous poem: “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

Famous quote: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.”

Dante Alighieri

Birthplace: Florence, Italy

Famous poem: “Divine Comedy”

Famous quote: “Consider your origin; you were not born to live like brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge.”

T.S. Eliot

Birthplace: St. Louis

Famous poem: “The Waste Land”

Famous quote: “Friendship should be more than biting time can sever.”

Ezra Pound

Birthplace: Hailey, Idaho

Famous poem: “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”

Famous quote: “With one day’s reading a man may have the key in his hands.”

John Milton

Birthplace: London

Famous poem: “Paradise Lost”

Famous quote: “A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit.”


Birthplace: Lesbos, Greece

Famous poem: “Sappho 31”

Famous quote: “What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful.”


Birthplace: Smyrna (present-day Greece)

Famous poem: “The Iliad”

Famous quote: “Evil deeds do not prosper; the slow man catches up with the swift.”

Li Bai

Birthplace: Tang Empire (present-day Kyrgyzstan)

Famous poem: “Quiet Night Thought”

Famous quote: “We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains.”

Jalal al-Din Rumi

Birthplace: Khorasan (present-day Afghanistan)

Famous poem: “Masnavi-ye Ma’navi (Spiritual Verses)”

Famous quote: “Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”


Luke is passionate about fostering student involvement and connection. He studied psychology for his major and likes learning about the past. Luke aims to specialize in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. .

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