Interested in American poetry? For National Poetry Month, we compiled a brief introduction to some of the most famous American poets and poems. We hope our list provides some inspiration for further reading. Enjoy!
Walt Whitman is considered one of America’s most influential poets. His verse collection, Leaves of Grass, is a landmark in the history of American literature. Whitman was part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, and his work often focuses on the nature of the American experience and its democracy.
Sylvia Plath is an American poet best known for her novel, The Bell Jar, and her poetry collections of The Colossus and Ariel. Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry. She suffered from depression for much of her adult life and committed suicide in 1963. In 1982, Plath became the first person to win a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.
A four-time Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry, Robert Frost depicted New England life through language and situations familiar to the common person. He first became popular after returning to the U.S. from England at the beginning of World War I, and his work soon earned him the unofficial title of “poetic laureate” of the U.S. He served as a special guest at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961 and recited his poem “The Gift Outright” from memory.
One of Frost’s most popular works, The Road Not Taken, was first published in 1916. It is a narrative and autobiographical poem that represents our life choices. There is much debate over whether the sigh in the fourth stanza is of self-satisfaction or of regret. What do you think?
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Emily Dickinson was a reclusive and introverted American poet. Unrecognized in her own time, Dickinson is known posthumously for her unusual use of form and syntax. She left school as a teenager to return to her family’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts. Dickinson wrote hundreds of letters and filled notebooks with poetry, but her remarkable work was only published after her death. Her work is famous for themes of death and mortality, as well as short lines and no titles.
E.E. Cummings is famous for being an innovative poet known for lacking stylistic and structural conformity. Despite the avant-garde style of his work, many of his poems are also considered quite traditional, with themes of love and nature.
First published in 1952, “I Carry Your Heart” is one of the most talked-about love poems of modern times. The unique linguistics and romantic messages make this poem a joy to read every time.
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)