Who is the most famous American poet? The list of the greatest American poets of all time includes: Edgar Allan Poe, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost,… They have left to the world’s literature with their works that, until this day, still make us think.
From the post-colonial era to modernism, to the post-World War II era, and to this day, America’s male and female poets still have a tremendous influence on the world’s literature, making much ink has been spilled about them by many literary analyst and critics. Indeed, their works have a connection between emotion and poetry, whether short or long, illusory but still full of plentiful and hiddenly meaningful images.
The popularity and greatness of American poets are factors that stimulate readers to learn more deeply about poems, and which have been handed down, found, and read through all ages. Poems are also passed down from one generation to the next and taught throughout schools, and their works take us to strange places, a world we never imagine.
1. Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman, in full Walter Whitman, (born May 31, 1819, West Hills, Long Island, New York, U.S.—died March 26, 1892, Camden, New Jersey), was an American poet, essayist, and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works.
2. Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath (/plæθ/; October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963), American poet whose best-known works, such as the poems “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” and the novel The Bell Jar, starkly express a sense of alienation and self-destruction closely tied to her personal experiences and, by extension, the situation of women in mid-20th-century America.
3. Robert Frost
Robert Frost, in full Robert Lee Frost, (born March 26, 1874, San Francisco, California, U.S.—died January 29, 1963, Boston, Massachusetts), was an American poet. His work was initially published in England before it was published in the United States.
Emily Dickinson, in full Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, (born December 10, 1830, Amherst, Massachusetts, U.S.—died May 15, 1886, Amherst), was an American poet. Little-known during her life, she has since been regarded as one of the most important figures in American poetry.
E.E. Cummings, in full Edward Estlin Cummings, (born October 14, 1894, Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.—died September 3, 1962, North Conway, New Hampshire), was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright.
Edgar Allan Poe, (born January 19, 1809, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.—died October 7, 1849, Baltimore, Maryland), was an American writer, poet, editor, and literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre.
7. Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou, original name Marguerite Annie Johnson, (born April 4, 1928, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.—died May 28, 2014, Winston-Salem, North Carolina), was an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist.
Langston Hughes, in full James Mercer Langston Hughes, (born February 1, 1902?, Joplin, Missouri, U.S.—died May 22, 1967, New York, New York), was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri.
Charles Bukowski, in full Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr., (born August 16, 1920, Andernach, Germany—died March 9, 1994, San Pedro, California, U.S.), was a German-American poet, novelist, and short story writer.
10. Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound, in full Ezra Loomis Pound, (born October 30, 1885, Hailey, Idaho, U.S.—died November 1, 1972, Venice, Italy), was an expatriate American poet and critic, a major figure in the early modernist poetry movement, and a fascist collaborator in Italy during World War II.
11. T. S. Eliot
T.S. Eliot, in full Thomas Stearns Eliot, (born September 26, 1888, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.—died January 4, 1965, London, England), was a poet, essayist, publisher, playwright, literary critic and editor. Considered one of the 20th century’s major poets, he is a central figure in English-language Modernist poetry.
12. Shel Silverstein
Shel Silverstein, in full Sheldon Allan Silverstein, (born September 25, 1930, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.—died May 10, 1999, Key West, Florida), was an American writer, poet, cartoonist, songwriter and playwright. He was best known for his cartoons, songs, and children’s books.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, (born May 25, 1803, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.—died April 27, 1882, Concord, Massachusetts), who went by his middle name Waldo, was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, abolitionist and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century.
14. Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop, (born Feb. 8, 1911, Worcester, Mass., U.S.—died Oct. 6, 1979, Boston, Mass.), was an American poet and short-story writer. She was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1949 to 1950, the Pulitzer Prize winner for Poetry in 1956, the National Book Award winner in 1970, and the recipient of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1976.
15. Frank O’hara
Frank O’Hara, byname of Francis Russell O’Hara, (born June 27, 1926, Baltimore, Md., U.S.—died July 25, 1966, Fire Island, N.Y.), was an American writer, poet, and art critic. A curator at the Museum of Modern Art, O’Hara became prominent in New York City’s art world.
Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 – October 19, 1950) American poet and dramatist who came to personify romantic rebellion and bravado in the 1920s.
17. Hart Crane
Hart Crane, in full Harold Hart Crane, (born July 21, 1899, Garrettsville, Ohio, U.S.—died April 27, 1932, at sea, Caribbean Sea), was an American poet. Provoked and inspired by T. S. Eliot, Crane wrote modernist poetry that was difficult, highly stylized, and ambitious in its scope.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, (born February 27, 1807, Portland, Massachusetts [now in Maine], U.S.—died March 24, 1882, Cambridge, Massachusetts), was an American poet and educator whose works include “Paul Revere’s Ride”, The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline.
19. John Ashbery
John Ashbery, in full John Lawrence Ashbery, (born July 28, 1927, Rochester, New York, U.S.—died September 3, 2017, Hudson, New York), was an American poet and art critic.
20. Gwendolyn Brooks
Gwendolyn Brooks, in full Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks, (born June 7, 1917, Topeka, Kan., U.S.—died Dec. 3, 2000, Chicago, Ill.), was an American poet, author, and teacher. Her work often dealt with the personal celebrations and struggles of ordinary people in her community.
21. Robert Lowell
Robert Lowell, Jr., in full Robert Traill Spence Lowell, Jr., (born March 1, 1917, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.—died September 12, 1977, New York, New York), was an American poet. He was born into a Boston Brahmin family that could trace its origins back to the Mayflower.
22. Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg, (born Jan. 6, 1878, Galesburg, Ill., U.S.—died July 22, 1967, Flat Rock, N.C.), was an American poet, biographer, journalist, and editor. He won three Pulitzer Prizes: two for his poetry and one for his biography of Abraham Lincoln.
23. Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg, (born June 3, 1926, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.—died April 5, 1997, New York, New York), was an American poet and writer. As a student at Columbia University in the 1940s, he began friendships with William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, forming the core of the Beat Generation.
24. Marianne Moore
Marianne Moore, in full Marianne Craig Moore, (born November 15, 1887, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.—died February 5, 1972, New York, New York), was an American modernist poet, critic, translator, and editor. Her poetry is noted for formal innovation, precise diction, irony, and wit.
25. John Berryman
John Berryman, (born Oct. 25, 1914, McAlester, Okla., U.S.—died Jan. 7, 1972, Minneapolis, Minn.), was an American poet and scholar. He was a major figure in American poetry in the second half of the 20th century and is considered a key figure in the “confessional” school of poetry. His best-known work is The Dream Songs.
26. Jim Morrison
Jim Morrison, original name James Douglas Morrison, (born December 8, 1943, Melbourne, Florida, U.S.—died July 3, 1971, Paris, France), was an American singer, songwriter, musician and poet, who was the lead singer of the rock band the Doors.
27. Gary Snyder
Gary Snyder, in full Gary Sherman Snyder, (born May 8, 1930, San Francisco, California, U.S.), is an American man of letters. Perhaps best known as a poet (his early work has been associated with the Beat Generation and the San Francisco Renaissance), he is also an essayist, lecturer, and environmental activist with anarchoprimitivist leanings.
Henry David Thoreau (see name pronunciation; July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862), American essayist, poet, and practical philosopher renowned for having lived the doctrines of Transcendentalism as recorded in his masterwork, Walden (1854), and for having been a vigorous advocate of civil liberties, as evidenced in the essay “Civil Disobedience” (1849).
29. Anne Sexton
Anne Sexton, original name Anne Harvey, (born November 9, 1928, Newton, Massachusetts, U.S.—died October 4, 1974, Weston, Massachusetts), was an American poet known for her highly personal, confessional verse. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for her book Live or Die.
30. Theodore Roethke
Theodore Huebner Roethke (/ˈrɛtki/ RET-kee; May 25, 1908 – August 1, 1963) American poet whose verse is characterized by introspection, intense lyricism, and an abiding interest in the natural world.
31. James Wright
James Wright, in full James Arlington Wright, (born Dec. 13, 1927, Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, U.S.—died March 25, 1980, New York, N.Y.), American poet of the postmodern era who wrote about sorrow, salvation, and self-revelation, often drawing on his native Ohio River valley for images of nature and industry. In 1972 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Collected Poems (1971).
32. Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver, (born September 10, 1935, Maple Heights, Ohio, U.S.—died January 17, 2019, Hobe Sound, Florida), was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is inspired by nature, rather than the human world, stemming from her lifelong passion for solitary walks in the wild.
33. Herman Melville
Herman Melville, (born August 1, 1819, New York City—died September 28, 1891, New York City), was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet of the American Renaissance period. Among his best-known works are Moby-Dick (1851); Typee (1846), a romanticized account of his experiences in Polynesia; and Billy Budd, Sailor, a posthumously published novella.
34. D. H. Lawrence
D.H. Lawrence, in full David Herbert Lawrence, (born September 11, 1885, Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England—died March 2, 1930, Vence, France), was an English writer and poet. His collected works represent, among other things, an extended reflection upon the dehumanising effects of modernity and industrialisation.
35. Adrienne Rich
Adrienne Rich, in full Adrienne Cecile Rich, (born May 16, 1929, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.—died March 27, 2012, Santa Cruz, California), was an American poet, essayist and feminist. She was called “one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century”, and was credited with bringing “the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse.
36. Billy Collins
Billy Collins, in full William James Collins, (born March 22, 1941, New York, New York, U.S.), is an American poet, appointed as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. He is a Distinguished Professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York (retired, 2016).
37. Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan, original name Robert Allen Zimmerman, (born May 24, 1941, Duluth, Minnesota, U.S.), is an American singer-songwriter, author and visual artist. Often regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, Dylan has been a major figure in popular culture during a career spanning nearly 60 years.
Edgar Lee Masters, (born Aug. 23, 1868, Garnett, Kan., U.S.—died March 5, 1950, Philadelphia, Pa.), was an American attorney, poet, biographer, and dramatist. He is the author of Spoon River Anthology, The New Star Chamber and Other Essays, Songs and Satires, The Great Valley, The Serpent in the Wilderness….
39. Robinson Jeffers
Robinson Jeffers, (born Jan. 10, 1887, Pittsburgh—died Jan. 20, 1962, Carmel, Calif., U.S.), was an American poet, known for his work about the central California coast. Much of Jeffers’s poetry was written in narrative and epic form.
40. Anne Bradstreet
Anne Bradstreet, née Anne Dudley, (born c. 1612, Northampton, Northamptonshire?, England—died September 16, 1672, Andover, Massachusetts Bay Colony [U.S.]), was the most prominent of early English poets of North America and first writer in England’s North American colonies to be published.
41. Louise Glück
Louise Elisabeth Glück (/ɡlɪk/; born April 22, 1943) is an American poet and essayist. She won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, whose judges praised “her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”.
42. A. R. Ammons
A.R. Ammons, in full Archie Randolph Ammons, (born February 18, 1926, Whiteville, North Carolina, U.S.—died February 25, 2001, Ithaca, New York), was an American poet who won the annual National Book Award for Poetry in 1973 and 1993.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in full Lawrence Monsanto Ferlinghetti, (born March 24, 1919, Yonkers, New York, U.S.—died February 22, 2021, San Francisco, California), was an American poet, painter, social activist, and co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers.
W.S. Merwin, in full William Stanley Merwin, (born September 30, 1927, New York, New York, U.S.—died March 15, 2019, Haiku, Hawaii), was an American poet who wrote more than fifty books of poetry and prose, and produced many works in translation.
45. Richard Wilbur
Richard Wilbur, in full Richard Purdy Wilbur, (born March 1, 1921, New York, New York, U.S.—died October 14, 2017, Belmont, Massachusetts), was an American poet and literary translator.
46. Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac, original name Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, (born March 12, 1922, Lowell, Massachusetts, U.S.—died October 21, 1969, St. Petersburg, Florida), known as Jack Kerouac, was an American novelist of French Canadian ancestry, who, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, was a pioneer of the Beat Generation.
47. Randall Jarrell
Randall Jarrell, (born May 6, 1914, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.—died October 14, 1965, Chapel Hill, North Carolina), was an American poet, literary critic, children’s author, essayist, and novelist. He was the 11th Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress—a position that now bears the title Poet Laureate of the United States.
48. Robert Creeley
Robert Creeley, in full Robert White Creeley, (born May 21, 1926, Arlington, Massachusetts, U.S.—died March 30, 2005, Odessa, Texas), was an American poet and author of more than sixty books.
49. William Stafford
William Stafford, in full William Edgar Stafford, (born January 17, 1914, Hutchinson, Kansas, U.S.—died August 28, 1993, Lake Oswego, Oregon), was an American poet and pacifist. He was the father of poet and essayist Kim Stafford.
50. Stephen Crane
Stephen Crane (November 1, 1871 – June 5, 1900), American novelist, poet, and short-story writer, best known for his novels Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (1893) and The Red Badge of Courage (1895) and the short stories “The Open Boat,” “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” and “The Blue Hotel.”
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