Disclaimer: This is still a work in progress. We will continue to do research and update our list. If you notice a poet or movement that we have missed, leave a comment! We’ll add it in.
Last Updated: June 12th, 2020
Poetry is the crux, the fountain of all literature. It was one of the earliest forms of story-telling.
Poetry was initially used to recite traditions and stories before the invention of paper and paper-like products such as parchment and curated animal skins.
Because of the necessity to transmit knowledge, bards used rhythm, meter and rhyme to help people remember their stories.
Enter the invention of paper, and poetry was born.
Upon completion, this article with detail the complete history of poetry spanning from the first recorded poem to present day.
Before you go on, here is a quick guide to help you understand some of our lingo:
c. (circa meaning around this time or approximately. This is used when historians do not have a specific date, but have a general idea about the timeframe in which an event occurred)
BCE: Before Common Era [formerly known as BC or “Before Christ.”]
CE: Common Era [formerly known as AD OR “After Death” (relating to the death and resurrection of Christ)]
An Epic Poem is not “an awesome poem.” It is a long, narrative poem that is usually about heroic deeds.
Timeline of Poetry
2000 BCE – 1 CE
c. 2000 BCE
The Epic of Gilgamesh was written in Mesopotamia.
c. 1500 BCE
A collection of sacrificial hymns in the Rigveda became the earliest recorded Sanskrit literature.
c. 750 BCE
It is speculated that the Iliad and the Odyssey were written around this time.
c. 600 BCE
The poems of Shi Jing are gathered (creating China’s earliest work of literature)
c. 400 BCE
The Mahābhārata (the longest epic poem ever created) is written.
According to the surviving texts, this poem lasted for 100,000 couplets and was extended from a 24,000-couplet version called Bhārata.
Historians have used this work to tract the early evolution of Hinduism.Source: Remarkable Books: The World’s Most Beautiful and Historic Works
Aeschylus (a Greek tragedian) wins the prize for tragedy at the City Dionysia in Athens.
Sophocles (one of only 3 Greek tragedians whose plays have survived over time. Meaning, that we can still read Sophocles full works today) wins the prize for tragedy in Athens defeating the former winner Aeschylus.
Euripides enters a drama contest at the City Dionysia for the first time.
Aristophanes wins the first prize in Athens for his comedy called The Acharnians.
Socrates is satirized (i.e. derided or criticized) in a comedy by Aristophanes called Clouds.
Virgil completes his ten Eclogues.
Horace publishes the first 3 books of his Odes.
c. 20 BCE
Ovid’s love poems are published in a collection called Amores.
600 CE – 1100 CE
c. 600 CE
The classic form of Arabic poetry (predating Islam) called qasidah (laudatory, elegiac or satiric poetry) is developed.
It is a laudatory, elegiac, or satiric poem that is found in Arabic, Persian, and Asian literature. It is an elaborately structured ode of 60 to 100 lines, maintaining a single end rhyme that runs through the entire piece; the same rhyme also occurs at the end of the first hemistich (half-line) of the first verse.
Virtually any metre is acceptable for the qaṣīdah except the rajaz, which has lines only half the length of those in other metres.
c. 700 CE
Historians still do not know exactly when Beowulf was written because the original manuscript is in tatters. However, it is generally agreed that the Epic of Beowulf was written between 700 CE and 1000 CESource: The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Medieval Period
The Dream of the Rood is also written around this time period. Written in alliterative verse, the poem is an early form of dream poetry and may be as old as the Ruthwell Cross (a stone Anglo-Saxon cross).
c. 730 CE
The attack on Charlemagne’s army which later inspires the epic poem Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland).
c. 950 CE
The beginning of writings that would later become the Eddur (a collection of two medieval Icelandic literary works the collection of poems called the Prose Edda and an older collection called the Poetic Edda).
Izumi Shikibu writes her poetic memoirs which range between 647 – 902 poems in its entirety.
Ex: “Although the Wind” translated by Jane Hirshfield
Although the windSources: wakapoetry.net and Poetry Foundation
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.
Murasaki Shikibu writes Geni Monogatari (The Tale of Genji). Sadly the original manuscript did not survive.Source: wakapoetry.net
Mathematician and astronomer, Omar Khayyám writes quatrains (4-lined verses).
Wake! For the Sun, who scatter’d into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav’n, and strikes
The Sultan’s Turret with a Shaft of Light.
1100 – 1320
The Troubadours of Provence (traveling French medieval lyric poets who write poems to music) develop a new form of love poetry in French.
This is the beginning of the idea called courtly love (usually associated with chivalry).
Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland) is rewritten to detail Charlemagne’s heroism instead of his failure. [See 778 CE)
Chrétien de Troyes and Geoffrey of Monmouth write the version of the King Arthur stories that we now know.
“He was the first to introduce some of the best-known aspects of the Arthurian Legends such as the affair between Lancelot and Guinevere, the Grail Quest, and Camelot as the name of Arthur’s court.” (Mark)
Troyes is considered the Father of Arthurian Romance and the novel because of his narrative form (though historians still argue if he or Daniel Defoe invented the modern novel).Source: Ancient History Encyclopedia
Sa’di (a Persian poet) writes a collection of moral tales called Bustan (Orchard) written in poetic verse.
A new form of poetry called Dolce stil Nuovo is written in northern Italy. This style of poetry was influenced by Sicilian and Tuscan poetry. It focuses on love and noble-mindedness.
Artists who write in this style have become known as stilnovisti.
Dante Alighieri used this style of poetry for the first time in Canto 24 of Purgatorio (one book in his Divine Comedy which is written completely in verse).
Francesco Petrarch abandons law school in favor of studying classic literature.
He becomes one of the earliest humanists in the Italian Renaissance.
Italian Renaissance 1330 – 1550
Langland (at least that’s what historians suspect that his real name is) begins writing the epic poem Piers Plowman.
A Persian poet named Hafiz (aka Hafez) creates a form of short poetry called ghazal. He wrote about the pleasures of life while incorporating mysticism.
This style of poetry has an odd numbered chain of couplets where each couplet is an independent poem. The poem will have a refrain of 1-3 words that repeat. There will also be an inline rhyme that precedes the refrain.
Another addition to the Arthurian legends called Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is created.
Geoffrey Chaucer completes Troilus and Criseyde (a poem about a legendary love affair during the Siege of Troy).
Geoffrey Chaucer writes The Canterbury Tales.
The tales (mostly written in verse, although some are written in prose) are presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel from London to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.
Chaucer had planned for each of his characters to tell four stories a piece. The first two stories would be set as the character was on his/her way to Canterbury, and the second two were to take place as the characters were heading home. Unfortunately, Chaucer died before he could finish. The tales are disoriented and some end abruptly (since he never finished).
Historians still argue about whether or not the tales were printed in the correct order.
Francois Villon writes his Ballad of the Ladies of Times Past (soon after he is released from prison for theft).
Boiardo publishes a romantic epic poem, Orlando Innamorato, about Roland’s love for a bewitching princess.
Ariosto, in Orlando Furioso, creates a story of Roland’s madness when he is abandoned by the pagan princess Angelica.
Pierre de Ronsard publishes the first book of his Odes.
Elizabethan Era 1558 -1603
[The Castalian Band 1580’s – 1590’s]
Luis de Camoëns publishes The Lusiads which will become Portugal’s national epic poem.
Tasso writes an epic poem about the first crusade called Gerusalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Libertaed).
Edmund Spenser writes The Faerie Queene in honor of Elizabeth I.Source: The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Renaissance and the Early Seventeenth Century
Williams Shakespeare’s sonnets are published.
George Herbert’s collection of poems The Temple, is published after his death.
John Milton’s Lycidas is published.
John Milton’s Paradise Lost is published.
The Enlightenment 1715 – 1789
The Rape of Lock by Alexander Pope is published. The poems introduce a mock-heroic view on English poetry.
English poet Thomas Gray publishes his Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard.
Philip Freneau (an American poet) publishes his first collection of poems.
The Romantic Period 1785 – 1830
William Blake publishes Songs of Innocence, a volume of his poems that includes pictures of himself.
Scottish poet Robert Burns publishes Tam o’ Shanter.
Goethe and Schiller become friends and create the Weimar classicism movement.
William Blake‘s volume Songs of Innocence and Experience which includes his poem “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright” is published.
Joel Barlow (an American poet) publishes his poem The Hasty Pudding, which is a satirical, mock heroic poem inspired by a dish he ate in France c. 1793
Coleridge’s most famous piece “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is published in Lyrical Ballads.
William Blake makes his poem “Jerusalem” the preface to his book Milton.
Sir Walter Scott publishes The Lay of the Last Minstrel (a long romantic poem that makes him famous)
Sir Walter Scott writes a poem Lady of the Lakes which brings an unparalleled number of tourists to Scotland.
Lord Byron publishes the first two cantos of his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. This poem is largely biographical and brought him considerable fame.
William Cullen Bryant (an American poet) publishes a poem called Thanatopsis, which he wrote seven years prior at the age of sixteen.
Percy Bysshe Shelley publishes Ozymandias.
I met a traveller from an antique land,Source: Poetry Foundation
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Lord Byron publishes (in portions) his longest epic poem Don Juan, which he wrote to be a satirical comment on contemporary life.
John Keats (an English poet) publishes Ode to a Nightingale.
Percy Bysshe Shelley publishes Ode to the West Wind.
A 7-year-old Henry Wadsworth Longfellow publishes a poem in a newspaper in Portland, Maine.
Alexander Pushkin (arguably Russia’s most famous poet) publishes his first long poem, Ruslan and Ludmilla.
A Visit from St. Nicholas (an American poem) details our modern version of Santa Claus.
Edgar Allan Poe publishes Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems at the age of 20.
The Victorian Age 1830 – 1901
[Pre-Raphaelite period c. 1848 – 1860]
Old Ironsides, a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes prompts a public response that saves the USS Constitution from being decommissioned (the boat is now the oldest commissioned ship in the world that is still afloat).
America, a hymn by Samuel Francis Smith, is sung for the first time in Boston on July 4th.
Oliver Wendell Holmes writes a poem called The Last Leaf after being inspired by an old survivor of the Boston Tea Party.
Part 1 and Part 2 of Goethe’s Faust is published a few months after the poet’s death.
Pushkin publishes Eugene Onegin, a novel in verse
Robert Browning (an English poet) publishes The Pied Piper of Hamelin.
A collection of ballads by Thomas Babington Macaulay (an English poet) is published in Lays of Ancient Rome.
Edgar Allan Poe publishes The Raven and Other Poems.
The Brontë sisters collectively publish a volume of their poems.
They only sold two copies.
Ralph Waldo Emerson publishes his first collection of poems.
Alfred Lord Tennyson’s elegy for a friend, In Memoriam is read.
Walt Whitman publishes Leaves of Grass (a grouping of 12 poems) anonymously at his own expense.
Charles Baudelaire (a French poet) publishes his first collection of poems in Les Fleurs du Mal.
These poems deal with decadent and erotic themes and will later become significant to the modernist and symbolist movements.
Edward FitzGerald publishes The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, romantic translations of the work of the Persian poet.
Julia Ward Howe publishes The Battle Hymn of the Republic, inspired by a visit to Union troops in the American Civil War.
Walt Whitman mourns President Lincoln in his poem “O Captain! My Captain!” which was published in Sequel to Drum-Taps.
Algernon Swinburne (an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic) wrote Poems and Ballads which deals with topics that were controversial at the time like lesbianism, atheism, and sadomasochism.
The first collection of “Negro Spirituals” is published in a book called Slave Songs of the United States.
Paul Verlaine (a French writer who majorly influenced the Symbolist movement) publishes Poémes saturniens (Saturnine Poems).
Arthur Rimbaud (future advocate of the Surrealist movement) sends some of his poems to Verlaine at 16 years of age.
Bret Harte’s comic ballad Plain Language from Truthful James acquires a popular alternative title, The Heathen Chinee.Source: historyworld.net
Gerard Manley Hopkins (an English poet) develops a new verse form that he calls “sprung rhythm.”
Lewis Carroll publishes The Hunting of the Snark, which is a poem about a voyage in search of an elusive mythical creature.historyworld.net
Verlaine publishes short studies of various “cursed” poets in Les Poètes maudits (including the then 30-year-old poet Rimbaud)
William Butler Yeats (an Irish writer) publishes his first volume of poems, The Wanderings of Oisin at 23 years old.
Poems (the first of six collections of Emily Dickinson’s poetry found among her papers after her death) was published.
Walt Whitman dies, but his collection Leaves of Grass (which grew over his life) releases a 9th edition.
This is also known as the Deathbed Edition and is the edition that is considered an American classic.
A final edition will be published in 1897 with more poems that were not published during his lifetime, bringing the total number of poems in the collection to 400.Source: Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama
Edwin Arlington Robinson (an American poet) publishes his first poems about Tilbury Town in The Torrent and the Night Before.
A.E. Housman (an English poet) publishes his first collection: A Shropshire Lad.
Georgian Period 1903 – 1920
English poet Rudyward Kipling publishes what will become his most popular poem: If.
Rupert Brooke publishes the only collection of poems published before his early death in WWI called Poems.
Rabindranath Tagore publishes a collection of his Bengali poems in Gitanjali.
Russian poet Anna Akhmatova publishes her first poetry collection: Evening.
Walter De la Mare publishes The Listeners.
Robert Frost publishes his first book of poems: A Boy’s Will.
Osip Mandelstam (a Russian poet) publishes his first collection called Stone.
Gabriela Mistral (a poet from Chile and the first Latino American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature) publishes her first collection: Sonetos de la Muerte.
An American writer Amy Lowell publishes her collection of poems: Sword Blades and Poppy Seed.
A Canadian army surgeon, John McCrae writes In Flanders Fields after a friend is killed in the trenches.
An Australian author C.J. Dennis creates a book of poetry called The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke that later will be adapted into film.
The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke tells the story of Bill, a member of a larrikin push (i.e a gang) in Melbourne’s Little Lon red-light district. Bill encounters a young woman “of some social aspiration” named Doreen, in a local market.
The poems chronicle their courtship and marriage, detailing his transformation from a violent gang member to a contented husband and father.
Vladimir Mayakovsky publishes his first major poem, A Cloud in Trousers.
Edgar Lee Masters bursts onto the poetic scene with the publication of Spoon River Anthology a “sequence of over 200 free-verse epitaphs spoken from the cemetery of the town of Spoon River.”
He would go on to later publish 40 books of poetry and prose.Poetry Foundation
Rupert Brooke’s 1914 and Other Poems is published a few months after his death.
D.C. Johnson (Georgia Douglas Johnson) publishes her first poems in the NAACP’s magazine Crisis.
Robert Graves publishes his first two books of poems, Over the Brazier and Goliath and David.
His other publications include:
Fairies and Fusiliers (1918)
Country Sentiment (1920)
The Poems of Robert Graves (1958)
Love Respelt (1966)
Poems: Abridged for Dolls and Princes (1971)
The Imagist poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) publishes her first collection, Sea Garden.
Ezra Pound was her first love who later nicknamed her Dryad (the wood spirit muse) of his earliest poems.
Paul Valéry wins praise for his long symbolic poem La Jeune Parque (The Young Fate).
In Alexander Blok’s poem The Twelve, Christ leads his apostles in support of Russia’s revolution.
Quia Pauper Amavi contains the first three of Ezra Pound’s 100 cantos.
Modernism 1920 – 1960
[Harlem Renaissance 1920-1930]
[Surrealism c. 1925]
Ezra Pound publishes Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, a poem that reflects on the practice of poetry itself.
Marianne Moore calls her first published collection of poems simply Poems.
Marina Tsvetaeva completes an anti-Soviet cycle of poems, The Encampment of the Swans.
Boris Pasternak makes his name with his third volume of poems: My Sister Life.
T.S. Eliot publishes The Waste Land, an extremely influential poem in five fragmented sections.
Valéry’s collection Charmes includes probably his best-known poem: Le Cimetière marin.
Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges publishes his first collection of poems, Fervor de Buenos Aires (Fervor of Buenos Aires).
Wallace Stevens’ first collection, Harmonium, sells 100 copies.
Robert Frost publishes a new collection of poems, New Hampshire.
The American poet E.E. Cummings publishes his first collection, Tulips and Chimneys.
Edna St Vincent Millay publishes The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems.
Rainer Maria Rilke publishes his Duino Elegies and his Sonnets to Orpheus.
American poet, Robinson Jeffers publishes his first successful collection, Tamar and Other Poems.
Pablo Neruda (a Chilean poet) publishes one of his best-known collections, Twenty Love Poems at (ironically) 20 years old.
E.A. Robinson (an American poet) publishes a narrative poem, The Man Who Died Twice, about the dissipation of artistic talent.
Italian poet Eugenio Montale publishes his first collection, Bones of the Cuttlefish.
Langston Hughes publishes his first book of poetry The Weary Blues.
Hugh MacDiarmid writes his long poem A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle in a revived version of the Lallans Scottish dialect.
Dorothy Parker publishes her first collection of verse: Enough Rope
Yeats’s publishes a new volume of poems: The Tower.
Stephen V. Benét publishes a verse narrative on the Civil War called John Brown’s Body
García Lorca wins fame with his book of poems: Gypsy Ballads
Louis MacNeice publishes his first collection of poems, Blind Fireworks.
W.H. Auden‘s first collection of poetry, Poems is published.
Ogden Nash (American creator of light verse “poetry on trivial or playful themes that is written primarily to amuse and entertain and that often involves the use of nonsense and wordplay”) publishes Hard Lines.
Ex: Celery by Ogden Nash
Develops the jaw,
But celery, stewed,
Is more quietly chewed.
Claude McKay publishes Gingertown, a book of short stories and poetry.
Archibald MacLeish (an American poet) publishes a narrative epic, Conquistador.
Pablo Neruda publishes a collection of surrealist poems, Residencia en la tierra (‘Residence on earth’).
Octavio Paz (a 19-year-old Mexican poet) publishes his first collection called Wild Moon.
A collection of poems by Constantine Cavafy is published in Alexandria (in an undated edition).
Delmore Schwartz publishes his first book of poems, In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.
This collection won Schwartz praise from T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams.
American poet Randall Jarrell publishes his first collection, Blood for a Stranger.
Robert Lowell publishes his first book of poems, Land of Unlikeness.
T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets are put into a single volume for the first time.
Elizabeth Bishop publishes her first collection of poems: North and South.
Ezra Pound publishes Pisan Cantos, about his postwar imprisonment in an American detention center near Pisa.
Theodore Roethke publishes his second collection: The Lost Son.
Jack Kerouac coins the phrase “the Beat Generation” (those writers who rebelled against the conventions of American life, art and writing) to describe his contemporaries.
Gwendolyn Brooks publishes a story in narrative verse called Annie Allen. In this work, the reader is able to witness the life of a black girl in contemporary America.
Beat Poets Movement 1950-1970
[Confessional poetry c. 1950 – 1960’s]
[Magical Realism 1960’s]
Pablo Neruda (a Chilean poet) publishes his epic poem about South American people and South American culture called Canto General.
Philip Larkin (an English poet) publishes a collection called The Less Deceived where he truly starts to develop his writing voice.
Ted Hughes publishes his first volume of poems called The Hawk in the Rain.
Sylvia Plath (whom he met and married one year before) encouraged him to submit to submit the manuscript to a first book contest run by The Poetry Center.
Another British poet, Stevie Smith publishes her collection of poems Not Waving by Drowning.
Sylvia Plath publishes her first collection of poems The Colossus (just 3 years before she committed suicide).
Charles Bukowski also comes out with the first collections of poems, Flower, Fist, Bestial Wail.
Bukowski wrote about sex, alcohol abuse, and violence to satirize machismo (strong or aggressive masculine pride).
John Betjeman publishes his long autobiographical poem Summoned by Bells.
Babi Yar by Yevgeny Yevtushenko details Russian antisemitism.
John Ashbery publishes a collection of fragmented poems called The Tennis Court Oath.
John Berryman introduces the world to his alter-ego Henry in 77 Dream Songs.
New Zealand poet Fleur Adcock publishes her first collection, The Eye of the Hurricane.
Seamus Heaney (an Irish poet) wins critical acclaim for Death of a Naturalist (his first published volume containing more than a few poems).
Sylvia Plath is honored by her friend Anne Sexton’s collection of poetry called Live or Die.
A collection of poems by three poets in Liverpool is published in an anthology called The Mersey Sound.
Ezra Pound publishes his last collection of cantos: Drafts and Fragments of Cantos CX – CXVII.
Postmodernism 1965 – present
Australian author David Malouf publishes his first collection of poems Bicycle and Other Poems.
James Fenton publishes his collection, Terminal Moraine.
Philip Larkin publishes a poem called Annus Mirabilis where he apparently claimed that sexual intercourse began in 1963.
Andrew Motion (an English author) publishes his first collection of poems called The Pleasure Steamers.
Spoken Word 1980’s – present
Benjamin Zephaniah (a British Rasta poet) publishes his second collection, The Dread Affair.
John Fuller and James Fenton collaborate to create a collection of satirical poems called Partingtime Hall.
Derek Walcott (a West Indian author) publishes an epic poem of the Caribbean called Omeros.
Thom Gunn’s The Man with Night Sweats deals openly with AIDS.
A.R. Ammons publishes a book-length poem, Garbage, which he typed on long narrow strips of adding-machine paper.
Philip Levine wins a Pulitzer Prize for his volume of poems, Simple Truth.
Ted Hughes publishes Birthday Letters, a collection of poems that describe his relationship with Sylvia Plath.
Seamus Heaney publishes his translation of Beowulf.
New Formalism 1980’s – present
This “movement” was created when a handful of poets decided to respond to the popularity of free-verse in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The New Formalist poets advocated for a return to rhyme and meter in poetry. This was not a coherent movement and has been attacked by critics for its perceived retrogressive focus on traditional poetic rules.
The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Medieval Period 2nd Edition Volume 1. ISBN 978-1-55111-965-6
The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Renaissance and the Early Seventeenth Century Volume 2. ISBN 1-55111-610-3
Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th Edition. Volume 2. New York, W.W. Norton & Company. 2006. ISBN 0-393-92715-6
Kennedy, X.J and Gioia, Dana. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 9th Interactive Edition. New York, Pearson Longman. 2005. ISBN 0-321-18330-4
Mark, Joshua J. “Chretien de Troyes”. Ancient History Encyclopedia. April 8, 2019. https://www.ancient.eu/Chretien_de_Troyes/
The Poetry Foundation
“Poetry Timeline”. History World.net. http://www.historyworld.net/timesearch/default.asp?conid=2&bottomsort=21963734&direction=NEXT&keywords=Poetry%20timeline&timelineid=
Sherlock, Karl. Significant American Poetry Movements, 1820-present. Grossmon.edu/