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Depth of meaning varies from person to person. The deepest poems that resonate deep within one reader and make a considerable impact on their mind and heart may not necessarily be as substantial for another.
That being said, let us introduce some of the deepest poems ever written. The qualifying criteria for being on this list constitutes primarily of how widely the depth of a poem is recognized.
So rather than an opinion of one individual, this list is formed by taking popular opinion into account. Also, the numbering does not rank the poems in terms of depth. As mentioned above, the depth or meaningfulness of poetry is always subjective.
The 8 Deepest Poems Ever Written
- “Holy Sonnet 10: Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne
- “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- What Is Our Life? by Sir Walter Raleigh
- “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
- “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
- “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus
- “Fire And Ice” by Robert Frost
- “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer
1. “Holy Sonnet 10: Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.John Donne
John Donne takes death head-on in this sonnet. The poetry has almost a universal relevance because death is a matter of fear or despair for almost everyone.
The poet takes on a rather belittling approach towards death as he describes it to be much less of a thing people perceive it to be. He uses rhetoric to build a strong case against death, reducing it to just a short sleep before eternal life.
In the first attack, he compares death to sleep, the closest human experience to death. He says sleep is very pleasurable, then death might be even more.
Then he mentions how all great people die at some point. Death is our chance to join their company.
In the third argument, he writes how death is a slave to fate, kings, and desperate men. That one of the three must take action for death to play its role.
He demeans death by saying it always comes with unpleasant things like poison, war, or sickness. And that “poppy or charms” can make us sleep well too, maybe even better than death can. So why does death take such pride in itself?
Last but not least, Donne presents his most compelling argument against death’s awful posture, saying that if one believes, death is only a short sleep that wakes up to eternal life.
The last lines of his poem help conclude Donne’s first lines in his poem. Death, be not proud because you can’t kill me. The profound message fuels the poem to be one of the deepest poems ever.
2. “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;—
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
This remarkable poem from Henry Wadsworth outlines a young man as a protagonist asking, convincing, or contradicting his listener. Nearly requesting the listener to not tell that, “Life is but an empty dream.” Arguing further, the protagonist urges the listener to negate the nihilistic approach and not to interpret and measure life in numbers. He proposed his thoughts on life throughout the poem believing that life should be spent heroically not tragically, making it one of the deepest poems ever.
On the idea of existential crises, the protagonist proposed the belief of stoicism while presenting the positive view of life. We have that one life which we are sure of, we should not waste it while mourning the past or being pessimistic. Life is continuously moving forward, we must be worried about doing great things in that allotted time.
The protagonist understands that one day death will come for us and we should not live our life under that fear. But as long as we live we should live every minute of it. And not to forget, we must live our lives in a way that results in ease for others.
3. What Is Our Life? by Sir Walter Raleigh
WHAT is our life? The play of passion.
Our mirth? The music of division:
Our mothers’ wombs the tiring-houses be,
Where we are dressed for life’s short comedy.
The earth the stage; Heaven the spectator is,
Who sits and views whosoe’er doth act amiss.
The graves which hide us from the scorching sun
Are like drawn curtains when the play is done.
Thus playing post we to our latest rest,
And then we die in earnest, not in jest.Sir Walter Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh opens the poem with “knowing ignorance” questioning “What is our life?” And the narrator self-answers with a rhetorical statement, “The play of passion.”
With the brilliant use of the word “play”, the writer sets up multiple meanings. “Play” means amusement, game, and most importantly theater or a stage where acts take place. His contemporary, Shakespeare, has famously put it “All the world’s a stage.” Plus, the association between play and mother’s womb is worth noticing.
The poet suggests that the world is a play and we start training when we are in our mother’s wombs. We are the actors, Heaven is our spectator where death is like a curtain that appears after the one has performed. And death hides us from the miseries of life.
The metaphor to describe the tragedy of death and misfortunes of life is brilliant. By no means, the narration means the joy of life. With the metaphor of play, there is room to believe that life is short and temporary but also worthless.
4. “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveler from an antique land
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.”Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Ozymandias is a famous sonnet of P.B Shelly who held the statue of Ozymandias as the metaphor symbolizing the catastrophes of time. The king was once the symbol of power, arrogance, and command for sure as narrated words on the pedestal “My name is Ozymandias King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Comprising the feelings of a traveler who is depicting a wreck in the worst of conditions. The sand and relentless winds have only left the feet and worn away the rest. With the head of the sculpture half scum in the sand, the mocking smile portrays the impotence of the king once considered Almighty.
That insidious smile was meant to speak for the king but now has become the reminder of the affliction of passing days. And the boundless and bare land that surrounds the remains of the statue signifies that all his mighty creations have now turned to dust.
5. “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
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.Robert Frost
With the subtle and ambiguous approach, “The Road Not Taken” is one the most famous poem of the English language written by Robert Forst. The poem comprises the state of mind standing on the verge of making a choice. Life brings lots of choices. And sometimes a decision taken can not be undone. The protagonist is in a similar situation in which they have to choose a path knowing that there is no coming back. And the protagonist is sorry that they could not travel the both.
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I could ever come back”
The protagonist knew that one has to move on continually, there is no room for going back. Plus, the ambiguity suggests that the protagonist is somehow aware of the fortunes and misfortunes of both roads.
The protagonist looked as far as he/she could and then chose a road to travel implies that our decisions must not be random or accidental. By choosing the grassy way also hints that the way was out-watching the steps of travelers or the protagonist wanted to see and to walk the new path. This is further supported by the “I took the one less traveled by”, “And that has made all the difference”.
By no means, the story of the protagonist suggest traveling the untravelled. Life appears with both major and minor choices. And that choices do shape us and make all the difference.
6. “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”Emma Lazarus
Emma Lazarus wrote this poem in 1883 to help raise funds to construct the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty (in the USA). The poem compares the Greek Colossus of Rhodes with the new statue being built named the Statue of Liberty. Colossus of Rhodes was constructed to celebrate military might. And no foreign ships could pass without going beneath it.
The poem begins by saying that our Statue will not be similar to that of ancient Greek ones. The silent lips of “Mother of Exiles” will claim forgotten and rejected ones from ancient lands as her own. Positioned on the eastern shoreline of the USA, the statute will present a strong woman holding a torch. The torch in her hand will function as a lighthouse that shows the direction to the lost ones.
7. “Fire And Ice” by Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.Robert Frost
In this concise poem, Robert Frost has brought emotions particularly desires and hatred to another level. Differing opinions on how the world will end, the narrator expresses his views on the topic. Saying that some do believe that the world will end in fire and some believe that the world will end in ice. The narrator speaks one’s mind that he has tasted desires enough to realize that the world will end in fire. Conversely, he knows enough hate to say that the destruction of the world in the ice would also be great.
The final saying on how the world will end is left unanswered.
8. “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.Joyce Kilmer
The short poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer signified trees to celebrate the art of God. And the narrator connects him/her with God through the Trees. The narrator believes that he/she will never see any poem lovely as a tree.
With the theistic approach, the poet personified the lifted branches and the firm standing of the tree as the tree seeks to pray by lifting arms and seeing God.
Total surrendering to God, the poet wrote:
“Poems are made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree”
In recent times, the significance of the poem is affected by both means, the spread of atheism making it unpopular and the destruction of trees making it a popular emblem to signify the importance of trees.
Deepest Poems – Final Notes
If you’ve come this far, reading all the deepest poems and their analyses written above, we can tell you’re an intellectual in search of deeper wisdom. We hope you found value in our poetry analyses and learned something more profound. If you liked this article, you might also want to take a 5-minute read on the 5 deepest books for wisdom.
So happy wisdom seeking! And may the odds be ever in your favor!