Top 20 sonnets of all times!

Poetry is no doubt the most beautiful form of literature. The use of different poetic devices enhances the beauty of the message that the poet wishes to convey throw his poetry. So here for all the poetry lovers I have come up with a list of 20 adorable poems. So Enjoy Reading!!

1.   Those winter Sundays
by Robert Hayden
Top 20 sonnets of all times! 1 (8-April)
“Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?”

Robert Hayden, according to me is a pretty underrated poet. The creativity with which he has described his childhood and its coldness is commendable in this poem.

2.  Acquainted with the Night
by Robert Frost
Top 20 sonnets of all times! 2 (8-April)

“I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-by;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.”

This is a beautiful sad poem which is set on the streets of a lonely city and its raining of course. The walk on the street is not that comfortable. The theme of sadness and loneliness is clearly justified here.

3. The New Colossus
    by Emma Lazarus
Top 20 sonnets of all times! 3 (8-April)
“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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The poem is outstanding. The author, Emma Lazarus, is the greatest American poet till date. Her poetry is incompatible and my favorite among all her works is ‘The new Colossus’.

4. Do not stand at my grave and weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye
Top 20 sonnets of all times! 4 (8-April)
“Do not stand at my grave and weep:
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starshine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there; I did not die.”

This is the most famous death poem ever. This poem is often sung in the funerals and is said to relieve the mourners. Using brilliant images and metaphor, the poem acts as a motivational speech.

5. Ozymandias
    by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Top 20 sonnets of all times! 5 (8-April)
“I met a traveller 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.”

Shelley no doubt is an unbeatable poet. This poem which is in the form of a first person narrative, describes how the narrator met a traveler who found a destroyed statue of the great king Ozymandias.

6. The Death of a Toad
by Richard Wilbur
Top 20 sonnets of all times! 6 (8-April)
“A toad the power mower caught,
Chewed and clipped of a leg, with a hobbling hop has got
To the garden verge, and sanctuaried him
Under the cineraria leaves, in the shade
Of the ashen and heartshaped leaves, in a dim,
Low, and a final glade.

The rare original heartsblood goes,
Spends in the earthen hide, in the folds and wizenings, flows
In the gutters of the banked and staring eyes. He lies
As still as if he would return to stone,
And soundlessly attending, dies
Toward some deep monotone,

Toward misted and ebullient seas
And cooling shores, toward lost Amphibia’s emperies.
Day dwindles, drowning and at length is gone
In the wide and antique eyes, which still appear
To watch, across the castrate lawn,
The haggard daylight steer.”

This poem talks about a toad that is trapped in a garden accident. The narrator very closely observes the toad and ultimately sees him die. So through this imagery, he uses a lot of symbols that commenting on the concept of death.

7. Bread and Music
     by Conrad Aiken
Top 20 sonnets of all times! 7 (8-April)
“Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead.

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, belovèd,
And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

For it was in my heart you moved among them,
And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
And in my heart they will remember always,—
They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.”


This poem is simply beautiful where the narrator (man) talks about his beloved. He is missing her terribly and therefore tries go into the flashback.

8. Sweet Rose of Virtue
     by William Dunbar

Top 20 sonnets of all times! 8 (8-April)“Sweet rose of virtue and of gentleness,
delightful lily of wanton loveliness,
richest in bounty and in beauty clear
and in every virtue that men hold dear―
except only that you are merciless.

Into your garden, today, I followed you
through lustrous flowers of freshest hue,
both white and red, delightful to see,
and wholesome herbs, waving resplendently―
yet nowhere, one leaf or petal of rue.

I fear that March with his last arctic blast
has slain my fair flower of pallid and gentle cast,
whose piteous death does my heart such pain
that, if I could, I would plant love’s root again―
so comforting her bowering leaves have been.”

This poem is a bitter sweet love poem written long ago. The poem is unique in itself as here the beloved is directly compared to lilies and roses symbolizing her female characteristics and beauty.

9. The Unreturning
     by Wilfred Owen

Top 20 sonnets of all times! 9 (8-April)“Suddenly night crushed out the day and hurled
Her remnants over cloud-peaks, thunder-walled.
Then fell a stillness such as harks appalled
When far-gone dead return upon the world.

There watched I for the Dead; but no ghost woke.
Each one whom Life exiled I named and called.
But they were all too far, or dumbed, or thralled,
And never one fared back to me or spoke.

Then peered the indefinite unshapen dawn
With vacant gloaming, sad as half-lit minds,
The weak-limned hour when sick men’s sighs are drained.
And while I wondered on their being withdrawn,
Gagged by the smothering Wing which none unbinds,
I dreaded even a heaven with doors so chained”

Here in this poem the poem very fervently puts forward the darker side of war. How death is glorified in our society and how on the contrary a warrior has to suffer and go through so much of death and destruction.

10. Leda and the Swan
       by William Butler Yeats
Top 20 sonnets of all times! 10 (8-April)
“A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?”

This poem is full of imagery. The classical mythology regarding Leda and the swan is emphasized here.  How the god Zeus took the form of a Swan and raped this lady Leda is described here.

11. Distant light
       by Walid Khazindar
Top 20 sonnets of all times! 11 (8-April)
“Harsh and cold
autumn holds to it our naked trees:
If only you would free, at least, the sparrows
from the tips of your fingers
and release a smile, a small smile
from the imprisoned cry I see.
Sing! Can we sing
as if we were light, hand in hand
sheltered in shade, under a strong sun?
Will you remain, this way
stoking the fire, more beautiful than necessary, and quiet?
Darkness intensifies
and the distant light is our only consolation—
that one, which from the beginning
has, little by little, been flickering
and is now about to go out.
Come to me. Closer and closer.
I don’t want to know my hand from yours.
And let’s beware of sleep, lest the snow smother us”

This has a lot of imageries and symbolisms. The poem is written in a very sad mood and talks about darkness.

12. Love Is Not All
      by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Top 20 sonnets of all times! 12 (8-April)
“Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
and rise and sink and rise and sink again.
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
pinned down by need and moaning for release
or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It may well be. I do not think I would.”

This poem is pretty similar to traditional love poetry but still it has something mesmerizing about it. It talks about love and its scope.

13. Piano
      by D. H. Lawrence
Top 20 sonnets of all times! 13 (8-April)
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;

Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

Here is a lyric poem where the narrator on listening to a woman’s song suddenly goes into the flashback and visualizes as to how he used to sit on his mother’s feet while the mother was playing the piano.

14. The Snow Man
       by Wallace Stevens

Top 20 sonnets of all times! 14 (8-April)“One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

Here the poet talks about the realities that we often turn our face to. He talks about the miserable winder conditions depicting that winters is something more than a landscape.

15. Mouse’s Nest
       by John Clare
Top 20 sonnets of all times! 15 (8-April)
I found a ball of grass among the hay

And progged it as I passed and went away;
And when I looked I fancied something stirred,
And turned again and hoped to catch the bird
When out an old mouse bolted in the wheats
With all her young ones hanging at her teats;
She looked so odd and so grotesque to me,
I ran and wondered what the thing could be,
And pushed the knapweed bunches where I stood;
Then the mouse hurried from the craking brood.
The young ones squeaked, and as I went away
She found her nest again among the hay.
The water o’er the pebbles scarce could run
And broad old cesspools glittered in the sun.

Here the narrator is at first horrified to see a mouse’s nest but later realizes that this is nature. Nature consists of both beautiful as well as ugly things. That’s the reality of life.

16. The Light of Other Days
       by Thomas Moore

Top 20 sonnets of all times! 16 (8-April)“Oft, in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
Of other days around me:
The smiles, the tears
Of boyhood’s years,
The words of love then spoken;
The eyes that shone,
Now dimm’d and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus, in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

When I remember all
The friends, so link’d together,
I’ve seen around me fall
Like leaves in wintry weather,
I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus, in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chain has bound me.
Sad Memory brings the light
Of other days around me.”

The poet in this poem has very interestingly made a contrast between his present life and his boyhood days.  The poem is both a memory and recognition of his present life.

17. Jerusalem
      by William Blake
Top 20 sonnets of all times! 17 (8-April)
“And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.”

Here the poet through the term ‘Jerusalem’ talks about a state of being complete. He talks about being getting into the original state without any negativity around.

18. How Do I Love Thee?
      by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Top 20 sonnets of all times! 18 (8-April)
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.”

Here the female poet lover talks about different ways in which she wishes to love her beloved. She wants to eternalize her love and wants to continue loving the beloved even after death.

19. Meeting at Night
       by Robert Browning

Top 20 sonnets of all times! 19 (8-April)

“The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.

Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!”

Here the poet gives a mesmerizing description of the sea at night. And then he reaches his destination and unites himself with his beloved. There are a few adorable symbols being used in the poem.

20. When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer
       by Walt Whitman

Top 20 sonnets of all times! 20 (8-April)“When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”

Here the poet talks about as to how he was sitting in a classroom where a renowned astronomer was talking about stars. But the explanations were not interesting; they were far away from reality. He get out of the classroom and discovers the unexplainable beauty of stars himself.

–By Sakshi



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