Page by Paige Recommends: 10 poems everyone should read before they’re 30

Classic poems that everyone should read before they turn 30 for some life affirming lessons, offered with a short introduction about each of them.


1. i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart) by E. E. Cummings 

E. E. Cummings was well known for his sonnets and love poems and i carry your heart is up there as one of the best. Published in 1952, this poem is dedicated to the person the speaker loves, who they feel a very intense connection to, and explains that everything in life and the universe has become infused with that love. It’s a poem that makes you believe in love, real love, and has inspired wedding vows worldwide. It has also famously featured in other works of literature and movies.


2. O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman 

This classic poem by Walt Whitman is about a captain on a ship who dies just as his ship reaches the end of a rough, dangerous journey on stormy seas. Published in 1865, the captain is meant to represent Abraham Lincoln after his assassination just as the American Civil War was coming to its end.


3. Inferno by Dante 

Published in 1472, Dante Alighieri’s iconic poem in the Divine Comedy trilogy tells the story of his plunge to the very depths of Hell and embarks on his arduous journey towards God. Guided by the poet Virgil, they descend through the twenty-four circles of the underworld and encounter the tormented souls of the damned – from heretics and pagans to gluttons, criminals and seducers – who tell of their sad fates and predict events still to come in Dante’s life. The message of the poem, however, is not so much about the misery of hell as it is about the power of the human spirit to endure any challenge, no matter how daunting.


4. To a Mouse by Robert Burns

Known from his famous works such as Auld Lang Syne and Tam O’ Shanter, this Scottish poet published To a Mouse in 1786. In the poem, Robert Burns writes about a mouse whose home is destroyed by his plough. After apologising to the mouse, he begins to reflect mournfully on the mouse’s fate as well as his own, and every other creature on Earth. It’s a great poem to take in and understand before you’re thirty, because the message of it is clear and will resonate with almost everyone: the idea that no matter how much you plan something, sometimes things still go wrong.


5. The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

The Road Not Taken is a cleverly written poem by Robert Frost published in 1916 that really makes the reader reflect on their own life. It’s an ambiguous poem that allows the read to think about their own choices in life about whether or not to go with the flow and go with what everyone else is doing, or to pick the “less travelled” road and go it alone. in the poem, the journey acts as a metaphor for life, focusing on the times when we need to make important decisions.


6. Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen 

Renowned war poet Wilfred Owen wrote Dulce et Decorum Est during the First World War and was published in 1920. It was one of the first poems to really paint a picture on what it was like to fight and die for your country. The Latin title is taken from the Roman poet Horace which means “it is sweet and fitting”. The following line in the poem is “pro patria mori”, which translates to “to die for one’s country”.


7. Shooting Stars by Carol Ann Duffy

Set in 1940, Carol Ann Duffy’s poem Shooting Stars is a devastating poem despite it’s ambiguous title. Duffy focuses on World War II and the Nazi‘s persecution and treatment of Jewish people to effectively portray human suffering. Shooting Stars has a similar effect as Dante’s Inferno, but comes at it from a different angle with the ambiguous title and clever imagery.


8. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart is like a poem/short story by Edgar Allan Poe which was published in 1843. In classic horror-movie style, the narrator tries to convince the reader that they are sane after killing and murdering their business partner and burying them under the floorboards. The narrator then confesses after being driven mad and tormented by a guilty conscious. Moral of the story? Our conscious is more powerful than we think.


9. Tulips by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath is known for being a rather depressed and sad poet, and her poem Tulips is no different. Published in 1965, it’s about a woman who is recovering from a serious but unknown operation where the bright and colourful tulips in her room (brought as a gift) don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the room, which she describes as being “winter” white. The focus of this poem is isolation and Plath talks about feeling disconnected from the rest of the world and the people in it, causing her to portray her emotions by becoming uncomfortable around people.


10. Fire and Ice by Robert Frost

Fire and Ice is a rather short poem, but it has a strong impact. Despite having a light tone, the poem focuses on hatred and desire and is actually a work of eschatology – which is writing about the end of the world. Published in 1920, Robert Frost offers two options for the world’s demise: fire and ice. The real meaning of the poem, however, isn’t so much about the end of the world as it is about showcasing human being’s talent for self-destruction through being cold and hateful or angry and damaging.

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