English Poetry

English Poetry: Reflection of Life by Individual Expressions

According to Wordsworth, “poetry is the spontaneous over flow of powerful feelings”. As far as English Poetry is concerned, it is filled with emotions, reasons, intellectual development and aesthetic beauty of its culture and tradition.

Here we will take brief over view of the development of it. We can divide it into different periods of time, developed in different ages, having unique characteristics and master pieces.

The Anglo Saxon periods. (670-1100)

The earliest period of English Poetry is marked by Anglo Saxon period, these were two tribes and characterized by their songs about battles, gods and heroes. There were many poems written at that time but the most famous poem was ‘Beowulf’. The poetry of that time revolved around religion and the most famous poets of that time were ‘Caedmon’ and ‘Cynewulf.’

At that time, the great Alfred king started to write poetry in prose and the two great pioneers of English Poetry were King Alfred and Aelfric. Actually, Aelfric was a priest who wrote sermons in prose.


English poetry is a true depiction of life. It presented multiple themes of love, nature, politics, imagination, fancy and existentialism. In each period of English literature, it gave birth to new movements and characteristics. It always remains a mirror reflecting the true revolutions of societies.

It is always a profound journey of learning, contemplation and connection for the readers. It is a dynamic and enduring art of powerful medium which is telling us the real themes of life of different periods from Anglo Saxon period to postmodern age.

The Middle Age or Anglo-Norman Period (1100-1500)

The second phase of English Poetry is started from Middle age, when Normans conquered England. The poetry of this period was different from Anglo Saxon period. Latin had become the prominent language of courts and castles and the use of alliteration instead of rhyme scheme was a distinguished feature of that time.

The famous poets of that time were William Langland, john Gower and Chaucer. Chaucer, the father of English Poetry, was popular for his Canterbury Tales which is regarded as the landmark in English Poetry. We can divide Chaucer’s work into three periods.

The first period

In which he translated French works into English for example, Roman de la Rose

The second period

In this phase he was influenced by some works of Boccaccio, an Italian poet, and wrote many poems like’ The parliament of Fowls’

The Renaissance Period (1500-1600)

Renaissance means rebirth, it began in Italy and then occupied all over the England so, this period was also regarded the age of discovery and invention. This period is also marked by the name of Elizabethan or Shakespearian period and the fundamental characteristic of this age was focusing on Humanism

The poetry of this age was filled with emotion, vigor and excitement, and set new trends in the age of discovery. The first work of poetry is associated with two great poets, Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) and Earl of Surry (1517-1547) who published their work in a volume, named Tuttle’s Miscellany and copied the style of Petrarchan in sonnet

The dominated poets of that age were Shakespeare and Spenser. Shakespear (1564-1616) was famous for the use of blank verse and his sonnets. Spencer (1552-1599) was well known for his Medieval allegory and pastoral poems, deals with the corrupt element of society. The two greatest works of Spencer were ‘The Faerie Queen’ and Shepherd ‘s Calander (1579)

There was enough work in the development of modern English prose at that time that was used for entertainment and information. Sir Sidney and John Lily had popularized the style of prose in poetry. Sir Sidney wrote ‘Arcadia’, a pastoral prose.

Malory and Hakluyt, two important writers of that age, had contributed a lot in the development of prose.

The puritan Age (1600-1660)

This period began in seventeenth century, and was popular for writing biography that was unknown in Renaissance period.

we can divide puritan poetry into three parts, each having a different characteristic.

The School of Spenser

The famous poets of this group were Phineas Fletcher (1582-1648) and Giles Fletcher (1583-1623), considered Spencer as their master and wrote their poetry in the form of allegory.

The Poets of Metaphysical School

They were not highly philosophical but they had used exaggeration, simile, metaphor and wit, tried to explore their feelings and experience with honesty. John Donne has been regarded as the leader of this group of poets. The other important poets are Herrick, Thomas Carew, Henry, George Herbert and Herbert of Cherbury

The Cavalier Poets

The Cavalier poets followed the classical method by focusing on satire and elegies into their poetry. The leader of this group of poets was Jonson, who adapted different method and lyrics as compared to Shakespeare and focused more on intellectual and emotional rationality

The greatest poet of this age was John Milton (1608-1674), regarded as a classical scholar and a religious poet. His most important work is Paradise lost, in which he has presented Satan as the hero and the revengeful planning in hell, He has contributed a lot in puritan age.

The Restoration Period (1660-1700)

The Restoration period and the age of Dryden began after Charles ll came to the throne. It is popular because of the work of John Dryden in poetry and prose, who was a satirical and realistic poet and written in heroic couplet. He was considered as the master of heroic couplet and well known for his political satire, Doctrine poems and Fables.

Eighteenth century English poetry

The eighteenth century is marked by its reason and intellectual property, also called the Augustan age and classical age in English literature. The dominated personality of This age is Alexander Pope (1688-1744), called as the ‘prince of classicism’. He wrote many famous works including; The Rape of The Lock, The Essay on Man and Imitation of Horace and Epistle. He perfected heroic couplet and used satire in order to show the real picture of society

The second half of eighteenth-century poetry is popular for the works of Samuel Johnson. The age of Johnson is also entitled as the age of Transition in English literature because of the movement of Romanticism in poetry. After Johnson the other poets began to write in new trends that led to revival of Romanticism.

The Romantic Age (1798-1824)

The Romantic Age began with the works of Wordsworth and ST Coleridge’s “Lyrical Ballads”(1798) This period is also called the Age of Revolution. It is different from classical Age marked by emotion, feelings, aesthetic beauty and pastoral setting.

Among many writers, William Wordsworth, S T Coleridge, John Keats, PB Shelly, Byron are famous poet of that age. They wrote their poetry beyond reality and emphasizes on beauty and imagination, for them the aim of poetry is to give sooth and attraction to common people.

The Victorian Age (1832-1900)

The Victorian Age started in the second half of nineteenth century and completed in 1900, divided into two period, the early Victorian period and Later Victorian period. They blend Romanticism and symbolism in their work and developed a new form of poetry.

The famous poets of this age were Tennyson, (1809-1892), who is the representative of this age, Browning (1812-1889), who is marked the depth and originality of his works by critics, and Mathew Arnold (1822-88), a great critic of his time.

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), Swinburne, and Morris were the pioneers of the movement, called Pre Raphaelite, who started new works of art and expressed their feeling by painting different ideas. Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), john Ruskin (1819-1900), Thomas Abington Lord Macaulay (1800-59) and Mathew Arnold had contributed in prose writing.

The 20th Century Poetry

The 20th century poetry is best known the poetry of American writers because at that time the great poet from different countries emerged in the landscape of English Poetry. The two major name is T. S Eliot and Ezra pound.

They introduced different matter, fragmented ideas and sophisticated society in their work. Ezra pound was a pioneer of imagist movement and through brief poetry he has captured a vast revolution in society

T. S Eliot is the most representative poet of modern age, He has used symbolism and allegorical references in his poetry to highlight the ugly side of modern society. His most famous work is Waste land, The Hollow man and many more.

Other poets of this age include “The Georgian poets who were arrived in the reign of George V; W. B Yeats (1865-1939), W H Auden, Stephen Spencer and many other poets.


In the end and after analyzing the brief overview of English Poetry, it is clear that it is advanced and flourished in every period, having unique qualities in it. In each phase poets developed the new forms of poetry and bestowed originality and uniqueness in it. 

English Poetry is an art that emerged from high level intellectual personalities. Through their work and contribution in poetry, they enhanced their period and have modified their culture and tradition. Not only English Poetry hand over the aesthetic sense but also reasoning, intellectualism, logic, and different perspective of society.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

It is a long list of writers including Shakespeare Chaucer, Milton, Wordsworth T.S Eliot, Keats, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou and many more.

It has a range of themes including the theme of love, morality, nature, life, politics, fancy, imagination and many others.

It has many forms including sonnets, haikus, ballads heroic couplets, free verse and blank verse.

It has rich deep-rooted history started from the old English period and Middle Ages to Renaissance, Victorian, Romantic, Modern and Postmodern period.

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