The 10 most Influential Poets in History

Most of us are inspired by someone when it comes to our job, or any hobbies we engage in. There is always an individual that we look up to, who inspired us to get involved in something, or whom we have studied to get where we are. So, have you ever wondered who inspired some of the most famous poets? What poets did Sylvia Plath study? Where did Jane Austen get her inspiration? Did Allen Ginsberg adopt techniques or styles used from any former poets? We decided to find the answers to these questions.

Research, research, research

We conducted extensive research to find out who the top poetry influencers were and studied approximately 250 poets to determine whether they were influenced by any other poets, and, if so, who. We entered more than 1000 influences into our database to come up with our top ten, which you can see in the infographic below. This includes William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, John Keats, John Milton, Walt Whitman, William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, T.S. Eliot, Edgar Allan Poe, and Ezra Pound.

So, let’s take a look at these poets influence in further detail, and be sure to use your mouse scroll to see the full image.

The 10 most Influential Poets in History

Embed code – Share this on your site:

William Shakespeare

Of course, there is only one place to begin, and this is with the greatest influencer of them all, William Shakespeare. It is unlikely that this comes as much of a surprise. Shakespeare has influenced so many people in all walks of life, throughout many generations. Poets he has had an influence on include the likes of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Thomas Hardy, James Joyce, Charles Dickens, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Charlotte Brontë.

William Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley

Next we have William Wordsworth, who helped to launch English Literature’s Romantic Age. Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was part of the second generation of poets, was deeply influenced by Wordsworth. Shelley himself then went on to influence numerous poets over the years, alongside John Keats, who was also a leading figure of the second generation of Romantic poets. Shelley was admired due to his uncompromising idealism, unconventional life, and strong, disapproving voice. Both he and Keats influenced Isaac Rosenberg, an English poet that wrote during the First World War, as well as American poet Allen Ginsberg, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Wallace Stevens. One poet that was particularly influenced by John Keats was Jorge Luis Borges. He stated that the most significant literary experience of his life was his first encounter with Keats’ work.

Walt Whitman

As you can see from the infographic, Walt Whitman is ranked the 2nd most influential poet, falling behind Shakespeare. He has been deemed the first ‘poet of democracy’ in the US. English socialist poet, Edward Carpenter, and the famous Oscar Wilde viewed Whitman as a prophet of same-sex desire and utopian future. The vagabond lifestyle used in Whitman’s poets influenced the style of poets Gary Snyder, Adrienne Rich, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg.

John Milton and William Blake

One man who influenced a number of the poets mentioned above, including William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley, is John Milton. Thomas Hardy and George Eliot were particularly influenced by the biography and poetry of Milton. However, William Blake is arguably the poet that Milton has inspired the most. He uses Milton as a character in his poem ‘Milton a Poem’, and he believed that he was Milton’s poetical son. Indeed, William Blake went on to be one of the most influential poets himself. Interestingly, Blake’s work was almost forgotten about after he passed away. Neglected for a generation, his reputation was transformed after the publication of ‘Life of William Blake’ and he was taken up by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, particularly, Algernon Charles Swinburne and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Other poets he influenced include Countee Cullen, Harold Hart Crane, William Butler Yeats, and Sylvia Plath.

Ezra Pound and TS Eliot

Now, let’s move onto Ezra Pound, who is known for his controversial work. He helped to discover and shape the work of Irish and American contemporaries, including Robert Frost, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway. In fact, the latter said that the best of Pound’s writing “will last as long as there is any literature.” T.S. Eliot, who had a great literary friendship with Pound, inspired many poets as well. He is regarded as one of the major poets of the 20th century and has influenced the likes of Ted Hughes, Wallace Stevens, Harold Hart Crane, and Gwendolyn Brooks.

Edgar Allan Poe

Last but not least, we have Edgar Allan Poe, who has influenced literature all over the world. He has inspired Maya Angelou, Oscar Wilde, May Swenson, and Friedrich Nietzsche. American Romantic poet, James Russell Lowell, said that Poe was the most fearless, philosophical, and philosophical critic upon American imaginative works, with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow often receiving criticism from the well-respected Poe. Next time you put pen to paper, or indeed fingers to keyboard to create your next verse, it may inspire you to think of who you could inspire with your work!


  • Lord Barham

    You may have missed the three most influential poets of all; namely, Sappho, Alcaeus and Anacreon. Why do I consider them to be the most influential? It's easy: they invented Lyrical Poetry, which is what almost everyone has written since. Before they began writing personal poetry to appeal to themselves and their friends, poets wrote crap on behalf of monarchs and military leaders in praise of their exploits and deeds. Sappho was the first person to write deeply personal, reflective poems. Alcaeus wrote what are probably the first political poems, while Anacreon wrote poems that celebrated Life and living. The also invented complex meters that poets in later times (including Ezra Pound) would experiment with. The King James Bible is also hugely influential, since it was the first collection of poetry written in Free Verse.

  • Lord Barham

    Glad Poe is in there, since he was my maininfluence when I first started writing. He also wrote prose poetry and one could argue that The Bells is Free Verse, long before Walt Whitman, who is usually credited with inventing Free Verse. (Apparently, he was a big influence on both the Imagists and the French Vers Libre poets, who also influenced the Imagists, both of whom credit Whitman rather than Poe as the progenitor of Free Verse.)

  • DurhamPoet

    Unless we’re talking about the ten most influential poets in English, I think we’re missing Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Catullus etc all of whom had a massive influence on European and American poetry. Then you have to include Petrarch, who was a profound influence on Medieval and Elizabethan poetry onwards, not least because he gave us the Petrarchan Sonnet. Dante would have to be in there too, and if we’re looking at modern poetry we’d need Baudelaire, and probably Rimbaud.

You must register to comment. Log in or Register.