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

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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!


  • aRCane

    Richard C Bower

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