8 Famous Lines of Poetry: Where they come from and what they mean

English literature is filled with many moving works, including tragic war poets and Elizabethan plays. andIt is cleverly written.

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Out ofNumerous millions ofLines ofBeautiful poetry. Just a few lines of it resonated with a larger audience. ofThe most memorable andThe English language has many famous words. These words are often paraphrased endlessly in popular culture or newspaper headlines. Others find new meaning as inspirational quotes. But they’re all more complex than theyYou seem to be there when they’re taken out ofContext andIn this article we will look at famous quotations. come fromThey were written by a man named? and what theyReally mean.

1. “To be or not to be: that is the question”

Image shows the gravedigger scene in Hamlet.
The gravedigger scene features another often misquoted line: “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio.”

For one, we have to be grateful for the most famous playwright in history ofThe most famous English quotations. These immortal lines were written by William Shakespeare in Hamlet. andTo make more sense of them, let’s look at a few more lines:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings andArrows ofIncredibly good fortune. Or to defend a sea. ofTroubles, and by opposing them end them? To sleep: To die; andBy a sleep to say that we end The heartache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish’d.”

Spoken by Hamlet himself, these words essentially talk about whether it’s better to live – and face one’s troubles – or die, andGet rid ofThey are that way. The implication here is that pain in life is inevitable – “outrageous fortune” has this fate in store for us, and it is for us to choose whether we face up to our “sea of troubles” or end them in death. However, the Elizabethans believed that those who committed suicide would be eternally damned (he refers later in this soliloquy to “the dread of something after death”) – which adds an extra complexity to Hamlet’s dilemma. He implies that life is not good, but death could be even worse. This subtlety is not often mentioned in popular culture.

2. “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”

Tennyson’s memorial on the Isle ofWight.

A favourite quotation ofThis does not mean someone who has been bereaved or, more often, dumped. Here is the full quote:

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“I hold it true, whate’er befall; I feel it when I sorrow most; ‘Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.”

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Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote it about his (probably purely platonic?) friendship with Arthur Henry Hallam who had suddenly died. of a cerebral haemorrhage. The poem, entitled In Memoriam A.H.H., took Tennyson seventeen years to write, revealing how deeply his friend’s death had affected him. This poem is not intended to be a funeral elegy, but instead reflects on larger concepts like cruelty. ofNature and death. The poem raises questions about the conflict between traditional Biblical beliefs. andThese theories ofIt is a book that has been published by contemporary scientists on evolution just before Darwin’s theory was revealed ofThe origin of species); the poem’s other famous line is “Nature, red in tooth and claw”, which suggests the idea that nature may not be governed by divine intervention.

3. “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams”

Image shows graffiti in large blue letters quoting in the end of
Yeats’ poem quoted in graffiti in Charlton.

This lovely line concludes a poem by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), called Aedh wishes for the Cloths. ofHeaven. The poem starts off by describing beautiful things such as “embroidered cloths” and “gold and silver light”; the speaker says that if he possessed these things he would spread them beneath the feet ofThe person to whom the poem should be addressed. A couple more oflines to the most popular line for context, full quote:

“But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

Aedh is the speaker, a character that forms mythology. of the poet’s own invention along with two other characters, collectively known as “the principles of the mind”. In many volumes of Yeats’ poetry “Aedh” is replaced by “He” in the title ofThis is the poem and many people, reading this poem by itself, don’t realise this mythological background. The powerful last line of the poem is instead quoted because so many people can relate. ofTrusting your hopes andThe person who dreams theyLove.

4. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the road less traveled by”

Image shows a path in a wood forking into two.
Misunderstanding ofThis light and ironic poem have led to tragedy; it spurred Frost’s friend, the writer Edward Thomas, to enlist in WWI, where he was killed at the Battle ofArras.

This is a powerful line fromRobert Frost’s The Road Not Taken (1874-1963), a widely misunderstood but immensely popular poem. The poem ostensibly describes someone walking through a “yellow wood” andComing across a fork on the path. This poem is about choosing which. ofThese are the two possible paths; roads are a common metaphor for poetry andThese are paths that lead to success in life. The “road less travelled” can therefore be taken to meanUnorthodox paths in life are possible. However, if you read the poem carefully, you see that the speaker has not actually chosen the less travelled road; he chooses the one he initially describes as “having perhaps the better claim, / Because it was grassy and wanted wear”. In fact, though, both roads are the same: “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same” and “both that morning equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black.” The path the speaker describes as “less travelled” is actually saved for another day – a day he knows is unlikely to come. He’s describing this with a dose of irony, predicting that, in the future (“I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence”), he’ll tell people that he took the “road less travelled” and that it “made all the difference”, even though he didn’t, because it will present him in a better light. This is a reflection of the idea that he will look back at his life and see how it has shaped him. fromThe perspective ofIn his old age, he may try to justify the decisions he made. and make out that he chose to follow an unconventional path; even though at the time, he knew full well that he didn’t. Hence the “sigh” – because he doesn’t believe it himself. This sense ofYou will also find the regrets you may have in old age in the title of the poem – which is not, as is often misremembered, “The Road Less Traveled” but “The Road Not Taken”.

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5. “If I should die, think only this of me”

Image shows a British WWI cemetary, with a poppy in the foreground.
The latter horrors of WWI made a sentimental view like Brooke’s impossible.

Often quoted out ofContext andBlackadder paraphrases this line as “The first line”. of Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier, which is the final sonnet in a collection entitled 1914. It continues: “That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England.” The “England” theme continues throughout the poem; it’s mentioned six times in the poem’s fourteen lines and it’s portrayed as so idyllic that the poem ends with the idea of an “English heaven” – implying that God was on the British side, not that ofThe Germans. The Soldier is a highly idealised representation of the soldier. andSentimental view ofThere is a lot of doubt about going to war. This was not written later in wartime; it was written during 1914, when the scale of war was real. ofThe carnage ofThe First World War hadn’t yet begun. Certain, the tone of it is quite different. fromThese are the poems that would emerge fromThe trenches, later in war fromThe pens ofWilfred Owen andSiegfried Sassoon was one of many. Ironically Brooke, who had contracted blood poisoning from a small wound, died in the Aegean one year later.

6. “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink”

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Image shows the head of the statue of the Ancient Mariner.
The statue ofThe Ancient Mariner at Watchet Marina

This line is a favorite with journalists at times ofNational flood crises. It happens fromThe Rime ofThe Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), an extremely long ballad. fromThe point ofView ofA sailor returning from a trip fromIt was an incredible voyage. The Albatross is the most iconic symbol of this poem. It leads the ship away. fromAntarctica was shot by the mariner after it was blown off course due to a storm. It turns out that this was a mistake, and it causes anger. ofSpirits that carry the ship into calm waters without wind to ensure it cannot move. This is where the much-quoted line comes in. fromThe crew of the ship suffer extreme thirst, surrounded by ocean water (“Water, water, everywhere”) that is undrinkable (“Nor any drop to drink”). With the appearance of the “Nor any drop to Drink” sign, the poem becomes surreal. of a ghostly ship upon which Death is playing cards with “the Night-mare Life in Death” for the souls ofThe mariner andHis crew. The rest will follow one by one. ofCrew member dies andThe mariner lifts the curse ofYou can see the beauty in the albatross of the sea creatures he once dismissed as “slimy”. It’s thought that this extraordinary tale may have been inspired by the voyages of Captain Cook, whose astronomer, William Wales, was Coleridge’s tutor. Wordsworth, a poet, said that the poem was born after a walk through the Quantock Hills with Dorothy. andColeridge was discussing Wordsworth’s book Captain George Shelvocke was reading. It contained an account. of shooting dead an albatross.

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7. “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”

Image shows trees shedding orange leaves in autumn.
Keats’ famous poem is a celebration ofThe autumn.

Beautiful images are possible ofEnjoy the pleasures ofAutumn is the opening line of To Autumn by John Keats (1795-1821), which was inspired by a stroll John Keats took in the autumn evening of 1819 near Winchester. This popular poem describes different characteristics in three stanzas. ofThe autumn begins with its fruitfulness and moves on to hard work. ofHarvesting these fruits and preparing for winter (the “cider-press”, “the granary” and “a half-reap’d furrow” are all mentioned), andThe final aspect of autumn that sees life decay, with words such as “wailful”, “mourn” and “soft dying” used to create a sense ofWeeping for the loss ofFrühling andSommer. The tripartite structure ofThe poem conveys a feeling ofMovement through time, both fromFrom early to mid-to late autumn and fromFrom morning to afternoon to night; the first (and most famous) line mentions “mists”, suggesting the early morning. Tragically, this was to be Keats’ last poem. After struggling with his health, he moved to Rome, where he died just a few short months later.

8. “I wandered lonely as a cloud”

Image shows a row of daffodils.
Tourists also flock to the Lake District. comeDove Cottage, where Wordsworth lived, can be viewed.

William Wordsworth’s most famous poem is often known by the title Daffodils, which gives you all the clues you need about the subject ofThis is the original poem. This poem was inspired by a stroll the poet took in the Lake District with Dorothy in 1804, theyI happened upon a long strip ofDaffodils

“I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales andhills ofgolden daffodils: Beside the Lake, underneath the Trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

Personally, I find the simile “lonely as a cloud” surprising. If you live in the UK you’ll know that you never see just one cloud – the sky is full ofThey are. So I suggest the idea, not suggesting it. ofYou might feel lonely if you look at this line superficially andCompletely out ofcontext), this line is actually the opposite. One is not alone when they are in the company ofNature. This is what rings true in the poem with the mention of “the bliss of solitude”; loneliness is certainly not portrayed in a negative light in this poem. Similar to the sea. of daffodils are anything but lonely in each other’s company, dancing together in the breeze. It’s a simple poem that describes man’s closeness to nature, and it’s made the Lake District even more popular during the spring.

There are many other wonderful lines. of poetry we could have included, but we’ve run out ofTime for now. Do you have a favorite line? of verse, we’d love to hear it in the comments below!

Image credit: Banner; Hamlet; Tennyson Memorial; tread lightly; fork in road; WWI, Ancient Mariner; autumn.

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