The Top 500 Poems share button
William Harmon
Format Hardcover
Dimensions 6.29 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.97 (d)
Pages 1132
Publisher Columbia University Press
Publication Date January 1992
ISBN 9780231080286
Book ISBN 10 023108028X
About Book

The Top 500 Poems offers a vivid portrait of poetry in English, assembling a host of popular and enduring poems as chosen by critics, editors, poets, and general readers. These works speak across centuries, beginning with Chaucer's resourceful inventions and moving through Shakespeare's masterpieces, John Donne's complex originality, and Alexander Pope's mordant satires. The anthology also features perennial favorites such as William Blake, William Wordsworth, and John Keats; Emily Dickinson's prisms of profundity; the ironies of Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot; and the passion of Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg. These 500 poems are verses that readers either know already or will want to know, encapsulating the visceral power of truly great literature. William Harmon provides illuminating commentary to each work and a rich introduction that ties the entire collection together.

Columbia University Press

For the first time, here is our generation's definitive view of the greatest poetry in the English language. This collection of 500 poems is based on the collective choice of 550 critics, editors, and poets whose anthologies are indexed in The Columbia Granger's Index to Poetry. If you've wondered which collection of poetry to buy for yourself or as a special gift--this is it!


Gwendolyn Brooks

The Top 500 Poems is intriguing in concept and management, and most of us will want to own it. And for this we are grateful.

Globe & Mail

A revealing snapshot of one aspect of Western civilization, even including a list of the poems in order of popularity.

Buffalo News

The merriest poetry anthology of the past decade.... It's everything from 'Sumer is icumen in' to Sylvia Plath's 'Daddy' with terse, plain, and rather wonderful commentary by Harmon.

John Frederick Nims

It is rare indeed to come across a book in which wisdom and love come together as powerfully as they do for William Harmon.

Globe and Mail

A revealing snapshot of one aspect of Western civilization, even including a list of the poems in order of popularity.


If your library can buy only one volume of poetry, let this be it.

School Library Journal

YA-- A chronological compilation that tells ``the story of poetry in English.'' Harmon enhances each entry with pertinent information about the work and the poet; his insight adds much to the enjoyment of the collection. The selections are taken from the ninth edition of The Columbia Granger's Index to Poetry , chosen because 400 contemporary editors, critics, and poets included them most often in their own anthologies. ``The Poems in Order of Popularity'' concludes the book. Easy-to-read print with a look of fine calligraphy on high-quality paper add to the appeal.-- Arlene Hoebel, W. T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA


The pop title is right out of Billboard (the publisher must think poetry needs all the crossover it can get), but the collection is quite terrific--not necessarily the greatest poems (best to avoid that can of worms), but the 500 English-language poems that have appealed most often to 400 contemporary editors, critics, and poets for inclusion in their own widely disparate anthologies, which were indexed in the Ninth Edition of The Columbia Granger's Index to Poetry. From the famous pre-Chaucerian, Anonymous (c.1250-c.1350), author of "Cuckoo Song", to Plath and Ginsberg, the only problem with this anthology will be putting it down. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

From The Critics

In the introduction, Harmon boldly proclaims, "This is it!" He is right. The task he set for himself was to compile an anthology with which anyone could start to gain a familiarity with poetry in English. He has nobly done yeoman's work in selecting and commenting upon the 500 poems that have been anthologized most often, based on the 400 collections indexed in the ninth edition of "The Columbia Granger's Index to Poetry". Harmon is a professor of English at the University of North Carolina and edited "The Concise Columbia Book of Poetry" and the "Oxford Book of American Light Verse". He also coedited the fifth edition of "A Handbook to Literature" Represented in "The Top 500 Poems" are 160 poets. Shakespeare has 29 entries. Anonymous has 21, Donne has 19, Blake has 18, and Dickinson and Yeats each have 14. Harmon justifies the fact that "three-quarters of the poems are British . . . because British poetry has been with us three times as long as American poetry." Coverage spans six centuries, ranging from Chaucer in the Middle Ages to Allen Ginsberg and Sylvia Plath. The nineteenth century contributed the greatest number of poems 169, with the twentieth century second with 122 The format is attractive. The paper is of high quality, margins are wide, and the poetry is in dark, readable print. Each poet is introduced with a short paragraph in small print with just enough data to pique curiosity. Comments by Harmon, in yet a different font, follow the selections. He writes with a sly sense of humor, describing alliteration as "sliding along the slippery slope of selfsame sounds." The entries for poets are in chronological order, and a detailed table of contents and a name index provide additional access points. An index of titles and first lines is included, as well as an appendix that ranks the poems according to the number of times they have been anthologized All types of libraries will be interested in this volume as a basic anthology of poetry in English. It will be welcome in elementary and secondary school library media centers, public library poetry and reference collections, home libraries, and as a gift. If your library can buy only one volume of poetry, let this be it.