The historical timeline of poetry.png

The Historical Timeline of Poetry

Throughout history, poets have been writing about their thoughts and feelings to reach people with similar experiences. Poetry is one of the oldest mediums for expressing one’s emotions, and there are many different eras to explore. For example, English poetry has its roots in ancient times when poems were primarily about love or religion.

We can trace back the origins to the prehistoric era. Cave paintings, for example, are some of the earliest examples of poetry that have been found and preserved. Early humans typically created these paintings to illustrate spiritual stories or as a way to connect with their environment.

Today, you can find poetry all over the internet and in many academic journals and publications. Poetry is a powerful medium that tells stories about love, loss, and life experiences with deep meaning to readers everywhere!

This article looks at the historical timeline of poetry from ancient poetry in 5000 BC till the modern era dating from 1850 to the present. We will discover how the art form has evolved over the centuries both in popularity and influence.

Table of Contents

Ancient Poetry: 5000 BC

The evolution of poetry began over 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia with the invention of cuneiform. These poems found on clay tablets detailed how the ancient kings would rule their people. 

Poetry is believed to have originated from ancient rituals and chants used for storytelling purposes when performing religious ceremonies or rites of passage such as weddings or funerals.

Poets such as Homer and Virgil were revered during ancient times. These poets would often recite their poems publicly, and they were considered entertainment for those who could afford it. 

Today, many people still use these spoken-word forms, such as in wedding ceremonies or funerals and presidential inaugurations, which typically include hymns and poetry readings by professional performers at these events.

The oldest known poem today, The Epic Of Gilgamesh (2100-1200 BC), was created in Mesopotamia, and it’s believed he copied them from earlier works that have been lost or never found for future generations to enjoy.

Throughout history, poetry has been analysed for deeper meaning by philosophers, theologians and authors as it was considered among many to be the highest form of literature due to its use of all eight parts of speech to convey an idea effectively.

Artists such as Ovid, Catullus, and Horace helped spread poetry in various ways, but it was not until Dante’s Divine Comedy that poets gained popularity and recognition.

Thanks to the writings of King David, we know what Hebrew poetry looked like in its early stages and how it contributed to the development of Western culture.

Medieval Poetry: 400 AD

The Medieval Period was a time of war and a time of change in the world and its people. This is shown through poetry: new forms emerged, including rhyming couplets and ballads with refrains.

For example, one such poem from the 12th century (or 1150) called “Beowulf” tells about a great warrior who battles monsters to save his people. This poem is written much like ancient sagas were composed—alliteration and other devices are used for effect rather than an orderly scheme.

The era also saw the rise of the troubadours or travelling poets who sang of the beauty and power of God. They spread their messages through song-writing as they journeyed from place to place, searching for patrons—usually noblemen—who could support them financially.

Poetry also flourished because it was an essential part of education; many nobles were expected to write poetry themselves! Poems would often be written about nature, love, religion and more abstract topics addressing life’s big mysteries like death and war.

In addition, poems became a way for people to communicate without speaking – so if a person had been captured by the enemy (or gone into hiding), he might leave poems on walls or trees. Artists such as Chaucer and Mantegna would often write poetry in their paintings to honour the subjects they were depicting.

The poetry form was popular until around 1100 AD, when it became less acceptable to be so open with one’s feelings (especially if you weren’t wealthy or well-born) because people began to worry that too much emotion could lead to mental problems like melancholy, depression and hysteria. Poetry continued but did not grow any more influential than before.

The Renaissance Era: 1500 AD

In the Renaissance era, poets had rediscovered many classical texts from ancient Greece and Rome – which made them feel inspired again! They also wrote about love, nature and religion; however, this time, there was an emphasis on writing poetry specifically for public performance.

The Renaissance period in Western history is often referred to as the “Golden Age” of literature. The term originated from a 16th-century French scholar, Jean-Baptiste de la Croix du Maine and was first published in 1547.

This period began with a shift from Medieval forms to Classical styles, which can be seen most prominently in poetry. This shift took place around 1500 AD and marks the end of what is known as the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Early Modern Period. 

Poetry during this time became much more interested in classical themes such as mythology or nature rather than Christian themes like those found in medieval writings, which had been heavily influenced by religion. 

In addition to this new interest in Classical topics, poets also started to write in forms that were not common during the Middle Ages. For example, they began to use sonnets and other types of poems that had been popularised by Italian poets like Petrarch, who are now known as “sonnet writers”. 

This also led to an interest in developing new poetic meters, which can be seen most prominently today in blank verse poetry but were used regularly at this time.

An interesting thing about these two developments is how influential they have been in later periods. Sonnets continue to be a prevalent form for modern poets while Classical themes played with different styles remain prominent throughout history from Romanticism up through Post-modernism

Arguably the most famous poet in the world, William Shakespeare, was writing sonnets and other poems in blank verse at this time.

Another attractive trait of the Elizabethan period is how much emphasis they placed on performance poetry, or “songs”. Many poets would work to capture their feelings about a particular subject by way of song, which would then be performed for an audience during social gatherings like parties.

In addition to that, music was also hugely popular among Europeans, with most composers playing more than one instrument between them. 

This led to some very influential pieces like Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, which is still played today not just because it has a beautiful melody but also because its structure served as inspiration for much of the Romanticism-era follow.

Other prominent writers during this period include John Milton, John Donne and George Herbert.

The Sabine Woman
The Sabine Woman

Neo-Classical Poetry: 1660-1800 

The mid-17th century brought about a revival of classicism. There was now an interest in the ancient world, specifically Greece and Rome. Writers like John Dryden and Ben Jonson began to use this renewed interest as inspiration for their work.

In addition to that, poets wanted to explore writing poetry with integrity which led them back towards more traditional forms like epics, odes and sonnets instead of experimenting with new Styles such as rhyming couplets or free verse. 

This return also meant that content became more serious once again while prose began exploring topics not seen before within literature, including politics, philosophy, and medicine.

In 1660, England saw the publication of John Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis. This poem resulted from the English Restoration and marked a crucial turning point in English literature as it shifted away from Puritanism to more secular themes. 

The following year marked a significant event for French literature, with Jean Racine publishing his tragedy Phèdre which helped redefine tragedy in both France and Europe at large. 

In the years following, French literature continued to evolve. This period is marked by increasing social unrest, seen in novels like Madame Bovary (1857) and Les Misérables (1862). 

Around this same time, Charles Dickens’ serialisation of his novel Oliver Twist began publishing in 1837, with him continuing to contribute more instalments until he died in 1870.

In 1867, Ivan Turgenev published Fathers and Sons, which served as an essential commentary on Russia’s development during a tumultuous era filled with conflict between different ideologies.

The 1800s also saw poetry grow increasingly popular among English-speaking audiences outside of England. At the same time, those living within Britain were increasingly influenced by movements such as Romanticism that advocated using one’s emotions to create art.

The Romantic Era: 1798- 1850 AD

The Romantic poetry movement originated in the late 18th century and lasted until 1850. It was characterised by an emphasis on subjectivity, emotion, spontaneity and the natural world.

The poets of this era were considered to be more accessible than those before them because they wrote about everyday life rather than lofty subjects or themes that were not relatable to most readers.

The Romantics tended to focus on feelings and emotion rather than logic or reason. One of the most famous poets from this era was William Wordsworth, who wrote about the natural world and its connection.

He shared these thoughts with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a fellow poet in Britain at that time. This led them to create what is now known as Lyrical Ballads, which emphasised sensory description and narrative over formal rules or logic.

The Romantics also profoundly valued nature and human emotion when creating art. They believed that artists should represent their own emotional experience or imaginative response rather than communicate factual information about people or events outside themselves. 

This idea became an essential part of how we think about literature today since many modern novels are written in first-person point-of-view.

In a way, the Victorian era was a sort of “rebirth” for poetry. Poets finally had more personal freedom to express their feelings and experiences in verse without strict rules on form and rhyme. This opened up new possibilities as poets started exploring different subjects such as childhood innocence or nature’s beauty.

Percy Bysshe Shelly
Percy Bysshe Shelly

Modern Poetry: 1850- Present

It’s hard to believe that the Modern poetry era has only been around for about a century. After all, it is what we are living in now, and it seems like we’ve been reading this type of poetry ever since the beginning of time. But its roots are not very deep, and it just started with one man: Walt Whitman.

Walt’s works were some of the most innovative and influential poems ever written in America. This includes “Song of Myself”, which has been called one of his best long poems because it captured so much about human nature that nobody had yet expressed before him on paper, such as democratic self-love and acceptance for all types of people, genders, races and sexualities.

Walt hoped to capture this new sense of democracy through writing in free verse without meter or rhyme – something more akin to prose but still poetic. He also spoke out against slavery during an age where many poets either avoided social issues entirely or wrote platitudes about them.

The first Modernists came to be in the mid-1800s, and they set out to break with many of the established traditions of poetry. The Modernist poets, such as T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) and Ezra Pound (1885-1972), are some of the most prominent writers.

The Romanticists who preceded this era wrote about nature and their emotions, whereas the Modernists were interested in exploring more complicated human psychology and society. As subjects changed for poets, so did their methods of writing poetry.

Many would argue that modern poets write with free verse rather than formal rhyme or metered rhythm. These poets sought to use a more conversational voice grounded in lived experience rather than relying on traditional poetic forms or even form at all for their poems.

Modern poets also often use other media to present their work, such as in the case of Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), who published his poem “Howl” with drawings by William Blake.

In another example, Robert Frost’s collection of poems entitled “A Boy’s Will” was illustrated by Rockwell Kent and published in 1913. These illustrations show how artists are increasingly engaging with poetic texts, which have given rise to new relationships between visual art and poetic text.


We can see from this timeline that over time poets have experimented with different poetic styles and genres and how it is published; now a ubiquitous part of the literary canon, these influences are seen in everything from popular music to visual arts today.

This artistic shift is significant because it demonstrates new ways for artists to engage creatively and opens up creativity within poetical texts in terms of experimentation.

History has shown us that poetry will never die. It will continue to evolve as artists continue to find new and innovative ways to engage with it. 

In the next article, we will be looking at 12 of the most influential poets from the ancient era (5000BC- 1500BC). In the meantime, here’s a quick read on the life and times of William Shakespeare.