English poetry dates back to the very beginnings of England as a nation, from the Early Middle Ages. Caedmon is generally attributed as the first surviving poet from the Anglo-Saxon period, having composed a hymn about Creation while at the monastery of Whitby. However, the epic Beowulf is largely considered to be the first great work of verse in the English language.
After the Norman invasion of 1066, Old English developed into Middle English, and numerous works began appearing in the period known as the High Middle Ages, including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Piers Plowman. Geoffrey Chaucer produced his Canterbury Tales in the 14th century and is considered to be the greatest medieval English poet.
The Renaissance period in England was the source of perhaps the greatest writer in all of the English language: William Shakespeare. Shakespeare was, however, only one of many poets during this period, although his influence is profound. John Milton, who wrote Paradise Lost in the later 1600s, along with Alexander Pope (The Rape of the Lock), Jonathan Swift, and Samuel Johnson all were influenced by Shakespeare.
One of the next great phases in English poetry occurred with the birth of the Romantics in the 19th century. Percy Bysshe Shelly, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Alfred, Lord Tennyson remain staples of English poetry collections.