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Sample Readings

We at Great Books are often asked for reading lists to support the suggested or required readings of school book lists. Below you will find some excerpts from a wide cross-section of world classics, ranging from the ancient epics of Homer and Virgil to the puzzling pleasures of 20th century poets William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, and including all the titans in between—Shakespeare, Dante, Keats, Milton, and Dostoevsky.

Enjoy getting to know a few of these classic authors and works. For the highlighted selections, we have provided links to a sample. 

Aeschylus, "Song of the Furies" 

•Anna Ahkmatova, "Poem Without A Hero" 

Dante, “The Divine Comedy”

•Hannah Arendt, "Vita Activa"

Emily Dickinson – “Success is Counted Sweetest”

•H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), "The Shrine"

•Frederick Douglass, "Learning to Read and Write"

•T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Benjamin Franklin, Concluding Address at the Constitutional Convention

Thomas Hardy, "The Man He Killed," from The Dynasts

Homer, The Odyssey

•Langston Hughes, "Let America Be America Again"

John Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and "When I have fears that I may cease to be"

Herman Melville, "The Lightning-Rod Man"


•Dorothy Parker, "The Telephone Call"

Plato, The Trial of Socrates

•Daniel Asa Rose, "Growing Things at Bad Luck Pond"

Sappho, "Hymn to Aphrodite"

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

•Henry David Thoreau, "Why I Went into the Woods"

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Mark Twain, "Was It Heaven, or Was It Hell?"

Virgil, The Aeneid

•Kurt Vonnegut, "Harrison Bergeron"

•Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

William Carlos Williams, "The Use of Force"

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