Five philosophical poets to make you think

April is Poetry Month! So I will be sharing lots of poetry suggestions to help you find more poetry that you enjoy.

Like most forms of art, poetry is subjective and very personal. It can take time to find what you like. I want to remind you that you don’t have to like the poetry that people say you should, but I would encourage you to keep exploring poetry until you find what you enjoy.

For this week, I wanted to explore the intersection of philosophy and poetry. In my mind, these two often go hand-in-hand, as both explore our experience of the world and our place within society.

Many great thinkers have dabbled in art, and many artists have been great thinkers. Not to mention most religions often have both philosophical thinking and poetic musings/lessons within their religious texts.

Personally, I think some of our biggest concepts are most eloquently expressed in an artistic way. I believe it leaves more room for emotion, expression, and interpretation.

I’ve put together this list of philosophical poets. They are individuals who are known to have discussed large philosophical ideas and spiritual concepts through their poetry.

Most of these poets are from the middle ages (500-1500), as I think it’s important to discuss discuss the diversity of philosophy. A majority of discussions around medieval philosophy focus on the Greek and Roman influences, but there were so many important philosophers around the world with different perspectives and valuable insights.

So this list of philosophical poets is just an introduction to some big thinkers who chose to express their ideas through poetry.

Photo by Sam Moghadam Khamseh on Unsplash

Five philosophical poets

Here’s a list of five philosophical poets to help you think. Each of these authors are known for being thought-provoking and insightful.

  1. Omar Khayyam (1048-1131)
  2. Rumi (1207-1273)
  3. Hafez (1325-1390)
  4. Kabir (1398-1518)
  5. Kahlil GIbran (1883-1931)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed each in order of when they lived.

Omar Khayyam (1048-1131)

  • 1048-1131
  • Genre(s): poetry, philosophy and math
  • Languages: Persian/Farsi and Arabic
  • Key books: Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
  • Key themes: pleasures of life, rationalist philosopher, pessimist

Omar Khayyam was born Ghiyath al-Din Abu’l-Fath Umar ibn Ibrahim Al-Nisaburi al-Khayyámi. Khayyam was a poet, philosopher and mathmatician in 11th-century Persia. Most of his ideas within math and astonomy were not proven until long after his death.

Most of the poetry attributed to Khayyam is in the form of quatrains, which are four lines that form either a stanza or full poem. It’s difficult to confirm the authenticity of the poems attributed to Khayyam, especially as other Persian scholars were known to write in quatrains.

Khayyam rose to fame as a poet in the modern world in 1859 when Edward FitzGerald published his translation of Khayyam’s poetry. However FitzGerald’s translation of the poetry took significant liberties and is not considered an accurate translation.


Rumi (1207-1273)

  • 1207-1273
  • Genre(s): poet, scholar, theologian, faqih, and mystic
  • Languages: mostly Persian, but also Turkish, Arabic and Greek
  • Masnavi is considered one of the greatest poems in the Persian language
  • Key themes: knowledge of oneness of God through love and external religions observances especially through music, dance and poetry

Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī (Persian: جلال‌الدین محمّد رومی), or often just Rumi, was from 13th century Persia (Greater Iran). He was a poet, an Islamic scholar, a Maturidi theoloian, Hanafi faqih (jurist), and Sufi mystic.

Rumi has been influential across the world, especially in the Middle East, Europe, Central Asia, and South Asia, both in spiritual practices and literature.

His works are still read widely in the Persian-speaking world, and the translations of his work are popular all over the world. He’s often described as the “most popular poet” and even the “best selling poet” in the USA.

Rumi’s poetry focuses on the love that infuses the world. He was especially interested in seeking knowledge of tawhid (oneness of God) through love and believed passionately in using music, poetry, and dance as an outward expression of reaching for God. Rumi believed that music could help an individual focus their whole being on the divine, and these ideas are what led to the practice of whirling Dervishes becoming a ritualize form of worship and meditation.


Hafez – sometimes spelled Hafiz (1325-1390)

  • 1325-1390
  • Genre(s): Lyric poetry, mystic poetry
  • Language: Persian
  • Key books:  The Divān of Hafez (a collection of his remaining poems)
  • Key themes: the beloved, faith, exposing hypocrisy, expressing the ecstasy of divine inspiration

Hafez (sometimes spelled Hafiz) was born Khājeh Shams-od-Dīn Moḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī (Persian: خواجه شمس‌‌الدین محمد حافظ شیرازی).

He was a Persian lyric poet who has influenced post-14th century Persian writing more than any other Persian author. Many Iranians consider Hafez the pinnacle of Persian literature and his works are still part of everyday life.

Hafez was a Sufi Muslim and wrote in the literary genre of lyric poetry or ghazals. Ghazals are a specific form of Arabic poetry that deals with romantic and spiritual love, and are considered ideal for expressing the ecstasy of divine inspiration.

Hafez is the most popular poet in Iran and most households own a copy of The Divān of Hafez (many use it for fortune telling). His work was first translated into English in 1771 and after that he also influenced many western authors like Thoreau, Goethe, W.B. Yeats, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Kabir (1398-1518 CE)

  • Estimated to have lived around 1398-1518 CE
  • Genre(s): Mystic poet and saint
  • Language: Sadhukkadi (a mix of Hindi, Bhojpuri, and Punjabi) & Bhojpuri
  • Key themes: critical of organized religions, loving devotion of God

Kabir is a well-known mystic poet from India and is considered an important figure for multiple religions, including Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam and Sufism.

He was critical of religions, especially organized religion. He often questioned the meaningless and unethical practices of all religions. His criticisms focused heavily on the major religions of his country, Hindu and Muslim, while maintaining his own independence from both of those religions.

Throughout his life, he was threatened by both Hindus and Muslims, but when he died both religions claimed him as theirs.

Kabir’s poems were composed with simple words and most were written in Sadhukkadi (a mix of Hindi, Bhojpuri and Punjabi). There are 82 works attributed to Kabir, but the authenticity of these works is still being discussed. It’s possible that changes have happened over time and also that some works attributed to Kabir were actually written by others.


Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)

  • 1883-1931
  • Languages: Arabic and English
  • Genre(s): poetry, parables, fables, essays, short stories, novels
  • Key books: The Prophet (philosophical essays)
  • Key themes: religion, free will, the soul, happiness, justice, body/death

Gibran Khalil Gibran (Arabic: جُبْرَان خَلِيل جُبْرَان) is commonly referred to in English as Kahlil Gibran. He was a Lebanese-American poet, writer, philosopher and visual artist.

Gibran is considered one of the most important influences in the Romantic movement within Arabic poetry and literature during the first half of the twentieth century and is still widely celebrated as a literary hero in Lebanon.

Gibran’s writing spanned different forms and themes. His work has been seen to be innovative and breaking away from the forms of the past literary styles. The Arabic vocabulary used in his works were considered more colloquial or ordinary language, rather than the traditional or classic Arabic used in literature.

He is best known for his book The Prophet, a collection of philosophical essays, which has become one of the best-selling books of all time. The Prophet became popular in the 1960’s and was widely influential on musicians and artists of that era (including The Beatles, Elvis Presley, David Bowie, and Johnny Cash).


Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of philosophical poets.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of authors and books to read. I’d love to know which philosophical poets you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

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