It's not the oldest poem ever, of course - that would have been when some individual of an early Homo species asked someone to sit down beside her on the sabre-toothed tiger - but The Epic of Gilgamesh is the first poem we have that's written down.
It was first written as five Sumerian poems in about 2100 BC, which became the basis of a long poem in Akkadian. Our first versions of this translation dates back to perhaps 1900 BC.
It's absolutely terrific.
It begins like this:
Gilgamesh King in Uruk
I will proclaim to the world the deeds of Gilgamesh. This was the man to whom all things were known; this was the king who knew the countries of the world. He was wise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the flood. He went on a long journey, was weary, worn-out with labour, returning he rested, he engraved on a stone the whole story.
When the gods created Gilgamesh they gave him a perfect body. Shamash the glorious sun endowed him with beauty, Adad the god of the storm endowed him with courage, the great gods made his beauty perfect, surpassing all others, terrifying like a great wild bull. Two thirds they made him god and one third man.
In Uruk he built walls, a great rampart, and a temple of blessed Eanna for the god of the firmament Anu and for Ishtar the goddess of love. Look at it still today: the outer wall where the cornice runs, shines with the brilliance of copper, and the inner wall, it has no equal. Touch the threshold, it is ancient. Approach Eanna the dwelling of Ishtar, our lady of love, the like of which no latter-day king, no man alive, can equal. Climb upon the wall of Uruk, walk along it, I say; regard the foundation terrace and examine the masonry: is it not burnt brick and good? The seven sages laid the foundations.
So that's the very beginning of known poetry.
And obviously, remarkably, it's still a pattern for many fantasy writers today.
Well, I suppose if it ain't broke...
Word To Use Today: Gilgamesh. This name might mean the ancestor is a hero, from the Sumerian bilga, ancestor, and mes, hero or young man. But that's a bit of a guess, really.
The translation above is by N K Sanders, and the full text can be found HERE.