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A poet is someone who writes poetry. Poetry is a type of literature that uses some kind of meter. Even poetry which doesn't have a regular meter or beat, has certain rhythmic or schematic qualities which define it as 'poetry'. Normally, poets compose poetry under specific categories, like lyrical, epic, dramatic, and narrative, and use various poetic forms such as the sonnet, organic form, and villanelles.
Poets are found in cultures around the world and throughout history. The author James Baldwin said that 'The poet or the revolutionary is there to articulate the necessity', meaning that poets were culturally important as they reflect truths about, and to, society.
Poets are culturally important, and many historic religions had a god of poetry, such as the ancient Greek god Apollo or the Celtic goddess Brigit. During prehistoric times poets were part of an oral tradition. They didn't write their poems down but memorised them and then recited them to others, who memorised them in turn. These poets were held in high esteem.
In the English language, poets have been an important part of society for many years, sometimes even shaping and influencing the world around them. British poets have exerted political influence, sometimes as supporters and sometimes as opponents of government. In 1668 the position of Poet Laureate (a national poet appointed by the monarch) was created with the appointment of John Dryden.
In the USA poets are held in similar esteem and are often invited to give readings at important events. In 2021 Amanda Gorman recited a poem at the inauguration of Joe Biden. American poets were influenced by movements in countries such as the UK. Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost (two American Romantic poets) were influenced by other Romantics living in the UK, such as William Wordsworth.
The table below charts the history of poets from the 11th to the 21st century. It divides the poets up by literary movement and also details some of the key features of their work.
Religious poetry, Satire, Lyric poetry.
Strict forms such as the Shakespearean sonnet, classical allusions, Spenserian Stanza, and Allegorical Epic.
William Shakespeare, Philip Sydney, Edmund Spenser.
Metaphysical Poets (1600-1690)
Conceits, the quality of the spoken verse.
John Donne, George Herbet, Henry Vaughan.
|Restoration Poets(1660-1700)||The English Epic, the Mock Heroic Couplet, Pastoral.||John Milton, Alexander Pope.|
Focus on nature, emotive language, the sublime, individualism, and responses to the French Revolution.
First Generation: William Blake, Samuel Taylor-Coleridge, William Wordsworth.
American Romanticism (circa 1820-1860)
Focused on Transcendentalism, reform, individuality, and spirituality.
Victorian poetry (1832-1901)
Religious skepticism, mysticism, and sensory imagery.
Elizabeth Barret Browning, Robert Browing, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Gerard Manley Hopkins.
World War I poetry
Violent imagery, themes of conflict.
Experimentation of poetic form, structure and devices. Emphasis on Imagism, Free Verse, subversion and modern technology.
TS Eliott, Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and WH Auden.
Harlem Renaissance (1920-1930s)
Political and social writing that tended to focus on racism and class in America.
Claude McKay, Langston Hughes.
First-hand point of view, individualism, themes of mental illness and trauma.
Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell.
(post-1945 to present)
Wide movement reflecting the cultural ideas and political events of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Natural imagery, identity, historical allusions.
Louis MacNeice, Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland.
National Identity, nature.
Concerning where to place poets in certain literary movements, there are a number of overlaps and retrospective decisions which has led to a lot of debate. For example, the themes and subject matter of John Milton's 'Paradise Lost' (1667) place him as a Restoration Poet instead of a Metaphysical Poet.
"For May will have no sluggardry at night,
Season that pricks in every gentle heart,
Awakening it from sleep, and bids it start"
Geoffrey Chaucer was an English poet most famous for writing 'The Canterbury Tales' (1387-1400). He was a key figure in Middle Ages English literature and is sometimes referred to as the 'father of English poetry'. His epic poem tells the story of a group of pilgrims journeying from London to Canterbury. The poem discusses themes of religion, social class and convention.
Notable Poems: 'The Canterbury Tales' (1387-1400)
Related Poets: Thomas Malory (1415-1471), Edmund Spenser (1553-1599)
"If this be error and upon me prov'd,
I never write, nor no man ever loved."
William Shakespeare was a playwright and poet and one of the best writers in the English language. He is sometimes referred to as The Bard. He composed 39 plays, 154 sonnets and 3 narrative poems. His sonnets discuss themes of love and youth and his longer narrative poems are retellings of Classical myths.
Notable Poems: ' Sonnet 116' (1609)
Related Poets: John Milton (1608-1674),
"The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n"
John Milton wrote during the Commonwealth of England (when Oliver Cromwell controlled England), a period of political upheaval. His writing reflects this and is best seen in his most famous work, the epic poem 'Paradise Lost'. Milton was an inspiration for later poets such as William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, and William Blake.
Notable Poems: 'Paradise Lost' (1667)
Related Poets : William Shakespeare (1564-1616),
" And in this flea our two bloods be mingled;"
John Donne was an English poet who is perhaps best known for his metaphysical poems. These poems engaged in a metaphorical and sensual style and discuss themes of love and religion. His poems use satire, paradox, and irony. During his life he composed sonnets, elegies and sermons.
Notable Poems: 'The Flea' (1633), 'The Good Morrow' (1633), 'Elegy: To His Mistress Going to Bed' (1633), 'Death Be Not Proud' (1633), 'The Ecstasy' (1633 ), 'A Valediction Forbidding Mourning' (1633), 'Holy Sonnet VII' (1633)
Related Poets : George Herbert (1593-1633), Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)
"I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow."
William Blake was a visual artist and poet who is regarded as one of the most important figures in English literature and the Romantic movement. He was a devout Christian (although he did not agree with the Church of England) and this is reflected in his work. Blake mixed poetry with visual prints in order to discuss themes of religion, nationalism, and imagination. Due to Blake's mixed-media approach to poetry, he is seen as unconventional when compared to his contemporaries.
Related Poets: Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
"Until my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns"
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a founding figure of the Romantic movement, and along with his friend William Wordsworth, was a member of the Lake Poets. Many of Coleridge's poems establish key themes within Romanticism such as the importance of nature, and themes of solitude. Coleridge wrote many of his poems in blank verse.
Notable Poems: 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' (1797-98), 'Kubla Khan' (1816), 'Frost at Midnight' (1798)
Related Poets: William Blake (1757-1827), William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
Fun fact - One of the first readings of Rime of the Ancient Mariner was attended by a young Mary Shelley!
"Nature never did betray the heart that loved her."
William Wordsworth was a founding figure of Romanticism and the Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850. Wordsworth's poems feature key Romantic themes, vivid sensory descriptions, a celebration of the imagination, and a love of nature. Wordsworth was heavily influenced by the Lake District, and many of his poems are inspired by this area.
Notable Poems: 'I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud' (1807), 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey' (1798).
Romantic poets can be divided into an older generation (Blake, Coleridge and Wordsworth) and a younger generation (Byron, Shelley and Keats). Ironically, the older generation of poets outlived the younger generation.
"She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;"
Lord George Gordon Byron was an English peer, soldier and poet, and was a notable figure in the Romantic movement. Byron composed sonnets such as She Walks in Beauty (1814), and longer narrative poems such as Don Juan (1818-1824). Along with his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley, he traveled frequently across Europe. Many of Byron's poems discuss themes of love, war, and aesthetic beauty.
Notable Poems: 'She Walks in Beauty' (1814), 'So We'll Go No More A Roving' (1830)
"O wild west wind, thou breathe of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,"
Percy Bysshe Shelley was a major English Romantic poet who was famous for his lyric poems as well as verse drama. Shelley represented a more political version of Romanticism as he held radical political and social beliefs which are reflected in his poetry. His poetry included themes of nature, and emphasised the importance of history. Shelley's work influenced poets such as Robert Browning, Thomas Hardy and WB Yeats.
Poets active during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) are typically referred to as Victorian poets. They built on the themes of Romanticism through their religious scepticism, however, they also focused on mysticism and sensory imagery.
".. Deep-hearted man, express
Grief for thy dead in silence like to death—"
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a prolific poet who wrote during the Victorian era. Many of Browning's poems were political. She campaigned for the abolition of slavery as well as for the introduction of child labor legislation. During the 1840s these poems made her an extremely popular poet in both the UK and America, and she was a rival to Alfred Lord Tennyson for the position of Poet Laureate. She also wrote poems discussing the theme of love, such as How Do I Love Thee? (1845). Her work was an influence on American poets such as Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe.
Notable Poems: 'Grief' (1844) from Sonnets from the Portuguese XXIV
'Let the world's sharpness, like a closing knife' (1850)
Related Poets: Robert Browning (1812-1889), Charlotte Mew (1869-1928)
"But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me."
Tennyson was a poet during the Victorian era and served as Poet Laureate following William Wordsworth's death. Many of these poems centered around classical myths and medievalism. His poetry featured vivid imagery and themes of death, grief, and spirituality. Tennyson was a lyric poet and also wrote in blank verse.
The phrase "'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all", comes from the Tennyson poem 'In Memorium AHH'!
Modernism was an early 20th century movement which attempted to break away from the traditional forms and structures of established, especially Victorian, literature. Modernist poems are characterized by experimentation with form, structure, and technique.
"April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land,"
Thomas Stearns Eliott was a poet, playwright and publisher, and an important figure in Modernist poetry. Eliott was born in America, but at the age of 39 became a British citizen and rejected his American citizenship. His poems include The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915) and The Wasteland (1922), and are considered key works in Modernism. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948 for his contributions to poetry.
Notable Poems: 'The Wasteland' (1922), 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' (1915), 'The Hollow Men' (1925)
Related Poets: Charlotte Mew (1869-1928), Ezra Pound (1885-1972), WB Yeats (1865-1939)
The movie musical 'Cats' is based on a poetry collection by TS Eliot!
The term 'war poet' is used to refer to any poet writing about war, especially the first World War; typically these poets were combatants, but war poems were also written by civilians. War poets were especially popular during and following the First World War.
" The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. "
Wilfred Owen was a poet and soldier, best known for the poems he wrote during the First World War. Owen's poetry was influenced by his mentor Seigfried Sassoon. Many of Owen's poems describe the brutality of trench life and gas warfare. His poems contrasted the patriotic poetry which had been popular at the start of the War. Owen's poems contain themes of war, violence and death. Wilfred Owen was killed exactly one week before the Armistice that ended the war. His poems were published posthumously.
Notable Poems: 'Dulce et Decorum Est' (1920)
Related Poets: Seigfried Sassoon (1886-1967)
'Modern Poets' refers to the group of poets who composed poems during the 20th and 21st centuries.
"He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,"
WH Auden was an English poet best known for his poems on love and social issues. During his life, Auden traveled to China, America and across Europe, and his travels are reflected in his poetry. His poetry discussed themes of love, religion, psychology and politics. Auden is frequently placed together with poets Louis MacNeice, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Stephen Spender, in a group known as MacSpaunday .
Notable Poems: 'Stop All the Clocks' (1938), 'Mussee des Beaux-Arts' (1939)
Related Poets: Louis MacNeice (1907-1963), Cecil Day-Lewis (1904-1972), Stephenspender (1909-1995)
" The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed."
Ted Hughes was an English poet who served as Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998. His poetry covers themes of family relationships, mortality and nature. Much of his later poetry is influenced by the bardic tradition, which he reworks from a modernist viewpoint. Hughes was married to the American poet Sylvia Plath until her death in 1963, and his final collection Birthday Letters (1998) explores their relationship.
Notable Poems: 'Birthday Letters' (1998) Collection.
"punching the palm of your hand all winter,
you baby, now I'm the real boy wonder."
Simon Armitage is an English poet and writer. He was appointed Poet Laureate in 2019. Armitage spent time as a probation officer, a job which heavily influenced his work, in which he explores themes of family relationships and violence. Armitage has lived much of his life in Yorkshire, which is reflected in the colloquialisms in his poetry. In 2008 he released a collection of poems based on the testimonials of soldiers.
Notable Poems: 'Poem' (1992), 'Kid' (1992), 'Homecoming' (1993)
"Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae farewell, and then forever!"
Robert Burns was a Scottish poet and lyrist who is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland. He was a prominent figure in the Romantic movement in Scotland and is known for his use of the Scots dialect in his poetry. Much of his poetry features political themes that were important to the socialist and liberal movements.
Related Poets : David Mallet (1705-1765)
" It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief. "
Carol Ann Duffy is a Scottish poet and playwright who served as Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2019. She is the first woman and first known LGBTQ+ person to hold this position. Duffy's poems center on themes of gender, opposition and violence. Many of her poems examine British politics, such as the MP expenses scandal in 2009.
"Time was away and she was here
And live no longer what it was,"
Louis MacNeice was a Northern Irish poet known for his relaxed tone and depiction of Irish landscapes. MacNeice was associated with a group of left-wing poets and writers known as MacSpaunday, although he himself was never a member of any political party. While he lived most of his life in England, MacNeice returned to Ireland frequently and the country is a regular feature of his poetry. His poetry often appeared on radio and was known for its humorous tone.
Notable Poems: 'Meeting Point' (1939)
Related Poets : WH Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis (1904-1972), Stephenspender (1909-1995)
" A four-foot box, a foot for every year."
Seamus Heaney was an Irish poet known for his depictions of Irish life and landscapes. He was widely regarded as the major Irish poet of his generation for his portrayal of 'Irishness'. Heaney's work discussed themes of history, mythology, landscape and tradition. His work also examined the importance of place and identity. In 1995 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature due to his “works of lyrical beauty”.
Notable Poems: 'Punishment' (1975), 'Out of the Bag' (2001), 'The Tollund Man' (1972)
"We march the corn to the ships in peace. This Tuesday I saw bones
out of my carriage window. Your servant Jones."
Eavan Boland was an Irish poet and professor known for her depictions of women. She is one of the most important female figures in modern Irish poetry. Much of Boland's poetry centered on themes of Irish national identity, as well as on the role that women played in Irish society and history.
Notable Poems: 'Woman in Kitchen' (1995), 'The Famine Road' (1975), 'A Woman Without a Country' (2014) Collection.
Related Poets : Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)
American Romanticism was a literary movement formed as an American response to the Romantic movement in Europe. Both emphasised similar ideas and techniques; however, the American movement focused on reform, individuality, and spirituality. Transcendentalism emerged from European Romanticism through its focus on self-reliance and subjectivism.
"Because I couldn't stop for Death -
He kindly stopped for me—"
Emily Dickinson is known for her unconventional use of grammar. She was a recluse for much of her life and so not much is known about her. Dickinson published only ten poems during her lifetime; however, when she died, her family discovered a further 1,800 poems. Many of Dickinson's poems centre on themes of death, religion, mortality and anxiety.
Notable Works: ' A Bird, came down the Walk' (1891), 'I felt a Funeral, in my Brain' (1896), 'It was not Death, for I stood up,' (1891), 'Hope' is the thing with feathers-' (1891), 'A narrow Fellow in the Grass' (1866)
Related Poets: Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
Robert Frost based much of his work on his New England home. He lived in rural New England and used this setting as a way to discuss philosophical questions. Frost's poetry discusses themes of farming, rural life, and the relationship between people and nature.
Related Poets: Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
Robert Frost was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature 31 times - but never won!
American modernism was a literary and philosophical movement that was created as a response to the modernist movement in Europe. It featured a rejection of traditional poetic forms and instead emphasised innovation and experimentation.
"I have eaten
that were in
the ice box"
William Carlos Williams was an American physician and poet known for his contribution to the Imagism and Modernism movements. He worked as a doctor for 40 years and used the people around him in this job as inspiration for his poems. Many of his poems examined themes of American life and the commonplace events that occurred within it. He also discussed themes of ambiguity. Williams' work was an inspiration for the Beat Poetry movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Notable Works: ' The Red Wheelbarrow' (1923), 'This is Just to Say' (1934), 'Landscape with the Fall of Icarus' (1960)
Related Poets: Robert Frost (1874-1963), Ezra Pound (1885-1972), Marianne Moore (1887-1972)
The Harlem Renaissance was a movement that occurred in 1920s America but was localized specifically in Harlem, New York City. The movement formed after many African American people fled the racist environment of the Jim Crow Deep South and moved to Harlem. This movement can be characterized by its political and social poems.
"Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!"
Claude McKay was a Jamaican-American poet who was a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Many of McKay's poems examined racism in America and were inspired by real events. His poem, If We Must Die (1919) discussed the lynchings of black people that occurred following the First World War. McKay briefly lived in Soviet Russia but returned to Harlem after he grew disillusioned with Stalinism. His poetry centers on themes of politics and life in America.
Notable Works: ' If We Must Die' (1919), 'America' (1921)
Related Poets: Langston Hughes (1902-1967), Zora Neale Huston (1891-1960)
Also known as 'poetry of the I', confessional poetry was a movement of the 1950s and 1960s in America that focused on personal, first-hand poetry. Many poems in this genre discussed individual experiences, mental health, and personal trauma.
"Daddy, I had to kill you.
You died before I had time——"
Sylvia Plath was a poet and author who pioneered the genre. Her poems are regarded as partially autobiographical, discussing themes of death, patriarchy, mental illness, and the self. Plath married Ted Hughes in 1956; however, their relationship was unstable and they divorced in 1962. She was clinically depressed for most of her life and had undergone electroshock therapy. She killed herself in 1963.
Notable Works: 'Ariel' (1965) Collection, 'Daddy' (1965)
Related Poets: Ted Hughes (1930-1998), Edna St Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
The 3 types of poetry are narrative, dramatic, and lyrical.
Some of the most famous poets include, William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou and Edgar Allen Poe.
Major modern poets include E.E Cummings, W.H Auden, and William Carlos Williams.
Some of the best modern poets include Elizabeth Bishop, Charles Baudelaire, Allen Ginsburg, and Frank O'Hara.
What is a poet?
A poet is someone who writes poetry.
Who was the Greek God of poetry?
The Celtic Goddess Brigit was the goddess of what?
When was the position of Poet Laureate created?
Who was the first Poet Laureate?
John Dryden was the first appointed Poet Laureate.
What political event in the U.S.A do poets often speak at?
Poets often speak at the Presidential Inauguration.
Who wrote The Canterbury Tales?
Geoffrey Chuacer wrote The Canterbury Tales.
True or False - Geoffrey Chaucer is considered the 'father of English drama'
True! He is called the 'father of English drama'
Who is nicknamed The Bard?
Who was a metaphysical poet?
John Donne was a metaphysical poet.
Who mixed poetry with engraved prints?
True or False - The first generation of Romantic poets outlived the second generation.
True! The first generation of Romantic poets outlived the second generation.
Name two Lake Poets
What two social issues did Elizabeth Barrett Browning campaign for in her poetry?
Who were rivals to take over the position of Poet Laureate from William Wordsworth?
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Which Irish poet won the Nobel Prize for Literature?
Seamus Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Who is called the 'National Poet of Scotland'?
Robert Burns is considered to be the 'National Poet of Scotland'
Which poet spent time in Soviet Russia?
Name the poet credited with pioneering the confessional poetry movement?
Sylvia Plath is credited with pioneering the confessional poetry movement.
Who is the current Poet Laureate (2019-2029)?
The current Poet Laureate is Simon Armitage.
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