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poet laureate(lô`rēĭt), title conferred in Britain by the monarch on a poet whose duty it is to write commemorative odes and verse. It is an outgrowth of the medieval English custom of having versifiers and minstrels in the king's retinue, and of the later royal patronage of poets, such as ChaucerChaucer, Geoffrey
, c.1340–1400, English poet, one of the most important figures in English literature. Life and Career
The known facts of Chaucer's life are fragmentary and are based almost entirely on official records.
..... Click the link for more information. and SpenserSpenser, Edmund,
1552?–1599, English poet, b. London. He was the friend of men eminent in literature and at court, including Gabriel Harvey, Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Robert Sidney, earl of Leicester.
..... Click the link for more information. . Ben JonsonJonson, Ben,
1572–1637, English dramatist and poet, b. Westminster, London. The high-spirited buoyancy of Jonson's plays and the brilliance of his language have earned him a reputation as one of the great playwrights in English literature.
..... Click the link for more information. seems to have had what amounted to the laureateship from Charles I in 1617, but the present title, adopted from the Greek and Roman custom of crowning with a wreath of laurel, was first given to John DrydenDryden, John,
1631–1700, English poet, dramatist, and critic, b. Northamptonshire, grad. Cambridge, 1654. He went to London about 1657 and first came to public notice with his Heroic Stanzas (1659), commemorating the death of Oliver Cromwell.
..... Click the link for more information. in 1670.
Dryden's successors have been Thomas ShadwellShadwell, Thomas,
1642?–1692, English dramatist and poet. His plays, written in the tradition of Jonson's comedy of humours, are distinguished for their realistic pictures of London life and for their frank and witty dialogue.
..... Click the link for more information. (1688–92), Nahum TateTate, Nahum
, 1652–1715, English poet and dramatist, b. Dublin. He wrote several popular adaptations of Shakespeare, the most famous being his King Lear (1681), in which he omitted the part of the fool and had Cordelia survive to marry Edgar.
..... Click the link for more information. (1692–1715), Nicholas RoweRowe, Nicholas
, 1674–1718, English dramatist. An ardent Whig, he was able to gain various government posts during the course of his life. In 1715 he became poet laureate.
..... Click the link for more information. (1715–18), Laurence Eusden (1718–30), Colley CibberCibber, Colley
, 1671–1757, English dramatist and actor-manager. Joining the company at the Theatre Royal in 1690, Cibber became successful as a comedian, playing the fops of Restoration comedy.
..... Click the link for more information. (1730–57), William WhiteheadWhitehead, William,
1715–85, English poet and playwright. He wrote several plays based on ancient Greek models, including Creusa, Queen of Athens (1754). Whitehead was appointed poet laureate in 1757.
..... Click the link for more information. (1757–85), Thomas WartonWarton, Thomas,
1728–90, English poet and literary historian, grad. Trinity College, Oxford (1747), brother of Joseph Warton. He was ordained and eventually served as professor of poetry at Oxford from 1757 to 1767.
..... Click the link for more information. (1785–90), Henry Pye (1790–1813), Robert SoutheySouthey, Robert
, 1774–1843, English author. Primarily a poet, he was numbered among the so-called Lake poets. While at Oxford he formed (1794) a friendship with Coleridge and joined with him in a plan for an American utopia along the Susquehanna River that was never
..... Click the link for more information. (1813–43), William WordsworthWordsworth, William,
1770–1850, English poet, b. Cockermouth, Cumberland. One of the great English poets, he was a leader of the romantic movement in England. Life and Works
In 1791 he graduated from Cambridge and traveled abroad.
..... Click the link for more information. (1843–50), Alfred, Lord TennysonTennyson, Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron
, 1809–92, English poet. The most famous poet of the Victorian age, he was a profound spokesman for the ideas and values of his times.
..... Click the link for more information. (1850–92), Alfred AustinAustin, Alfred,
1835–1913, English author, b. Leeds. Originally trained for a legal career, he eventually turned to writing and politics. From 1883–95 he edited the National Review.
..... Click the link for more information. (1892–1913), Robert BridgesBridges, Robert Seymour,
1844–1930, English poet. In 1882 he abandoned medical practice to devote himself to writing. An excellent metrist, he wrote many beautiful lyrics and longer poems, noted for their refined simplicity and perfection of form.
..... Click the link for more information. (1913–30), John MasefieldMasefield, John
, 1878–1967, English poet. He went to sea as a youth and later spent several years in the United States. In 1897 he returned to England and was on the staff of the Manchester Guardian.
..... Click the link for more information. (1930–67), Cecil Day LewisDay Lewis, C.
(Cecil Day Lewis), 1904–72, English author, b. Ireland. While he was still at Oxford, he became associated with a group of leftist poets led by W. H. Auden. After graduation he taught at various schools until 1935 and then decided to devote himself to writing.
..... Click the link for more information. (1968–72), John BetjemanBetjeman, Sir John
, 1906–84, English poet, b. London. Traditional in rhyme and meter, his verse combined a witty appraisal of the English present with nostalgia for England's past, especially the Victorian past. His published collections include Mt.
..... Click the link for more information. (1972–84), Ted HughesHughes, Ted
(Edward James Hughes), 1930–98, English poet, b. Mytholmyroyd, Yorkshire, studied Cambridge. Hughes's best poetry focuses on the unsentimental within nature.
..... Click the link for more information. (1984–98), Andrew Motion (1999–2009), the first poet to serve for 10 years (instead of for life), and Carol Ann Duffy (2009–), Britain's first female laureate. In recent years the position's ceremonial duties have largely been eliminated.
In the United States, the poet laureate is charged with raising "the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry." It is an annual position but may be held for a series of years; the poet is chosen by the Librarian of Congress. It was instituted in 1937 as the consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress and was held by 30 poets before an act of Congress (1985) changed the name to poet laureate. Robert Penn WarrenWarren, Robert Penn,
1905–89, American novelist, poet, and critic, b. Guthrie, Ky., grad. Vanderbilt Univ. 1925; M.A., Univ. of California 1927; B.Litt., Oxford 1930.
..... Click the link for more information. became (1986) the first to hold the title of poet laureate in United States. His successors have been Richard WilburWilbur, Richard,
1921–2017, American poet and translator, b. New York City, B.A. Amherst, 1942, M.A. Harvard, 1947. A virtuoso craftsman who wrote with grace and precision in traditional verse forms, Wilbur was always original and generally affirmative in his view of the
..... Click the link for more information. (1987–88), Howard NemerovNemerov, Howard
, 1920–91, American poet, novelist, and critic, b. New York City, grad. Harvard, 1941; brother of photographer Diane Arbus. He taught at Bennington College for many years and was associated with Washington Univ. in St. Louis from 1969 until his death.
..... Click the link for more information. (1988–90), Mark StrandStrand, Mark,
1934–2014, American poet, b. Prince Edward Island, Canada, grad. Antioch College (B.A., 1957), Yale (B.F.A., 1959), Iowa Writers' Workshop (M.A., 1962).
..... Click the link for more information. (1990–91), Joseph BrodskyBrodsky, Joseph
(Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky) , 1940–96, Russian-American poet, b. Leningrad (St. Petersburg). A disciple of Anna Akhmatova, he began writing poetry in 1955.
..... Click the link for more information. (the first foreign-born laureate; 1991–92), Mona Van Duyn (the first woman laureate; 1992–93), Rita DoveDove, Rita,
1952–, American poet, b. Akron, Ohio, studied Iowa Writers' Workshop (M.F.A., 1977). Her first poetry collection, Ten Poems, was published in 1977. Her verse is at once concise, precise, and evocative.
..... Click the link for more information. (the first African-American laureate; 1993–95), Robert Hass (1995–97), Robert Pinsky (1997–2000), Stanley KunitzKunitz, Stanley Jasspon
, 1905–2006, American poet, teacher, and editor, b. Worcester, Mass. He graduated from Harvard (B.A., 1926; M.A., 1927), worked as a journalist and editor, and taught poetry at many colleges and universities, notably Columbia (1967–85).
..... Click the link for more information. (2000–2001), Billy Collins (2001–3), Louise Glück (2003–4), Ted Kooser (2004–6), Donald Hall (2006–7), Charles SimicSimic, Charles
, 1938–, American poet, b. Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now in Serbia), grad. New York Univ. (B.A., 1966). Simic moved to the United States in 1954, joining his father, who had arrived before World War II.
..... Click the link for more information. (2007–8), Kay RyanRyan, Kay,
1945–, American poet, b. San Jose, Calif., grad. Univ. of California at Los Angeles (B.A., 1967; M.A., 1968). She taught remedial English in a Marin co. community college for more than 30 years.
..... Click the link for more information. (2008–10), W. S. MerwinMerwin, W. S.
(William Stanley Merwin), 1927–2019, American poet and translator, b. New York City. After graduating from Princeton in 1948, he traveled in Europe, working as a tutor and studying Romance languages, a period described many years later in his memoir
..... Click the link for more information. (2010–11), Philip LevineLevine, Philip,
1928–2015, American poet, b. Detroit, grad. Wayne State Univ. (B.A., 1950; A.M., 1954), Univ. of Iowa (M.F.A., 1957). The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he held a variety of industrial jobs as a young man, and his work experiences shaped the subjects and
..... Click the link for more information. (2011–12), Natasha Trethewey (2012–14), Charles WrightWright, Charles,
1935–, American poet, b. Pickwick Dam, Tenn. While in the army in Italy (1957–61), he began reading Pound's Cantos, which, along with his Southern roots and ancient Chinese poetry, influenced his work.
..... Click the link for more information. (2014–15), Juan Felipe Herrera (2015–17), Tracy K. Smith (2017–19), and Joy Harjo (the first Native-American laureate, 2019–21).
See K. Hopkins, The Poets Laureate (1954, repr. 1966).