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The Poets:

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-A-

Arnold, Matthew (1822-88):
Educated at Balliol College, Oxford, Arnold was, through the years, 1857-67, the professor of Poetry at Oxford. I have put up three of my favourites, "Dover Beach," "Shakespeare" and "The Scholar-Gipsy."

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-B-
Blake, William (1757-1827):
Blake was a poet, a painter and an engraver. Chambers writes that Blake's poetry "include some of the purest lyrics in the English language and express his ardent belief in the freedom of the imagination and his hatred of rationalism and materialism."
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861):
Suffered from a childhood spinal injury and was "doomed to invalidism and seclusion from the world" until she met Robert with whom she eloped, much to the consternation of her father. The Brownings fled to Italy, and there they spent the rest of their days (at least Elizabeth did). The Browning romance was celebrated in Rudolf Besier's The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Her poems run deep with religious feeling, with her love of Italy, and her love of Robert.
Browning, Robert (1812-1889):
Like Mill and Ruskin, Browning was taught by his father and was "perhaps the most learned poet in the history of English literature." (Johnson.) "In his teens, he discovered Shelley and adopted Shelleyian liberalism in opinion and confessionalism in poetry." (Benet's.) For more, see Birrell's essay on "Robert Browning" found in Selected Essays (London: Nelson, 1908) at page 158.
Bryant, William Cullen (1794-1878):
American lawyer, poet and journalist; Bryant was born in Massachusetts. He became the editor of the Evening Post, which, in 1856, became instrumental in the formation of the modern day republican party.
Burton, Sir Richard Francis (1821-90):
Burton's poem, Stanzas from the Kasidah, is one of my favorites. Burton is more generally described as an English explorer and writer. His works include: Tales from the Arabian Nights and The Kama Sutra.
Butler, Samuel (1612-80):
Singularly know for his long poem, "a burlesque satire on Puritanism," Hudibras. It was brought out in three parts: the first in 1663; the second, 1664; and the third, 1678.
Byron, Lord (1788-1824):
Lord Byron, this "haughty and aristocratic genius," was subject only to his own ruling passions. Byron spent most of his adult life on the continent, making his first trip in 1809 which led him at least as far east as Greece. During this trip Byron wrote the first two cantos of "Childe Harold," which tells the story of his tour. By 1821, Byron was permanently living in Italy where he was a part of a romantic literary circle, a circle which included the Shelleys. In 1824, Byron embarked for Greece where there was unfolding a civil war. Shortly, thereafter, at the age of 36, Byron died at Missolonghi, Greece.

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Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (1772-1834):
Most people know little of Coleridge's writing. They will know of his "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and, maybe too, of his Christabel or of Kubla Khan; but for what Coleridge is most known, is -- well, he was a druggy. Coleridge took up the use of opium as a young man; it became a life long addiction. He was by all accounts a brilliant man, a delightful conversationalist; but Coleridge's career, his life, was ruined by the use of opium.
Congreve, William (1670-1729):
Congreve was educated at Trinity College, Dublin (Swift was a fellow student) after which he went off to London and studied to become a lawyer. Congreve turned to writing plays and poetry. He is best remembered for the two overworked quotations: "Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast" and "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, // Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." (The Mourning Bride, 1697.)
Cowper, William (1731-1800):
Cowper had the good fortune to be well educated. He studied the law (Middle Temple) and was called to the Bar of England in 1754. He struggled along, as all young lawyers must, until, in 1763 a great opportunity came his way. He was given a chance to become a clerk in the House of Lords. Such an appointment would mean that he would have to make appearances before this great judicial tribunal. The thought of it all was more than poor Cowper could take: he suffered a mental breakdown, and, his legal career was thus ended. There was a certain influential family (Morley and Mary Unwin) who determined to take Cowper in under its wing. Retiring to Unwin manor, Cowper's spirits recovered; and, he took to poetry writing. Mr. Unwin died early, and widow Unwin and Cowper were to carry on together for many years. Cowper was to experience more then just a few bouts of depression throughout his life, but each time he seem to come back, especially with the help of Mary Unwin. Because Cowper "suffered from a religious mania and was subject to fits of despair" his work in parts is not something that would appeal to many of us today; yet, there are parts that are brilliant and should be read, especially that found in his larger work, the Task (1785); there is also the wonderful, though tragic work, "Castaway," written upon Mary's death in 1796. Chambers says that Cowper was a precursor of Wordsworth and the English Romantic Movement, a poet of nature. Lord David Cecil, one of my favourite authors, put out a work on Cowper's life in 1929.

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Dowson, Ernest (1867-1900):
Dowson, an English poet (studied at Oxford), was of the "Decadent" School. In a memoir of his, he set out his concluding lines which you may recognize: "I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion." Another of his famous lines shows up in his poem, "They Are Not Long."
Dryden, John (1631-1700):
Coming up from Northamptonshire where his grandfather was a rector of one of the local vicarages, Dryden attended Westminster and then Cambridge (Trinity). In 1657, Dryden came down to London and through valuable family connections became a play writer. Dryden, in his play writing, catered to popular taste. Dryden's labour in the writing of plays and the translation of the classics, came to an end in 1663; as, in that year, his fortunes took a considerable turn for the better when he married a daughter of an earl; soon, he was appointed poet laureate and royal historiographer (1670). In his later years Dryden turned to the writing of satires, Absalon an Achitophel (1681) being his best known, an allegory written in heroic couplets satirizing the contemporary politics of his age.

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Eliot, Thomas Sterns (1888-1965):
Eliot was born in America. From Harvard he went off to Oxford, and, thereafter, he was to make England his home, in 1927, he became a citizen of Britain. T. S. Eliot was both a literary and social critic; he wrote voluminously, mostly essays and poetry. He was as Chambers describes him, "hierarchal and undemocratic." Chambers was of the further view that his best work, published in 1944, was Four Quartets, "one of the greatest philosophical poems in the language." In 1948, T. S. Eliot was awarded the Nobel prize for literature.

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Gay, John (1685-1732):
At first he was apprenticed to a London silk mercer, but Gay was to turn to letters for a livelihood. His best know works are his Fables (it turned into a series) and The Beggar's Opera (1728). In his popular years he lived with the Duke and Duchess of Queensbury. John Gay was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von (1749-1832):
The father of German (if not all) late 18th century and early 19th century "romanticism." See Biographies of the Scientists.
Gray, Thomas (1716-71):
Gray was a scholar of Greek and history, he spent a secluded life at Cambridge. His poem, the meditative "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" is probably the most quoted poem in the English language. Gray's poetry illustrates the evolution of 18th century English poetry from Classicism to early Romanticism.

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-H-
Homer:
Homer was a Greek poet. It is from Homer, in the Iliad, we learn the story of the siege of Troy; and from the Odyssey, the tale of Ulysses' wanderings. While his epic poems have come down to us, very little information about him, has.
Horace (65-8BC):
Horace was a Roman poet. His father was a manumitted slave, however, he saved enough to see to Horace's education. His lyrical writings ("satires and lampoons") were to eventually come to the attention of Virgil and, in turn, to one of the ministers of Octavianus. With the recognition of those on high and gifts bestowed (one of which was a farm in the Sabinian Hills above Rome), Horace was able to lead a life of leisure and luxury; and, eventually, was to acquire the position of the poet laureate. Chambers explains the importance of Horace: "From his own lifetime till now Horace has had a popularity unexampled in literature. He was not a profound thinker; his philosophy is that rather of the market place than of the schools; he does not move among high ideals or subtle emotions. But of the common range of thought and feeling he is perfect and absolute master... His poetry supplies more phrases which have become proverbial than the rest of Latin literature put together."
Hunt, Leigh (1784-1859):
Hunt was more the radical newspaperman than the poet; yet,certain of his poetry will live on, especially his "Abou Ben Adhem."

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-I-

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-J-
Jonson, Ben (1572-1637):
The English dramatist.

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-K-
Keats, John (1795-1821):
Born in London, the son of a livery-stablekeeper, Keats' immortality as a poet was built up in but three "feverish years" of writing just prior to his death. Like Wordsworth and Coleridge he made imagination the supreme gift so that "what the Imagination seizes as beauty must be truth." (For a sample of Keats' poetry, see: "Ode on a Grecian Urn and Ode To A Nightingale.")
Kilmer, [Alfred] Joyce (1886-1918):
An American poet who is best known for his, "Trees," first published in 1913. Kilmer was killed in France during World War I.

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-L-
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth (1807-1882):
Longfellow was born at Portland, Maine and graduated from Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine. Longfellow travelled to Europe and eventually settled in as a professor of English literature at Harvard. "As a poet," as Chambers observes, "he was extremely popular during his lifetime and although his work lacks the real depth of great poetry, his gift of simple, romantic story telling in verse makes it still read widely and with pleasure." His two poems which people would immediately recognize as being ones written by Longfellow would be "The Wreck of the Hesperus" and "The Village Blacksmith."

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-M-
Marvell, Andrew (1621-1678):
A poet: one of his poems being "To His Coy Mistress," a personal favourite of mine. Born in Yorshire, Marvell attended Cambridge (Trinity College). In 1657, he became an assistant to the ailing John Milton. In 1659, Marvell took a seat in Cromwell's parliament. "His republicanism was less the outcome of abstract theory than of experience." (Chamber's.) A biography of his life was written by Augustine Birrell.
Masefield, John (1878-1967):
Poet Laureate of England, 1930-1967; noted for his sea poems, such as "Sea-Fever" and "Cargoes".
Milton, John (1608-1674):
One of the best known and most respected figures in English literature is Milton; though, it has been said (De Selincourt), that "the true appreciation of Milton is the last reward of the scholar." Milton was religious (considering the age, - how could one be anything else). His great work was Paradise Lost (1667). The first part of the work celebrated Milton's view that the Godly would ultimately triumph; at the last of it, however we are left with, "God's kingdom is not of this world. Man's intractable nature frustrates the planning of the wise." (Chambers.) Paradise Regained (1671) was published four years later where Milton picked up the primary theme of Paradise Lost, "the triumph of reason over passion." These works, undoubtedly, reflected the political times: Milton is, in his soul, a humanist; but he could not fight off the Puritanism of the times.

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-N-

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Pope, Alexander (1688-1744) (Portraiture):
Pope is generally regarded as the leading 18th century English poetic satirist. Pope suffered physical disabilities and was largely self-taught. By age 17, Pope was regarded as a prodigy. While known for his literary quarrels, Pope nevertheless had many close friends (he was a friend of Swift's). In 1711 he became famous with his Essay on Criticism, wherein he defines classicism. In his mock-heroic Rape of the Lock (1714), Pope ridicules the fashionable life. His two most notable poems on love are "Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady" and "Eloise to Abelard." In 1720 he translated the Iliad and in 1726 the Odyssey. Pope's 1725 edition of Shakespeare made him into a rich man. In his later years he wrote The Dunciad being an attack on hack writers. In 1734 there appeared another famous essay of his, an Essay on Man.
Prior, Matthew (1664-1721):
Prior was the son of a Dorset carpenter. Apparently as a young man he became noticed by his patron (Lord Dorset) and was sent off to Westminster School and from there on a scholarship to Cambridge (St. John's College). He went into government service, becoming first a secretary to the ambassador at The Hague. "In Queen Anne's time [1702-14] he turned Tory and was instrumental in bringing about the treaty of Utrecht (1713), for which dubious service he was imprisoned for two years, after the Queen's death." (Chambers Biographical Dictionary, often referred to in these pages simply as Chambers.) Prior, with his political experiences now behind him, and with the financial assistance of his Tory friends, turned to writing. His writing, as described by Addison, was neat, colloquial and epigrammatic.

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-Q-

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-R-
Rossetti, Christina (1830-94):
Christina's father was Gabbriele Rossetti (1783-1854), an Italian and a poet, and, who in Italy was the "sometime curator of ancient Bronzes at Naples." Because of the political upheavals which occurred in Italy during the mid 19th century, the senior Rossetti removed himself and his family to London where he became a professor of Italian at the University of London. With this background, it is understandable why the Rossetti children turned to writing poetry. As for Christina: she never married after suffering, early in her life, from an estrangement between herself and a young man. She was a devout Anglican. In much of Christina Rossetti's poetry there is a sense of "melancholy and unhappiness."
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1828-82):
Poet, brother to Christina; in his later days he led the life of almost a recluse at his home, a picturesque old house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea; shortly before his death he moved to Birchington on Sea near Margate, where he died and today lies "in the quiet little village graveyard within sound of the sea."

-S-
Service, Robert Wm. (1874-1958):
A Canadian poet, Service's works are: Songs of a Sourdough (The Spell of the Yukon), which includes "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee" (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1940); Ballads of a Cheechako (New York: Barse & Co., 1907); Rhymes of a Rolling Stone (I have yet to acquire); Rhymes of a Red Cross Man (New York: Barse & Hopkins, 1916); and Ballads of a Bohemian (New York: Barse & Hopkins, 1921). Carl F. Klinck wrote a biography (New York: McGraw-Hill Ryerson limited, 1976).
Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1792-1822):
Shelley learned his lessons in England best. With his move to Italy, he left behind "his crude romances of political martyrdom" and turned to writing his best work ... But Shelley's best poetry was not, however, the best of English poetry ... He was called "the poet of sorrow." "Even in the quieter years in Italy sorrow was still constant to him: ... all the while in cry; in the deaths of his two children; and in an increasing sense of wrongness in his own life and in the world."
Shenstone, William (1714-63):
Having studied at Oxford, Shenstone first published in 1741, The Judgment of Hercules and the following year, The Schoolmistress, which, Chambers says, "foreshadowed the mood of Gray's "Elegy."
Sheridan, Richard Brinsley (1751-1816):
Sheridan bears the label, not so much the poet; but, "British dramatist and politician." He bought the Drury Lane theatre from Garrick in 1776-78. Sheridan's greatest dramatic work was The School for Scandal. In 1780, Sheridan was elected to parliament, and in 1782 became the under-secretary for foreign affairs under Rockingham. He was noted for the speeches he made in the house, particularly on the impeachment of Hastings, and on the French revolution. Sheridan came to be known as the defender and mouthpiece of the prince regent (George IV). In 1806, Sheridan was appointed treasurer to the navy. His political career was over when he lost the election in 1812. Suffering from financial difficulties throughout his life, he died "in great poverty."
Sophocles (c496-405c BC):
The great Greek dramatist, his greatest piece being Oedipus Tyrannus, the title to which, incidentally, Freud seized upon when he coined, on naming one of his theories, the "Oedipus complex."
Southey, Robert (1774-1843):
Southey was expelled from school because of his views in respect to social organization, democracy and absolute equality. He was to marry and settle down to be near the Coleridges in the Lake District, at Keswick (Wordsworth, of course, was their neighbor). He continued to write throughout his life. As Southey became older his political views mellowed, such that he was more the Tory than anything else. The government saw that he got a pension; and from 1813 to his death he was the Poet Laureate.
Swinburne, Algernon Charles (1837-1909):
Swinburne was the son of Admiral and Lady Jane. He was to have all the advantages of an aristocratic upbringing; first Eton, then Balliol. Swinburne was to leave Oxford without taking his degree, and (what else) traveled to the continent; he was to fall "under the spell of Victor Hugo." (Chambers.) On his return to England Swinburne became associated with Rossetti. At some point he was to have a breakdown due to his "intemperate living." For the balance of his life he lived in "semiseclusion." His publication, Poems and Ballads (1865) "took the public by storm." Chambers says he had a "detestation of kings and priests" and continues to point out that he "resented Tennyson's moralistic" approach. "Swinburne represented the last phase of the Romantic movement (see Coleridge and Goethe)."

-T-
Tennyson, Alfred, Lord (1809-92):
Tennyson is considered highly representative of the Victorian age in England. Poets of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who, rebelling against Victorian standards, denounced him for sentimentality, insipidity, intellectual shallowness, and narrow patriotism. I have put up a few of my favourite Tennyson poems: "Break, Break, Break," "The Lotos-eaters," "A River" and "Her Lover's Arm."
Thomson, James (1700-48):
Born in Scotland, Thomson went to London to seek his fortune. He first published Winter in 1726, then Summer in 1727, Spring in 1728 and Autumn appeared in the entire collection which was published in 1730, Four Seasons, his masterpiece. "Thomson stood on the threshold of the Romantic Age. The proper study of mankind was to be no longer man but nature, with science unraveling ever greater harmonies." (Chambers.)

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Virgil (70-19BC):
The greatest of Latin poets: he wrote the Aeneid, the story of Aeneas, a Trojan and the legendary founder of the Roman nation. But it was more then just the Aeneid that Virgil wrote; he wrote much more; and his works, as a group, are classics and were to become textbooks of the western civilization.

-W-
Whitman, Walt (1819-92):
Born on Long Island, New York, Whitman at age eleven became a printer's apprentice and then served as a journeyman. At some point, Whitman turned to writing free-lance. By the age of 16, Whitman was an editor. Some of the greats gave much praise to Whitman: R. L. Stevenson, H. L. Mencken, and, of course, Emerson, who in referring to Leaves of Grass (Whitman's collected works), described it as "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet [in 1855] produced." Whitman, however, had his critics: "rhythm and metre conspicuously absent ... [and he disregards] composition, evolution, vertebration of style, even syntax and the limits of the English tongue ..." (Sir Edmund Gosse.]
Whittier, John Greenleaf (1807-92):
Whittier was a Quaker devoted to social causes and reform. Among his poems are "Marguerite" which dealt with the Acadians and the "World of the Alien People."
Wordsworth, William (1770-1850):
It is in the light of romantic sensibility that we are to consider the writers of that short period know as English Romanticism. The literary production of these writers, this eruption into the fashionable world, made an impact on English poetry and English criticism from which it will never recover. William Wordsworth, the subject of this particular portrait, represents English Romanticism like no other of the age.

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-Y-
Yeats, William Butler (1865-1939):
An Irishman who in his early twenties turned from painting to writing, Yeats is generally considered (Benét's) one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. "The three major concerns of his life -- art, Irish nationalism, and occult studies -- are also central to his poetry and drama. His greatest works is in the poetry of his maturity and old age ..." Yeats was to edit the works of William Blake in 1893. In 1923, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Benét's considered his best poems, to include; "Byzantium," "A Prayer for My Daughter," "Leda and the Swan," "Among School Children," "Lapis Lazuli," "Long-Legged Fly," and "Crazy Jane."
Young, Edward (1683-1765):
Young, the English poet and playwright, is known for his Night Thoughts (1742-44), the longer title being Night Thoughts On Life Death and Immortality, written on the occasion of the death of his wife. Though he aspired early on to the life of the lawyer, Young was to spend "most of his life as a country clergyman." (Benet's.) As for Night Thoughts: "many of its sententious lines have passed into proverbial use; some parts are real poetry." (Chambers.)

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-Z-
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Peter Landry