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In English, the word laureate has come to signify eminence or association with literary awards or military glory. It is also used for recipients of the Nobel Prize, the Gandhi Peace Award, the Student Peace Prize, and for former music directors of orchestras who retain some level of involvement.
In ancient Greece, the laurel (Laurus nobilis) was sacred to Apollo, and as such, sprigs of it were fashioned into a crown or wreath of honor for poets and heroes.This symbolism has been widespread ever since. "Laureate letters" in old times meant the dispatches announcing a victory; and the epithet was given, even officially (e.g. to John Skelton) by universities, to distinguished poets.
The name of "bacca-laureate" for a bachelor's degree shows a confusion with a supposed etymology from Latin bacca lauri (the laurel berry), which, though incorrect, involves the same idea. From the more general use of the term "poet laureate" arose its restriction in England to the office of the poet attached to the royal household, first held by Ben Jonson, for whom the position was, in its essentials, created by Charles I of England in 1617. Jonson's appointment does not seem to have been formally made as poet laureate, but his position was equivalent to that. The office was a development of the practice of earlier times, when minstrels and versifiers were part of the retinue of the King; it is recorded that Richard the Lionheart had a versificator regis (Gulielmus Peregrinus), and Henry III of England had a versificator (Master Henry); in the 15th century John Kay, also a versifier, described himself as Edward IV of England's "humble poet laureate." Moreover, the crown had shown its patronage in various ways; Chaucer had been given a pension and a perquisite of wine by Edward III of England, and Spenser a pension by Queen Elizabeth I. W. Hamilton classes Chaucer, Gower, John Kay, Andrew Bernard, John Skelton, Robert Whittington, Richard Edwards, Spenser and Samuel Daniel, as "volunteer Laureates."
Sir William Davenant succeeded Jonson in 1638, and the title of poet laureate was conferred by letters patent on John Dryden in 1670 two years after Davenant's death, coupled with a pension of £300 and a butt of Canary Islands wine (also known as Sack (wine)). The post then became a regular institution, though the emoluments varied, Dryden's successors being T. Shadwell, who originated annual birthday and New Year odes; Nahum Tate; Nicholas Rowe; Laurence Eusden; Colley Cibber; William Whitehead; Thomas Warton; Henry James Pye; Robert Southey; William Wordsworth; Alfred Tennyson; and, four years after Tennyson's death, Alfred Austin. The office took on a new luster from the personal distinction of Southey, Wordsworth and Tennyson; it had fallen into contempt before Southey, and on Tennyson's death there was a considerable feeling that no possible successor was acceptable, William Morris and Algernon Charles Swinburne being hardly court poets. Eventually, however, the undesirability of breaking with tradition for temporary reasons, and thus severing the one official link between literature and the state, prevailed over the protests against following Tennyson by any one of inferior genius. Abolition was similarly advocated when Thomas Warton and William Wordsworth died. The poet laureate, being a court official, was considered responsible for producing formal and appropriate verses on birthdays and state occasions; but his activity in this respect has varied, according to circumstances, and the custom ceased to be obligatory after Pye's death. Wordsworth stipulated, before accepting the honor, that no formal effusions from him should be considered a necessity; but Tennyson was generally happy in his numerous poems of this class. The emoluments of the post have varied; Ben Jonson first received a pension of 100 marks, and later an annual "terse of Canary wine." To Pye an allowance of £27 was made instead of the wine. Tennyson drew £72 a year from the Lord Chamberlain's department, and £27 from the Lord Steward's in lieu of the "butt of sack."
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A poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government or conferring institution, typically expected to compose poems for special events and occasions. Albertino Mussato of Padua and Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) of Arezzo were the first to be crowned poets laureate after the classical age, respectively in 1315 and 1342. In Britain, the term dates from the appointment of Bernard André by Henry VII of England. The royal office of Poet Laureate in England dates from the appointment of John Dryden in 1668.
The Spenserian stanza is a fixed verse form invented by Edmund Spenser for his epic poem The Faerie Queene (1590–96). Each stanza contains nine lines in total: eight lines in iambic pentameter followed by a single 'alexandrine' line in iambic hexameter. The rhyme scheme of these lines is ABABBCBCC.
Thomas Warton was an English literary historian, critic, and poet. He was appointed Poet Laureate in 1785, following the death of William Whitehead (poet). He is sometimes called Thomas Warton the younger to distinguish him from his father Thomas Warton the elder. His most famous poem is The Pleasures of Melancholy, a representative work of the Graveyard poets.
Sir William Davenant, also spelled D'Avenant, was an English poet and playwright. Along with Thomas Killigrew, Davenant was one of the rare figures in English Renaissance theatre whose career spanned both the Caroline and Restoration eras and who was active both before and after the English Civil War and during the Interregnum.
The Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics is a popular anthology of English poetry, originally selected for publication by Francis Turner Palgrave in 1861. It was considerably revised, with input from Tennyson, about three decades later. Palgrave excluded all poems by poets then still alive.
Henry James Pye was an English poet, and Poet Laureate from 1790 until his death. His appointment owed nothing to poetic achievement, and was probably a reward for political favours. Pye was merely a competent prose writer, who fancied himself as a poet, earning the derisive label of poetaster.
The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1900 is an anthology of English poetry, edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch, that had a very substantial influence on popular taste and perception of poetry for at least a generation. It was published by Oxford University Press in 1900; in its india-paper form it was carried widely around the British Empire and in war as a 'knapsack book'. It sold close to 500,000 copies in its first edition. In 1939, the editor revised it, deleting several poems that he regretted including and adding instead many poems published before 1901 as well as poems published up to 1918. The second edition is now available online.
The New Oxford Book of English Verse 1250–1950 is a poetry anthology edited by Helen Gardner, and published in New York and London in 1972 by Clarendon Press. It was intended as a replacement for the older Quiller-Couch Oxford Book of English Verse. Selections were largely restricted to British and Irish poets.
The Oxford University Press published a long series of poetry anthologies, dealing in particular with British poetry but not restricted to it, after the success of the Oxford Book of English Verse (1900). The Oxford poetry anthologies are traditionally seen as 'establishment' in attitude, and routinely therefore are subjects of discussion and contention. They have been edited both by well-known poets and by distinguished academics. In the limited perspective of canon-formation, they have mostly been retrospective and well-researched, rather than breaking fresh ground.
Several anthologies of religious poetry have been published by Oxford University Press.
Poetaster, like rhymester or versifier, is a derogatory term applied to bad or inferior poets. Specifically, poetaster has implications of unwarranted pretensions to artistic value. The word was coined in Latin by Erasmus in 1521. It was first used in English by Ben Jonson in his 1600 play Cynthia's Revels; immediately afterwards Jonson chose it as the title of his 1601 play Poetaster. In that play the "poetaster" character is a satire on John Marston, one of Jonson's rivals in the Poetomachia or War of the Theatres.
John Skelton, also known as John Shelton, possibly born in Diss, Norfolk, was an English poet and tutor to King Henry VIII of England. Skelton died in Westminster and was buried in St. Margaret's Church, although no trace of the tomb remains.
Gondibert is an epic poem by William Davenant. In it he attempts to combine the five-act structure of English Renaissance drama with the Homeric and Virgilian epic literary tradition. Davenant also sought to incorporate modern philosophical theories about government and passion, based primarily in the work of Thomas Hobbes, to whom Davenant sent drafts of the poem for review.
The Library Edition of the British Poets was the title given to a 48-volume edition of the works of British poets, published between 1853 and 1860 by James Nichol of Edinburgh, edited, with lives of the authors, critical dissertations and explanatory notes, by the Rev. George Gilfillan. All the poets included were dead by the date of publication, and nearly all were born before 1770. The English Romantic poets were thus omitted from the collection.
Sack is an antiquated wine term referring to white fortified wine imported from mainland Spain or the Canary Islands. There was sack of different origins such as:
Decasyllabic quatrain is a poetic form in which each stanza consists of four lines of ten syllables each, usually with a rhyme scheme of AABB or ABAB. Examples of the decasyllabic quatrain in heroic couplets appear in some of the earliest texts in the English language, as Geoffrey Chaucer created the heroic couplet and used it in The Canterbury Tales. The alternating form came to prominence in late 16th-Century English poetry and became fashionable in the 17th Century when it appeared in heroic poems by William Davenant and John Dryden. In the 18th Century famous poets such as Thomas Gray continued to use the form in works such as "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard". Shakespearean Sonnets, comprising 3 quatrains of iambic pentameter followed by a final couplet, as well as later poems in blank verse have displayed the various uses of the decasyllabic quatrain throughout the history of English Poetry.
The British Poet Laureate is an honorary position appointed by the monarch of the United Kingdom, currently on the advice of the prime minister. The role does not entail any specific duties, but there is an expectation that the holder will write verse for significant national occasions. The origins of the laureateship date back to 1616 when a pension was provided to Ben Jonson, but the first official holder of the position was John Dryden, appointed in 1668 by Charles II. On the death of Alfred Lord Tennyson, who held the post between November 1850 and October 1892, there was a break of four years as a mark of respect; Tennyson's laureate poems "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington" and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" were particularly cherished by the Victorian public. Three poets, Thomas Gray, Samuel Rogers and Walter Scott, turned down the laureateship. The holder of the position as at January 2022 is Simon Armitage who succeeded Carol Ann Duffy in May 2019.
Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature.
Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature.
John Kay was a fifteenth-century English poet who described himself as the versificator regis to Edward IV of England. If it ever existed, none of his poetic work remains.