Poet Laureate

Poet Laureate

A Poet Laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government and is often expected to compose poems for State occasions and other government events. The plural form is poets laureate.

In England, the term has for centuries been the title of the official poet of the monarch, appointed for life since the time of Charles II. Poets laureate are appointed by many countries. In Britain there is also a Children's Laureate.

Origin of the term

In ancient Greece the laurel was sacred to the god Apollo, and was used to form a crown or wreath of honour for poets and heroes. This custom has since become widespread, both in fact and as a metaphor. The word "laureate" or "laureated" thus came in English to signify eminence or association with glory. "Laureate letters" were once the despatches announcing a victory. The term "laureate" became associated with degrees awarded by European universities (the term "baccalaureate" for the degree of bachelor reflects this idea). As a royal degree in rhetoric, "poet laureate" was awarded at European universities in the Middle Ages. The term might also refer to the holder of such a degree, which recognised skill in rhetoric, grammar and language.

According to the historian Edward Gibbon, Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304–74) of Rome, perhaps best known for his sonnets to the fair-haired, blue-eyed Laura, took the title of "poet laureate" in 1341 for the poem "Africa".


From the more general use of the term "poet laureate" arose its restriction in England to an official office of Poet Laureate, attached to the royal household. James I essentially created the position as it is known today for Ben Jonson in 1617, although Jonson's appointment does not seem to have been formally made. The office was a development from the practice of earlier times when minstrels and versifiers formed part of the King's retinue. Richard Coeur de Lion had a "versificator Regis" (King's Poet), Gulielmus Peregrinus, and Henry III had a versificator named (Master Henry). In the 15th century, John Kay, also a "versifier", described himself as Edward IV's "humble poet laureate".

No single authentic definitive record exists of the office of Poet Laureate of England. According to Wharton, Henry I paid 10 shillings a year to a Versificator Regis. Geoffrey Chaucer 1340–1400 was called Poet Laureate, being granted in 1389 an annual allowance of wine. W. Hamilton classes Chaucer, Gower, Kay, Andrew Bernard, Skelton, Robert Whittington, Richard Edwards, Spenser and Samuel Daniel, as "volunteer Laureates".

John Skelton studied at Oxford University in the early 1480s, and was advanced to the degree of "poet laureate" in 1488. The title of laureate was also conferred on him by the University of Louvain in 1492, and by Cambridge University in 1492–3. He soon became famous for rhetoric, satire and translations. In 1488 Skelton joined the court of Henry VII, tutored Henry VIII and was the official royal poet for most of the next 40 years. He was held in high esteem: "But I pray mayster John Skelton, late created poete laureate in the unyversite of Oxenforde, to oversee and correct this sayd booke" — Caxton in the preface to "The Boke of Eneydos compyled by Vargyle" 1490.

The title of Poet Laureate, as a royal office, was first conferred by letters patent on John Dryden in 1670, two years after Davenant's death. The post then became a regular institution. Dryden's successor Shadwell originated annual birthday and New Year odes. The poet laureate became responsible for writing and presenting official verses to commemorate both personal occasions, such as the monarch's birthday or royal births and marriages, and public occasions, such as coronations and military victories. His activity in this respect has varied according to circumstances, and the custom ceased to be obligatory after Pye's death. The office fell into some contempt before Southey, but took on a new lustre from his personal distinction and that of Wordsworth and Tennyson. Wordsworth stipulated, before accepting the honour, that no formal effusions from him should be considered a necessity; but Tennyson was generally happy in his numerous poems of this class.

On Tennyson's death there was a considerable feeling that no possible successor was acceptable, William Morris and Swinburne being hardly suitable as 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 allowing anyone of inferior genius to follow Tennyson. It may be noted that abolition had been similarly advocated when Warton and Wordsworth died. Edward Gibbon had condemned the position's artificial approach to poetry:

The salary has varied, but traditionally includes some alcohol. Ben Jonson first received a pension of 100 marks, and later an annual "terse of Canary wine". Dryden had a pension of £300 and a butt of Canary wine. Pye received £27 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".

List of Poets Laureate of England


* Gulielmus Peregrinus employed by Richard Coeur de Lion
* Master Henry was Versificator Regis, or King's Poet employed by Henry III (according to Thomas Warton)
* Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 13431400)
* John Kay in the reign of Edward IV, 146183

Under the Tudors

* Bernard André of Toulouse (1450–1522), author of "Vita regis Henrici Septimi" called himself Poet Laureate under Henry VII
* John Skelton was the Poet Laureate under Henry VIII
* Edmund Spenser died in 1599

From 1599 to the Present

* 1599: Samuel Daniel
* 1619: Ben Jonson
* 1637: Sir William Davenant (a godson of William Shakespeare)
* 1668: John Dryden
* 1688: Thomas Shadwell
* 1692: Nahum Tate
* 1715: Nicholas Rowe
* 1718: Reverend Laurence Eusden
* 1730: Colley Cibber
* 1757: William Whitehead, on the refusal of Thomas Gray
* 1785: Reverend Thomas Warton, on the refusal of William Mason
* 1790: Henry James Pye
* 1813: Robert Southey, on the refusal of Sir Walter Scott
* 1843: William Wordsworth
* 1896: Alfred Austin, on the refusal of William Morris
* 1913: Robert Bridges
* 1930: John Masefield, OM
* 1967: Cecil Day-Lewis , CBE
* 1972: Sir John Betjeman, CBE
* 1984: Ted Hughes, OM, on the refusal of Philip Larkin
* 1999: Andrew Motion (for a ten year period)

Poets Laureate in other countries

Other countries have established similar official posts.


The Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate is appointed as an officer of the Library of Parliament. The position alternates between a english and french speaking laureate each term. Candidates must be able to write in both English and French, must have a substantial publication history (including poetry) displaying literary excellence and must have written work reflecting Canada, among other criteria.

The first ever Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate was awarded to George Bowering in 2002. In 2004, the title was transferred to Pauline Michel and in 2006 to John Steffler. His term ends on December 3, 2008. Nominations for the position are open to residents of Canada, and must be submitted by September 30th.


The "Scots Makar" is the unpaid equivalent of a poet laureate to represent and promote poetry in Scotland. On 16 February, 2004, Professor Edwin Morgan was named to the post.

United States

The United States Library of Congress has since 1937 appointed an official Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. An Act of Congress changed the name of the position in 1985 to "Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress".

U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan received her appointment July 17, 2008.

Previous U.S. Poets Laureate have included Charles Simic, Rita Dove, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, Karl Shapiro, Robert Penn Warren, Joseph Brodsky, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Hass, Donald Hall, Robert Pinsky, Billy Collins, Mark Strand, and Ted Kooser, among others. On June 17, 2008, the Library of Congress announced Kay Ryan as the country's sixteenth Poet Laureate. Laureates receive a US$35,000 stipend and are given the responsibility of overseeing an ongoing series of poetry readings and lectures at the library, and a vague charge to promote poetry. No other duties are specified, and laureates are not required to compose for government events or in praise of government officials.

Many U.S. states also have official Poets Laureate, as well as a few cities. Most holders of the title reach eminence by public competition; some have also inspired controversy by what they do in office and, as in the case of Amiri Baraka, have sometimes been removed.Fact|date=August 2008


Wales has had a long tradition of poets and bards under royal patronage, with extant writing from mediæval royal poets and earlier. An office of National Poet for Wales was established in April 2005. The first holder, Gwyneth Lewis, was followed by Gwyn Thomas.

New Zealand

New Zealand has only had an official poet laureate for a few years. Originally sponsored by Te Mata vineyards and known as the Te Mata Estate Poet Laureate, the award is now administered by the National Library of New Zealand and the holder is officially called New Zealand Poet Laureate. The post is held for two years.

The first holder of the title was Bill Manhire who held the post of Poet Laureate from 1998-99. Other former Poets Laureate include, Hone Tuwhare (2000-01), Elizabeth Smither (2002-03), Brian Turner (2004-05) and Jenny Bornholdt (2006-07). The current (2008-09) Poet Laureate is Michele Leggott [ [http://www.nzherald.co.nz/category/story.cfm?c_id=18&objectid=10480540 New Zealand Herald article] ] .


Kannadasan was the poet laureate of Tamil Nadu at the time of his death.

William Auld is sometimes considered the poet laureate of Esperantujo.

Hanns Johst was poet leaureate of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945.

External links

* [http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/people/poet/index.asp?lang=e Poet Laureate of Canada]

* [http://www.und.ac.za/und/carts/pa2001bios10.html#Mazisi%20Kunene%20(SA) Poets Laureate of South Africa]
* [http://www.loc.gov/poetry/laureate.html List of U.S. Poets Laureate]
* [http://www.sfbayview.com/052902/laureatedevorahmajor052902.html Poet Laureate for San Francisco (official site, Library of Congress)]


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  • Poet laureate — (von lat. poeta laureatus = lorbeergekrönter Dichter) ist im Vereinigten Königreich und den USA ein jeweils von Staats wegen besonders ausgezeichneter Dichter. Die Bezeichnung kommt aus der antiken Tradition, hervorragende Dichter mit einem… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Poet Laureate — (von lat. poeta laureatus = lorbeergekrönter Dichter) ist im Vereinigten Königreich und den USA ein jeweils von Staats wegen besonders ausgezeichneter Dichter. Die Bezeichnung kommt aus der antiken Tradition, hervorragende Dichter mit einem… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Poet laureate — Laureate Lau re*ate, a. [L. laureatus, fr. laurea laurel tree, fr. laureus of laurel, fr. laurus laurel: cf. F. laur[ e]at. Cf. {Laurel}.] Crowned, or decked, with laurel. Chaucer. [1913 Webster] To strew the laureate hearse where Lycid lies.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Poet laureate — Poet Po et, n. [F. po[ e]te, L. po[ e]ta, fr. Gr. ?, fr. ? to make. Cf. {Poem}.] One skilled in making poetry; one who has a particular genius for metrical composition; the author of a poem; an imaginative thinker or writer. [1913 Webster] The… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • poet laureate — n. pl. poets laureate or poet laureates 1. the court poet of England, appointed for life by the monarch, traditionally to write poems celebrating official occasions, national events, etc. 2. the official or most respected poet of any specific… …   English World dictionary

  • poet laureate — plural poets laureate n a poet who is chosen by a king, queen, president etc to write poems on important national occasions …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Poet Laureate — The plural is Poets Laureate, although Poet Laureates is often used …   Modern English usage

  • Poet Laureate — ► NOUN (pl. Poets Laureate) ▪ a poet appointed by the British sovereign to write poems for royal and official occasions …   English terms dictionary

  • Poet laureate —   [ poʊɪt lɔːrɪət, englisch; vergleiche Poeta laureatus], in England inoffiziell zuerst an B. Jonson, offiziell zuerst an J. Dryden verliehenes, honoriertes Hofamt, früher mit der Verpflichtung verbunden, zu feierlichen Anlässen Gedichte zu… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • poet laureate — pl. poets laureate. 1. (in Great Britain) a poet appointed for life as an officer of the royal household, formerly expected to write poems in celebration of court and national events. 2. a poet recognized or acclaimed as the most eminent or… …   Universalium

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