English Poetry Timeline and Chronology
English Literature Timeline and Chronology
World Literature Timeline and Chronology
This is a timeline of English poetry and literature, from the earliest Celtic,
Gaelic, Druidic, Anglo-Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman works, to the present day. All
dates are AD or CE (current era) unless otherwise specified. Some dates are
approximations or "educated guesses." Considerable information was
extracted from wiki and other public web pages (we do not claim everything here
to be stunningly original). You can click
on any hyperlinked poem title or writer name to "drill down."
If you are a student or independent scholar, this page may be a
valuable resource and because it is updated frequently, you may want to bookmark it.
Here you can find the answers to questions such as: "Who wrote the first English
poem, the first sonnet, the first limerick, the first villanelle, the first free verse poem?"
You can also learn how a seemingly innocent book of common prayer led to the
English Civil War and eventually to King Charles I loosing
his crown (not to mention his head!). And you can learn the name of the English
poet who invented the flush toilet! If
for something in particular, you can use your browser's search function
or CTRL-F to find a keyword. If you're a student who "doesn't like poetry" and
is only here grudgingly because of a school assignment, please reconsider. Do
you like music: pop, rock, country, bluegrass, folk, traditional, hymns, r&b, hip-hop, rap, soul, blues,
jazz, classical and/or opera? If so, the vast majority of all such songs are rhyming poems set to music. So unless you
dislike all the words of
every song you have ever heard, you
really do like some poetry, after all! Perhaps you should have an open mind and read
a few of the poems you find hyperlinked on this page. ;-)
This page is organized as follows, with the names of the major writers and
events either bolded or hyperlinked:
"The Phases of English Poetry" is our most compressed outline, quickly covering
the evolution of English poetry from Prehistoric, to Celtic, to Anglo-Roman, to Anglo-Saxon, to Anglo-Norman, and
"A Brief History of English Poetry" quickly "hits the highlights" with our top
50 events in the evolution of English poetry.
Our "Top Ten" lists allow you quickly find the best poets and poems, in our
estimation and in the estimation of other critics and publications.
The following sections then go into considerably more detail, covering each major
period from Prehistoric to the more obscure schools of English Modernism, such as
Imagism, Vorticism and Projectivism.
As we begin our quest for knowledge, let's keep in mind that the English words
"story" and "history" derive from the same Latin root, historia. Before
writing existed, all knowledge had to be passed down orally, and much of it was
passed down as poetry, because poetry is easier to remember "faithfully" than
prose. We can all remember nursery rhymes and the lyrics of our favorite songs
(most of which are rhyming poems set to music). Some of the poems on this
page, as ancient as they may be in their written forms, may be much older if
they were passed down from generation to generation orally. If the first poem of
the British Isles that we mention, the
Song of Amergin,
really dates back to the first Celts who invaded and settled the region, then
Robert Graves' suggested date of 1268 BC may be plausible. But the honest truth is
that no one really knows how far back in time some of these poems go. The tales
of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere and Gawain (who predates Lancelot) appear to be
based on ancient Celtic histories, legends and/or myths that pre-date the
chivalric period in which they were later set and recast. There is nothing
"wrong" with delighting in (or even preferring) the sanitized and Christianized
versions of such stories/histories, but it can be very interesting to explore
the mistier (and often darker) originals. I have come to prefer the originals
myself, but to each his/her own.―Michael R. Burch, editor, The HyperTexts
Our top twenty poets of all time: Homer (?), Sappho (630-570 BC), Pindar
(521-442 BC), Virgil (70-19 BC), Rumi (1207-1273), Dante (1265-1321), Petrarch
(1304-1374), Chaucer (1340-1400), Shakespeare (1564-1616), Milton (1608-1674),
Basho (1644-1694), Goethe (1749-1832), Blake
(1757-1827), Burns (1759-1796), Pushkin (1799-1837), Whitman (1819-1892),
Dickinson (1830-1886), Baudelaire (1821-1867), Yeats (1865-1939), Neruda
The Phases of English Poetry (there is some "crossover"
between political and literary periods so our main periods are underlined and
Our top fifty English language poets in chronological order: Geoffrey Chaucer,
Sir Thomas Wyatt, Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare, John
Donne, Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick, John Milton, William Blake, Robert Burns,
William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Alfred
Tennyson, Robert Browning, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Christian Rossetti,
Thomas Hardy, Gerard Manley Hopkins, A. E. Housman, William Butler Yeats, Ernest
Dowson, Edward Arlington Robinson, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, D. H.
Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Robinson Jeffers, T. S. Eliot, Conrad Aiken, Archibald
MacLeish, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wilfred Owen, e. e. cummings, Louise Bogan,
Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Hayden, Dylan
Thomas, Robert Lowell, Richard Wilbur, Philip Larkin, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia
Plath, Seamus Heaney
5600 BC Rising seas separate England from the European
mainland; one consequence is that the natives' language begins to evolve
separately from (and quite differently to) its continental peers ...
1268 BC Possible date for the first Celtic songs and poems such as the
Song of Amergin, but dating such orally-transmitted works of the
Prehistoric Period (?-55 BC) is a
highly speculative endeavor!
55 BC Julius Caesar invades England; this begins the
(55 BC-410 AD), in which Latin becomes the primary language of
the rulers, clergy and scholars. Native poetry remains oral.
410 AD Rome is sacked by Visigoths and the Roman legions no longer occupy and
defend England. Germanic tribes soon invade England. Thus begins the
Old English Period (410-1066).
Caedmon's Hymn, the
oldest authenticated English poem, marks the
beginning of what came to be known as English poetry (although it was
Anglo-Saxon and thus heavily Germanic at the time).
950 The Exeter Book contains the first
English poems likely written by women,
Wulf and Eadwacer
The Wife's Lament,
riddles and kennings and the first known English rhyming poem.
1066 William the Conqueror wins the Battle of Hastings; this Norman Conquest of England
begins the Anglo-Norman or Middle English Period
(1066-1340). The elites prefer French and Latin to English.
Now skruketh rose and lylie flour is one of the earliest and best English
love poems, circa the 11th century AD.
1154 The Plantagenet Period (1154-1485) was primarily political and because the
Plantagenets were still
French Normans, we will mark our next period by a different
kind of coronation, in 1340 ...
How Long the Night
("Myrie it is while sumer
ylast") is one of the best rhyming poems of the Middle
English period; it remains largely understandable to modern English readers;
also the first
Sumer is icumen in and other early rhyming poems include
Fowles in the Frith,
am of Irlaunde ("I am of Ireland"),
Now Goeth Sun Under Wood,
Pity Mary, and Alison.
1340 Birth of Geoffrey Chaucer, the first major poet to write
in vernacular English. Thus begins the Late Middle
English Period (1340-1503). Poets of note include John Skelton
and William Dunbar.
1350 Around this time there is an Alliterative Revival, led by the Gawain/Pearl
poet; important poems of this genre include Piers Plowman, Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Patience and Cleanness.
1430 A "haunting riddle-chant" from this era is
I Have a Yong Suster ("I Have a Young Sister"), an anonymous Medieval English
riddle-poem that has also been described as a popular song and a folk song.
1485 The Tudor Period (1457-1603) ends the Middle Ages; Henry VII has a court where
English ruled over French, finally! But we will mark our next period by
the birth of the first great modern English poet ...
1503 Birth of
Thomas Wyatt; he and Henry Howard introduce
the sonnet, iambic pentameter and blank verse to England, beginning the
English Renaissance or Early Modern English Period
1532 The English Reformation Period (1532-1649) was more religious and
political than poetic, but John Milton was a major voice for
reform while Cavalier poets supported the monarchy.
1532 Birth of Sir Walter Ralegh (or Raleigh), who may have
written the first major protest poem, "The Lie." He was sentenced to the Tower
of London and beheaded, despite all his services to the crown.
1532 Birth of Edmund Spenser, a major English poet. He would
single-handedly create the modern English style of poetry: "fluid," "limpid,"
"translucent" and "graceful," while introducing humanism.
1558 The Elizabethan Period (1558-1603) was incredibly fertile, with major
works by Spenser, Ralegh, Philip Sidney, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson
and William Shakespeare.
1564 Birth of William Shakespeare, one of the
world's greatest poets, playwrights and songwriters.
He is justly famous for Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello
and other major works.
1572 Birth of John Donne, the first and most
prominent of the
Metaphysical school of poets (1572-1695), which included George Herbert, Andrew Marvell,
Richard Crashaw and Henry Vaughn.
1591 Birth of Robert Herrick, first of the Cavalier school
of poets (1591-1674), which included Richard Lovelace, Sir John Suckling and Thomas Carew.
They were also called the "tribe of Ben [Jonson]."
Jacobean/Caroline/Interregnum/Restoration Period (1603-1690)
sees the King James Bible, Shakespeare's later plays, and major works
Milton, including his masterpiece Paradise Lost.
1532 Birth of John Milton, generally considered to
be the second-greatest English poet, after Shakespeare. He is best-known for his
epic poems Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.
1620 The Pilgrims set sail for America in the Mayflower.
Harold Bloom has called Tom
O'Bedlam's Song "all but High Romantic
vision," which would put it around two hundred years ahead of its time!
1690 The Augustan Period (1690-1756) is marked by the sophisticated,
witty work of poets like Alexander Pope, John Dryden, Samuel Johnson and
Jonathan Swift. (But it seems like a dry spell today.)
1750 Edward Young's
melancholic Night-Thoughts, later illustrated by William Blake in 1797,
would become a
major influence on Romantics to follow, including Blake and Goethe.
1752 Birth of
Thomas Chatterton, called the "marvellous boy"
and a primary influence by William Wordsworth. Although he died at age seventeen, Chatterton has been called the first
1757 Birth of William Blake, the first major poet of the
English Romantic Period (1757-1837);
others include Robert Burns, Wordsworth,
Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats.
1836 Ralph Waldo Emerson is a founder of the Transcendental Club,
which includes writers such as Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bronson
Alcott and Louisa May Alcott.
1837 The Victorian Period (1837-1901) is marked by the work of
Alfred Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Gerard Manley Hopkins,
John Clare, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
1848 The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848-1882) was founded by the
poet/artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti and two other artists; aligned poets include
Christina Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne.
1855 Walt Whitman self-publishes Leaves of Grass,
a landmark work of Early Modernism (1855-1901) that rocks the Victorians to their whalebone
corsets! Emily Dickinson is another unique voice.
1867 Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach has been called a
masterpiece of Early
Modernism, employing irregular rhyme and form, skepticism,
pessimism, and exhibiting a crisis of faith in both God and mankind.
1890 Fin-de-siθcle (1890-1900) poets who took notes from the French symbolists
include William Butler Yeats, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson,
Arthur Symons, Oscar Wilde and Swinburne.
1901 The Edwardian/Georgian Period (1901-1936) is brief but fecund, with
Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman,
Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas and Walter de la Mare.
1909 Two poems published by T. E Hulme are considered to be the
beginning of the modernist movement called Imagism (1909-1919); its leading
poets and critics would be Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot.
1914 Ezra Pound quickly became dissatisfied with the work of Imagists
like Amy Lowell, and founded a new movement called Vorticism (1913-1918), but it
did not take off with the public.
1950 Charles Olson called Pound and other Imagists "inferior
predecessors" and created a new school of poetry, Projectivism (1950-1950),
which also did not take off.
1901 The leading voices of Modernism and
Postmodernism (1901-Present) include poets such as William Butler Yeats,
Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens,
William Carlos Williams, D. H.
Lawrence, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay,
Wilfred Owen, e. e. cummings, Louise Bogan, Hart Crane,
Langston Hughes, W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell,
Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath and Seamus Heaney. We
would also include outstanding singer-songwriters such as Leonard Cohen, Sam Cooke,
Bob Dylan, Eminem, Woody Guthrie, Michael Jackson, Carole King, John Lennon,
Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Prince, Smokey Robinson, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen
and Hank Williams Sr. Of course there are many other
worthy names―too many to mention them all here. So anyone who says that poetry is
"dead" or "dying" is obviously just not listening! Phases
and schools of poetry in modern times include Imagism (Pound, Eliot), Vorticism
(Pound), Projectivism (Olson), Cubism (cummings), Confessionalism (Lowell, Plath,
Anne Sexton), New Romanticism
(Dylan Thomas), The Beats (Allen Ginsberg), New Formalism (Richard Wilbur),
Surrealism, Futurism, Expressionism, Orphism, Purism, Dadism, Constructivism, and other -isms too numerous (and obscure) to name!
A Brief History of English Poetry (if you only have
time for the highest of the highlights, these are our top 50 events)
5600 BC Previously, human beings could walk to England because it was a peninsula
of Europe! But rising sea levels due to massive ice melts create an island with
around 5,000 stranded hunter-gatherers.
3000 The first smaller henges are dug out locally at Stonehenge but the native
Britons remain prehistoric, lacking any writing. Songs and poems passed down
orally are difficult or impossible to date ...
Song of Amergin may be the oldest poem related to the British
Isles, but everything about it remains a mystery, so your guess is as good as
ours! (Robert Graves provided this speculative date.)
55 Julius Caesar invades England, creating a Roman
beachhead on the coast of Kent. The following year he invades again, bringing a
third of England under Roman influence (but not yet under Roman rule).
43 AD The Roman Emperor Claudius invades England with four legions and Roman rule is established.
The Roman city Londinium (London) is founded. Formal writing will hence be in
122 The Roman Emperor Hadrian visits England; construction of Hadrian's
Wall begins. The Romans would never conquer the Scottish Picts who lived north
of Hadrian's Wall. English elites study Latin.
410 Rome is sacked by Visigoths: the Roman Empire is collapsing. Emperor
Honorius informs Romano-Britons that they must defend themselves. Britons are
once again independent, but imperiled ...
449 Anglo-Saxons under Hengist and Horsa invade England after the Roman
legions leave. England will take its name from the Angles, a Germanic tribe, as
the lingo slowly becomes more Germanic.
500 Birth of Gildas, perhaps the first notable English writer we know by name
(although he was born in Scotland and wrote in Latin, and thus may not really
qualify). Latin remains the language of the elites.
Caedmon's Hymn, the
oldest authenticated English poem, marks the
beginning of what came to be known as English poetry (although it was
Anglo-Saxon and thus heavily Germanic at the time).
680 Possible date for the composition of the epic poem Beowulf, a
masterpiece of Old English (Anglo-Saxon) poetry. The tale is set in the late
fifth century but may have been composed later.
Bede's Death Song
may have been written on his deathbed by the Venerable Bede, a notable scholar
and translator who has been called the "father of English history."
871 King Alfred the Great unites the Anglo-Saxons, defeats
the Danes and becomes the first king of a united England able to "keep things
together." He was also a notable scholar, writer and translator.
890 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the first known comprehensive attempt at an English
history. It has been called "the single most important source for the history of
England in Anglo-Saxon times."
900 Deor, an Anglo-Saxon scop, is writing poems such as
perhaps during the reign of King Alfred the Great (849-899), the most literate
of the Anglo-Saxon kings.
950 The Exeter Book may contain the first extant
English poems written by women:
Wulf and Eadwacer
The Wife's Lament.
The Exeter Book also contains
riddles and kennings.
1066 William the Conqueror defeats Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings; this Norman Conquest of England marks the end of the Anglo-Saxon era.
1117 The University of Oxford is founded.
How Long the Night
("Myrie it is while sumer
ylast") is one of the great early rhyming poems of the Middle
English period. The
oldest known English ballad is Judas, circa the 13th century.
1215 The Magna Carta, drafted in French, forces King John to grant
liberties and rights to Englishmen in return for taxation. French and Latin
remain the languages of choice for nobles and scholars.
Sumer is icumen in is a
medieval English round, or rota. It came with a musical score and instructions
for the singing of rounds, in Latin! It is one of the oldest songs that can
still be sung today.
1340 Birth of Geoffrey Chaucer, the first major poet to write
in vernacular English (the language the people actually spoke). In that respect,
Chaucer was to English as Dante was to Italian.
1455 The Guttenberg Bible is the first book printed with moveable
type. Printed books would lead to an explosion of knowledge and allow education
to advance around the world.
1476 William Caxton prints Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. But it was not
the first English book printed with moveable type, as Caxton published his
translation of the history of Troy first!
1492 Columbus discovers San Salvador and the Americas.
King James IV of Scotland concludes an alliance with France against England.
William Dunbar writes court poetry for James IV.
1503 Birth of
Thomas Wyatt, perhaps the first modern English poet.
Sweet Rose of Virtue
Lament for the Makaris
appear in the first book of Scottish poems.
1517 Martin Luther, a professor of moral theology at Wittenberg, publishes his 95 theses against the Roman Catholic Church,
kick-starting the Protestant Reformation.
1534 Around this time, Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard
introduce the English sonnet, modeled after the Petrarchan sonnet. The sonnet
would become the most popular English poetic form.
1552 Births of Walter Ralegh and Edmund Spenser; the latter was perhaps the first
great English Romantic poet and the precursor of Milton and the great Romantic
poets to come (see 1789).
1564 Births of the English poets and playwrights Christopher Marlowe and
William Shakespeare; the latter
is generally considered to be the greatest English poet and playwright.
1579 Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender has been called "the first
work of the English literary Renaissance." With his liquid rhythms Spenser
influenced the modern English poetic style.
1608 John Milton is born; John Donne writes his Holy Sonnets;
Shakespeare completes his sonnets and his plays are being performed: Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear,
1611 The King James Bible is published in still-readable English. It
contains some of the earliest and best free verse in the English language, such
as the highly poetic Song of Solomon.
1623 Publication of Shakespeare's First Folio. Ben Jonson
and his "tribe" are on the rise: Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Thomas
Carew, Sir John Suckling, Edmund Waller, et al.
1649 King Charles I is found guilty of high treason, then executed by beheading. Oliver Cromwell
becomes England's Lord Protector and Regent in 1653. Milton supports and lauds
1658 As Oliver Cromwell's death throws England back into chaos, John Milton works on his masterpiece, Paradise Lost,
perhaps using aspects of the English Civil War for
1742 Thomas Gray begins writing his masterpiece, Elegy Written in
a Country Churchyard. It may have been the first major work of English
1757 Birth of William Blake, perhaps the
greatest of the English Romantic poets and also a great artist and engraver.
Blake is perhaps the first anti-establishment poet, but would start a trend!
1759 Birth of the Scottish Romantic poet
generally considered to be the greatest Scottish poet of all time. Like Blake,
he would be a stern critic of kings, state and church.
1776 American colonists defiantly declare independence with words written in
ringing iambic pentameter by Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin: "We hold these
truths to be self-evident ..."
1789 The French Revolution greatly influences English Romantic poets: William
Blake, Robert Burns, William Wordsworth,
Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and
1798 Lyrical Ballads, written primarily by William Wordsworth with a
few poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, becomes the foundational text of the
English Romantic Movement.
1819 John Keats publishes Ode to a Grecian Urn and Ode
to a Nightingale. Lord Byron publishes Don Juan. Birth of
the American Romantic poet Walt Whitman.
1830 Alfred Tennyson publishes his Poems, Chiefly Lyrical.
Emily Dickinson, generally considered to be the greatest female
American poet, is born.
1846 Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning get married: they become poetry's
first "super couple" a century before Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes!
1855 Walt Whitman self-publishes his revolutionary book of free verse poems,
Leaves of Grass. Ralph Waldo Emerson praises the book, but many
puritanical Americans are shocked by Whitman's "sexiness."
1865 The Civil War ends. Slavery is abolished by the Thirteenth
Amendment. Abraham Lincoln is assassinated. Whitman publishes his elegy for
Lincoln, When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd.
1888 T. S. Eliot, perhaps the most influential Modernist poet
and critic, is born. Columbia Records, the first major
American record label, is founded. The earliest known recording of classical
music is by Handel.
1895 Scott Joplin publishes ragtime
compositions. Cornetist Buddy Bolden creates the countermelody of jazz. The
world will soon be awash in rhyming poems set to music: pop, rock, country,
blues, hip-hop, etc.
1900 The leading poets of modernism include Thomas Hardy,
Hopkins, A. E. Housman, William Butler Yeats, Ernest Dowson, E. A. Robinson,
Stephen Crane, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, D. H.
Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Robinson Jeffers, Marianne Moore, T. S. Eliot, Conrad
Aiken, Archibald MacLeish, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wilfred Owen,
cummings, Louise Bogan, Hart Crane,
Langston Hughes, W. H. Auden, Elizabeth
Bishop, Robert Hayden, Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell, Richard Wilbur,
Larkin, Allen Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich, Derek Walcott, Geoffrey Hill, Sylvia
Plath, Seamus Heaney, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Smokey
Robinson, Hank Williams Sr., John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Carole King, Marvin Gaye,
Otis Redding, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Maya Angelou, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson,
Prince, Mariah Carey, Eminem and Adele. And of course there are many other
worthy names―too many to mention them all here. So anyone who says poetry is
"dead" or "dying" is obviously just not listening!
Top Ten Lists
Our top ten Ancient and Classical Era poets:
Simonides, Horace, Sophocles, Virgil, Ovid, Pindar, Homer,
Our top ten Early Medieval Period poets:
Bede, Cynewulf, King Alfred the Great, Aldhelm,
Deor, Ono no Komachi,
the authors of Beowulf and
Wulf and Eadwacer (tie, #1)
Our top ten Middle English Period poets: Wace, Layamon, Walter Map,
Thomas of Britain, Guillaume de Lorris, John Gower, William Langland, the
Archpoet, Francesco Petrarch
and Dante Alighieri (#1)
Our top ten Late Medieval Period poets: Robert Henryson, John Lydgate,
John Gower, William Langland, the Gawain poet, the Pearl poet, Charles D'Orleans,
William Dunbar, Geoffrey Chaucer (#1)
Our top ten Elizabethan poets: George Chapman, Walter Ralegh,
Philip Sidney, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, Henry Howard,
John Donne, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare (#1)
Our top ten Cavalier Period poets: George Herbert, James Shirley,
John Suckling, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Carew, Edmund Waller, Robert
Herrick, Ben Jonson, John Donne, John Milton (#1)
Our top ten Augustan Period poets: Edward Taylor, Christopher
Smart, Aphra Behn, William Collins, Andrew Marvell, John Dryden, Alexander Pope,
Samuel Johnson, Edmund Waller, Thomas Gray (#1)
Our top ten Romantic poets:
Thomas Chatterton, Walter Scott,
John Clare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Bysshe
Shelley, William Wordsworth,
Robert Burns, William Blake (#1)
Our top ten Early Modernism poets: James Joyce, William Carlos Williams,
Algernon Charles Swinburne, Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, Ernest Dowson, Ezra
Pound, Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman, W. B. Yeats (#1)
Our top ten Modernist poets: E. E. Cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, D. H.
Lawrence, Louise Bogan, Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Hart Crane, Wilfred Owen, Wallace Stevens
According to the Chicago Tribune, the top ten
most-anthologized poems in the English language are: "To the Virgins, to Make
Much of Time" by Robert Herrick, "La Belle Dame sans Merci" by John Keats,
"Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold, "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost, "Pied Beauty" by Gerard
Manley Hopkins, "That Time of Year Thou Mayst in Me Behold" by William
Shakespeare, "To Autumn" by John Keats, "Sir Patrick Spens" an anonymous ballad,
and "The Tyger" by William Blake (#1)
According to William Harmon, the most-anthologized poets are: John
Keats, Robert Frost, Thomas Hardy, Alfred Tennyson, Gerard Manley Hopkins,
William Wordsworth, W. B. Yeats, Emily Dickinson, William Blake, John Donne,
Anonymous, William Shakespeare (#1)
Now begins our much more comprehensive history of English poetry, with a
considerable smattering of prose, music and the other arts ...
Prehistoric or Pre-History Art (all dates are BCE; some are "educated guesses")
2,500,000 BC Homo Habilis
is the first human ancestor to create stone tools; thus begins the Stone Age and
the Lower Paleolithic Era, in which human beings are still evolving and use very
simple, crude stone tools.
170,000 Humans begin
to wear clothing, but nothing too stylish yet ... the
emergence of clothing, intentional burials and possible concepts of an afterlife
religion mark the Middle Paleolithic Era.
133,000 Neanderthals had fashion sense, as jewelry made from eagle
talons has been discovered at a Neanderthal cave at Krapina, Croatia.
108,000 Beads made from shells of Nassarius sea
snails, found at the Skhul cave in Israel, are the first known jewelry made by
modern humans, who are finally catching up to Neanderthals!
68,000 Stones with crosshatch markings found at the Blombos cave in South
Africa may be the first examples of abstract or symbolic art. The Middle
Paleolithic Era concludes with modern human behavior.
40,000 Paleolithic flutes made from
bones and mammoth ivory, discovered in a German cave, appear to be the oldest
musical instruments. Increasing organization and advancing art mark the Upper
39,000 The Altamira Cave cave paintings, near El Castillo, Spain, may be the
earth's oldest paintings and the earliest carbon-dated examples of human figurative
38,000 The Lφwenmensch figurine, aka the Lion Man of the Hohlenstein
Stadel, and the Venus of Hohle Fels may be the earth's oldest statues.
26,000 The earliest known pottery was used not as crockery, but for art: the Venus of Dolnν
Věstonice, Moravia (in the modern-day Czech Republic).
21,000 Evidence of the seeding, cultivation and grinding of grains at the
Ohalo II settlement in Israel pushes back the dawn of human agriculture yet
10,000 The first permanent human settlements and the emergence of full-scale agriculture
and domesticated animals like sheep and goats pave the way for more advanced forms of art to come ...
Our top ten ancient and classical era poets: Enheduanna, Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Simonides,
Sophocles, Pindar, Archilochus, Homer, Sappho
Pre-English Art (all dates are BCE; some are "educated guesses")
5600 Previously, human beings could walk to England because it was a peninsula
of Europe! But rising sea levels due to massive ice melts create an island with
around 5,000 stranded hunter-gatherers.
5000 The inventions of the wheel, the kiln, smelting (tin, lead and copper) and
set the stage for the coming Bronze Age and the dawn of poetry and other forms
3500 The Stone Age winds down and the Bronze Age revs up as metal tools and
weapons begin to predominate; nations develop; writing develops in Sumer (Iraq);
thus begins what we call "history."
3000 Sumerian temple hymns and laments; Egyptian pyramid and
coffin texts (early epigrams/epitaphs); invention of paper (papyrus); the first smaller henges
are dug out locally at Stonehenge.
2700 The Egyptian physician Merit-Ptah appears to be the first woman named in
the field of medicine, and perhaps all of science. Her portrait appears in a
tomb in the Valley of Kings.
2690 A seal from the tomb of Seth-Peribsen has the first known complete
sentence: "The golden one of Ombos has unified the two realms for his son, the
king of Lower and Upper Egypt, Peribsen."
2650 The Egyptian polymath Imhotep has
been called the original architect, engineer and physician; he designed the first
pyramid, was promoted to a god, and ended up being worshipped by a
2500 The Sumerian Kesh Temple Hymn and Instructions of uruppak
may be the earth's oldest surviving literature. Work begins on the mammoth
henges of Stonehenge and on the Great Sphinx of Giza.
Enheduanna, daughter of King Saragon the Great,
may be the first named poet in
human history and the first known writer of prayers and hymns such as
The Exaltation of Inanna.
2100 The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh appears to be the earth's oldest extant
2000 The earth's oldest love poem appears to be the ancient Sumerian poem
Love Song of Shu-Sin. Early Minoan culture on Crete. The first
libraries in Egypt. Abraham of Ur becomes a monotheist.
1500 The Rigveda, a collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, may be the
oldest religious text still in use today.
1400 A Hurrian Cult Song from Ancient Ugarit includes the first
musical score. Composed for the lyre, it records the oldest
playable melody. The first written legal codes are those of Hammurabi.
1200 The Bronze Age evolves into the Iron Age. Iron artifacts dating to around
this time or earlier have been found in Anatolia (modern Turkey), Egypt, Jordan,
Sumer (Iraq) and Greece.
Native American poetry such as Mayan and Aztec; early
Oriental poetry; possible date for the birth of Homer, author of the epic poems Odyssey and
Iliad; the Iron Age begins; Hebrew Song of Deborah.
750 Birth of Hesiod; Celts
reach England; Hebrew proverbs and prophets; oldest Chinese poems in the
Shi Jing; Lycurgus of Sparta; first Olympic games; Rome is founded;
Nineveh has a library with 22,000 clay tablets.
600 Possible date for the Bible's poetic book of Job. The births of Archilochus (680), Solon (640), Sappho
of Lesbos (630) from whom we derive our terms "lesbian" and "sapphic," Aesop (620), Lao-tse (604), Anacreon (582), Buddha (563), Confucius (551),
Aeschylus (525), Pindar (522). The pinnacle of ancient Greek poetry was reached
between the 7th and 4th centuries B.C. This "poetic movement was part of the
greatest cultural and intellectual community in world history. The Greeks
developed nearly all of the classic forms that formed the underpinnings of later
literature, drama, music and poetry, including the ode, epic, lyric, tragedy,
and comedy. As Greek works became disseminated through the Western world, they
created the basis for modern literature."
500 Possible date for the Bible's
Song of Solomon and the Sanskrit epics
Ramayana and Mahabharata. The births of Pericles (500), Sophocles
(497), Euripides (484), Socrates (470), Plato (428), Aristotle (384).
484 Aeschylus wins first prize for tragedy at the City Dionysia in
Athens. Sophocles wins in 468, Euripides in 441, Aristophanes in 425. Talk about
100 The births of Julius Caesar (100), Lucretius (99), Cato the Younger (95), Catullus (84), Virgil (70), Horace (65),
Plutarch (47), Ovid
(43), Martial (43), Lucan (39), Paul of Tarsus (5), Seneca the Younger (4).
37 Virgil's reputation is established by his Eclogues.
23 The first three books of Horace's Odes are published.
16 A collection of witty erotic love poems, Amores, brings Ovid
success while still in his twenties.
He is best known today for his poetic collection of around 250 myths,
Metamorphoses. His characters include Orpheus, Proserpina, Philomela,
Pygmalion, Medea, Heracles, Daedelus and Achilles. Ovid would be an important
influence on major early English poets like Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower, and
through them, on other English language poets to follow. For instance, several
of Shakespeare's plays, including Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night's
Dream, Titus Andronicus, The Tempest and The Comedy of Errors
were influenced by Ovid. Other writers influenced by Ovid include Dante,
Petrarch, Alexander Pushkin, James Joyce, Bob Dylan and Anne Rice.
The Celtic Period (?-1 BC)
The Celtic period begins in the distant past and extends to the Roman invasions
of Britain that began under Julius Caesar in 55 BC. The most famous poem of this
period is the "Song of Amergin" although it is not at all certain when
or where the poem
was composed, or even who composed it. This poem has been ascribed to Amergin, a Milesian Druid
who allegedly settled in Ireland, perhaps centuries before the birth
of Christ. The "Song of Amergin" appears in the Leabhar Gabhala
("Book of Invasions"). As Douglas Hyde notes in The Story of Early Gaelic Literature:
"The three short pieces of verse ascribed to Amergin are certainly very ancient
and very strange. But as the whole story of the Milesian Invasion is shrouded in
mystery and is quite possibly a rationalized account of early Irish mythology,
no faith can be placed in the alleged date or genuineness of Amergin's verses.
They are of interest, because Irish tradition has them as being the first verses
made in Ireland, so it may very well be they actually do present the oldest
surviving lines of any vernacular tongue in Europe except Greece."
In other words, Amergin could be the first poet of the British Isles that we
know by name, or he could have written in some later period, or he may never
have existed at all. Amergin, like Taliesin and Merlin, could be real, a man
become legend, or entirely a myth.
The ancient Druids of Britain did not have a written language, but they were
dedicated scholars who committed "immense amounts" of oral poetry to memory.
Julius Caesar left the following description of the Druids in Book VI of his
Gallic Wars: "A large number of young men flock to them for training and
hold them in high honour. For they have the right to decide nearly all public
and private disputes and they also pass judgement and decide rewards and
penalties in criminal and murder cases and in disputes concerning legacies and
boundaries ... It is thought that this system of training was invented in
Britain and taken over from there to Gaul, and at the present time, diligent
students of the matter mostly travel there to study it ... The Druids are wont
to be absent from war, nor do they pay taxes like the others ... It is said that
they commit to memory immense amounts of poetry. And so some of them continue
their studies for twenty years. They consider it improper to entrust their
studies to writing ... They have also much knowledge of the stars and their
motion, of the size of the world and of the earth, of natural philosophy, and of
the powers and spheres of action of the immortal gods ..." So we know that
the best-educated poets of the English isles in ancient times did not trust
their art to writing! According to Julius Caesar, they remained deliberately
Song of Amergin remains a mystery. It was written by an unknown
poet at an unknown time at an unknown location. The date given here was
furnished by Robert Graves, who translated the Song of Amergin in his
influential book The White Goddess (1948). Graves remarked that English poetic
education should, really, begin not with Canterbury Tales, not with the
Odyssey, not even with Genesis, but with the Song of
Amergin. The first native language of the Celtic
Britons has given us relatively few English words, such as: beak, brat, bog,
clan, clout, crock, dad, daddy, dam, doe, knob, nook, slogan, whisky, etc. (with
some Celtic words being passed along later, via Scottish, Irish and Welsh
60 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the first
comprehensive history of the Anglo-Saxons, which was initially composed during
the reign of King Alfred the Great, has the year 60 BC as its first dated entry,
and describes what happened quite accurately, saying that Gaius Julius crushed
the Britons but was unable to establish any empire there. And the date was
correct to within five years.
55 The Roman General Julius Caesar invades England,
creating a beachhead on the coast of Kent. At this time the primary language of
the native Britons is a Celtic dialect known as Brittonic. The Britons had no
form of writing at the time, so in that sense they remained prehistoric and
their poetry was oral. The
following year, 54 BC, Julius Caesar invades again,
this time using diplomacy to bring England within the Roman sphere of influence,
but conquering no territory and leaving no Roman troops behind. However, Latin
would become the language of business, commerce and international politics.
English words of Latin origin include: antenna, capitulate, criminal, decimal,
embrace, equestrian, etc. According to research done by AskOxford, around 33% of English words have Latin
or Greeks roots, so the Roman influence has been far-reaching.
34 Caesar Augustus plans invasions of England in 34 BC, 27 BC and 25 BC, but
apparently always finds more important things to do. Diplomacy and trade
continue, but Rome has its eye set on conquest ...
Romano-British Period (1 AD-449 AD)
The Roman conquest of Britain began in AD 43, during the reign of the
Emperor Claudius. Following the subjugation of native Britons, a distinctive
Romano-British culture emerged under a provincial government, which, despite
steadily extended territorial control northwards, was never able to control
Caledonia (Scotland). The Romans demarcated the northern border of Britannia
with Hadrian's Wall, completed around the year 128. Fourteen years later, in
142, the Romans extended the Britannic frontier northwards, to the Forth-Clyde
line, where they constructed the Antonine Wall, but after approximately twenty
years they retreated to the border of Hadrian's Wall. Around the year 197, Rome
divided Britannia into two provinces, Britannia Superior and Britannia Inferior.
Some time after 305, Britannia was further divided and made into an imperial
diocese. For much of the later period of the Roman occupation, Britannia was
subject to barbarian invasions and often came under the control of imperial
usurpers and pretenders to the Roman Emperorship. By the end of the
Romano-British period, it seems that Roman rule was seen as more of a liability
than a bonus by the natives.
9 The seemingly invincible Roman legions suffer their bloodiest
defeat in the Battle of Teutoburg Forest and suddenly don't seem so invincible,
after all ...
26 Pontius Pilate is appointed Prefect of Judea, where
another revolution is percolating.
28 John the Baptist is executed by Herod Antipas in Judaea.
32 Jesus Christ is crucified in Jerusalem. The Christian religion will have
tremendous implications for England and its natives.
43 Emperor Claudius invades England and Roman rule is
established. The Roman city of Londinium (London) is established. However,
battles continue in Wales and other outposts. And the Scottish Picts are never
fully conquered, eventually requiring Hadrian's Wall (see the entry for 122).
Romanization is greatest in the southeast, including London, Winchester,
Canterbury, Colchester and St. Albans. In the southeast, many people are
bilingual and speak both Brittonic and vulgar Latin. In the highlands, there is
less Romanization and less use of vulgar Latin. In the Midlands, things are more
in the middle, language-wise. Welsh and Cornish are Brittonic languages that
survived first the Roman, then later the Anglo-Saxon invasions. The
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle again records the event quite accurately, and within
three years, saying it took place in 46 AD.
56 Birth of Tacitus (c.56 - c.120), whose Latin histories would be a primary source of
historical information about Briton and the early Britons, who at that time
did not have any writing in their native languages. Tacitus would favorably
contrast the liberty of native Britons with the tyranny and corruption of the
60 ABCs written on a wood and wax tablet found in London suggest that a school
may have existed there soon after the Roman conquest. There is also evidence
that a Roman general named Agricola encouraged his children to go to school a
decade or two later. Approximate date for the death of King Prasutagus of the
tribe. Tacitus wrote that he lived a long and prosperous life, but when he died,
the Romans ignored his will and took over, depriving the Iceni nobles of their
lands and plundering the kingdom. His widow, Queen Boudicca, was flogged and their daughters
raped. Roman financiers, including the famous philosopher Seneca, called in
loans that had been forced on them. This led to the revolt of the Iceni,
under the leadership of Boudicca. She raises 100,000 troops, then defeats and
destroys most of Legio IX so that the Roman procurator Catus Decianus flees to
Gaul. She then marches on Londinium, where the Romans flee, and she burns
and destroys the city, as she does Colchester and St. Albans. The crisis causes
Roman emperor Nero to consider withdrawing the Roman legions from England.
However, the Roman general Suetonius manages to win the Battle of Watling Street
despite being outnumbered, after which Boudicca either kills herself (perhaps to
avoid being raped and flogged?) or dies some other way. Her name appears to
derive from the feminine adjective boudīkā ("victorious"), which is in turn is
derived from the Celtic noun boudā ("victory"). Later, Queen Victoria identified
with Boudicca because their names had the same meaning. Boudicca has appeared in
poems, plays, songs and novels by notable artists who include Alfred Tennyson,
William Cowper, Enya, John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont. Several ships have
been named after her. She also inspired the DC Comics superhero Boodikka.
70 Destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman legions of Titus.
122 The Roman Emperor Hadrian visits England. Construction of Hadrian's
Wall begins. Resistance to Roman rule continues in England and other hot spots.
208 Emperor Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla take personal command of
the army in Britain. Over a seven-year period of time (208-216), the following
things transpire: Severus and Caracalla lead an expedition against the Caledonii (Scottish
Picts); the Romans build forts at Cramond and the Tay estuary. Caracalla leads an expedition against the rebellious Maeatae tribe (also
Scottish Picts). Severus dies at York while organizing another attack on northern rebels;
Caracalla, now emperor, abandons lands north of Hadrian's Wall and returns to
Rome. There, he forces 13,000 prisoners of war from his father's campaigns to
build the enormous and famous marble "baths of Caracalla" which were completed
in Rome in 216.
368 Attacks by Picts and Saxons force the Romans to abandon Hadrian's Wall. By
this time the use of vulgar Latin begins to die out in England. Germanic
influences due to the invasions of Angles, Saxons and Jutes will increasingly
influence the development of the "local lingo." Roman records reveal that
Germanic troops were stationed on Hadrian's Wall, so by this time the influx of
Germanic tribes had apparently begun. If so, the trickle would soon become a
383 Magnus Maximus, the Roman general assigned to
Britain, launches a successful bid for imperial power, crossing over to Gaul
with his troops. He rules Gaul and Britain as Augustus. The year 383 is the last
date for any evidence of a major Roman military presence in Britain. The
withdrawal of most of the Roman legions was an invitation for invasions of Britain by
Germanic tribes such as the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, and by the neighboring Picts and Scotti.
407 Constantine rallies the remaining Roman troops in Britain, leads them
across the Channel into Gaul, and establishes himself as the Western Roman
Emperor. Romano-Britons, now without Roman troops for protection and having
suffered particularly severe Saxon raids in 408 and 409, would expel
Constantine's magistrates in 409 or 410. The Byzantine historian Zosimus blamed
Constantine for the expulsion, saying that he had allowed the Saxons to raid,
and that the Britons and Gauls were reduced to such straits that they revolted
from the Roman Empire, rejected Roman law, reverted to their native customs, and
armed themselves to ensure their safety.
410 Rome is sacked by the Visigoths under King Alaric. Alaric dies shortly
thereafter, but the vaunted Roman Empire is falling apart. Emperor Honorius
replies to a request by Romano-Britons for assistance with the Rescript of
Honorius, which instructed them to see to their own defense.
430 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says "This year 
Patricius [Saint Patrick] was sent from Pope Celestinus to preach baptism to the
Scots." Patrick's Confessio (Confession), written in Latin, survives.
444 The Huns unite under Attila and he, too, sets his sights on Rome. Eight
years later, in
452, Attila invades Italy as far as the River Po. Venice is founded when people
flee to islands in the Venetian Lagoon to escape the feasome Huns. Attila meets with
envoys of Rome who include Bishop Leo I; they persuade Attila not to attack the
city, reminding him that Alaric died soon after sacking Rome and perhaps
attributing his death to the "wrath of God." Attila dies anyway, the following
455 the Vandals sack Rome, capturing Sicily and Sardinia. The year 476 is generally considered to be the official end of the Western
Roman Empire, and the beginning of the Early Medieval Period or Dark Ages.
However the idea that things became "dark" after the fall of Rome may
been literary criticism! Centuries after the fact, Petrarch would opine that
post-fall literature was "dark" compared to the "light" of classical literature.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in 443 when Rome declined to
protect Britons from that attacks of Picts because of the encroachments of
Attila, the Britons then appealed to the Angles for assistance.
Our top ten early medieval era poets: Amergin, Caedmon,
Bede, Cynewulf, King Alfred the Great, Deor, Ono no Komachi,
the authors of Beowulf and
Wulf and Eadwacer (the latter in all
likelihood a female poet)
Anglo-Saxon or Old English Period (449-1066)
Only four Anglo-Saxon poets are known by name with any degree of
certainty: Caedmon, Bede, Cynewulf and King Alfred the
Great. The most ancient Old English poetry is actually
Anglo-Saxon, or Germanic. The Angles and Saxons were Germanic tribes who
migrated to England. (The name England derives from "Angle Land.") The
Anglo-Saxon era begins with the withdrawal of Roman troops from England, and
ends with the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066. From
that point forward, Anglo-Norman and Latin poetry and literature were in vogue
until the emergence of vernacular English poets like Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas
Wyatt and Henry Howard. The defining Anglo-Saxon poems include
Caedmon's Hymn, Bede's Death Song and
anonymous poems like Wulf and
Eadwacer and Beowulf. All extant Old English poems are, to some
degree, alliterative, and usually accentual, having four
strong stresses per line with any number of weaker stresses. Meter and rhyme in
English poetry developed later. Here is an example of alliterative/accentual
verse, from a well-known nursery rhyme: "Baa, baa,
black sheep, have you any wool?" The
bolded words receive the four strongest stresses. The alliteration occurs in the
three "b" words and the "y" sounds of "you
any" with perhaps a slight soft
echo in "wool." Anglo-Saxon poets were known as scops, from the Old English
scop, cognate with Old High German scoph "poetry, sport, jest" and
Old Norse skop "railing, mockery" as in "scoff." It has been said that
Celtic kings feared the satires of poets, so the ability of the ancient scops to
scoff must have been formidable indeed!
449 Around this time Anglo-Saxons begin to invade England with
considerable success, helped by the absence of the Roman legions. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,
in 448-449 the brothers Hengist and Horsa―described as descendents of Woden (Odin)―were
invited by Vortigern to assist him in fighting the Picts. The
brothers were victorious in battle and sent a message back to Germany that there
were easy pickings to be had. They raised an army of Angles, Saxons and Jutes
that won battles and claimed land, with Hengist eventually becoming the King of Kent.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle goes on to say that the people of Essex,
Sussex and Wessex descend from the Old Saxons; that the people of East Anglia
and Mercia descend from the Angles; and that the people of Kent and the Isle of
Wight descend from the Jutes.
English words of Anglo-Saxon origin include: abide, babble, care, dare, ear,
etc. They represent around 25% of English words, if we include Germanic,
Scandinavian and Dutch borrowings. The first version of the English language
that we might recognize today (but only in spots) began to emerge in the fifth
century AD (400 AD-499 AD) as native, Greco-Roman and Germanic-Scandinavian
words and grammar "merged" into what we now call the English language.
480 Boethius is born in Rome around 480 AD. His book The Consolation of
Philosophy would greatly influence early English poets like John Gower.
500 Birth of Gildas (c.500-570), perhaps the first notable English writer we know by name
(although he was born in Scotland and wrote in Latin). Latin remains the language of the elites and scholars.
521 Birth of Saint Columba (521597), an Irish abbot and missionary to
Scotland who founded the important abbey on Iona. Three
early medieval Latin hymns may be attributed to Columba.
537 The Battle of Camlan has been suggested as the one where King Arthur
fought Mordred and died, but nothing about Arthur seems certain.
596 Augustine leaves Rome as a missionary to England; he becomes the
first Archbishop of Canterbury and baptizes Ethelbert of Kent, the first English
king to convert to Christianity.
620 Vikings begin invasions of Ireland.
627 Birth of Adomnαn (c.627704) whose most important work is the Vita
Columbae, a hagiography of Columba, the first biography written in Britain, and the most important surviving work
written in early medieval Scotland. It is a vital source for knowledge of the
Picts, as well as an insight into the life of Iona Abbey and the early medieval
Gaelic monk. Adomnαn's Life of Columba contains a story that has been interpreted as
the first reference to the Loch Ness Monster!
634 The monastery at Lindisfarne is founded by Saint Aidan on what came to
be called the Holy Isle. Also the birth of Cuthbert, who would become Bishop of
Lindisfarne (see the entry for 685).
639 Birth of Aldhelm (c.639-709), an Anglo-Saxon aristocrat, scholar, abbot and bishop of
the Canterbury school. Aldhelm composed "enigmas" or riddles in Latin.
He may have composed poems and ballads in English, but if so, they did not
657 Creation of the first English monastery, Whitby Abbey. Saint Hilda was the
founding Abbess. The early abbeys
and monasteries became centers of literacy and education. Hilda is considered
one of the patron saints of learning and culture, including poetry, due to her
patronage of Cζdmon (see the entry for 658).
Caedmon's Hymn, the first English poem still extant today,
beginning of what came to be known as English poetry. According to the Venerable
Bede, Caedmon was an illiterate herdsman of the Whitby monastery who was given
the gift of poetic composition by an angel.
664 The Synod of Whitby (a council meeting at which decisions about local
religious practices were determined). Whitby aligns with the Roman Catholic
Church. This heralds a decline of the Celtic Church, and the ascendency of the
Roman Catholic Church, in England. Because the church was a center of education
and literacy, this would have a major impact on the evolution of English
literature and poetry.
673 Birth of Bede (c.672-735), the great English scholar/poet/historian who came to be
known as the Venerable Bede and the "Father of English History."
680 Possible date for the composition of the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf
and the shorter poem Widsith,
the "Far Traveler." The unknown author of
Beowulf was presumably a minstrel, as he mentions reciting his
"hall-entertainment" to the music of a harp.
685 Cuthbert becomes Bishop of Lindisfarne. An anonymous life of Cuthbert
written at Lindisfarne may be the oldest extant piece of English historical
writing. Written just after or possibly contemporarily with Adomnαn's Vita
Columbae, the Vita Sancti Cuthberti (c. 699705) is the first
piece of Northumbrian Latin writing and the earliest piece of English Latin
700 Cynewulf pens and signs four Anglo-Saxon poems: Christ II, Elene, The Fates of
the Apostles and Juliana. Runic extracts from The Dream of the
Rood, the first dream poem in the English language,
are carved on the Ruthwell Cross, establishing the poem's
Tochmarc Ιtaνne ("The Wooing of Ιtaνn/Ιadaoin") is an early text of the
Irish Mythological Cycle, and also features characters from the Ulster Cycle and
the Cycles of the Kings. It is partially preserved in the manuscript known as
the Lebor na hUidre (c. 1106), and completely preserved in the
Yellow Book of Lecan (c. 1401), written in language believed to date to the
8th or 9th century. It tells of the lives and loves of Ιtaνn, a beautiful mortal
woman of the Ulaid, and her involvement with Aengus and Midir of the Tuatha Dι
Danann. It is frequently cited as a possible source text for the Middle English
Sir Orfeo. Harvard professor Jeffrey Gantz describes the text as
displaying the "poetic sense of law" in Irish legal society.
Stephen of Ripon authors the eighth-century hagiographic text Vita
Sancti Wilfrithi ("Life of Saint Wilfrid"), shortly after her death in 709.
may have been written on his deathbed. Birth of Alcuin of York (735-804), who
was also called Ealhwine, Alcuinus, Albinus and/or Flaccus. He was an English
scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher from York, Northumbria. He was born
around 735 and became the student of Archbishop Ecgbert at York. At the
invitation of Charlemagne, he became a leading scholar and teacher at the
Carolingian court, where he remained a figure in the 780s and 790s. He wrote
many theological and dogmatic treatises, as well as a few grammatical works and
a number of poems. He was made Abbot of Tours in 796, where he remained until
his death. "The most learned man anywhere to be found", according to Einhard's
Life of Charlemagne (ca. 817-833), he is considered among the most important
architects of the Carolingian Renaissance. Among his pupils were many of the
dominant intellectuals of the Carolingian era.
757 Offa becomes King of Mercia. During his reign he extended Mercian
supremacy and/or influence over most of southern England, including Kent,
Middlesex, London, Sussex, Wessex and East Anglia. Many historians consider Offa
to have been the most powerful Anglo-Saxon king before Alfred the Great.
However, he never reigned over Northumbria or Wales. Offa is recorded
campaigning against the Welsh in 778, 784 and 796. Apparently unable to conquer
Wales, Offa ordered the construction of a gigantic defensive earthwork, called
Offa's Dyke, between Mercia and Wales. Offa's Dyke has been described as "the
largest and most recent great construction of the preliterate inhabitants of
Britain," comparable in scope and impressiveness to the much more ancient
770 Approximate date for the composition of Waldere, an epic
Anglo-Saxon poem about Walther (Walter of Aquitaine) and Hildegund fleeing from
Attila the Hun. Unfortunately, only two fragments of the poem survive.
771 Birth of Egbert of Wessex (c. 771-839), who after the death of King Offa in 796,
extended his rule over Mercia and Northumbria, and may have been the
first king of a somewhat united England. Approximate birth of Nennius, a Welsh
monk and suggested author of the Historia Brittonum. It is the earliest
source which presents King Arthur as a historical figure, and is the source of
several stories which were repeated and amplified by later authors.
778 An attack on Charlemagne's army, traditionally at the pass of Roncesvalles
in the Pyrenees, becomes the basis for the Chanson de Roland ("Song of
789 Egbert is forced into exile in France by King Offa of Mercia and King
Beorhtric of Wessex. (At the time Charlemagne rules France and is known to
support Offa's enemies.) Scandinavian attacks begin against the northeast English seacoast. The
Vikings and Danes in particular would terrorize the Anglo-Saxons, who had once
terrorized the Celts, who had once terrorized the native Britons. Vikings would raid
the monastery of Lindisfarne in 793.
796 Death of King Offa.
802 Death of King Beorhtric of Wessex. With Offa and Beorhtric both dead,
Egbert returns from exile and takes the throne of Wessex.
825 King Ebert of Wessex wins a major victory over Beornwulf of Mercia, at the
Battle of Ellendun. His son Ζthelwulf then "drove Baldred, the king of Kent,
north over the Thames." As a result, "the men of Kent, Essex, Surrey and Sussex"
all submitted to Wessex.
826 Beornwulf of Mercia attacks East Anglia, and not only loses the battle,
but his life. The tables have been turned, and the West Saxons of Wessex now
firmly have the upper hand.
829 King Egbert of Wessex invades and defeats Mercia, driving its new king,
Wiglaf, into exile. This victory gives Egbert control of the London Mint, and he
issues coins as King of Mercia. It was after this victory that a West Saxon
scribe writing in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described him as a
bretwalda, meaning "wide-ruler" or "Britain-ruler." Later in 829, according
to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Egbert received the submission of the
Northumbrians at Dore (now a suburb of Sheffield). Thus, Egbert may well be
described as the first king of a united Anglo-Saxon England. However, his reign
was brief, as Wiglaf would re-take the throne of Mercia in 830.
Ono no Komachi wrote tanka (also known as waka),
traditional form of Japanese lyric poetry that, along with haiku, would
influence English modernists like Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. Komachi is an excellent representative of the
Classical, or Heian, period (circa 794-1185 AD) of Japanese literature, and she is one of the
best-known poets of the Kokinshu (circa 905), the first in
a series of anthologies of Japanese poetry compiled by Imperial order. She is
also one of the Rokkasen the six best waka poets of the early Heian
period. She was renowned for her unusual beauty, and Komachi has become
a synonym for feminine beauty in Japan. She is also included among the
thirty-six Poetry Immortals. It is believed that she was born sometime between
820-830 and that she wrote most of her poems around the middle of the ninth
century. She is best known today for her pensive, melancholic and erotic poems.
842 Vikings raid London, Rochester, and
849 Birth of King Alfred the Great (c. 849-899), who would be a writer
and translator of note, in addition to being one of England's greatest kings (as
his appellation suggests). Alfred not only wrote and translated poetry (perhaps
assisted by scholars), but he was one of the first known writers of English
871 King Alfred the Great unites the Anglo-Saxons,
defeats the Danes and becomes the first king of a united England able to "keep
874 Iceland is settled by Norsemen.
875 Norsemen attack Paris, are eventually awarded Normandy and become known as
the Normans (who later invade and conquer England under William the Conqueror).
890 The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is the first known comprehensive attempt at an English
history. It has been called "the single most important source for the history of
England in Anglo-Saxon times."
895 King Alfred the Great defeats and captures a Danish fleet. Around this
time, a Welsh monk named Asser writes a biography of Alfred called the Life
of King Alfred. The manuscript survived to modern times in only one copy,
which was part of the Cotton library. That copy was destroyed in a fire in 1731,
but transcriptions had been made earlier, which together with material from
Asser's work preserved by other early writers, have enabled the work to be
reconstructed. The biography is the main source of information about Alfred's
life and provides far more information about Alfred than is known about any
other early English ruler. Asser also assisted Alfred in his translation of Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care, and possibly with other works.
899 Death of King Alfred the Great.
900 Deor, a scop, is writing poems such as
924 King Athelstan the Glorious reigns; he takes the title "King of all Britain" after
defeating an alliance of Scots, Celts, Danes and Vikings.
937 King Athelstan's victory at the battle of Brunanburh is celebrated by a
poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
950 Four early poetry manuscripts: Junius, the Vercelli Book,
the Exeter Book and Beowulf. A possible first extant
English poem written by a woman is
Wulf and Eadwacer; another such contender is
The Wife's Lament.
Other notable poems include The Seafarer, The
Wanderer, The Husband's Message, The Phoenix, Widsith and The Ruin.
In addition to longer poems, the Exeter Book contains
Advent Lyrics and
riddles and kennings. Kennings were metaphorical expressions such
as "word-hoard" for a scop's lexicon and "whale-path" for the sea. The material of the Eddas,
shape in Iceland, derives from earlier sources in Norway, Britain and Burgundy.
955 Birth of Ζlfric of Eynsham (c. 955 c. 1010). He was an English abbot, as
well as a consummate, prolific writer in Old English of hagiography, homilies,
biblical commentaries, and other genres. He is also known variously as Ζlfric
the Grammarian (Alfricus Grammaticus), Ζlfric of Cerne, Ζlfric the Homilist and
simply Aelfric. In the view of Peter Hunter Blair, he was "a man comparable both
in the quantity of his writings and in the quality of his mind even with Bede
himself." According to Claudio Leonardi, he "represented the highest pinnacle of
Benedictine reform and Anglo-Saxon literature." Aelfric has been described as
"the most humane of men" and "full of religious doubt." His
writing has been described as "rhythmical prose" that was similar to
alliterative poetry, but looser.
978 King Ethelred the Unready reigns; he loses battles with the Danes, pays
Danegeld (tribute) and eventually flees to Normandy.
985 Eric the Red, exiled from Iceland, begins the Scandinavian colonization of
Greenland. His son, Leif Ericsson, would discover North America and winter in
Canada around the year 1000, almost 500 years before Columbus.
991 The Battle of Maldon, a poem about a battle between the English
and Danes which took place in 991. The Danes win and the English are forced to pay
Danegeld. Losing is getting expensive!
1000 The first known limerick ("The lion is wondrous strong") appears in
France sometime during the 11th century.
1013 The English continue to lose battles to the Danes. On Christmas Day, the
Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard is declared King of England. But he dies five months
after assuming the English throne, which is then claimed by his son Cnut.
1028 Birth of William of Normandy, also known as William the Bastard and
William the Conqueror. He was of Norse stock, the descendant of Vikings. King Cnut (Canute) rules Denmark, Norway, England and parts of Sweden. He was also know as Canute the Great.
1031 The Book of Life was a sort of earthly prequel to the heavenly
Day of Judgment.
1035 The death of King Cnut leads to the the loss of Danish influence when his
son Harthacnut, reigning as Cnut III, is "forsaken [by the English] because he
was too long in Denmark." Harold Harefoot becomes regent, then assumes the
throne of England in 1037. When Harefoot dies in 1040, Cnut III reclaims the
English throne, but he then dies in 1042 ...
1042 King Edward the Confessor reigns as king of all England; he allegedly promises the throne of
England to William of Normandy, his first cousin, but later reneges. He is
generally considered to have been the last king of the House of Wessex (the West
Saxons). He was also the only English king to be officially canonized (declared
a saint). It was a dispute over the English crown after his death that lead to
the Norman Conquest of England (see the entry for 1066). In Stephen Baxter's
view, Edward's "handling of the succession issue was dangerously indecisive, and
contributed to one of the greatest catastrophes to which the English have ever
1048 Birth of Omar Khayyαm, a Persian polymath, scholar,
mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and poet who is widely considered to be
one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages. He wrote numerous
treatises on mechanics, geography, mineralogy and astronomy. He writes four-line
verses, or quatrains, in his spare time. Eight centuries later, Edward
FitzGerald (180983) would make Khayyαm famous in the West through his
translation and adaptations of Khayyαm's quatrains in the Rubaiyat of Omar
1054 The Great Schism of the Roman Catholic Church.
1060 The Arundel Psalter was an Anglo-Saxon, pre-Norman-invasion
1065 Birth of Saint Godric; he became a hermit and was said to have written
poems and songs. Reginald of Durham (?-1190) recorded four songs of St Godric's:
they are the oldest songs in English for which the original musical settings
1066 Edward the Confessor dies and Harold Godwinson inherits the English
throne. William the Conqueror then defeats Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings
becomes King William I of England; this Norman Conquest of England marks the end of the Anglo-Saxon or Old
English era. French and Latin now both rule over lowly English! English
words of French origin include: attorney, case, court, judge, justice,
parliament, etc. They represent around 28% of English words. Thus the three
major invasions of England provided around 87% of the evolving language's words.
The remainder come from other languages or are of unknown origins. Anything said
or written before the eleventh century (1000 AD-1099 AD) would be difficult or
impossible for us to understand with our "modern ears." But still the language
is evolving and remains difficult for us to fully understand.
Our top ten poets of the Middle English Period: Wace, Layamon, Walter Map,
Thomas of Britain, Guillaume de Lorris, John Gower, William Langland, the
Archpoet, Francesco Petrarch, Dante Alighieri
Anglo-Norman or Middle English Period (1066-1332)
During the Anglo-Norman era the English people and their language were
subjugated to their conquerors, who preferred Latin and French poetry and
literature. But the
conquerors were overcome linguistically by Geoffrey Chaucer, who by 1362 was
writing poetry in a rough-but-still-usually-understandable version of early
modern English. We will call this version of the language Middle English. But
please keep in mind that the foremost writers of this period were writing in
Latin and/or French, and we only have glimpses of the native English language in
anonymous poems and songs like
How Long the Night
("Myrie it is while sumer
Sumer is icumen in.
1068 The chansons de geste ("songs of heroic deeds"), performed by
professional minstrels in castles and manors, celebrate the exploits of
Charlemagne―the greatest and most famous of French kings―and his paladins. The
earliest works in this genre appear to be the Chanson de Guillaume
("The Song of William"), Chanson de Roland ("The Song of Roland") and
Gormont et Isembart. The first half of the Chanson de Guillaume
may date from as early as the eleventh century; Gormont et Isembart may
date from as early as 1068, according to Urban T. Holmes Jr.; while The Song
of Roland probably dates from after 1086 to c.1100. Here is a brief take on
how the Provencal Troubadours emerged and evolved: "Like a
giant iron cloud, the popes of the Holy Roman Empire the purveyors of the
Middle Ages clamped down and extinguished creative and artistic expression.
However, as the 11th century reached its midpoint, a group of troubadour
musicians in southern France began to sing and write striking lyrics. They were
influenced by the Arabic civilization and its leading denizens, Omar
Khayyam and Rumi, inspired by Latin and Greek poets,
and guided by Christian precepts. Three concepts stood above all others: the
spiritualization of passion, imagery, and secret love. With a gift for rhythm,
meter, and form, the musicians and poets created a masterful style by the 13th
century. The Provencal troubadours began as court singer-poets, among them
William X, Duke of Aquitaine, Eleanor Aquitaine, and King Richard I of England.
They practiced the art, but its undisputed masters were Bertrand de Born, Arnaud
Daniel, Guillame de Machant, Christine di Pisan, and Marie de France. During
their heyday, these and other poets routinely traveled to communities to deliver
poems, news, songs, and dramatic sketches in their masterful lyrical styles.
Among those deeply influenced were Dante Alighieri,
Francesco Petrarch, and Geoffrey Chaucer. Forms like
the sestina, rondeau, triolet, canso, and ballata originated with the Provencal
poets. The Inquisition doomed the Provencal movement in the 13th century, though
a few poets continued to produce into the mid-14th century. Most troubadours
fled to Spain and Italy, where two new movements flourished including the
1077 Construction of the Tower of London begins. It would, unfortunately,
house some of England's leading poets and see a number of them lose their heads.
1085 Birth of Orderic Vitalis (1075c. 1142), an English historian and
Benedictine monk who wrote one of the great contemporary chronicles of 11th- and
12th-century Normandy and Anglo-Norman England. The modern biographer of Henry I
of England, C. Warren Hollister, called him "an honest and trustworthy guide to
the history of his times." In the title of his great chronicle, he proudly adds
the epithet Angligena ("English-born"). And thus we can see the "Angle" in
1086 William I orders extensive surveys of his English holdings, which are recorded in
the Domesday Book. William I notifies the Pope that England owes no allegiance to Rome, the
first of many British rifts with the Vatican. Possible earliest date for The
Song of Roland.
1087 William II reigns.
1095 The First Crusade. Birth of William of Malmesbury, who has been called
"the foremost historian of the 12th century." He was the son of a Norman father
and an English mother, who wrote his histories in Latin. Wolstan, the Bishop of
Worchester, is deposed with the complaint that he is an "English idiot" who
"cannot speak French."
1096 There is evidence of teaching at Oxford, which would become home to the
first English university (see the entry at 1117).
1100 Henry I reigns. Layamon writes Brut, a 32,000-line poem composed
in Middle English that shows a strong Anglo-Saxon influence and contains the
first known reference to King Arthur in English. Here is an example of Layamon's
gift for imagery: "Now he stands on a hill overlooking the Avon, seeing steel
fishes girded with swords in the stream, their swimming days done, their scales
a-gleam like gold-plated shields, their fish-spines floating like wooden
spears." (Loose translation by Michael R. Burch.) Thus nearly a thousand years
ago, an English poet was apparently dabbling in surrealism, describing dead
warriors who were both men and fish! Also, in an interesting synchronicity, the
of Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100 c. 1155), a Welsh cleric and one of the major
figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales
of King Arthur. He is best known for his Latin chronicle De gestis Britonum or Historia regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain),
which was widely popular in its day and was credited, uncritically, well into
the 16th century, being translated into various other languages from its
original Latin, but which is now considered historically unreliable.
1117 The first English university, the University of Oxford is founded. It has
a "growth spurt" when King Henry II bans English students from attending the
University of Paris (see the entry at 1167).
1120 Birth of John of Salisbury (c. 1120-1180), who described himself as
Johannes Parvus ("John the Little"). He was an English author, educationalist,
diplomat and bishop of Chartres. It appears that he was born of Anglo-Saxon
stock, but he wrote in Latin. Indeed, he has been described as "one of the best
Latinists of his age" and an "ornament of his age." He has also been described as a cultivated man and an
early humanist. Around this time the troubadours of Provence develop a new form
of love poetry in French, introducing the art of courtly love and chivalry.
1130 Possible date for the birth of the Archpoet,
who may or may not have been born in Germany.
Besides having the coolest pen name ever, not much is known definitively about
the Archpoet. This heretical medieval Latin poet may be responsible, to some
degree, for our modern conception of the wandering vagabond poet and rogue
scholar. The Archpoet's life circumstances must be deduced from the content of
his poems. Because he designates Rainald of Dassel as Archbishop of Cologne, the
Archpoet was most likely alive between 1159 (when Rainald became archbishop) and
1167 (when he died). Furthermore, all the Archpoet's datable poems fall between
1162 and 1164.
1133 Birth of Henry II. He was highly literate: it was said that his hands
always contained either a bow or a book. However, he remained a Norman with
large landholdings in France, and it is doubtful that he spoke English.
1140 Birth of Bertran de Born, one of the major Occitan troubadours. His
poetry was dominated by politics and warfare. "His first datable work is a
sirventes (political or satirical song) of 1181, but it is clear from this he
already had a reputation as a poet."
1146 Gerald of Wales (c. 1146-c. 1223) was a Welsh-Norman deacon and historian
who wrote in Latin. As a royal clerk to the king and two archbishops, he
travelled widely and wrote extensively. He both studied and taught in France and
visited Rome several times, meeting the Pope. He was nominated for several
bishoprics but turned them down in the hope of becoming bishop of St. David's,
but was unsuccessful despite considerable support. His final post was as
archdeacon of Brecon, from which he retired to academic study for the remainder
of his life. Much of his writing survives. He admired the poetry of his Welsh
people and made an early reference to alliteration: "In their rhymed songs and
set speeches they are so subtle and ingenious that they produce, in their native
tongue, ornaments of wonderful and exquisite invention both in the words and the
They make use of alliteration in preference to all other ornaments
of rhetoric, and that particular kind which joins by consonancy the first
letters or syllables of words." He also complimented Welsh singers: "In their
musical concerts they do not sing in unison like the inhabitants of other
countries, but in many different parts
You will hear as many different parts
and voices as there are performers who all at length unite with organic melody."
He would become the first known foreign lecturer at Oxford (see the entry at
1150 The first extant text written in Middle English may be a sermon given by Ralph
dEscures, Archbishop of Canterbury. The homily begins Se godspellere Lucas
sζgπ on ώyssen godspelle ("The evangelist Luke says in this gospel"). Word
order is identical to present-day English, and remains so across much of the
text. Around this time a monk named Orm or Ormin (he uses both names in his
poem) introduces a revolutionary new meter to English poetry, or at least
provides the first extant written example. The name "Orm" derives from Old Norse
and means "worm," "serpent" or "dragon." Orm produces the Ormulum, a
long religious poem written in Middle English that is one of the first extant
poems to employ ballad meter (also known as common meter or common measure). The
only other poem from this era to use such meter is the Poema Morale,
written by an unknown author. The poems are hard to date precisely, but were
probably written around 1150-1200.
1154 Henry II reigns, the first Plantagenet king. The Plantagenets were
Normans with large land holdings in France, including Normandy, Anjou, Gascony
and Aquitaine. Henry II spent more time in Europe than in England during his
reign, including six-and-a-half of the first eight years.
1155 Wace's Anglo-Norman Roman de Brut is presented by Wace to
Eleanor of Aquitaine, the queen of Henry II.
1160 Walter Map, an Anglo-Latin poet, is writing poems; Thomas of Britain's
Anglo-Norman Tristan. Chrιtien de Troyes and other French authors
turn the stories of Arthur and his knights into romances of courtly love.
1167 Henry II bans English students from attending the University of Paris
(this seems to have been something to do with his dispute with Thomas Beckett).
The ban leads to a "growth spurt" at the only English university at the time,
Oxford, when English scholars head home.
1170 Henry II has Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, assassinated.
1172 Wace's Anglo-Norman Roman de Rou.
1180 Joseph Iscan, also known as Joseph of Exeter, was a twelfth-century Latin
poet from Exeter, England. Around 1180, he left to study at Gueldres, where he
began his lifelong friendship with Guibert, who later became Abbot of Florennes.
Some of their correspondence still survives. Joseph Iscan was known for the high
quality of his Latin verse and meter and the "beauty and excellence" of his
poems. His most famous poem is De bello Troiano ("On the Trojan War")
in six books, most of which was written before 1183, but which was finished
after 1184. When his friend Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, set off to the
Holy Land on the Third Crusade, he persuaded Joseph to accompany him. After
Baldwin's death in 1190, Joseph returned home. He immortalized the crusade in
his poem Antiocheis, of which only fragments survive. Several other
poems, now lost, have been attributed to him, but there is no way of knowing if
they were actually his work. He has been called an "ornament of his age."
1188 Gerald of Wales is the first known foreign lecturer at Oxford University.
1189 Richard I, aka Richard Cur de Lion ("Richard the Lionheart") reigns; he
joins the Third Crusade; his brother John acts as regent. Like his father Henry
II, the young Richard I will be more absent than present in England.
1195 Richard I returns to England briefly, but soon is off again to fight in
1199 King John reigns after Richard I dies in France.
How Long the Night
("Myrie it is while sumer
ylast") is one of the great early rhyming poems of the Middle
English period; it remains largely understandable to modern English readers. The
oldest known English ballad is Judas, probably composed sometime in the
13th century. The terms "ballad" and "ballet" have the same root:
dance or "the cadence
of consenting feet."
Ballads were originally written to accompany dances: think
of two-stepping to a reel at a hoe-down. At this point English poetry is
becoming more song-like, with meter and rhyme. Its primary purpose is
entertainment: song and dance. Many of the poets―if not most―are minstrels,
perhaps traveling and performing for money or for shelter, food and drink.
English folk music has existed at least since the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons.
The Venerable Bede's story of the cattleman and later ecclesiastical musician
Cζdmon indicates that in the early medieval period it was normal at feasts to
pass around the harp and sing "vain and idle songs." It is not easy to date the
popular ballads, but they clearly had become popular by the close of the Middle
English period. Because they were passed down orally, some of them could be
considerably older. Perhaps the best we can say is that ballads mentioned here
were probably composed sometime from 1200 to 1700: Sir Patrick Spens
(Spence), Edward, Lord Randal, Bonny Barbara Allan, The Wife of Usher's
Well, The Unquiet Grave, The Three Ravens, The Douglas Tragedy, Mary Hamilton,
The Bitter Withy, Lamkin, The Twa Sisters (The Two Sisters), Thomas The
Rhymer, Get Up and Bar the Door, Chevy Chase, The Cherry-tree Carol, and
the many Robin Hood ballads, just to name a few. One of the oldest extant
English poems, possibly predating 1200, is a prayer-poem to the Virgin Mary,
written by a hermit, Saint Godric.
1207 Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, more popularly known simply as Rumi
(12071273), was a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic
scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. Rumi's influence transcends national
borders and ethnic divisions: Iranians, Tajiks, Turks, Greeks, Pashtuns, other
Central Asian Muslims, and the Muslims of South Asia have greatly appreciated
his spiritual legacy for the past seven centuries. His poems have been widely
translated into many of the world's languages and transposed into various
formats. Rumi has been described as the "most popular poet" and the "best
selling poet" in the United States.
1209 The University of Cambridge is founded when violence between Oxford
townspeople and students makes another campus seem like a good idea.
1215 The Magna Carta forces
King John to grant liberties and rights to Englishmen in return for taxation
(but it was still drafted in French).
1216 Henry III reigns.
1219 Birth of Roger Bacon (c. 1219/20c. 1292), who was known by the
scholastic accolade Doctor Mirabilis (Latin for "wondrous doctor"). He
was an English philosopher and Franciscan friar who placed considerable emphasis
on the study of nature through empirical methods. He is sometimes credited as
one of the earliest European advocates of the modern scientific method inspired
first by Aristotle and later by scholars such as the Arab scientist Alhazen.
Bacon's linguistic work has been heralded for its early exposition of a
universal grammar. He became a master at Oxford, lecturing on Aristotle, then
taught at the University of Paris. Bacon's major work, the Opus Majus
("Greater Work"), was written in Medieval Latin and sent to Pope Clement IV
in Rome in 1267 at the pope's request.
1230 Guillaume de Lorris writes Roman de la Rose. The
Sicilian School of poetry emerges: "Emboldened by the passionate
poetics of the Provencal troubadours, a small group of Sicilian poets in the
court of Frederick II turned verses of heartfelt love into the first spiritual
heartbeat of the Renaissance and the ancestral work that would explode in
England during the Elizabethan and Shakespearean eras. In the twelfth century,
Sicily integrated three distinct languages and cultural influences: Arabic,
Byzantine Greek, and Latin. The small society was well read in both ancient
Greek and Latin, and women were viewed more kindly and tenderly than in other
medieval cultures. When Sicilian poets interacted with the Provencal
troubadours, they found the perfect verse form for their utterances of the
heart: lyric poetry. Beginning with Cielo of Alcamo, the court poets developed a
series of lyrical styles that used standard vernacular to make art of poetry.
They were aided by Frederick II, who required poets to stick to one subject:
courtly love. Between 1230 and 1266, court poets wrote hundreds of love poems.
They worked with a beautiful derivative of canso, the canzone, which became the
most popular verse form until Giacomo de Lentini further developed it into the
sonnet. Besides writing sonnets, de Lentini continuously invented new words in
what became a new language Italian. Among the best-known poets were de Lentini,
Pier delle Vigne, Renaldo d'Aquino, Giacomo Pugliese, and Mazzeo Ricco. The
Sicilian poets made several changes to Provencal structure, including the
discontinuation of repetitive and interchangeable lines. They also wrote poetry
to be read, rather than accompanied by music, and created the 14-line sonnet
structure, broken into an octet and sestet, which stands to this day. As the
14th century dawned, the Sicilian poets canzones, balladas and sonnets came to
the attention of Dante and Petrarch, who
spread them throughout Bologna, Florence, and other emerging literary centers.
By the time the Renaissance arrived, nearly 100 poets were plying their trade
throughout the culturally awakening countryand scholars from England, France,
Spain, and Germany were watching."
1250 Nicholas of Guildford writes The Owl and the Nightingale, one of
the first comic poems in the English language and a form of the "verse contest"
or conflictus that was popular with medieval Latin poets. The Persian poet Sa'di publishes Bustan ("Orchard"), a collection of
moral tales in verse.
Sumer is icumen in is a
medieval English round, or rota. It came with a musical score and instructions
for the singing of rounds, in Latin! It is one of the oldest songs that can
still be sung today. Other early rhyming poems that may predate the first major
English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, include
Fowles in the Frith,
am of Irlaunde ("I am of Ireland"),
Now Goeth Sun Under Wood,
Pity Mary, Ubi Sunt Qui Ante Nos Fuerunt? ("Where are now those
who lived before us?") and Alison. While Germanic, French and
Latin influences remain, the robust English language is coming into its own, and
is about to claim primacy. Meanwhile, a new form of poetry is being written
in northern Italy: the dolce stil nuovo
("sweet new style").
1265 The birth of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), who is generally considered to be one of the
world's greatest poets, comparable to Homer and Shakespeare. Simon de Montfort summons the first
directly-elected English Parliament.
1272 Edward I ("Longshanks") reigns, and is crowned upon his return from the
Ninth Crusade (the last major crusade).
1275 Jean de Meun extends Roman de la Rose. Dante claims to have
met Beatrice Portinari at age nine, and to have immediately fallen in love with
her. She would become the focal point of his poetry. It was in her honor that
Dante created the "sweet new style" of courtly love poetry.
1287 Birth of Richard de Bury (1287-1345), also known as Richard Aungerville
or Aungervyle, near Bury St. Edmunds; he was an English priest, bishop, teacher,
writer and bibliophile. A patron of learning and one of the first English
collectors of books, he is chiefly remembered for his Philobiblon, one
of the earliest books to discuss librarianship in depth. The descendent of
Normans, he wrote in Latin.
1290 Birth of Robert Holcot, an important contributor to English semantics.
His Book of Wisdom has been proposed as a prime literary source for
Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale. The love of Dante's life, Beatrice, dies
at age 24.
1292 Dante's Vita Nuova ("New Life") explores his love for Beatrice,
which appears to have been unrequited.
1296 Edward I defeats the Scots, seizes the throne of Scotland, and removes the
Stone of Scone to Westminster.
1300 Dame Sirith is the earliest English fabliau. Also the romances Guy
of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton. Also Cursor Mundi
(Latin for "Runner of the World"), an anonymous Middle-English historical and
religious poem of nearly 30,000 lines written around 1300 AD. The poem
summarizes the history of the world as described in the Christian Bible and
other sources, with additional legendary material drawn primarily from the
Historia scholastica. It was extremely popular in its time, as the large number
of manuscripts in which it is preserved proves. Dante is made a Prior of
Florence, a position of extreme power. The birth of the English poet Richard
Rolle, who became an anchorite. Rolle began writing poetry in the alliterative
tradition, but progressed to rhyme and thus may have been a transitional poet.
1302 Dante falls out of favor and is banished from Florence. Dante writes an
essay in Latin about the need for vernacular Italian!
1304 The birth of Francesco Petrarch, one of the earliest humanists and the creator of
the sonnet (meaning "little song"). Petrarch would be a major influence on
early modern English poets like Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard. They, in
turn, would influence other poets, including William Shakespeare.
1305 William Wallace is executed for treason.
1306 Robert Bruce is crowned King of Scotland; Edward I dies on his way north
to invade Scotland.
1307 Edward II reigns. Dante begins work on his Divina Commedia ("Divine Comedy").
1314 Robert Bruce defeats Edward II; the lyrics Alysoun and Lenten ys
come with love to toune ("Let us come with love to town").
1317 Dante's Inferno.
1320 The Birth of John Wyclif, also known as John Wycliffe. He would be an
important translator of the Bible into English. Wycliffe has been
called "England's first European mind."
1321 Death of Dante Alighieri.
1325 Cursor Mundi, a verse history of the world; the Luttrell
Psalter; approximate births of the English poets John Gower and William Langland.
Gower was either the first, or one of the first poets to create an "English
style." The great Persina poet Hafez/Hafiz is born around this time in Shiraz, Iran.
1327 Edward III reigns. Robert Holcot complains that by this time there is no
place in England where children can study the English language!
1328 The Scots win independence from England.
1330 Sir Orfeo is an anonymous Middle English narrative poem,
retelling the story of Orpheus as a king rescuing his wife from the fairy king.
The story contains a mixture of the Greek myth of Orpheus with Celtic mythology
and folklore concerning fairies, introduced into English via the Old French
Breton lais of poets like Marie de France. The Wooing of Etain bears
particular resemblance to the romance and was a probable influence.
1332 English replaces French in the British Parliament and courts, heralding the
end of the Anglo-Norman era. From this point forward the most important English
poets―Chaucer, Gower, Langland, Skelton, Dunbar, et al―will write in some form
of native English, or in multiple languages. For instance, Gower wrote in
English, French and Latin.
1338 Robert Manning's Chronicle of England.
Our top ten poets of the Late Medieval Period: Robert Henryson, Thomas Hoccleve, John Lydgate, William Langland, the Gawain/Pearl poet, Charles D'Orleans,
John Skelton, John Gower, William Dunbar, Geoffrey Chaucer
Late Medieval or Chaucerian Period (1340-1486)
Chaucer made the English vernacular popular in much the same way that
Dante and Martin Luther made the Italian and German
vernaculars popular. But English poetry was to shape-shift yet again with the
appearance of Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, both born in the first decade of
the sixteenth century.
1340 Birth of Geoffrey Chaucer (approximate). Chaucer would become the first
major poet to write in vernacular English, or the language the people actually
spoke. In that respect, Chaucer is to English as Dante was to Italian. And long
before William Shakespeare appeared, Chaucer would create unforgettable characters like
the Wife of Bath, the Miller, the Pardoner, the Parson, the Prioress, the Friar,
the Summoner, the Knight and the Franklin. These are the first "developed"
literary characters in English literature. Thus in at least two very important ways, Chaucer
"led the pack," blazing a trail for English poets and novelists to
follow. At this time the population of England is probably around three million souls
and English was not being taught in schools (but Chaucer would soon change
Chaucer's language is decidedly English, but still difficult for us to
understand in spots: thus the anguish of many high school and college students
doing papers on his Canterbury Tales! (I once
endured such anguish, then fell in love with ancient English poems and ended up
translating a number of my favorites.―MRB)
1341 Petrarch is crowned Poet Laureate in Rome.
1342 The birth of Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), an English anchorite, mystic
and writer whose visions would influence T. S. Eliot
centuries later. In his masterpiece "Four Quartets," Eliot would quote what
Julian claimed to hear God tell her: "All
shall be well and all manner of things shall be well." She would become the
English language's first published writer (see the entry for 1395). Around this time or
perhaps a bit later the mystical book The Cloud of Unknowing is written
by an unknown author.
1348 The Black Death kills one-third of the population of England; the
Chronicle of the Black Death records what happened.
1349 Richard Rolle dies, a victim of the Black Death.
1350 Boccaccio's Decameron. Around this time there is an "Alliterative Revival"
in England, with the Gawain/Pearl
poet and others employing the methods of the Anglo-Saxon scops, perhaps in a
deliberate "turning away" from the French/Latin verses favored by Norman
kings and lords. Important poems of this genre include Piers Plowman, Wynnere and Wastoure
("Winner and Waster"), Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Patience and Cleanness.
1356 Edward III's eldest son, the Black Prince (also named Edward), is
victorious in France; England now controls most of southwest France.
1357 Young Geoffrey Chaucer becomes a page to Elizabeth de Burgh, the Countess of Ulster
and wife of Prince Lionel, the Earl of Ulster. Chaucer's future wife, Philippa
Pan, is also a member of the household.
1359 Chaucer joins the English army and fights in the Hundred Years' War
against France, serving with Prince Lionel. Chaucer attends the wedding of
John of Gaunt to Blanche of Lancaster; thus Chaucer appears to have been "well
1360 Chaucer is captured, held hostage, then ransomed for sixteen pounds (a
handsome sum in those days). King Edward III contributes to his ransom.
1362 Chaucer is writing poems in English; Parliament is opened with a speech
in English for the first time; English also replaces French in courts of law.
1367 William Langland's The Vision of Piers Plowman is an
alliterative, allegorical dream poem that is quite unlike any
other poem in the English language. For a time, Langland―known as "Long
Will" because of his height―lives within a
few hundred yards of Chaucer, in London. Langland has been called England's
first reformer poet. Chaucer becomes
a member of the royal court, as a valet to King Edward III, with an annuity of
twenty marks for life.
1368 Chaucer's The Book of the Duchess memorializes the death of John
of Gaunt's wife, Blanche of Lancaster. Chaucer is paid by his patron when the
poem is completed in 1374.
1369 The birth of the English poet Thomas Hoccleve, an early confessional poet and
one of the first English poets to leave us manuscripts written in his own hand. Chaucer attends John of Gaunt during his raid
on Picardy, in northern France.
1370 The birth of the English poet John Lydgate, a penner of huge devotional
poems; he was one of the earliest English poets known to have worn spectacles.
1372 John Barbour, a Scottish poet, writes The Bruce, a verse
chronicle of about 13,000 lines. Chaucer is commissioned to establish a seaport
for Genoese trade and travels to Italy.
1373 Julian of Norwich is very near death on May 8, 1373. The local curate
comes to administer the last rites. Julian then has sixteen visions, which she
later records in the first book by an Englishwoman (see the entry for 1395).
Julian's visions convince her that God's love is unconditional, like a mother's
love, and that God does not condemn human beings. In one of her visions she
hears God tell her that "All shall be well and all manner of things shall be
1374 The death of Petrarch. Chaucer completes The Book of the Duchess.
John of Gaunt returns from France and takes control of the British government
when Edward III shows signs of senility. Chaucer is appointed Comptroller of
Wool Customs and Subsidy for the Port of London (an important post). Chaucer and
his wife are each given annuities of ten pounds by John of Gaunt.
1376 Edward III and the Black Prince die within a year of each other; John
Gower's Mirour de l'Omme or Speculum Meditantis.
1377 Richard II reigns, at age eleven. William Langland's Piers Plowman. John
Wycliffe is brought on charges before William Courtenay, the Bishop of London,
on February 19, 1377. In May a bull is sent by Pope Gregory XI in which he says
that 18 theses of Wycliffe's are dangerous to the Church and State. Like Martin
Luther but a century earlier, Wycliffe claimed that the Bible is the only
authority for Christians and he accused the Roman Catholic Church of theological
errors and corruption. Chaucer travels to Flanders and France on secret king's
business; he is also involved in negotiations for Richard's marriage.
1378 The "Western Schism" results in three different popes being elected
simultaneously. John Gower has Chaucer's power of attorney while he continues to
travel abroad, so two major English poets of their era knew each other quite
1379 Chaucer begins The House of Fame, a poem with 2,000-plus lines.
It describes a vision he received in a dream, and is completed the following
1380 Works of the so-called Gawain poet, including Pearl, Patience,
Cleanness and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Chaucer is released
from a suit of "raptus" regarding a Cecily Champain; "raptus"
could have referred to rape, kidnapping or inappropriate seizure.
1381 The poll tax leads to the Peasants Revolt; Watt Tyler and John Ball
lead the Peasants' Revolt and march on London. Chaucer begins work on
Troilus and Criseyde. Chaucer is awarded 22 pounds for his diplomatic
services to Richard II.
1382 Richard III promises to repeal the poll taxes, but returning rebels are
executed; John Wycliffe translates the Bible into English, introducing
over 1,000 new words into the language. Chaucer composes the 700-line poem Parlement
of Foules (Fowls, or Birds). Around this time, Chaucer also begins work on
the epic poem Troilus and Criseyde.
1384 John Wycliffe suffers a stroke during mass and dies. Wycliffe's writings
would establish the basis of Puritanism.
1385 Chaucer completes Troilus and Criseyde, his long poem about a
legendary love affair in ancient Troy; it has been called "the first modern
novel" although it is written in rhyming verse.
1386 Chaucer becomes a Member of Parliament, representing Kent as a Knight of
the Shire. He also begins
work on The Legend of Good Women, a poem completed between 1386 and
1388. St. Erkenwald is an alliterative poem that has been ascribed to
the Gawain and/or Pearl poet. John Gower writes his first poem in English around
1387 Chaucer begins work on his masterpiece The Canterbury Tales, the
first major work of literature created in modern English (i.e., English that is
still readable today). Chaucer would work on the poem for around a decade.
1388 Scots defeat Henry Hotspur at the Battle of Otterburn. John Purvey
completes the English Bible translation that he had worked on with John
Wycliffe. Juliana Berners (1388-?) is the first English woman verse writer whose
name and work we know today. No Emily Dickinson, she was a prioress who wrote
about hawking, hunting and fishing.
1389 John of Gaunt returns from a campaign in Spain, and Chaucer is appointed
Clerk of the King's Works, with pay of more than thirty pounds per year. He is
responsible for construction at Westminster, the Tower of London, and various
castles and manors.
1390 The first English cookbook, the Forme of Cury ("Form of
Cookery"). John Gower completes his best-known work in English, his Confessio
Amantis ("Lover's Confession"). It would be the first English
language poem to be translated into the languages of the European continent.
1391 Chaucer is appointed deputy forester of the Royal Forest at North
1394 Charles D'Orleans, a grandson of Charles V of France, is born; a master
of the ballade and rondeau fixed forms, he would write poetry in both French and
1395 Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love is the first
known book in the English language by a female author.
1399 Richard III is deposed and dies of starvation in captivity. King Henry IV
returns from exile in France to reign. Henry increases Chaucer's annuity to
1400 The alliterative Morte Arthure ("Death of Arthur").
The Castle of Perseverance is an allegorical drama that has been dated
to the early 15th century. The death of
Chaucer leaves his Canterbury Tales unfinished. Chaucer is the first
poet to be buried in the "Poet's Corner" of Westminster Abbey.
1401 Owain Glyndwr leads a Welsh revolt against English rule; his treaty with
France compounds England's troubles. John Purvey is accused of heresy, recants,
and returns to
1403 Sir Henry Percy, aka Sir Harry Hotspur or simply Hotspur, is slain at the
Battle of Shrewsbury fighting in a rebellion against Henry IV of England.
Hotspur would become one of Shakespeare's best-known characters, in his
historical play Henry IV. But Shakespeare either employed poetic
license or he got some of the facts wrong. For instance, according to the Bard
of Avon, Hotspur and Hal were the same age, but in reality Hotspur was 23 years
older than the future King Henry V, who was only sixteen when Hotspur died.
1406 James I of Scotland, while captive in England, writes The Kingis
1409 The Pope orders all books by John Wycliffe to be burned.
1412 John Lydgate's Troy Book.
1413 King Henry V reigns.
1415 Henry V attacks France in order to win back English territories
previously lost there; he captures Harfleur and wins the major battle of Agincourt; he or his son are
now in the line of succession to become King of France. One reason for the
victory is the English longbow. Jan Hus, a Wycliffe supporter, refuses to recant
and is burned at the stake. Charles D'Orleans is found under a heap of dead
Frenchmen at Agincourt and is held for ransom by the English. D'Orleans and his
brother would learn the English language as prisoners by reading Chaucer's
1420 John Lydgate's The Siege of Thebes.
1422 Henry VI reigns as King of England and France, but is only eight months
old; regents are appointed. The birth of the English writer, translator and book
printer William Caxton (1422?-1491).
1425 The birth of the Scottish poet Robert Henryson (1425?-1508?). Henryson
has been called the greatest of the Scottish makars (poets) and indeed
he was lauded by William Dunbar in his poem Lament for the Makaris.
1426 John Lydgate's The Pilgrimage of the Life of Man, a translation
of Guillaume de Deguileville's Pθleringe.
1428 The Council of Constance orders Wycliffe's bones to be dug up, burned,
then "chucked into the river Swift."
1429 Joan of Arc, a young French peasant girl, begins her campaign to drive
the English from France, with considerable success.
1430 A "haunting riddle-chant" from this era is
I Have a Yong Suster,
an anonymous Medieval English riddle-poem that has also been described as a
popular song and a folk song. A similar haunting poem is the
Corpus Christi Carol, which was discovered in a manuscript dated to
around 1504, but which could have been composed earlier. The
poem has a ballad-like refrain: "Lully, lullay, lully, lullay! The falcon has
borne my mak [mate] away."
1431 Joan of Arc is burned at the stake as a witch; Henry VI is crowned King
of France in Paris.
1440 Eton College is founded and provides free education to 70 scholars. Birth
of Henry the Minstrel, aka Blind Harry, a Scottish poet. Charles D'Orleans is
finally freed at age 46. After his return to France, he would focus on the
rondel. He marries Mary of Cleves, age 14.
1450 Robin Hood and the Monk appears to be one of the earliest
popular ballads about Robin Hood. It has been dated to around 1450. A similar
ballad is Robin Hood and the Potter. Both poems are called "Child
ballads" because they appeared in a book of 305 popular ballads published by
Francis James Child as The English and Scottish Popular Ballads in
1453 England loses all its French possession except Calais and the Channel
Islands, ending the Hundred Years' War; the Wars of the Roses begin almost
immediately, with the houses of York and Lancaster pitted violently against each
1455 The Guttenberg Bible
is the first book printed with moveable
1460 Henry VI is captured by Yorkists but is freed by an army raised by his
wife Margaret; the approximate births of the poets John Skelton (1460?-1529) and William Dunbar (1460?-1520?).
William Dunbar would become the first great Scottish poet. Francois Villon, a
guest of Charles D'Orleans at Blois, writes a poem to celebrate the birth of his
daughter Marie, named after her mother Marie of Cleves.
1461 Henry VI and Margaret are defeated and flee to Scotland; Edward, the son of
Richard of York, declares himself King Edward IV. Francois Villon, recently
released from prison, writes his Ballad of the Ladies of Times Past.
1462 The Scottish poet Robert Henryson earns a degree in canon law from the
University of Glasgow. His collection of animal fables has been called a
masterpiece of medieval literature. Marie of Cleves bears Charles D'Orleans a
son, the future Louis XII of France, known during his reign as the Father of his
1464 Henry VI is captured and brought to the Tower of London.
1465 Charles D'Orleans, the Duke of Orleans, dies at age 70.
1469 Edward IV is defeated and flees to Flanders; Henry VI is restored to the
throne; Thomas Mallory's Le Morte D'Arthur ("The Death of Arthur").
1471 Edward IV returns to England, defeats Margaret's army; Henry VI is
stabbed to death in the Tower of London. William Caxton visits Cologne, sees a
printer press at work, and decides to become a book printer himself.
1473 William Caxton prints the first typeset English book, his
translation of the History of Troy, in either 1473 or 1474.
Caxton would also create the first book by a woman to be published in England,
The Moral Proverbs of Christine de Pisan.
The birth of Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543).
1474 The birth of Gavin Douglas (1474?-1522), a Scottish poet.
1475 The birth of Stephen Hawes (1475?-1530?), an English scholar and poet who
was popular in his day, but is largely unread today.
1476 William Caxton prints Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
Prior to the publication of Caxton's books, reading and writing had been largely
confined to monastic centers and the elites who could afford expensive
hand-produced manuscripts, but reading and writing were about to spread,
resulting in a coming explosion of knowledge. Also, much older poetry and
literature was lost due to the scarcity of the manuscripts. As books were more
easily duplicated, they were more likely to survive.
1477 The oldest surviving Valentine's letter in the English language
was written by Margery Brews to her fiancι John Paston in February 1477.
1478 The birth of Sir Thomas More, the author of Utopia.
1480 Robert Henryson's Fables of Aesop.
1483 Edward IV dies; his son Edward V reigns briefly but is declared
illegitimate and is probably murdered in the Tower of London; Richard III
declares himself king; William Caxton prints John Gower's Confessio Amantis
1484 William Caxton prints Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde.
1485 Henry Tudor lands in Wales, where he defeats and kills Richard III in the
last major battle of the Wars of the Roses; Henry Tudor becomes
King Henry VII. Thus begins the Tudor Period, which marks the
end of the Middle Ages in England.
1486 Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York, uniting the houses of Lancaster and
York and cementing the Tudor dynasty; the Wars of the Roses end.
Our top ten Tudor/Elizabethan poets: George Chapman, Sir Walter Ralegh, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, Henry Howard,
Sir Philip Sidney, Sir Thomas Wyatt,
John Donne, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare
Early Modern English: the English Renaissance and the Tudor and Elizabethan Periods (1486-1618)
The Tudor era saw the introduction of the sonnet and blank verse, both
of which were based on iambic pentameter. The poetry of Thomas Wyatt and Henry
Howard may mark the beginning of modern English poetry. This era ended with the
deaths of Queen Elizabeth, its most important English monarch, and William
Shakespeare, its most important English writer, in the first decade of the
seventeenth century. Here's a brief recap of what happened during the
Elizabethan Period: "By the time the Italian Renaissance waned, its greatest
poetic exports the ballad and the sonnet found their way to England through
Sir Thomas Wyatt. He introduced the forms to a countryside
attuned to lyrical and narrative poetry by the great Geoffrey Chaucer, whose
experiences with latter Provencal poets influenced the style credited with
modernizing English literature. Sonnets swept through late 16th and early 17th
century England, primarily through the works of Wyatt,
Sir Philip Sydney, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare.
Spenser and Shakespeare took the Petrarchan form that Wyatt introduced to the
literary landscape and added their individual touches, forming the three
principal sonnet styles: Petrarchan, Spenserian, and Shakespearean. The other
fixed verse influence Provencal and French forms added to the poetic mix,
creating a vast community of poets who recited their works in various forums. In
the theater, their verse often preceded Shakespeare and Marlowe dramas a
practice followed nearly four centuries later by many of San Franciscos 1960s
rock musicians, who preceded their concerts with readings from Beat poets. The
socially open Elizabethan era enabled poets to write about humanistic as well as
religious subjects. The dramatic rise in academic study and literacy during the
late 16th century created large audiences for the new poetry, which was also
introduced into the educational system. In many ways, the Elizabethan era more
closely resembled the expressionism of the Ancient Greeks than the Sicilian and
Italian Renaissance schools from which it derived its base poetry."
1491 Birth of Henry Tudor (Henry VIII). The poet John Skelton would tutor the
young Duke of York, later Henry VIII, for five years. The death of William
Caxton. His work would be carried on by his foreman, Wynkyn de Worde.
1492 Columbus discovers San Salvador and the Americas. John Skelton is made Laureate by the
University of Louvain. William Dunbar accompanies an embassy to Denmark and
France, but his duties are unknown.
1494 Birth of William Tyndale.
1497 John Cabot discovers Newfoundland and North America.
1498 John Skelton's satire of court life, The Bowge of Courte. It was
published twice by Wynkyn de Worde.
1500 Everyman is an allegorical drama, translated from the Dutch,
which has been dated to the early 16th century.
1503 The birth of Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542), a
courtier/soldier/gentleman and perhaps the first modern English poet and the
first great English lyric poet.
The birth of the English poet John Leland/Layland (1503-1552), who may have known Wyatt during their
time at Cambridge; Leland would write a book of elegies to Wyatt. William
Dunbar's The Thrissill and the Rois and
Sweet Rose of Virtue.
By this time Dunbar is attached to the court of King James IV of Scotland.
Richard Arnold's Chronicle includes the ballad "The Nut Brown Maid."
1504 Leonardo Da Vinci paints the Mona Lisa. Michelangelo finishes
his masterpiece of marble sculpture, David. The earliest known version
of the Corpus Christi Carol was discovered in a manuscript dated to
around 1504, but the poem could have been composed earlier. The
poem has a ballad-like refrain: "Lully, lullay, lully, lullay! The falcon has
borne my mak [mate] away."
1508 Michelangelo begins to paint the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel. William Dunbar's The Dance of the Sevin Deidly Synnis, The Goldyn
Lament for the Makaris and The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen.
Several of Dunbar's poems were included in the first books to be printed in
Scotland, now known as the the Chepman and Myllar Prints. Poems by John
Lydgate and Robert Henryson were also included.
1509 Henry Tudor marries Catherine of Aragon, then reigns as King Henry VIII.
1510 William Dunbar's pension was a handsome 80 pounds, so he was evidently
held in high regard by King James IV and his court.
1513 John Skelton is appointed Poet Laureate to Henry VIII. Gavin Douglas, a
Scottish poet, in his Eneados translates Virgil's Aeneid into
vernacular Scots. This is the first complete translation of a major
classical poem into English. Douglas's translation is almost twice as long as
Virgil's original poem!
1515 William Tyndale, despite being a student of theology, a subdeacon and
possessing a Master of Arts, is not allowed to read the Bible! He complains:
"They have ordained that no man shall look on the Scripture, until he be
noselled in heathen learning eight or nine years and armed with false
principles, with which he is clean shut out of the understanding of the
Scripture." Thomas Wyatt attends St. John's College, Cambridge.
1516 Sir Thomas More's Utopia is published by Erasmus. The birth of Henry
Howard, the Earl of Surrey; he was a poet and the first cousin of Anne Boleyn.
It was Howard who created the poetic form we now call the "Shakespearean
sonnet." He was also the first English poet to employ blank verse, which he
introduced in his translations of books II and IV of Virgil's Aeneid.
Half a century later, Marlowe and Shakespeare would employ blank verse in their
most famous plays. John Skelton writes Magnificence.
1517 Martin Luther, a professor of moral theology at Wittenberg, publishes his 95 theses against the Roman Catholic Church,
kick-starting the Protestant Reformation, which would soon have tremendous
implications for England ...
1518 Henry VIII, when he is not beheading his wives, is a musician and
composer who creates a royal songbook.
1519 John Skelton, a "renegade humanist," attacks the powerful Cardinal Wolsey
in Collyn Clout. Wolsey would send Skelton to prison for his
1520 Thomas Wyatt marries Lord Cobham's daughter; she bears him a son and a
daughter, but proves unfaithful.
1521 Lutheran writings are circulating in England. Pope Leo X declares King Henry VIII the Fidei Defensor or
Defender of the Faith, in honor of Henry's book Defense of the Seven
Sacraments, which attacked Luther's theology and was dedicated to Leo X.
But another heretic is about to follow in Luther's footsteps; William Tyndale
tells a clergyman: ""I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my
life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of
the Scriptures than thou dost!" By this time, Tyndale is obviously planning to
translate the Bible into English, if he hasn't already started. John Skelton
composes his masterpiece, Speke Parrot.
1522 John Skelton's A Ballade of the Scottysshe Kynge may be the
first printed English ballad.
1525 William Tyndale is working on his English translation of the New
Testament, possibly in Wittenberg (where Martin Luther started the Protestant
1526 Lord Chancellor Cardinal Thomas Wolsey orders the burning of Protestant
books. Thomas Wyatt travels to Italy and returns with a passion for the sonnets
of Petrarch. Wyatt begins to translate the works of Petrarch and Horace into
1527 Henry VIII seeks the Pope's permission to divorce his first wife
Catherine of Aragon but is refused, creating a huge rift and leading to Henry's
subsequent "divorce" from the Roman Catholic Church.
1528 Thomas Wyatt is appointed marshal of Calais.
1529 Henry VIII declares himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England. The "Reformation Parliament" is so-called
because in 1529 the English Parliament passed and enabled major pieces of
legislation that led to the English Reformation. Death of John Skelton.
1530 The short lyric Westron Wynde ("Western Wind") appears in a 1530
partbook. The birth of the English poet George Gascoigne (1530-1577).
Gascoigne's Supposes may be the first English prose comedy. Gascoigne
has been called "the best-known writer of his day."
1532 Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, marries the Earl of Oxford's daughter.
1533 Henry VIII marries Anne Boleyn in defiance of Rome and many of his own
bishops and advisors, including Thomas More, his former Chancellor; Pope Clement
VII excommunicates Henry. Thomas Wyatt is chief ewer (in his father's place) at
the marriage of Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII. But are Wyatt and Boleyn lovers?
Wyatt's famous sonnet "Whoso List to Hunt" may have been written for Anne
Boleyn, or with her in mind. Queen Elizabeth I is born; she would write a number of poems.
1534 Around this time, Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard introduce the English
sonnet, modeled after the Petrarchan sonnet, with 14 lines of iambic pentameter;
Howard creates the form that would come to be known as the Elizabethan sonnet
and the Shakespearean sonnet. Wyatt introduces terza rima and ottava rima to
English poetry, via Italy. Wyatt also introduces "poulter's measure" to English
1535 Sir Thomas More is executed after refusing to recognize Henry VIII as the
Supreme Head of the Church of England; Thomas Cromwell is made Vicar-General and
begins to seize the Roman Catholic Church's lands and other holdings. The first complete English
translation of the Bible is created by Miles Coverdale.
1536 Anne Boleyn is beheaded; Henry VIII marries his third wife, Jane Seymour;
Thomas Wyatt, imprisoned in the Tower of London for his alleged affair with Anne
Boleyn, may have written his famous poems
Whoso List to Hunt
and They Flee from Me around this time; William Tyndale is
convicted of heresy, strangled to death, then burned at the stake in Antwerp.
1537 Jane Seymour dies giving birth to Prince Edward (later Edward VI). Sir
Thomas Wyatt is appointed ambassador to Spain. Henry
Howard develops blank verse in his translation of the Aeneid.
1539 The abbots of Colchester, Glastonbury and Reading are executed for
treason as Henry VIII continues to acquire Church holdings. An uprising in Devon
and Cornwall known as the Prayer Book Rebellion occurs when Catholics object to
the imposition of teachings of the Protestant Reformation.
1540 Henry VIII marries his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, in January but the
marriage is annulled in July; Thomas Cromwell is executed for treason; Henry
marries his fifth wife, Catherine Howard.
1542 Catherine Howard is executed for treason; James V of Scotland dies and is
succeeded by his six-day-old daughter Mary (later, Mary Queen of Scots). Sir
Thomas Wyatt dies suddenly, of a fever.
1543 Henry VIII marries the twice-widowed Catherine Parr, his sixth and last
1545 The approximate birth of Isabella Whitney (1545?-1573?), the first
Englishwoman to publish her verses. The future queen Elizabeth completes her
translations of Psalm 13 and the meditations of Margaret of Navarre as a New
Year's gift for her stepmother, Queen Catherine Parr (the sixth wife of Henry
1546 Henry Howard is arrested and charged with high treason.
1547 Henry Howard is decapitated on the order of Henry VIII, who dies the same
year. Thomas Nashe would fictionalize Howard in The Unfortunate Traveller.
Thomas Warton called Howard the first classical English poet. King Edward VI reigns at age nine, but is sickly.
1548 Elizabeth publishes her translation of Margaret of Navarre as A Godly
Meditation of the Christian Soul. Elizabeth also translates the second
chorus of Seneca's Hercules Oetaeus, sections of Boethius's De
Consolatione philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy), lines 1-178 of
Horace's Ars Poetica, and Plutarch's On Curiosity. The
translations from Boethius and Horace survive in her own hand.
1550 John Skelton's poem Hereafter foloweth the Boke of Phyllyp Sparowe,
better known today as "Philip Sparrow." Skelton's poem Hereafter foloweth a
title boke called Colyn Cloute, better known as "Colin Clout." Pierre de Ronsard publishes the first four books of his Odes.
Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), has been suggested to be
the "real" Shakespeare.
1552 The births of Walter Ralegh and Edmund Spenser; the latter was perhaps the first
great English Romantic poet and the precursor of Milton, Blake, Shelley, Keats, et al.
1553 Edward VI dies of tuberculosis; his will appoints Lady Jane Grey as his
successor; his sister Mary deposes her and reigns as Queen Mary I.
1554 Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger leads a revolt to depose Mary I, who was
Catholic and considering a marriage to the Catholic Philip of Spain; the revolt
is crushed and Wyatt and Lady Jane Grey are executed; Mary's sister Elizabeth is
sent to the Tower of London; Elizabeth writes the poem "On Fortune and
Injustice" while in captivity. Mary marries Philip of Spain. The birth of the
English poets Philip Sidney, John Lyly and Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke.
1555 "Bloody Mary" begins her brutal persecution of Protestants; she has 283
religious dissenters killed, most of them burned at the stake, including the
Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer.
1557 Henry Howard's translation of the Aeneid is published. Tottel's Miscellany, perhaps the first modern English poetry
anthology, includes poems by Henry Howard and Sir Thomas Wyatt. The
Elizabethans preferred Howard's sweeter strains to Wyatt's "dark words and
broken meters." A good indication of this preference is the original title of
Tottel's anthology: Songes and sonettes, written by the ryght honorable
Lorde Henry Haward late Earle of Surrey, and other. But today Wyatt is
generally considered to be the greater and more original poet. Birth of the English poet
1558 Mary I dies childless; Queen Elizabeth I reigns; thus begins the
Elizabethan Period. Protestant reforms are
reinstituted but Elizabeth is not as bloody as her sister Mary. Birth of the
English poet Thomas Lodge. Birth of
the English playwright Thomas Kyd, the author of the play The
Spanish Tragedie and perhaps the most influential English playwright before
Marlowe and Shakespeare. It has been suggested that Kyd wrote a ur-Hamlet
that preceded Shakespeare's famous play.
1559 Birth of the English poet George Chapman, who would author more than
twenty plays and translate Homer. Chapman has been suggested as the "rival poet"
mentioned by Shakespeare in his work.
1560 Birth of
Sir John Harington (1560-1612), an English courtier, poet, translator and
inventor of the flush toilet!
1561 The birth of the English poet Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke
(1561-1621), translator of the Psalms, the first notable female English poet,
and sister of Philip Sidney. The birth of the English poet Robert Southwell, best known for his poem
The Burning Babe. The birth of Francis Bacon, whose extensive writings covered
philosophy, science, ethics, history, law and politics.
1562 Birth of the English poet Samuel Daniel.
1563 John Foxes The Book of Martyrs, about religious persecutions,
is published. The births of the English poets John Dowland and Michael Drayton.
1564 The births of the English poets and playwrights Christopher Marlowe and
William Shakespeare; the latter
is generally considered to be the greatest English poet and playwright (not to
talented songwriter). The birth of Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who would run
afoul of the Roman Catholic inquisition for claiming that the earth revolves
around the sun, rather than otherwise.
1565 Sir Walter Raleigh, a poet and explorer, brings potatoes and tobacco back from
the New World.
1566 Isabella Whitney's Sweet Nosegay and The Copy of a Letter.
1567 Births of the English poets Thomas Nashe and
Campion was also a lutanist who wrote over 100 lute songs. He is remembered for
melodious poems like When to Her Lute Corinna Sings and There Is a
Garden in Her Face. The first purpose-built London playhouse is the Red
Lion, but it apparently did not stand long or house many plays. The owner of the
Red Lion, John Brayne, would later collaborate with John Burbage on a more
successful theater (see the entry for 1576).
1568 Mary, Queen of Scots, flees to England and is imprisoned by Elizabeth.
1569 At age sixteen, a talented and precocious Edmund Spenser has two of his
translations of French poems published at the beginning of an anti-Catholic
prose tract, A Theatre for Voluptuous Worldlings. Spenser enrolls
at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. The birth of the English poet Emilia Lanyer
(1569-1645), who has been proposed to be Shakespeare's mistress.
1572 The births of the major English poets John Donne and Ben Jonson.
Donne may have been the best English writer of erotic poetry in his youth, and
the best writer of religious poetry in his maturity! Jonson has been called "the
most versatile writer in the history of English poetry." Jonson wrote poems,
songs, plays, sonnets, odes, masques, epistles, elegies and satires. He
translated Horace. His epitaph in Westminster Abbey reads "O rare Benn Johnson"
(spellings being rather arbitrary back then). Like Shakespeare, Jonson was the
son of a commoner.
1576 The "Wakefield Master" has been credited with writing mystery plays with
biblical and pastoral themes that were performed in the Wakefield area. The
first major English playhouse is built in Shoreditch, just outside London, by the actor James Burbage.
It is such an original concept at the time that the building is called The
William Shakespeare is twelve years old. Richard Burbage, the son of James
Burbage, will be the leading actor in Shakespeare's plays.
1577 The birth of the English poet Robert Burton (1577-1640).
1578 The birth of the English playwright John Webster. Philip Sidney writes a
masque in Elizabeth's honor and begins work on his very popular Old Arcadia.
1579 Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender
has been called "the first
work of the English literary Renaissance." It was
dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, who around the same time published
Old Arcadia and Defence of Poetry or An Apologie for Poetrie.
Sidney may have been the first important English literary critic. While he was
not impressed with most of the English language poetry he read, Sidney did
compliment Spenser in his writings on the subject. Sidney and Spenser formed a
literary club, the Areopagus, which may have been England's first poetry
society. The birth of the English
playwright John Fletcher, who would collaborate with Shakespeare on his last two
plays, then succeed him as the playwright for the King's Men after the Bard
retired to Stratford-on-Avon.
1580 Edmund Spenser is appointed secretary to the new lord deputy of Ireland,
Arthur Lord Grey of Wilton, who was a friend of the Sidney family.
Spenser moves to Ireland, where he meets and becomes friends with Sir Walter
Ralegh. The birth of the English playwright Thomas Middleton.
1582 Shakespeare, eighteen, marries Anne Hathaway, who is eight years older.
She is three months pregnant. Sir Philip Sidney is knighted. Around this time
Queen Elizabeth I writes the poem "On Monsieur's Departure."
1583 Sir Philip Sidney marries the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham.
1584 Walter Ralegh founds the first American colony, names it Virginia after
Elizabeth (the Virgin Queen), and is made a knight. Christopher Marlowe
completes his play
Tamburlaine. With a BA and MA from Cambridge, Marlowe is the first of the
"university wits" to employ blank verse.
1585 James VI of Scotland writes Essays of a Prentice in the Arte of
Poesie, citing the poems of Alexander Montgomerie.
1586 Chidiock Tichborne is hanged, castrated, and disemboweled for treason;
the great elegy he wrote to himself while awaiting death in the Tower of London
is now known as Tichborne's Elegy. The birth of the English playwright
John Ford. The Star Chamber attempts to end the printing of subversive ballads,
which had become a form of journalism. Edmund Spenser writes the elegy
"Astrophel" as a tribute to Sir Philip Sidney, who died at age 32 of wounds
received at Zatuphen in the Netherlands. Thomas Campion leaves Cambridge without
a degree and enters Gray's Inn, London, to study law.
1587 Mary, Queen of Scots, is executed at Fotheringhay Castle on charges of
treason. Sir Walter Ralegh, still in favor, is appointed captain of the guard.
The birth of the English poet Mary Wroth. Christopher Marlowe's
Tamburlaine is first performed. According to the critic Harold Bloom, thus
begins the "richest eighty years of poetry in English" with Marlowe,
Shakespeare, Donne, Jonson, Herrick, Carew, Lovelace, Marvell, Herbert, Crashaw,
Vaughan and Milton all writing and/or being published within that narrow span of
time. (We would suggest 1880-1960 with Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, Thomas Hardy, Gerard
Manley Hopkins, A. E. Housman, William Butler Yeats, Ernest Dowson, E. A.
Robinson, Stephen Crane, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Edward Thomas, Wallace
Stevens, William Carlos Williams, D. H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Elinor Wylie,
Robinson Jeffers, Marianne Moore, T. S. Eliot, Conrad Aiken, Archibald MacLeish,
Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wilfred Owen, e. e. cummings, Louise Bogan, Hart Crane,
Langston Hughes, W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell,
Philip Larkin, Geoffrey Hill and Sylvia Plath!)
1588 A Spanish Armada of 130 ships sailing against England is defeated by bad
weather and the English fleet under admirals Francis Drake and John Hawkins; the
resulting English dominance of the seas greatly enhances the prospects of the
British Empire; Christopher Marlowe writes Doctor Faustus. Edmund
Spenser acquires a 3,000-acre plantation called Kilcolman, complete with a
castle, close to Cork. The birth of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), author of
Leviathan. Hobbes was a royalist who believed monarchs should have absolute
power. But he did advance the ideas of natural equality of all men, a "social
contract" and representative government based on the consent of the governed.
Thomas Campion appears as "Melancholy" in a masque. Ben Jonson leaves
school to become a bricklayer, like his father.
1589 William Shakespeare's first play may have been The Two Gentlemen of
Verona. Walter Ralegh visits Edmund Spenser's castle, takes an interest in
his poetry, and helps him publish the first three books of The Faerie Queene
the following year in London, where he meets Queen Elizabeth with Ralegh's help.
1590 Shakespeare's plays The Taming of the Shrew, Henry VI, Titus
Andronicus, Richard III, Edward III, The Comedy of Errors, Love's Labor Lost,
and Romeo and Juliet may have been written between 1590 and 1594. Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene; his Mother
Hubberd's Tale is a forerunner of Mother Goose publications to come, but it
is also a political satire that gets him in hot water! However, Queen Elizabeth
I, to whom The Faerie Queene is dedicated, grants Spenser a pension of
50 pounds, which is more than she granted any other poet. Elizabeth has a
starring role in The Faerie Queene as Gloriana. It is one of the
longest poems in the English language and was written in what came to be known
as Spenserian stanzas.
1591 Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella is an early sonnet
sequence; Thomas Campion has his first poems published anonymously as "Content"
in an appendage. John Donne is writing satires, elegies,
songs and sonnets. The birth of the English Cavalier poet Robert Herrick, whom
Swinburne would describe as "the greatest song writer ever born of English
race." Unlike the other major Cavalier poets, Herrick was not a courtier.
Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd share lodgings in London, and perhaps
exchange ideas about plays.
1592 Shakespeare is making a name for himself, as he is called an "upstart
crow" by Robert Greene. Sir Walter Ralegh gets Elizabeth Throckmorton, the
queen's maid of honor, pregnant. He marries her secretly and earns the queen's
displeasure, spending time in the Tower of London. Christopher Marlowe's play
The Jew of Malta is performed. Francis Bacon's poem "The World" is
circulated among friends, John Donne among them. Donne kept a copy of the poem
until he died.
1593 Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis; Christopher Marlowe is murdered, perhaps assassinated, at age 29;
the birth of the
English metaphysical poet George Herbert, who is known primarily for his
1594 George Chapman's poem The Shadow of Night. Richard Burbage assembles a group of actors called the Lord Chamberlain's
Men: members of the troupe include his leading-man son Richard Burbage, and
William Shakespeare, who played secondary roles. They perform at The Theatre,
built by Richard Burbage (see the entry for 1576). Edmund Spenser
writes Epithalamion and the Amoretti sonnets for his
bride-to-be, Elizabeth Boyle. Epithalamion is one of the finest love poems
in the English language. Thomas Nashe's prose romance novel The Unfortunate
Traveller. Spenser creates a version of the English sonnet that now bears
his name: the Spenserian sonnet. The best-known Spenserian sonnet is probably
his Amoretti sonnet #75, which begins: "One day I wrote her name upon the strand
..." Ben Jonson marries; his first two children die young and he writes
them both poignant elegies.
1595 Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream. George Chapman's
poem Ovid's Banquet of Sense. Thomas Campion has his first poems
published under his own name (all in Latin)A . The poet Robert Southwell, a Jesuit priest and missionary, is convicted
of treason, hanged, drawn and quartered. His poems were published posthumously
and he is known primarily for one celebrated poem, The Burning Babe.
1596 Shakespeare's plays King John and The Merchant of Venice.
Birth of the English poet James Shirley, who is best known for his poem
Dirge ("The glories of our blood and state / Are shadows, not
substantial things ..."). Birth of the English Cavalier poet Thomas Carew. Many
of Carew's poems would be sensuous love poems. Edmund Spenser publishes
Prothalamion, a nuptial song he wrote for the double marriage of the
daughters of the Earl of Worchester, Elizabeth and Katherine Somerset.
1597 Shakespeare's plays Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Francis Bacon's Essays; John Dowland's The First Booke of
Songes or Ayres; George Chapman's translation of Homer's Illiad;
Edmund Spenser publishes another installment of The Faerie Queen. Ben
Jonson is imprisoned for his part in The Isle of Dogs, a seditious play
he probably authored.
1598 Shakespeare's plays Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing. Shakespeare acts in Ben Jonson's play Sejanus.
Led by the Burbages, the Lord Chamberlain's Men dismantle The Theatre and use
its beams to begin work on The Globe theater. Shakespeare's "sugared
sonnets" are mentioned for the first time, by Francis Meres. Edmund Spenser's
castle at Kilcolman is burned by Irish forces opposed to English dominance;
according to Ben Jonson, one of Spenser's infant children perished in the blaze.
Spenser would die himself within three months. Jonson kills a fellow actor with
a rapier and narrowly escapes the gallows. George Chapman writes a
continuation of Christopher Marlowe's unfinished Hero and Leander.
Chapman publishes his translation of Homer's Iliad in installments.
1599 Shakespeare's plays Julius Caesar, As You Like It and
Twelfth Night. The Globe Theater opens for business in London;
Julius Caesar is one of the first plays staged there. The Globe had the
best theater, the best actors, the best plays and the best playwright.
Shakespeare owned 12.5% of the theater. Two of Shakespeare's sonnets are
published by William Jaggard. Christopher Marlowe's
The Passionate Shepherd to his Love is answered by Sir Walter Ralegh's
The Nymph's Reply. Marlowe's translations of Ovid are burned publicly as
Edmund Spenser dies, destitute, and is buried next to Chaucer at
Westminster Abbey. At the time of his death Spenser was "widely recognized as
the most important living English poet," so his burial next to Chaucer made
perfect sense at the time. Later, Shakespeare would claim the most lavish poetic
laurels, but Spenser would remain a tremendous influence on important poets to
come, including John Milton, Robert Herrick and the Cavaliers, William Blake,
Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Lord Byron,
Alfred Tennyson and William Butler Yeats. George Herbert studies under Lancelot
Andrewes, then dean of Westminster.
1600 The East India Company is founded; Thomas Nashe's best-known poem Litany in
Time of Plague with its moving refrain "Lord, have mercy on us!"
George Chapman is arrested for debt, a serious charge in those days.
1601 The first performance of Shakespeare's play Hamlet; Thomas Campion's
A Book of Ayres contains poems like My Sweetest Lesbia and When to Her Lute Corinna Sings.
Thomas Nashe dies of the Plague in London.
1602 Thomas Campion's Observations in the Art of English Poesie.
1603 Shakespeare's play Measure for Measure. The death of Queen Elizabeth I; James VI of Scotland becomes King James I of
England, Scotland, and Ireland; thus begins the Jacobean Period; Sir Walter Ralegh is sent to the Tower of
London; much of his poetry was written while he was held in the Tower from
1603-1616. Samuel Daniel's Defense of Rhyme.
1604 Shakespeare is granted a coat of arms; Othello is first
performed and includes one of the earliest English limericks; James I becomes a
patron of Shakespeare's acting company.
1605 Shakespeare's plays King Lear and Macbeth. Birth of the English poet Sir
Thomas Browne (1605-1682). Thomas Campion earns a medical degree from the
University of Caen and begins to earn a living as a doctor.
1606 Ben Jonson's comedic play Volpone. The birth of the English poet
William Davenant (1606-1668). John Donne contemplates suicide and writes
Biathanotos, a partial justification of suicide. Donne becomes friends with
the mother of the poet George Herbert.
1607 John Donne's Song, The Sunne Rising and The
Cannonization are written around this time. The birth of the English poet
Edmund Waller. Robert Herrick is apprenticed as a goldsmith to his rich uncle.
1608 The birth of the English poet John Milton; John Donne
begins to write his Holy Sonnets. His poems are ill-received by Ben
Jonson and others.
1609 Shakespeare publishes his Sonnets. Birth of the English Cavalier
poet Sir John Suckling.
1610 Galileo says the earth moves around the sun, comes close to losing his
life to the Roman Catholic Church, will spend his remaining days under house arrest.
Shakespeare employs limerick meter in Stephanos drinking song in The
Tempest. Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale is one of his last major
plays. Thomas Campion's A New Way of Making Four Parts in Counterpoint.
1611 The King James Bible is published in still-readable English; it says the earth is
immovable with fixed foundations, that there was a perfect garden of Eden, etc.
The King James Bible contains some of the oldest and best free verse in the
English language, such as the Song of Solomon.
Emilia Lanyer's words attributed to Eve have been called "the first clear
glimmer of English feminism in verse."
1612 Heretics are burned at the stake in England for the last time. Anne
Bradstreet, perhaps the first notable American poet, is born in Northampton,
England into a Puritan family with a well-stocked library. John Webster's play The Duchess of Malfi.
1613 The Globe Theatre burns during a performance of Shakespeare's Henry
VIII, which may have been his last-authored play, co-written with
John Fletcher. Shakespeare may have also collaborated with Fletcher on
the play The Two Noble Kinsmen. The birth of the English metaphysical poet
Richard Crashaw (c. 1613-1649). Thomas Campion's "Songs of Mourning" lament the
death of Prince Henry. Robert Herrick enters St. John's College to study law.
George Herbert earns his BA, becomes a minor fellow of Trinity College, and
writes two elegies for Prince Henry.
1614 Sir Walter Ralegh's History of the World.
1616 The death of William Shakespeare; Ben Jonson's "first folio" or Works
On My First Son and Song: To Celia ("Drink to me only with thin
eyes"). Jonson travels to Scotland on foot to meet William Drummond (and
allegedly drank his wine cellar dry!). George Chapman's complete translations
of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey
Galileo Galilei is forced to stop saying that the sun is the center of the
solar system, by the Roman Catholic inquisition.
Our top ten poets of the Cavalier Period: George Herbert, James Shirley,
Sir John Suckling, Richard Lovelace, Thomas Carew, Edmund Waller, Robert
Herrick, Ben Jonson, John Donne, John Milton
Poets at War with Each Other: The Cavaliers, the
Reformation and the Restoration (1617-1675)
The Cavalier Period is marked by poets who praised the virtues of war,
honor, chivalry, duty, monarchs, God, church and faith. The Cavalier poets are
sometimes called the "tribe of Ben" or the "sons of Ben" because of their
admiration for Ben Jonson. Cavaliers like Richard Lovelace and Reformers like Milton were often at war with each other―not only
with their pens, but by casting their lots with opposing armies. Milton stands out as the first great Romantic anti-establishment
poet: a powerful voice of dissent against the status quo. While he
claimed to "justify the ways of God to man," as William Blake pointed out
Milton actually spoke for the rebellious angels, and made Romantic heroes of
Satan, Adam and Eve. Many of the great poets to come would also be dissenters:
William Blake, Robert Burns, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord
Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, A. E. Housman, Thomas Hardy, Robert
Frost, et al.
1617 The birth of the English Cavalier poet Richard Lovelace. Robert Herrick, the
eldest of the Cavalier poets, graduates with a BA from Trinity Hall, Cambridge.
1618 Sir Walter Ralegh fails in his last expedition to find El Dorado and
upon his return to England is executed for alleged treason; he probably writes his great
poem The Lie while incarcerated in the Tower of London, awaiting an
unjust death, after all he had done for England and its monarchy. The Lie
put Ralegh at odds with the Cavalier poets who wrote after him. The birth of the
English poet Abraham Cowley. At the tender age of ten, John Milton is already a
1619 Michael Drayton publishes perhaps his best-known poem, Sonnet LVI
from Idea ("Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part ...").
1620 The Pilgrims set sail for America in the Mayflower; they land at Cape Cod
and found the New Plymouth colony. Thomas Campion dies, possibly of the
plague. Robert Herrick earns an MA from Cambridge.
Harold Bloom has called Tom
O'Bedlam's Song "the
most magnificent Anonymous poem in the language." It was probably written early
in the 17th century. Bloom describes the poem as being "all but High Romantic
vision," which would put it around two hundred years ahead of its time!
1621 Edmund Waller becomes a
Member of Parliament. John Donne is dean of St. Paul's. The birth of the English metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell
(1621-1678), who is best known
today for his famous carpe diem ("seize the day") poem To His Coy
1622 The approximate birth of the English metaphysical and devotional poet Henry Vaughan
(c. 1622-1695). He would be influenced by the devotional poems of George
1623 Shakespeare's First Folio
was published by a temporary syndicate. It was a collection
of his comedies, histories and tragedies. Shakespeare became Shakespeare because
of his plays, not his sonnets and lyric poems. Ben Jonson had a financial stake
in the folio and wrote an elegy for Shakespeare (one of poetry's more eloquent
The birth of the English
poet Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), the Duchess of Newcastle. John Donne becomes seriously ill, writes his
Devotions anticipating his death, but survives another eight years. At age
15 the precocious John Milton is paraphrasing Psalms in English verse.
1625 Robert Herrick makes his first mark as a poet with verses on the death of
1626 While studying at Cambridge, John Milton publishes his first poem,
Epitaph on the admirable Dramatick Poet, W. Shakespeare. Milton has been
described as "a beautiful youth with long locks" whose complexion was "exceeding
faire." In fact, so fair that he was called "the Lady of Christ's College." At
the time, Milton was still writing poems in Latin, in "the manner of Ovid and
1627 Robert Herrick is appointed Dean Prior of Devon. John Donne preaches the
funeral sermon for George Herbert's mother.
1628 Ann Dudley marries, becoming Anne Bradstreet. The birth of the English poet and writer John Bunyan,
best known for his allegorical novel Pilgrim's Progress.
1629 John Milton composes his first important poem, On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, morning while still a student at Cambridge.
After earning his BA, Milton stays on at Cambridge to work on his MA. Richard
Lovelace and Richard Crashaw both attend the Charterhouse school.
1630 Thomas Carew, a Cavalier poet, is made a "server" or taster-in-ordinary
to the King. Sir John Suckling, also a Cavalier poet, is knighted. Around this
time, Suckling is credited with inventing cribbage. He was said to be the most
skilled card player and the best bowler in England. He was reported to have won
the equivalent of £4 million in modern-day money, playing cribbage! Anne
Bradstreet sails to America with her husband Simon and family. George Herbert is
ordained a priest at Salisbury Cathedral.
1631 Richard Lovelace, a
Cavalier poet, is sworn in as a Gentleman Wayter Extraordinary to the King, a
position for which a fee was paid. The birth of the English poet John Dryden, who
has been called "the father of English criticism." Dryden was an
accomplished and eminent poet, but one who has been found "lacking" by A. E.
Housman and others. Edmund Waller is brought
before the Star Chamber, but being a wealthy man, he is able to pay a large fine
and remain free. Michael Drayton dies and is buried at the Poet's Corner of
Westminster Abbey, with memorial lines attributed to Ben Jonson. John Milton
completes L'Allegro and Il Penseroso.
1632 The birth of the English poet Katherine Philips (1632-1664). She was
called "the matchless Orinda" by John Dryden.
1633 George Herbert dies of consumption and his poems are published posthumously, including Redemption, Virtue, The Collar, The Pulley
and the title poem The
Temple. It has been said that Charles I read The Temple for
consolation while awaiting execution. John Wesley would later set some of
Herbert's lyrics to music. According to Walton, The Temple sold 20,000
copies within a few years. Andrew Marvell enters Trinity College, Cambridge at
age twelve as a subsizar (quasi-servant).
1634 Richard Lovelace enters Oxford and apparently lives up to his name; he
was described by one of his peers as "the most amiable and beautiful person that
ever eye beheld; a person also of innate modesty, virtue and courtly deportment,
which made him then, but especially after, when he retired to the great city,
much admired and adored by the female sex." Comus is John Milton's
longest poem to date, a masque with just over 1,000 lines which has been
described as "the last Elizabethan poem." Milton earns his MA. George Chapman dies and Inigo
Jones provides his monument.
1637 John Milton writes the poem Lycidias for a fellow student-poet who
died, Edward King. (By this time Milton was 29 years old.) Andrew Marvell's firs
published poems are Latin and Greek verses on the death of Princess Anne. The birth of the English poet Thomas Traherne (1637-1674), a
Church of England priest know for his religious poetry. King Charles I has
the Scottish Bishops, with the approval of Archbishop of Canterbury William
Laud, draw up an Anglican Booke of Common Prayer for Scotland. It was
immediately denounced by the Scottish people and was never put into use. As a
matter of fact, the prayer book immediately caused riots ("Don't mess with our
faith!"), then eventually led to the Bishop's War of 1639 and the Puritan
Revolution of 1645, which ended with Charles losing his crown, and his head. Ben
Jonson dies and is buried at Westminster Abbey; at the time his only English
peers are Chaucer and Spenser (Shakespeare not yet being acknowledged as
1638 Sir John Suckling's poem Song: Why so pale and wan, fond lover?
Richard Lovelace's first published poem is an elegy for Princess Katherine.
Charles I prepares for war with the Scots, as opposition to his prayer book
grows, but he is strapped for cash. John Milton travels to Italy. Andrew Marvell
obtains his BA from Trinity College, Cambridge.
1639 Charles I raises an army of 20,000 troops and invades Scotland in an
attempt to impose his will on the Scottish people. John Milton returns from the continent when the Bishops' Wars
in Scotland presage
civil war in England. He begins to write prose tracts praise of "the divine and
admirable spirit of Wyclif" and in service of the
and Parliamentarians. At the same time, Richard Lovelace is fighting on the
opposite side for the king, first as a senior ensign, later as a captain, in Lord Goring's
regiment. Sir John Suckling and Thomas Carew also side with King Charles I in Scotland.
1640 Thomas Carew's poems A Song, Rapture and To My Inconstant Mistress
are published in his collected Poems. The birth of the English poet Aphra
Behn (1640-1689). She would become England's first female professional writer. The Bay Psalm Book is the first book printed in North America
(Cambridge, Massachusetts). King Charles I calls the first Parliament in eleven
years, but quickly dismisses the "Short Parliament" when it begins to
air grievances and questions his
request for funds to fight the Scots. Because he is losing battles and land to
the Scots, Charles then calls the
"Long Parliament" but it abolishes the King's Star Chamber and imprisons the
unpopular Earl of Stafford. Things are heating up. John Milton is appointed Secretary for the Foreign
Tongues, an official position in the English government handling diplomatic
correspondence. He receives a salary and lodgings at Scotland Yard.
1641 Richard Lovelace leads a group of men who seize and destroy a petition
for the abolition of Episcopal rule, which had been signed by 15,000 people.
Lovelace tears up the petition himself, in a meeting at Maidstone, Kent. Sir
John Suckling is implicated in the First Army Plot to free the Earl of Stafford
from the Tower of London and bring French troops to the King's aid. Suckling
flees to France and is found guilty of high treason in his absence. Suckling
dies shortly thereafter at an unknown time under disputed circumstances. Between
1641 and 1660, John Milton "produced at least eighteen major prose works on
behalf of the Puritan rebellion, supporting its cause, vilifying its enemies."
Andrew Marvell is ejected from Cambridge without an advanced degree for
non-performance of his college duties.
1642 The birth of the great English scientist, astronomer, physicist,
mathematician and philosopher Isaac Newton, on Christmas Day. Galileo Galilei is
placed under house arrest by the Roman Catholic inquisition for saying that the
sun is the center of the solar system. Edward Taylor, one of the better early American poets, is born in
Sketchley, England. None of his poems are published in his lifetime; they will
discovered in the Yale University library and published in 1939. The English
Civil War officially begins when Charles I raises the royal standard for war
against the anti-Royalists in Nottingham. Richard
Lovelace presents the House of Commons with a pro-Royalist petition which was
supposed to have been burned. Lovelace is imprisoned and writes one of his
finest lyrics, To Althea, from Prison. English theaters are closed by
the Puritans at the outbreak of the Civil War, a mere 66 years after the opening
of The Theater in 1576. The Globe would never re-open and would be pulled down
in 1644-1645 to make room for tenements. John Milton marries a sixteen-year-old
Roman Catholic girl.
1643 Edmund Waller is arrested in a plot in favor of the King against
Parliament, known as "Waller's Plot." To save his life, Waller recants in an
abject speech. He is hit with an enormous fine, sent to the Tower of London, then
banished. Once again his wealth may have saved him, since two of his
fellow conspirators were executed.
1644 Birth of the great Japanese haiku master,
Matsuo Bashō. Haiku would have a
tremendous influence on English modernists like Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot; they
prized its conciseness, imagery and lack of ornamentation. After the Stationers'
Company attempts to censor Milton's Judgment of Martin Bucer, he
publishes the impassioned tract Areopagitica in support of a free
1645 Edmund Waller's poems Song: Go, Lovely Rose and On a Girdle
are published in his Poems while he is living in exile. John Milton's
poems L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, On Shakespeare
and How Soon Hath Time
are published. Richard Lovelace rejoins the king in Oxford.
1646 Richard Crashaw's On the Baptized Ethiopian is one of the first
English language poems to express the idea of racial equality. A collection of
Sir John Suckling's poems is published posthumously as Fragmenta aurea.
1647 Robert Herrick is evicted by the parliamentarians from his vicarage for refusing to sign the
"Solemn League and Covenant," a pro-reformation agreement. The birth of
the English poet John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680). His father Henry,
Viscount Wilmot, was a dashing war hero who was credited with hiding Charles I
in an oak tree after the disastrous battle of Worcester, then engineering his
escape to the contient. The younger Wilmot, a famous (or infamous) rake, would write
censored poems about masturbation, premature ejaculation and other taboo subjects.
Andrew Marvell called Wilmot "the best English satirist." Charles I attempts to escape from captivity on the Isle of Wight.
1648 Robert Herrick's poems Delight in Disorder; To Daffodils; Upon Julia's
Clothes and To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time are published in
Hesperides with a dedication to the Prince of Wales. Richard Lovelace is
imprisoned for the second time, due to his support of the British monarchy;
by the following year he has published his first volume of poems, Lucasta,
which includes To Lucasta, Going to the Wars; To Althea, from
and To Amaratha, That She Would Dishevel Her Hair.
Around this time Andrew Marvell publishes poems addressed to Lord Francis
Villiers, Lord Hastings and Richard Lovelace.
1649 Charles I is found guilty of high treason by the Rump Parliament, is
sentenced to death, then executed by beheading. John Milton writes a
tract which defends the right of the people to hold their rulers accountable. He
then publishes an explicit defense of the regicide, becoming a composer of
"official propaganda." Cromwell leads his army to Ireland.
1650 Anne Bradstreet's The Vanity of All Worldly Things (perhaps the
first notable poem by an American poet); her book The Tenth Muse Lately
Sprung Up in America made her the first female writer published both in England
and the New World. Henry Vaughn's poems
Regeneration and The Retreat are published. Cromwell returns from
Ireland and Andrew Marvell writes an ode to commemorate the occasion. The
Commonwealth decides to attack Scotland. Marvell joins the Fairfax household as
a tutor to Lord Fairfax's daughter Mary. Henry Vaughan's Silex Scintillans
contains some of his best poetry. His revelation is "certain," his verse
"notably lacking in doubt."
1651 John Milton loses his eyesight and becomes completely blind. One of his
secretaries is Andrew Marvell. Milton's daughters also function as his
scribes (perhaps the first female scribes in the English record.) Around this time Milton probably writes his
famous sonnet On His Blindness ("When I consider how my light is spent
..."). Edmund Waller is allowed to return to England by the Rump Parliament.
Cromwell defeats the Scotts, ending the Royalist campaigns.
1652 John Milton publishes a defense of the English people in Latin. He also
publishes a sonnet dedicated to Oliver Cromwell ("Cromwell, our chief of men
..."). It was Milton's only Shakespearean sonnet.
1653 Oliver Cromwell is made England's Lord Protector and Regent.
1655 Henry Vaughan's Regeneration and The Retreat. Edmund Waller
publishes A Panegyric to my Lord Protector and is made a Commissioner
for Trade a month or two later. Andrew Marvell writes another poetic
tribute to Cromwell.
1656 Richard Lovelace composes The Triumph of Philamore and Amoret
for the marriage of Charles Cotton the younger; it has been called Lovelace's
last outstanding poem.
1657 Richard Lovelace dies in London. Andrew Marvell takes a government job as
Latin Secretary; John Milton had recommended him. John Aubrey wrote of Marvell:
"For Latin verses there was no man could come into competition with him."
1658 Oliver Cromwell's death throws England back into chaos. As the republic
begins to disintegrate, Milton continues to write treatises in favor of a
non-monarchial government. Milton begins work on his masterpiece,
perhaps using aspects of the English Civil War and its primary figures for
material. "Paradise Lost positively bristles with learning."
John Dryden writes an elegy for Cromwell.
1659 Andrew Marvell becomes an MP for Hull, Yorkshire. James Shirley's The Glories of Our Blood and State; Sir John
Suckling's Out Upon It!
1660 King Charles II is handed the British crown and throne in the
Restoration. John Milton
goes into hiding for his life, then is briefly jailed
after copies of his books are burned by the Hangman of London (the public executioner).
is fined and pardoned
in December; Andrew Marvell helps secure his release. Marvell protests in Parliament that Milton's jail fees (£150)
Marvell would campaign for religious toleration. Edmund Waller writes To the King, upon his Majesty's Happy Return. When
Charles asked Waller to explain why this new piece was inferior to Waller's
eulogy for Cromwell, the poet smartly replied: "Sir, we poets never succeed so
well in writing truth as in fiction!" Samuel Pepys begins his diary on
January 1, 1660. The birth of the first English novelist, Daniel Defoe
(1660-1731). Defoe also wrote satirical verse.
1661 Birth of the English poet Annie Finch (1661-1720), Countess of Winchilsea. Edmund Waller rejoins the
House of Commons as the MP for Hastings. Charles II sends John Wilmot on a
three-year grand tour of France and Italy, and gives him a £500 annual pension,
in gratitude for the service of his father Henry Wilmot (see the entry for
1662 Richard Herrick is restored to his vicarage at Dean Prior.
Milton's sonnet to Sir Henry Vane is published; Vane is executed for defending
the sovereignty of Parliament.
Massachusetts minister Michael Wigglesworth outlines the doctrines of
Puritanism in his epic poem "The Day of Doom." Snapped up and memorized by
17th-century colonists, the fiery work is widely considered America's first
1663 John Milton marries for the third and last time. His new wife is
24, less than half his age. (Milton's daughters object, but are overruled.)
1664 John Milton completes Paradise Lost.
Birth of the English poet Matthew Prior. Aphra Behn returns to England
after eighteen years abroad; she marries a merchant.
1665 John Milton and his wife move to a cottage in Buckinghamshire to
avoid the plague. While King Charles II is holding court in Oxford to avoid the
plague, the first newspaper is published: the Oxford Gazette. When
Charles returns to London the following year, he takes the newspaper with him,
where it becomes the London Gazette (which is still being
published today!). But at this point in time, ballads outnumber all other forms
The eighteen-year-old John Wilmot incurs the displeasure of Charles II
and spends three weeks in the Tower of London after abducting the lovely heiress
Elizabeth Malet against the wishes of her family, who considered him too poor
for a marriage. Wilmot attempts to redeem himself by joining the navy; he
becomes a war hero like his famous father. Aphra Behn's husband dies,
perhaps during the plague of 1665.
1666 Although John Milton had completed Paradise
Lost by 1664, publication was delayed by a paper shortage caused by the
Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Great Plague (during which over eighty London
printers died), and the Great Fire of London of 1666, which destroyed many of
the city's presses. Book and ballad prices skyrocket due to the laws of supply
and demand. One of the houses destroyed in the fire is Milton's
father's house on Bread Street. Aphra Behn, now a widow, works as a spy for King Charles II in
Antwerp but was never properly paid. This is the first well-documented report we have of her activities.
Everything about her prior life seems shrouded in mystery: "Her code name is
said to have been Astrea, a name under which she later published many of her
1667 John Milton's masterpiece Paradise Lost
is published in ten books. Because Milton had
gone blind, he dictated the epic-length poem to his wife and daughters.
Paradise Lost has been described as "an epic without a hero." The poet and critic John Dryden is said
to have remarked: "This man cuts us all out, and the ancients too." Milton's
agreement with printer Samuel Simmons is the earliest author's contract
preserved (Lindenbaum). Dryden's Song ("Ah,
fading joy ...") from the play The Indian Emperor is published. Birth
of the English poet and satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), in Dublin, but "he
insisted on his Englishness." His mother was related to Robert Herrick. John Wilmot again
elopes with Elizabeth Malet, this time successfully, and they marry.
Back in the favor of Charles II, Wilmot is given special permission to
join the House of Lords despite being underage. Wilmot has an affair with the
notorious actress Nell Gwyn, who later becomes a paramour of the king.
1668 Edward Taylor emigrates to the Massachusetts Bay Colony
and quickly enrolls at Harvard
College to become a minister;
he is the only major American poet to have written in the metaphysical
style. John Dryden is made British Poet Laureate by Charles II.
Aphra Behn is sent to a debtor's prison and vows never to return; she becomes a
writer to make money and avoid prison.
1669 John Milton's Accidence Commenced Grammar is
1670 John Milton's portrait is painted in pastels, then engraved, by
William Faithorne. Milton's History of Britain is published, with the
Faithorne engraving as a frontispiece. Aphra Behn becomes the first
Englishwoman to make a living by writing; her first play The Forc'd Marriage
premiers. The birth of the English poet and playwright William Congreve
(1670-1729). John Dryden is made historiographer royal.
1671 After Aphra Behn's third play doesn't do well at
the box office, she disappears from the public record for three years. It has
been suggested that she returned to spying, perhaps to make money! John Milton's Paradise Regained and Samson
Agonistes are published. Edward Taylor becomes a pastor and physician in
Westfield, Massachusetts, where he remains until his death 58 years later. A. E. Housman, a major poet and critic of the
English language, did not think highly of what may be called "the age of Dryden,
Pope and the wits." In one of his lectures Housman said: "There is also such a
thing as sham poetry, a counterfeit
deliberately manufactured and offered as a substitute. In English the great
historical example is certain verse produced abundantly and applauded by high
and low in what for literary purposes is loosely called the eighteenth century:
not a hundred years accidentally begun and ended by chronology, but a longer
period which is a unity and a reality; the period lying between Samson
Agonistes in 1671 and the Lyrical Ballads in 1798 [i.e., the
beginning of the English Romantic period], and including as an integral part and
indeed as its most potent influence the mature work of Dryden." The poetry
produced during this long dry spell was, according to Housman, "at once pompous
and poverty-stricken." And in Housman's estimation "Pope had less of the poetic
gift than Dryden."
Housman found the fount of true modern poetry in William Blake: "For me the most
poetical of all poets is Blake. I find his lyrical note as beautiful as
Shakespeare's and more beautiful than anyone else's; and I call him more
poetical than Shakespeare, even though Shakespeare has so much more poetry,
because poetry in him preponderates more than in Shakespeare over everything
else, and instead of being confounded in a great river can be drunk pure from a
slender channel of its own. Shakespeare is rich in thought, and his meaning has
power of itself to move us, even if the poetry were not there: Blake's meaning
is often unimportant or virtually non-existent, so that we can listen with all
our hearing to his celestial tune."
1672 Anne Bradstreet dies. John Milton publishes his Art of Logic.
1673 John Milton's poems Methought I Saw
When I Consider How My Light Is Spent
1674 Robert Herrick dies at age 83, having written around 2,500 poems.
John Milton dies shortly after overseeing the publication of the second edition
of Paradise Lost, which includes commendatory poems by "S.B" and Andrew
1675 A Satyr Against Mankind is one of the few poems
published by John Wilmot during his life.
Our top ten poets of the Augustan Period: Edward Taylor, Christopher
Smart, Aphra Behn, William Collins, Andrew Marvell, John Dryden, Alexander Pope,
Samuel Johnson, Edmund Waller, Thomas Gray
The Augustan or Metaphysical Period (1675-1749)
The Augustan poets may have over-valued wit and extravagant, sometimes strained
metaphysical "conceits." As a result, the poems of the era's major poets, John Dryden and
Alexander Pope, may strike modern readers as being fanciful, boring and overly
didactic. As A. E. Housman later observed, that this was a "dry period" in
English poetry. Here's a recap of the Metaphysical Period: "A century after the
height of the Elizabethan era, a subtler, provocative lyric poetry movement
crept through an English literary countryside that sought greater depth in its
verse. The metaphysical poets defined and compared their subjects through
nature, philosophy, love, and musings about the hereafter a great departure
from the primarily religious poetry that had immediately followed the wane of
the Elizabethan era. Poets shared an interest in metaphysical subjects and
practiced similar means of investigating them. Beginning with John Dryden, the
metaphysical movement was a loosely woven string of poetic works that continued
through the often-bellicose 18th century, and concluded when William
Blake bridged the gap between metaphysical and romantic poetry. The
poets sought to minimize their place within the poem and to look beyond the
obvious a style that greatly informed American transcendentalism and the
Romantics who followed. Among the greatest adherents were Samuel Cowley,
John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, Abraham Cowley, Henry
Vaughan, George Chapman, Edward Herbert, and Katherine Philips."
(We question whether the metaphysical movement began with John Dryden;
we think it more likely began with John Donne, who was born roughly 60 years
before Dryden. Even in his early erotic poems, Donne indulged in "conceits" such
as comparing the exploration of his lover's body to exploring America! Donne
strikes us as the first, best and most prominent of the metaphysical poets.)
1678 Anne Bradstreet has the first book of verse published in Boston,
posthumously. Her widower became governor of Salem during the famous (or
infamous) witch trials. John Dryden writes his first major satire, Mac Flecknoe.
Andrew Marvell dies.
John Dryden's Song ("Can life be a blessing ...") from his
play Troilus and Cressida is published.
1680 John Wilmot dies at age 33, possibly from venereal disease after
a life of debauchery.
1681 Andrew Marvell's To His Coy Mistress, his best-known
poem, is published in a collection of his work, three years after his death.
However, his Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return was removed from all
but one copy and would not be reprinted until 1776.
John Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel: a Poem is published.
1682 John Dryden's satirical poem Mac Flecknoe is published.
1683 Birth of the English poet Edward Young, best-remembered for his
melancholic Night-Thoughts. Published in 1750 and illustrated by
William Blake in 1797, Night Thoughts
would become "one of the most frequently-printed poems of the eighteenth
It has been said that if Young did not invent "melancholy and moonlight" in
literature, "he did much to spread the fashionable taste for them."
As a result, he has been suggested as the first Romantic poet, and as a
major influence on Romantics to follow. Some German critics preferred
Young's work to Milton's; the young Goethe told his sister in 1766 that he
was learning English from Young and Milton; in his autobiography Goethe said
that Young's influence had created the atmosphere in which there was such a
universal response to his seminal Romantic work The Sorrows of Young Werther.
Young's name soon became a battle-cry for the young men of the "Sturm und Drang"
movement. Young himself reinforced his reputation as a pioneer of romanticism by
precept as well as by example; in 1759, at the age of 76, he published a piece
of critical prose titled Conjectures on Original Composition, which put
forward the vital doctrine of the superiority of "genius," of innate originality
being more valuable than classic indoctrination or imitation, and suggested that
modern writers might dare to rival or even surpass the "ancients" of Greece and
Rome. The Conjectures was a declaration of independence against the
tyranny of classicism and was at once acclaimed as such becoming a milestone in
the history of English, and European, literary criticism. It was immediately
translated into German at Leipzig and at Hamburg and was widely and favorably
reviewed. The cult of genius exactly suited the ideas of the Sturm und Drang
movement and gave a new impetus to the cult of Young. (Excerpted from Harold
Forster's "Some uncollected authors XLV: Edward Young in translation I").
1685 Birth of the English poet John Gay (1685-1732).
1687 Edmund Waller dies.
1688 The birth of the English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1784). Pope, described
as a "delicate precocious boy," suffered from Pott's disease, which stunted his
growth and left him with a severe hunchback and nearly an invalid.
1689 Aphra Behn dies. During her life she wrote 19 plays and was second only
to John Dryden as a playwright in the 1670s and 1680s. The birth of the English poet
Mary Wortley (better known as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu). Denied a classical
education because of her sex, she was educated at home and taught herself Latin
in her father's library.
1694 Jonathan Swift takes holy orders. The birth of the highly influential French writer and philosopher
Voltaire. His name
at birth is Francois-Marie Arouet (see the entry for 1717 regarding his name
change). He would be a major figure of the Enlightenment, and one of the world's
most influential thinkers, writers and troublemakers! He was also
hyper-prolific. Voltaire wrote more than 50 plays, dozens of treatises on
science, politics and philosophy, and several books of history on everything
from the Russian Empire to the French Parliament. Along the way, he also managed
to squeeze in heaps of verse and a voluminous correspondence amounting to some
20,000 letters to friends and contemporaries. Voltaire supposedly kept up his
prodigious output by spending up to 18 hours per day writing or dictating to
secretaries, often while still in bed. He may have also been fueled by heroic
amounts of caffeine: according to some sources, he drank as many as 40 cups a
1695 The death of Henry Vaughan. Was he the last important English language
poet to express certainty about his Christian faith? If so, it seems odd that he
did not produce a major poem over the last forty years of his life.
1697 William Congreve's play The Mourning Bride inspired two
now-famous misquotations. "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast" is often
misquoted as "Music soothes the savage beast" (or something to that effect). And
the lines "Heaven has no rage, like love to hatred turned, / Nor hell a fury,
like a woman scorned" is usually paraphrased as something like "Hell hath no
fury like a woman scorned."
1699 Jonathan Swift becomes vicar of Laracor and later dean of St. Patrick's,
Dublin. He considered life in Ireland to be exile.
1700 Rough beginning time for American negro spirituals. Around the turn of
the century, a young Alexander Pope is introduced to John Dryden. Dryden dies and
is buried at the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. The birth of the English poet
James Thomson (1700-1748). At one time Thomson was incredibly popular: his poems
"were to be found in every in and cottage," like the Gideon Bible. But alas his
popularity did not last into more modern times! His one immortal poem is "Rule
Britannia," but people have remembered the lyric and forgotten who wrote it.
1701 Jonathan Swift writes what has been called his first significant poem, "Mrs
Harris's Petition," at age 34.
1704 Jonathan Swift's A Tale of a Tub satirizes the abuses of
1707 England and Scotland are―finally!―officially united as the Kingdom of
Great Britain. At this time Ireland is not included.
1709 Alexander Pope's long poem An Essay on Criticism. The birth of the
English poet, novelist, biographer, editor, critic and creator of the first major English dictionary,
Dr. Samuel Johnson
Sir Richard Steele publishes the Tatler, a literary and society
1710 Around age 20, Mary Wortley translates the Enchiridion of the
Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus from Latin and sends a copy to Bishop Gilbert
Brunet with a long letter defending women's right to formal education.
1711 Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele publish the Spectator, a
daily publication. John Gay meets Alexander Pope; they become friends.
1712 Alexander Pope's long mock-heroic poem The Rape of the Lock.
Pope, Swift and Gay are now friends. The birth of the
French philosopher and early Romantic, Jean Jacques Rousseau, who believed in
the value of the individual and his/her capacity for good. Mary Wortley, despite
her initial resistance to marriage and after prolonged negotiations with her
father and future husband, elopes with Edward Wortley Montagu. One of Lady
Montagu's earliest poems "Written ex tempore in Company in a Glass Window the
first year I was marry'd" describes women's unhappiness in marriage and their
potential for adultery: "In part to blame she is, who has been try'd; / Too near
he has approach'd, who is deny'd."
1713 John Gay's first major poem, Rural Sports. Lady Mary Wortley
Montagu writes a critique of Joseph Addison's Cato; Addison made
several of the changes she recommended; he would publish her the following year.
1714 The birth of the English poet William Shenstone (1714-1763). Lady Mary
Wortley Montagu's first published writing appears in Addison's Spectator,
under the pseudonym "Lady President."
1715 Alexander Pope's The Temple of Fame is modeled on Chaucer's
House of Fame. Pope begins work on his translation of Homer's Iliad.
1716 The birth of the English poet and early Romantic, Thomas Gray (1716-1771). Gray is
generally regarded as the foremost English-language poet of the mid-18th century. Lady
Mary Wortley Montagu becomes friends with Alexander Pope and John Gay; they
write a group of "court eclogues" that describe and mock immorality and
upper-class rituals such as card playing in the court of George I. Three of
Montagu's eclogues were published in Court Poems. Later in the year
Montagu traveled with her husband to Constantinople, where he was to be the
English ambassador to Turkey. While traveling, Montagu began writing her
best-known work, the Turkish Embassy Letters (published in 1763 as Letters
of the Right Honourable Lady M--y W---y M----e [sic]).
1717 Voltaire is sent to the Bastille for writing scandalous poems (not the
first time he will land in hot water for speaking his mind). While in prison or
soon thereafter he adopts the name "Voltaire." He never explains what the name
means. One theory is "volunteer." According to a family tradition among the
descendants of his sister, he was known as le petit volontaire ("determined
little thing") as a child, and he resurrected a variant of the nickname. The
name also has connotations of energy, speed and daring. But it was just one of
178 pen names that Arouet employed during his long, eventful and storied career.
Voltaire mainly argued for religious tolerance and freedom of thought. He
campaigned to eradicate priestly and aristo-monarchical authority, and he
supported a constitutional monarchy that would protect the people's rights.
Unfortunately, these views would not prove popular with church and state!
Alexander Pope publishes his collected Works even though he is not yet
thirty years old!
1718 Alexander Pope makes a handsome living from his translations of Homer and
is able to buy a villa with a grotto and gardens in Twickenham.
1719 Isaac Watts publishes Our God, Our Help (in Ages Past), a hymn
that is still being sung today. Daniel Defoe's The Life and Strange
Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe has been called the first true
1720 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote "mine" in her copy of Alexander
Pope's Eloisa to Abelard (she thought a couplet of hers had been
1721 The birth of the English poet William Collins (1721-59). He was an important poet of
the middle decades of the 18th century, second in importance only to Thomas
Gray. His lyrical odes mark a turn away from the Augustan poetry of Alexander
Pope's generation and towards the Romantic era which would soon follow. The
earliest poem attributed to the "graveyard" school of poets is Thomas Parnell's
A Night-Piece on Death.
1722 The births of the English poets Mary Leapor (1722-1746) and Christopher Smart
(1722-1771), also know as Kit Smart, Kitty Smart and Jack Smart.
1724 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, in her "Epistle from Mrs. Y[onge] to Her
Husband" (1724; collected in Essays and Poems), lashes out against a
the patriarchal legal system and what she sees as women's enslavement in
marriage: "Defrauded Servants are from Service free, / A wounded Slave regains
his Liberty. / For Wives ill us'd no remedy remains, / To daily Racks condemn'd,
and to eternal Chains." Her poem "The Lady's Resolve" appears in Plain
Dealer. She writes about a young woman being sexually abused and perhaps
murdered by her husband in "Written ex tempore on the Death of Mrs. Bowes"
(published in Weekly Journal or Saturday's-Post)
1725 Edward Taylor retires with a library of 200 books, remarkable in his day.
His poetry, however, would remain undiscovered until the 1930s, and still
remains unknown to most readers to this day. Alexander Pope publishes his
six-volume edition of Shakespeare's works. He was "almost as much of a literary
factory" as Dr. Samuel Johnson. Thomas Gray attends Eton College, which
later inspires one of his most famous poems. Gray becomes friends with Horace
Walpole, the son of England's prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole.
1726 Christopher Smart writes a poem at age four to a girl three times his
age, asking her to have pity on "poor Kitty." James Thomson publishes Winter, the first of his poetry books on
the seasons. Voltaire is sent to the Bastille again, this time for planning a duel. He
is released when he agrees to leave France for England. Let the English deal
with the troublemaker! (But he was just getting warmed up!) While living in
exile in England, Voltaire meets the English poets Alexander Pope, John Gay,
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Jonathan Swift. Voltaire is strongly influenced by
the work of Isaac Newton and may have attended his funeral. He was one of the
sources of the famous story about the falling apple and the concept of gravity!
Voltaire's work would be instrumental in bringing about general acceptance of
Newton's optical and gravitational theories in France. Jonathan Swift's
Gulliver's Travels is published.
1727 John Gay's popular Fables, later illustrated by William Blake,
eventually ran though fifty editions.
1728 The birth of Thomas Warton (1728-1790), a poet, critic, literary
historian and future Poet Laureate of England. A child
prodigy, Warton produced a translation of a Martial poem at age nine and wrote his most
famous poem, "The Pleasures of Melancholy," at age seventeen. He is considered to
be one of the "graveyard poets," along with Thomas Gray, Oliver Goldsmith,
William Cowper, Thomas Parnell, Robert Blair and Edward Young. The "graveyard
poets" are often recognized as precursors of the Gothic and Romantic literary
movements. John Gay's The Beggar's Opera has been called the most
popular play of the 18th century; it was suggested to Gay by Jonathan Swift. The earliest version of Alexander Pope's
The Dunciad is published, with the principal "dunce" being Lewis Theobald,
who had criticized liberties taken by Pope and unamended errors in his editing
of Shakespeare. Theobald would even dare to publish a more correct edition in
1734! But fortunately for Theobald, Pope later became even more irked with Poet
Laureate Colly Cibber and made him the main dunce in his 1743 version of The
1729 Voltaire returns to France and quickly figures out how to beat the French
lottery system by working with mathematician Charles Marie de La Condamine and
others. The scheme leaves Voltaire rich, with a windfall of nearly half a
million francs, setting him up for life and allowing him to devote himself
entirely to his literary career. Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal.
1730 James Thomson's georgic poems Winter, Spring,
Summer and Fall are published together as Seasons. He
continued to expand the poems, which in their final version amounted to around
5,500 lines. Thomson replaced his native lowland Scots with the King's English
and wrote Miltonic blank verse. In his day, Seasons was comparable in
circulation only to The Pilgrim's Progress and Paradise Lost.
The birth of the English poet/novelist/playwright Oliver Goldsmith (c. 1730-1774) and the English
scholar/critic Thomas Tyrwhitt (1730-1786).
1731 The birth of the English poet William Cowper (1731-1800). Cowper also
wrote some of the best-known hymns in the English language. Cowper was admired
by the great Romantic poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and
Cowper has been called a forerunner of Romantic poetry with his "hand on the
latch." Samuel Johnson leaves Pembroke College, Oxford, without taking a degree. John Gay becomes Handel's librettist for Acis and Galatea and
1732 John Gay dies and is buried in Westminster Abbey. Ben Franklin first publishes Poor Richard's Almanac.
1733 Alexander Pope's long poem An Essay on Man, may be too long and
too didactic for many modern readers. Pope also publishes his
Imitations of Horace. Voltaire publishes
Letters Concerning the English Nation, now called Philosophical
Letters. It is seen as an attack on the French system of government and is
rapidly suppressed. The book is publicly burned and banned. Voltaire flees Paris
to the French countryside. He shacks up with Ιmilie du Chβtelet, a married
mother of three who was 12 years his junior and with whom he was to have an
affair for 16 years. To avoid arrest, Voltaire took refuge at her husband's
chβteau at Cirey-sur-Blaise, on the borders of Champagne and Lorraine. Voltaire
paid for the building's renovation and Ιmilie's husband, the Marquis du Chβtelet,
sometimes stayed at the chβteau with his wife and her lover. The unusual
relationship had a significant intellectual element. Voltaire and the Marquise
collected over 21,000 books, an enormous number for the time. Together, they
studied these books and performed experiments in the natural sciences, which
included an attempt to determine the nature of fire. Voltaire and the Marquise
also analyzed the Bible and concluded that much of its content was dubious. Lady
Mary Wortley Montagu joins forces with Lord Hervey to produce VERSES
Address'd to the IMITATOR of the FIRST SATIRE of the Second Book of Horace,
which "many critics consider the best satire of [Alexander] Pope written at that
time." Montagu continues to write poems in which she compares a woman's role in
marriage to slavery.
1734 Alexander Pope's poem Impromptu is dedicated to "Lady
Winchelsea" (the poet Annie Finch); it disparages female poets: "Sapphos."
Her poem The Answer suggests that he "shock the sex no more"
and points out that women "rule the world" because men are "slaves to ev'ry
tempting face"! Thomas Gray attends Peterhouse, Cambridge. Lady Mary
Wortley Montagu accuses Jonathan Swift of impotence in a satirical poem!
1735 Samuel Johnson marries and opens a private school; one of his
pupils, David Garrick, would become a famous actor.
1736 The birth of the Scottish poet and early Romantic, James Macpherson
His work would influence major figures of Romanticism like Goethe and Walter
Scott. Macpherson was the first Scottish poet to gain an international
reputation, but he did so primarily by passing off poems he wrote as
"translations" of an ancient poet he invented, "Ossain." Voltaire begins correspondence with Frederick the Great, then Crown
Prince of Prussia.
1737 Samuel Johnson and David Garrick move to London.
1738 Samuel Johnson's long poem London, a verse satire in
imitation of Juvenal.
1739 Thomas Gray and Horace Walpole tour France and Italy together.
Christopher Smart is admitted to Pembroke College, Cambridge as a sizar, which
required him to perform menial tasks such as waiting on tables in return for his
A book titled Woman not Inferior to Man is published by an
unknown author under the pseudonym "Sophia, a person of quality." The book is
often attributed to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
1740 Around this time a teen-aged George Washington pens anguished
love poems, one of which is inspired by Frances Alexander; it laments: "Ah!
Woe's me that I should love and conceal,/ Long have I wish'd, but never dare
reveal." Washington would also be something of a pool shark, recording his
winnings in a ledger (although the "money game" at that time was pocketless cushion
billiards). The birth of James Boswell, (1740-1795), who would write a famous
biography of Dr. Samuel Johnson.
1741 Thomas Gray and Horace Walpole have a falling-out, and Gray returns to
England. They later reconcile. Gray becomes a professor at Cambridge, where he
remains until his death. William Cowper attends Westminster School, where he
becomes adept at Latin composition, including verse.
1742 Thomas Gray completes his first important poem, Ode on the
Spring, and begins writing his masterpiece,
Elegy Written in
a Country Churchyard. He would not complete it until 1750.
1743 Alexander Pope's long poem The Dunciad is republished
in four volumes. Voltaire is
sent to Frederick the Great's court in 1743 by the French government as an envoy
and spy to gauge Frederick's military intentions in the War of the Austrian
Succession. On a visit to Paris the same year, Voltaire finds a new love
interesthis niece, Marie Louise Mignot. He did live in interesting times!
1744 The early limerick "Hickory Dickory Dock" appears in Tom Thumb's Pretty
Songbook. Alexander Pope dies.
1745 Voltaire is appointed Royal Historiographer of France. Jonathan Swift
dies. Oliver Goldsmith enters Trinity College, Dublin, but neglects his studies
and ends up at the bottom of his class.
1746 Samuel Johnson contracts to produce his landmark Dictionary of the
English Language. Christopher Smart earns his Master of Arts.
1747 Samuel Johnson's poem Prologue Spoken by Mr. Garrick.
Thomas Gray's Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. Christopher
Smart, a spendthrift, is arrested for debts to his tailor.
1748 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, "after years of her poems being
sneaked into print a few at a time, without her knowledge of their publication"
was "outraged to discover that they had been sloppily edited and some of them
attributed to others when they appeared in Dodsley's Collection of Poems by
Several Hands in 1748."
1749 Samuel Johnson's long poem The Vanity of Human Wishes
is perhaps the last major work of the Augustans. The birth of Johann Wolfgang
von Goethe, the great German poet who has been said to have "sparked" the coming
Romantic Movement. The birth of Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806), a neglected English poet who
had her foot "firmly in the door" of Romanticism. She has been called the "first
substantial" female English poet after Mary Sidney.
Our top ten poets of the Romantic Era:
Thomas Chatterton, Walter Scott,
John Clare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Bysshe
Shelley, William Wordsworth, Robert Burns, William Blake
The Romantic Era (1750-1824)
The Romantic Movement brought a sea change in to the world of art,
poetry, literature and other creative endeavors. The writers and artists of the
Romantic Movement created work that celebrates nature, individuality and (one
might suggest) heresy. Emotion, imagination, and independent thinking are three
elements commonly found in Romantic poetry. The Romantics broke away from both
the "cultural authority of classical Rome" and the "dominance of the Renaissance
tradition." The most popular romantic writers
with the English book-buying public were Walter Scot and Lord Byron. Other
romantic poets like William Blake and John Clare were little known and lightly
read in their own time; their reputations were established later. Here is a
recap of the Romantic Era: "The third of Englands 'big three' movements
completed a three-century period during which the British Isles took the Western
poetic mantle from Italy and molded the forms, styles, and poems that fill
school classrooms to this day. The Romantic period, or Romanticism, is regarded
as one of the greatest and most illustrious movements in literary history, which
is all the more amazing considering that it primarily consisted of just seven
poets and lasted approximately 25 years from William Blakes rise in the late
1790s to Lord Byrons death in 1824. The Romantics felt that the relationships
we build with nature and others defines our lives. In between, the group of
poets lived as mighty flames of poetic production who were extinguished well
before their time. The core group included Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel
Taylor Coleridge, and a magnificent trio of friends: Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe
Shelley, and John Keats. While history did not treat Robert Southey so kindly,
Byron considered him a key member of the movement. Keats, who wrote "Ode to a
Nightingale" and "Ode to a Grecian Urn," only lived to the age of 26. Shelley
died at 30, while Byron succumbed at 36. They wrote together, traveled
togethereven renting a house at the base of Romes Spanish Stepsand
commiserated with foreign writers, most notably the older Johann Wolfgang
Goethe, whose genius and versatility they idolized. Ironically, the poets held
distinctly different religious beliefs and led divergent lifestyles. Blake was a
Christian who followed the teachings of Emmanuel Swedenbourg (who also
influenced Goethe). Wordsworth was a naturalist, Byron urbane, Keats a free
spirit, Shelley an atheist, and Coleridge a card-carrying member of the Church
of England. The romantics made nature even more central to their work than the
metaphysical poets, treating it as an elusive metaphor in their work. They
sought a freer, more personal expression of passion, pathos, and personal
feelings, and challenged their readers to open their minds and imaginations.
Through their voluminous output, the romantics message was clear: life is
centered in the heart, and the relationships we build with nature and others
through our hearts defines our lives. They anticipated and planted the seeds for
free verse, transcendentalism, the Beat movement, and countless other artistic,
musical, and poetic expressions. The Romantic movement would have likely
extended further into the 19th century, but the premature deaths of the younger
poets, followed in 1832 by the death of their elderly German admirer, Goethe,
brought the period to an end." (We would add the great Scottish poet Robert
Burns to the "Big Six," making it a "Big Seven." That's an impressive number of
major poets for such a short period of time. We would rank Thomas Chatterton,
Walter Scott and John Clare ahead of Robert Southey, which is no slur on his
name because the other poets were that good. And we would suggest that the
Romantic period started earlier than 1790, with the early Romantic work of Jean
Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Gray in 1750. If not then, then very soon thereafter
with the poems of Thomas Chatterton, which are about as Romantic as
Romantic can get!)
1750 The French Romantic philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau becomes famous for his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences.
Rousseau is a deist, a free thinker and a heretic.
Another heretic, Voltaire, moves to Prussia and becomes a salaried member of
Frederick the Great's court. Samuel Johnson produces the Rambler, a
periodical similar to the Spectator and the Tatler.
Thomas Gray completes his masterpiece,
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,
one of the most perfect longer poems in the English language, if not
most perfect. The poem validates the value of Everyman, a major Romantic theme,
and may be the first great work of English Romanticism. It became the
most celebrated and reprinted poem of its era, and rightly so.
1751 Denis Diderot's Encyclopaedia is published between 1751 and 1772
(in 17 volumes of text and 11 volumes of engravings). Diderot began work on the Encyclopaedia in
1746. It occupied more than twenty years of his life. Many of the contributors
were radical thinkers who embodied the ideals of reason and enlightenment that
led to the revolution in France. The Encyclopaedia was compiled and
written under constant threat of censorship and surveillance. During his
editorship Diderot was arrested and imprisoned for three months. Its motivating
principles were freedom of thought and criticism of authority, and it was
written in a language intended for everyone's understanding. Engels wrote of
him, "If ever anybody dedicated his whole life to the enthusiasm for truth and
justice...it was Diderot." Important contributors included Diderot, Voltaire,
Rousseau, Montesquieu and Louis de Jaucourt. Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
is published and becomes a "literary sensation." Christopher Smart
publishes as "Mrs. Mary Midnight" in the literary magazine The Midwife.
1752 Birth of the English poet
Thomas Chatterton, called the "marvellous boy"
by William Wordsworth in his poem "Resolution and Independence." Wordsworth named Chatterton one of his primary influences
even though Chatterton died at age seventeen. John Keats called Chatterton the
"purest writer in the English language." Samuel Taylor Coleridge worked on his
"Monody on the Death of Chatterton" for over thirty years. Chatterton has been called the first
Romantic poet, although Thomas Gray is also a candidate, as are other poets
including William Blake and Charlotte Turner Smith.
Voltaire has a falling-out with Frederick the Great, leaves his court, then is
detained by Frederick's agents for three weeks over the return of a poetry book!
Voltaire publishes Micromιgas, perhaps the earliest science fiction
short story about space travel. The birth of Philip Freneau; his poetry would
express sympathy for Native Americans.
1753 Phillis Wheatley, the first notable African-American poet, is born
somewhere in Africa, perhaps in Senegal.
1754 Voltaire is banned from France by Louis XV, and he is unwelcome in
Germany, so he takes up residence in Geneva, Switzerland. However, he has a
falling-out with Calvinists over his plays, and he buys a large estate in Ferney
in 1758, where he will spend most of the remaining 20 years of his life (still
stirring up trouble for the state- and religious-minded). The birth of the English
poet George Crabbe (1754-1832).
1755 Rousseau has a significant article on political economy published
in Diderot's landmark Encyclopιdie. Samuel Johnson publishes
A Dictionary of the English Language.
1756 Oliver Goldsmith begins to practice medicine in London and becomes Dr.
Goldsmith. Like Christopher Smart, he seems to have spent more money on clothes
than he could afford. But as a writer he earns the friendship, admiration and
patronage of Dr. Samuel Johnson. Goldsmith also knew Horace Walpole, who called
him an "inspired idiot." Goldsmith was said to have planned to emigrate to
America, but failed because he missed his ship!
1757 The birth of the English romantic poet William Blake,
the son of a haberdasher. Blake was perhaps the greatest of the
English Romantic poets and one of England's greatest visual artists and engravers
to boot. He was one of the first writers to fiercely criticize the dehumanizing
influence of the industrial revolution on human cities and societies. Blake was also a mystic who claimed to see angels and saints on a daily
basis. Edmund Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin
of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful. Thomas Gray is offered the
position of Poet Laureate; he declines it. Christopher Smart is confined to a
mental asylum, St. Luke's Hospital for Lunatics.
1758 Voltaire completes his most famous work and wickedest satire, Candide,
or Optimism. Published in 1759, it lampoons the ideas that "this is the
best of all possible worlds," that "things work out for the best" and that "God
is in control." Voltaire treated the orthodox Christian faith like a very leaky
pail, as would notable Romantic and Modernist poets to come.
1759 The birth of the Scottish romantic poet
Robert Burns, generally considered to be the
greatest Scottish poet of all time and notable for his "lucid pathos." Christopher Smart's "Jubilate Agno." The
first song known to have been written by a native-born American is "My Days Have Been So Wondrous
Free" by Francis Hopkinson (who also designed the first American flag and was a
signer of the Declaration of Independence). Birth of Mary Wollstonecraft
(1759-1797), an English writer, philosopher and early advocate of women's
rights. She is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Women.
1760 The beginning of the Industrial Revolution, a significant influence on
the artists and writers of the Romantic Movement. The first publication of
Mother Goose's Melodies includes limericks like "Hickory Dickory
Dock." Christopher Smart probably writes Jubilate Agno around this
time while confined to a mental asylum; it is an early free
verse poem about his cat Jeoffry. Smart probably writes his other most-famous
poem, A Song to David, around this time. Jupiter Hammon, the "property" of a Long
Island aristocrat, manages to print his poem, "An Evening Thought: Salvation by
Christ with Penetential Cries," which is the first work published by an
African-American slave. Oliver Goldsmith's most famous poem, The Deserted
Village, is published; it has been called an early work of English
1761 Rousseau's novel Julie, or the New Heloise is published. It
contains rhapsodic descriptions of nature and becomes an immense success. At age
four William Blake begins to have visions: he sees God; he sees angels in a
tree; he sees the prophet Ezekiel.
1762 Rousseau's Emile, or on Education is published. Because it
denies original sin and divine revelation, both Catholic and Protestant
authorities take offense. In The Social Contract, Rousseau writes: "Christianity
preaches only servitude and dependence. Its spirit is so favorable to tyranny
that it always profits by such a regime. True Christians are made to be slaves,
and they know it and do not much mind: this short life counts for too little in
their eyes." The Ossian poems of the Scottish poet James Macpherson have been
cited as early Romantic work, and influenced Goethe and Walter Scott, and
perhaps William Blake as well. The death of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
Montagu's daughter, Lady Bute, destroyed Montagu's diaries, but "there is still
a considerable amount of primary material relating to her career." Montagu's Letters
and Works were published in 1837. Montagu's octogenarian granddaughter Lady
Louisa Stuart contributed (anonymously) an introductory essay
called "Biographical Anecdotes of Lady M. W. Montagu," in which Stuart was
obviously troubled by her grandmother's focus on sexual intrigues and did not
see her "Account of the Court of George I at his Accession" as history. However,
Montagu's historical observations prove quite accurate when put in context. A.
M. Juster has called Montagu "the best female poet in English until the 19th
century." Other candidates include the anonymous authors of "Wulf and Eadwacer"
and "The Wife's Lament" (both c. 990), Anne Askew (1521-1546), Queen Elizabeth I
(1533-1603), Isabella Whitney (c. 1545-1573), Mary Sidney (1568-1621), Mary
Wroth (c. 1587-1651), Anne Bradstreet (c 1612-1672), Margaret Cavendish
(1623-1673), Katherine Phillips (1632-1664), Aphra Behn (c. 1640-1689), Annie
Finch (1661-1720), Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), Mary Leapor
(1722-1746), Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825), Hannah Moore (1745-1833),
Charlotte Smith (1749-1806), Phyllis Wheatley (1753-1784), Helen Maria Williams
(1761-1827), Joanna Baillie (1762-1851), Mary Tighe (1772-1810), Felicia
Dorothea Hemans (1793-1835), Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), Emily
Bronte (1818-1848), Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
1763 Christopher Smart is released from the mental
asylum where he had spent more than half a decade. Around this time another
important poet of the period, William Cowper, is institutionalized for insanity. James Boswell begins working on
his famous biography on the life of Samuel Johnson. Around the tender age of ten, Thomas Chatterton
writes his first poem, On the Last Epiphany, or Christ Coming to
Judgment. It appeared in Felix Farley's Bristol Journal on Jan. 8,
1763. Another early poem The Churchwarden and the Apparition, A Fable also appears in
the Bristol Journal. At age eleven Chatterton writes a hymn of
considerable merit. It begins:
Almighty framer of the skies!
O let our pure devotion rise,
Like incense in Thy sight!
Wrapped in impenetrable shade
The texture of our souls was made,
Till Thy command gave light.
1764 Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto has been called an early
Romantic work and the first gothic novel. The birth of Ann Radcliffe
(1764-1823), perhaps the most famous of the gothic novelists. Thomas Chatterton,
another author with gothic leanings, writes Apostate
Will, Sly Dick and I've Let My Yard and Sold My Clay.
1765 Oliver Goldsmith publishes his Essays and the novel The Vicar of Wakefield. Two important works appear in London printings that galvanize interest in
the ancient ballad: James MacPhersons The Works of Ossian, the Son
of Fingala combined two-volume edition of his earlier published fragments
and epic poetryand Thomas Percys Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.
Charlotte Smith's father marries her off at age fifteen; forty years later she
will accuse her father of having turned her into a "legal prostitute."
1767 William Blake's parents send him to Henry Pars Drawing School around age
ten; he would go on to become a master engraver. Around the same time,
Thomas Chatterton becomes a scrivener (clerk) to a Bristol attorney. By age
fifteen, if not earlier, Chatterton was writing poems in an antique style and
language, then pretending to have "found" the work of a 15th century monk named
Thomas Rowley. But when his employer catches Chatterton writing poetry, he tears
1769 Most of Thomas Chatterton's so-called Rowley poems are completed by 1769. Now sixteen, Chatterton offers some of his Rowley poems to Horace
Walpole, who declines to help the poor and struggling young poet. Chatterton
writes a bitter satirical poem in reply, To Horace Walpole. (Walpole
would later say of Chatterton: "I do not believe there ever existed so masterly
a genius.") Chatterton is fired by the lawyer he works for, and moves to London
hoping to earn a living as a writer. Chatterton's Rowley poem Elinoure and
Juga is published by Town and Country Magazine (May 1769) pp
273-74. The poem was probably written when Chatterton was around age eleven or
twelve, as it is believed to be the first, or among the first, of his Rowley
compositions. Despite his youth, over a period of four months Chatterton appears
in eleven of the principal publications then in circulation: the Middlesex
Journal, the Court and City Journal, the Political Register,
the London Museum, Town and Country, the Christian,
the Universal, the Gospel, the London, the Lady's,
and the Freeholder's magazines. But some of the publishers either don't
pay him, or are tardy, and he is slowly starving to death, to proud to accept
offers of meals from his landlady.
1770 Oliver Goldsmith's most famous poem "The
Deserted Village" is published. The birth of the English poet William Wordsworth
(1770-1850). Thomas Chatterton commits suicide by drinking arsenic in a rented
room in Holborn at age seventeen.
Of all the Romantic poets who died young, he was the first and the youngest. Chatterton would
later be mentioned and/or commemorated by some of the most famous Romantic poets:
William Blake, Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley
and Walter Scott. Keats dedicated "Endymion" to his memory. Robert Southey
edited Chatterton's posthumous collection of poems. Dante Gabriel Rossetti
called him "the absolutely miraculous Chatterton" and declared him to be "as
great as any English poet whatever." Thomas Warton said that Chatterton was "a
prodigy of genius, and would have proved the first of English poets had he
reached a maturer age." Samuel Johnson said of Chatterton, "This is the most
extraordinary young man that has encountered my knowledge." Edmond Malone
declared him to be "the greatest genius that England has produced since the days
of Shakespeare." Samuel Taylor Coleridge said that his friend Wordsworth
was only able to determine two "native" or "born" poets: Chatterton and Robert
Burns. (It would eventually be determined that many of Chatterton's
poems were "reverse forgeries." He wrote the poems himself, in an antique
language, then pretended to have "found" the work of an ancient monk named
But then Chatterton was not a "forger" because his poems were his own original
compositions! It would also be determined that James Macpherson had done the same thing
pretending to have "found" poems written by an ancient bard called Ossian.
Later, William Henry Ireland would claim to have "found" poems written by
1771 The birth of the Scottish romantic poet and novelist Walter Scott (1771-1832).
Thomas Gray dies and will have a monument erected at Poet's Corner in
Westminster Abbey in 1978, close to the monuments of two poets he greatly
admired, John Milton and Edmund Spenser. The unlucky Christopher Smart ends up
confined again, this time in debtor's prison, where he dies. The birth of
Dorothy Woodworth, the sister of William Wordsworth, one year his junior.
1772 The birth of the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge
He would also be a major literary critic. Around age sixteen, William Blake
engraves Joseph of Arimathea, a work that articulates many of the principles
and influences from which he would draw inspiration for the rest of his life.
1773 Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects Religious and Moral is the first book of poetry by an
Afro-American slave; her poetry was praised by George Washington and John
Goldsmith's popular play She Stoops to Conquer is first performed.
Robert Burns writes his first poem around age 15, working on his father's farm.
He got his start writing love poems to Nelly Kirkpatrick.
1774 Birth of the English poet Robert Southey. William Cowper's "Lines Written
During a Period of Insanity" is written. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe publishes
his book The Sorrows of Young Werther, perhaps the first major work of
German Romanticism; it has also been called the first "best-seller" and made
Goethe a celebrity at age 24. The death of Oliver Goldsmith.
1775 British troops sing "Yankee Doodle" to mock American colonists; the
colonists defiantly adopt the song as their own. The birth of the English
novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817), the author of Mansfield Park, Persuasion,
Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. The birth of
the English poet Walter Savage Landor. Thomas
Tyrwhitt publishes an edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales in which he
"solves the riddle" of pronouncing the feminine "e" in Chaucer's verse.
1776 The American colonies defiantly declare independence with words
written in ringing iambic pentameter by Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin: "We
hold these truths to be self-evident ..."
1777 Thomas Tyrwhitt presses for the publication of the "Thomas Rowley" poems,
but eventually concludes that they were actually the original work of Thomas
Chatterton. Samuel Johnson begins work on his Lives of the Poets.
1778 Rousseau dies. Voltaire returns from exile to receive honor in Paris,
in the form of the adoration of the masses, then also dies. The birth of William
Hazlitt (1778-1830), the foremost literary critic of his day.
1779 William Blake is admitted to the Royal Academy Schools and studies art
under Sir Joshua Reynolds (although Blake had very little positive to say about
Reynolds or his aesthetic theories). Blake meets Thomas Stothard and John
Flaxman, forming, in Akroyds phrase, a little club or community of shared
interests. They were all sons of London tradesmen, all in love with the gothic
past, all reading Chatterton and Ossian with profound interest. William Cowper
has become friends with John Newton, the former slave ship captain who wrote the
hymn "Amazing Grace." Newton encourages Cowper and he writes hymns published in
the Olney Hymns. Two of Cowper's most famous hymns, still being sung
today, are the ones that begin "There is a fountain filled with blood" and "Oh!
for a closer walk with God."
1781 At long last, Samuel Johnson is awarded a degree of doctor in civil law
by Oxford ... a mere half-century after he left Oxford without a degree!
1782 Rousseau's Confessions is published posthumously.
1783 Blake's Poetical Sketches is published with the help
of John Flaxman. Walter Scott
enters the University of Edinburgh at age twelve, meets the blind poet Thomas
Blacklock, and is introduced by the older poet to the Ossian poems of James
Macpherson. Charlotte Turner Smith writes Elegiac Sonnets while in
debtor's prison with her husband and children. The book's financial success
allows her buy back her family's freedom. George Crabbe's first major work,
The Village. Dr. Samuel Johnson dies and lies buried at the Poet's Corner of Westminster
1784 Phillis Wheatley dies.
1785 The birth of the English poet Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866).
1786 Robert Burns has the poems "To a Mouse," "To a Louse," "A Winter Night" and "To a
Mountain Daisy" published in Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. William Cowper begins his translation of
Homer's epic poems into blank verse. William Wordsworth writes his first poem
around age sixteen.
1787 William Wordsworth has a sonnet published in The European Magazine.
He enters St. John's College, Cambridge, but does not distinguish himself.
1788 The birth of the English romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron
(1788-1824), the son of Captain "Mad Jack" Byron and Catherine Gordon. Goethe
called Byron "undoubtedly the greatest genius of our century." Byron
invented the Byronic hero, patterned after himself. William
Blake invents the stereotype or infernal method of creating illuminated
books, which requires him to learn to write backwards. He writes and publishes
Poetical Sketches and All
Religions are One. Blake can now publish his own illuminated books without
bowing to the prejudices of the day. And because he kept all his copper plates,
his books have been preserved to this day. William Cowper writes his poem The
Negro's Complaint, which will be quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the
days of the American Civil Rights Movement. Robert Burns writes "Auld Lang Syne"
as a poem, then sets it the music of a traditional Scottish folk tune. It has,
of course, become one of the most popular songs in the English language.
1789 Start of the French Revolution. The upheavals in France greatly
influenced the artists and writers of the Romantic Movement. William Blake's
Songs of Innocence is published; the poems include "The Lamb," "Holy
Thursday" and "The Little Black Boy." Blake illustrates and
engraves every page himself. Blake was unique among Christian poets in that he
located innocence in the individual's childhood, rather than in the human race's
childhood (i.e., Adam and Eve). Blake also publishes The Book of Thel.
1790 Samuel Taylor Coleridge's first published poem, at age 18, is "Monody on
the Death of Thomas Chatterton." Coleridge said that he wrote the initial lines
at age thirteen; he worked on the poem over a period of nearly fifty years,
revising it at least six times. The final version was published just before his
death in 1834.
1791 Robert Burns publishes Tam O' Shanter. Thomas Paine's Rights
of Man. Voltaire's remains are
brought to Paris for entombment in the Pantheon; the procession is attended by a
million people. William Wordsworth earns a BA from St. John's College,
Cambridge. Samuel Taylor Coleridge enters Jesus College, Cambridge; he does not
complete his degree. Captain "Mad Jack" Byron dies of consumption (tuberculosis)
in France after abandoning his family; in his will he declares his
three-year-old son financially responsible for his debts!
1792 The birth of the English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1792-1822); his father was a baronet.
Robert Graves described Shelley as a "volatile creature of air and fire." Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women. In an
interesting synchronicity, Percy Bysshe Shelley would marry Mary
Wollstonecraft's daughter, of the same name, who would become famous as Mary
Shelley for writing the gothic horror novel Frankenstein.
1793 Robert Burns publishes his Select Collection of Scottish Airs.
William Wordsworth publishes "An Evening Walk" and "Descriptive Sketches." The births of the English poets John Clare (1793-1864) and Felicia Dorothea Hemans
Browne (1793-1835). Clare's biographer called him "the greatest labouring-class poet that
England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of
a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self." Although Clare was
little-known in his day and was perhaps best known for being confined to an
insane asylum, since then he has been proposed as a major poet. In any case,
there can be no doubt that he wrote a number of remarkable poems. Felicia Hemans
was a child prodigy who had a book of poems published at age fourteen. She
earned the interest of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who corresponded with her, and
poetic tributes from William Wordsworth and Walter Savage Landor. William Blake
denounces the subjugation of women in his Visions of the Daughters of Albion.
Blake also publishes The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and The Gates
of Paradise. Samuel Taylor Coleridge has his first published poems in the
1794 William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), one of the first
notable "home-grown" American poets, is born. William Blake's Songs of Experience is published; the poems include "The
Sick Rose," "London" and "The Tyger." According
to the Chicago Tribune, Blake's "The
Tyger" is the most anthologized poem in the English language.
Blake also publishes Europe: A Prophecy which may be
literally visionary. The most famous of these images, that of an ancient man
kneeling down from a red orb, measuring the abyss below him with a compass and
called the Ancient of Days, was inspired by a vision that allegedly hovered before Blake
at the top of his staircase in Lambeth. Samuel Taylor Coleridge meets Robert
Southey. Coleridge would marry Southey's sister-in-law. Coleridge begins taking
opium for a toothache.
1795 The births of the English romantic poet John Keats
(1795-1821) and the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881). William
Wordsworth meets Samuel Taylor Coleridge; neighbors in Somerset, they would
become friends and collaborators. Walter Savage Landor publishes his first book
Poems at age twenty, then suppresses it because of its "simplistic and
fashionable political enthusiasms."
1796 Robert Burns dies; he was honored with a white marble bust at Poet's
Corner in Westminster Abbey, close to Shakespeare's monument. Walter Scott, who had met Burns in person as a
boy, begins to publish his poetry and soon becomes famous for it.
1797 Robert Southey's poem "Winter" is published. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin
is born in England; her mother dies shortly after giving birth. Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes
his best-known poems: "The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner," "Kubla Khan" and "Christabel." While Coleridge is writing "Kubla
Khan," a poem that came to him in a dream, a "person from Porlock" shows up,
interrupts the poet, and the poem is never completed. And yet it becomes one of the
most famous poems in the English language! The birth of Mary Shelley
(1797-1851), the author of the "scientific Gothic" novel Frankenstein,
and the future wife of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
1798 Lyrical Ballads, written primarily by William
Wordsworth with a few poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is published. This book becomes the foundational text
of the English Romantic Movement. The longest poem included is Coleridge's dark,
gothic poem "The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner." It would inspire many poems in a similar vein.
1799 After touring Europe with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William
and Dorothy Wordsworth set up house at the Dove Cottage in England's Lake
District. Robert Southey lived nearby, and the poets would collectively be known
as the "Lake Poets." William Wordsworth begins work on his important
autobiographical poem The Prelude, which has been called his "poem to
Coleridge." Byron's uncle, the "Wicked Lord" William Byron, dies.
Ten-year-old George Gordon Byron becomes the sixth Baron Byron. The family is
instantly elevated from poverty to nobility. The newly-appointed young baron and
his mother move from Aberdeen to the Newstead Abbey in England.
1800 William Cowper dies. William Wordsworth writes "Michael."
1801 Byron enters Harrow, a boys' boarding school in Middlesex. The birth of
William Barnes (1801-1866), an English poet, priest and philologist.
1802 Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes his last major poem at age thirty:
"Dejection: an Ode." William Wordsworth begins writing his ode "Intimations of
Immortality" around this time. It has been described as a "tour de force" and
may be his best work. Sir Walter Scott publishes a nationalist collection of ballads, Minstrelsy
of the Scottish Border.
1803 Ralph Waldo Emerson, an influential American poet and philosopher, is
born. He would be a mentor of Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. The
Napoleonic Wars begin when Great Britain declares war on France. Charlotte
Turner Smith becomes so destitute and ill that she can barely hold a pen; she
sells her books to pay off her debts, but lives in fear that she will be sent
back to debtor's prison for the remaining balance of twenty pounds! While home
for the summer holiday, Byron falls in love with his cousin Mary Chaworth. He
refuses to return to Harrow and withdraws for a few months to be closer to her.
The birth of the English poet Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849), author of
Death's Jest Book and called the "prince of the morticians" by Ezra Pound.
1804 The birth of Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), a future Prime Minister of
England and author of socio-political novels. William Blake begins working on
Milton and Jerusalem. Blake is accused of high treason after
giving a soldier a hard time, but is acquitted.
1805 Sir Walter Scott's poem "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" made him
famous, although he is more famous today as a novelist. Poems
written by Lord Byron at age 14 are published in Fugitive Pieces, but
the book is recalled and burned because some of the poems are too "hot,"
especially the poem "To Mary." Byron enters Trinity College,
Cambridge. He is instantly popular, spending more time socializing, drinking,
gambling and spending money than studying. But he is crushed to learn that his
first love, Mary Chaworth, has married someone else.
1806 The birth of the English poet Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861), who would
marry the poet Robert Browning and become better known as Elizabeth Barrett
Browning. The birth of the English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). The
death of Charlotte Turner Smith. Stuart Curran, the editor of Smith's poems,
called her "the first poet in England whom in retrospect we would call
Romantic." She helped shape the "patterns of thought and conventions of style"
for the period, and William Wordsworth admired and was influenced by her
Romantic poetry. She has also been credited with the revitalization of the
English sonnet, with helping to develop "painterly prose," and with influencing
the development of the gothic novel and modern blank verse. Byron publishes his
first book, Fugitive Pieces, at age eighteen. It is savaged by the
1807 Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
notable American poet who would rival Alfred Tennyson in fame and popularity, is born.
For Europeans of that era, "American poetry was Longfellow." Charlotte
Turner Smith's major poem, Beachy Head, is published posthumously.
1808 William Blake puts on his own art exhibition but is too far ahead of his
time and only sells one painting. People on the street near his home whisper,
There goes the man who talks to spirits and angels! Byron receives his degree
from Cambridge. Shortly after, he fathers his first illegitimate child with one
of the maids at Newstead Abbey. He provides an annual stipend for the mother and
1809 Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), an English poet, is born. Edgar Allan Poe
American writer, editor, literary critic and romantic poet, is born. Poe would be a major influence on later French
romantic and modernist poets, such as Charles Baudelaire. Byron responds to his
critics with his scathing English Bards and Scots Reviewers.
1810 Walter Scott publishes his popular book of poems The Lady of the Lake.
Franz Shubert and Beethoven would later set Scott's lyrics to music. The birth
of the English social novelist Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865). William Wordsworth
and Samuel Taylor Coleridge become estranged over Coleridge's opium addiction.
Byron leaves England, swims the Hellespont, and begins composing the first two
cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Percy Bysshe Shelley enters
University College, Oxford.
1811 The birth of the English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray
(1811-1863), author of Vanity Fair and Barry Lyndon. The
latter was turned into a movie that won four Oscars, directed and produced by
Stanley Kubrick. Byron returns to England depressed and broke. Byron's mother
Catherine Gordon dies. He soon receives a letter informing him that a former
lover, John Edleston, died of consumption while Byron was traveling in Europe.
Byron is grief-stricken.
1812 Edgar Allan Poe is orphaned at age three. Byron publishes Books I and II of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Byron said that
he "awoke one morning and found myself famous," outselling Jane Austen
and George Crabbe. Byron also appears before the House of Lords to give his
first speech as a member of Parliament. His mistresses include Lady Caroline
Lamb and the Countess of Oxford. John Clare's poem "The Mores."
(Clare, who spent considerable time in a madhouse, would later claim to be Byron!) The
United States and Great Britain fight the War of 1812. The birth of Charles
Dickens (1812-1870), the greatest novelist of the Victorian era (and one of the
greatest of any era). Dickens was "the first great writer to tackle the
essentially modern problem of the discontents of an urban civilization."
The birth of the English poet Robert Browning (1812-1889). Browning is best
known today for his dramatic monologues. His future wife, Elizabeth Barrett,
writes her first poems at age six.
1813 Walter Scott is offered the position of England's Poet Laureate. He
declines and his friend, Robert Southey, becomes Poet Laureate (and will remain
so for 30 years until his death in 1843). Percy Bysshe Shelley publishes
Queen Mab, a youthful work of political protest. Byron publishes The
Giaour, so popular it went into eight issues within a year. Byron's
half-sister Augusta Leigh arrives in London to stay with him while her husband
and three children holiday elsewhere. She and Byron grow extremely close,
beginning what many believe was an incestuous relationship. Byron also publishes
The Bride of Abydos. Jane Austen publishes
Pride and Prejudice.
1814 Oxford University expels Percy Bysshe Shelley for writing a tract on the
necessity of atheism; Lord Byron's poem "She Walks in Beauty (Like the
Night)" is published. Byron's half-sister Augusta Leigh gives birth to
a daughter named Elizabeth Medora Leigh. It is widely speculated that Byron is
the father. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin meets and marries Percy Bysshe Shelley.
John Keats writes his first extant poem, "An Imitation of Spenser," at age 19.
Walter Scott begins to write novels anonymously, publishing Waverly, and has been called the father
of the historical novel. After witnessing the British bombardment of Fort
McHenry during the War of 1812, Maryland attorney Francis Scott Key writes the
poem "Defence of Fort M'Henry," which is later set to the melody of an English
drinking song, and becomes the U.S. national anthem! Walter Savage Landor leaves
England for eighteen years, spending much of his time in Italy. Alfred Tennyson
is "moved to verse" at age five. Elizabeth Barrett publishes her first
poem at age fourteen, the epic Battle of Marathon.
1815 Napoleon escapes from Elba and raises an army, but loses at Waterloo and
surrenders. This marks the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Byron publishes his poem The
Corsair. The semi-autobiographical poem is a bestseller. Byron marries an
heiress. The birth of Ada
Lovelace, also known as Ada Byron; the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, she
the future Countess of Lovelace. She has been deemed the first computer
programmer and software developer because she formulated the first algorithm for
Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine (which is generally considered to be the
first mechanical computer). The computer language Ada was named after her. Ada
Lovelance was an advocate of what she called "poetical science." Babbage called
her "Lady Fairy" and the "Enchantress of Numbers." The birth
of the English novelist Anthony Trollope (1815-1882). Percy Bysshe Shelley
begins work on Alastor: or the Spirit of Solitude. Shelley also works
on "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" around this time. William Cullen
Bryant writes "To a Waterfowl."
1816 Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Christabel." Walter Scott heads a
team which rediscovers the lost Regalia (Crown Jewels) of Scotland in Edinburgh
Castle. The Prince Regent rewards him with a baronetcy and he becomes Sir Walter
Scott! Lord Byron publishes Darkness, The Siege of Corinth and Parisina.
With his finances a wreck and his reputation shattered following Annabella's
accusations of abuse and incest, Byron quits England for good and sails for
Europe. He arrives in Geneva to spend the summer with his new lover, an
Englishwoman named Claire Clairmont, and her half-sister and brother-in-law,
Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley and Byron become friends. Samuel Taylor Coleridge finally
publishes his poem "Kubla Khan" in its original, unfinished form. Drat that
person from Porlock! The birth of the English novelist Charlotte Bronte
(1816-1855). John Keats has his first published poem, "O Solitude," and writes "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer."
1817 William Cullen Bryant's poem "Thanatopsis" is published. Walter Scott publishes
the historical novel Rob Roy. New Orleans designates "Congo Square" as
an official site for slave music and dance. Was this a step toward the blues and
jazz? Claire Clairmont gives birth to Byron's daughter, Clara Allegra. Desperate
for cash, Byron sells Newstead Abbey and publishes the poem Manfred.
Percy Bysshe Shelley writes The Revolt of Islam. With Shelley's help,
John Keats publishes his first book of poems. At age eight, Alfred Tennyson
"covered two sided of a slate with Thomsonian blank verse in praise of flowers."
The birth of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), an American essayist, poet,
philosopher and abolitionist.
1818 The long poem Endymion by John Keats is published, as is the
famous sonnet "Ozymandias" by his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley
also publishes his translation of Plato's Symposium and begins work on
his Prometheus Unbound. The novel Frankenstein by
his wife Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is a landmark Gothic/Romantic work, but also an early
work of science fiction, with electricity being harnessed to create life.
William Cullen Bryant's poem "To a Waterfowl" is an early work of American
Romanticism. The birth of the English novelist Emily Bronte (1818-1848), the
second of three Bronte sisters who all became notable writers.
1819 John Keats publishes his most famous poems including "To Autumn," "Ode to a Grecian Urn," "Ode
to Psyche," "Ode on Melancholy" and "Ode to
a Nightingale." Most of Keats' best poetry was written in an
amazing single year spanning from September 1818 to September 1819. During this
period he falls in love with Isabella Jones, then Fanny Brawe, perhaps writing
"Bright Star" for the former, then revising it for the latter. Percy Bysshe
Shelley writes The Mask of Anarchy, which has been called the first
call to nonviolent resistance. Byron begins
an affair with the married Countess Teresa Guiccioli and moves in with her in
Ravenna. He publishes the first two cantos of his major work, Don Juan. Sir
Walter Scott publishes his most famous historical novel, Ivanhoe, and
was paid "unprecedented sums" for his writing.
William Hazlitt's The English Comic
Writers. The birth of
Walt Whitman (1819-1892), an American romantic poet and the first great
free verse poet of the English language. The birth of the English artist and art critic John Ruskin
(1819-1900). The births of the English poet Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861). The
birth of the English novelists George Eliot (1819-1880) and Charles Kingsley
(1819-1875). Also the birth of Queen Victoria. At age ten, Alfred Tennyson is
writing "hundreds and hundreds of lines in regular Popeian metre."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, age thirteen, publishes his first poem in the
Portland Gazette, a four-stanza poem called "The Battle of Lovell's Pond."
The birth of Herman Melville (1819-1891), an American poet, novelist and short
1820 Percy Bysshe Shelley's poems "To a Skylark," "Ode to the West Wind" and
the longer Prometheus Unbound are published. Prometheus Unbound
is one of the earliest literary works to forward the idea of nonviolent
resistance. Victor Hugo is
publishing poems, and becomes a major figure of French Romanticism. William
Blake moves to No. 3 Fountain Court, his last earthly residence. The young
Charles Dickens works a few blocks away and its possible they saw one another
on the street. They would both be instrumental in bringing the plight of young
children forced to work as virtual slaves to the English public's attention. We
may be able to attribute child labor laws to their joint influence. In a BBC
poll of the hundred greatest Britons of all time, Blake was 38th and Dickens
41st. What a small world! Blake ranks above all English poets other than
Shakespeare and above all English painters and other visual artists. That's not
bad for an eccentric genius who developed a way to publish his own illuminated
books, rather than conform to the silly prejudices of his day. The birth of the
English novelist Anne Bronte (1820-1849).
1821 John Keats dies at age twenty-five; Percy Bysshe Shelley writes the long
poem Adonias as a tribute to him. Shelley also writes Hellas
and his Defence
of Poetry, a "quintessential Romantic document."
1822 Percy Bysshe Shelley drowns in a boating accident at age thirty, on the
Don Juan, with a
book of Keats' poems in his pocket. Byron, Leigh Hunt and Edward John Trelawny
preside over his cremation on the shore. Allegra Byron dies of fever at the
convent in Italy where Lord Byron has placed her. The birth of the English poet and critic Matthew Arnold
(1822-1888). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, age fifteen, enters Bowdoin College,
where he meets and befriends Nathaniel Hawthorne.
1823 Edgar Allan Poe is writing love poems to woo girls at age fourteen; when
his love poems fail, he writes laments. The poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (aka "T'was the Night Before
Christmas") is published anonymously in a small-town New York paper (authorship
is widely attributed to Manhattan classics professor Clement Moore), and helps
shape our image of Santa Claus as a round-bellied merry fellow who smokes a
pipe, descends chimneys, and travels in a reindeer-drawn sleigh. The birth of
the English poet Coventry Patmore (1823-1896). After publishing the remaining
cantos of Don Juan, Byron travels to Greece to assist the Greeks in
their revolution against Turkish rule.
1824 Edgar Allan Poe, around age fifteen and inspired by the "slenderly
graceful figure" of his friend Robert Stannard's mother, writes "To Helen." Lord Byron arrives in Greece, ready to fight for Greek independence from
the Ottoman Empire. Byron spends £4,000 of his own money to refit the Greek
fleet, then gives "unruly Souliots" some £6,000 pounds more. Byron sells his
Rochdale Manor in Scotland to raise more money for the cause. Wars of
independence are expensive! But he dies at age thirty-six, due to complications
related to a fever (and perhaps the subsequent bloodletting), before he can
attack anyone. Huge crowds in England line up to view his coffin, but he is not
allowed to be buried at Westminster Abbey because of his "questionable
morality." Never mind the "morals" of the licentious kings and bishops buried
there! But all ends well, thanks to English schoolchildren, who, 145 years after
the great poet's death, raised enough money for a Poets' Corner memorial, in
1969. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony premieres, receiving five standing ovations.
Thomas Carlyle translates Goethe's Wilhelm Meister into English.
The birth of Wilkie Collins (1824-1829), an English master of the mystery story
or "sensation novel." There is an attempt to publish the poetry of
Robert Browning, then age twelve. He would later destroy the manuscript,
1825 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has published around forty poems before
graduating from Bowdoin College in 1825. William Hazlitt's book of literary criticism, The Spirit of the Age,
1826 Edgar Allan Poe drops out of the University of Virginia, where he had
battled the demons of drinking and gambling. The birth of Stephen C. Foster, who has been called the "father of American
music." Ironically, he had never seen the South at the time he wrote some of his
most famous songs about a romanticized South, such as "Old Folks at Home" (also
known as "Sewanee River"), and "My Old Kentucky Home." He only visited the South
one time, in 1852, and that was on a riverboat cruise on his honeymoon (which
may not have left much time for sightseeing!). James Fenimore Cooper writes
The Last of the Mohicans.
1827 Edgar Allan Poe, strapped for money, enlists in the U.S. army. Poe's first poetry collection, Tamerlane and Other Poems,
is published at age eighteen. William Blake dies;
he was honored with a bronze bust at Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey. Robert Tatham is reputed to have inherited most of Blake's manuscripts and papers and
to have destroyed work that was too erotic or heretical for his tastes. But
thankfully Blake kept all his copper plates, so his major works have been
preserved and protected from sabotage! Alfred Tennyson has his first poems
published, at age 17. Jane Webb (later Jane C. Louden) writes The Mummy.
John Clare publishes The Shepherd's Calendar. At age eighteen, Alfred
Tennyson has poems published in Poems By Two Brothers with his elder
brother Charles Tennyson Turner; the introduction says that the poems were
written from age fifteen to eighteen. Alfred Tennyson enters Cambridge and joins
a secret society called the Cambridge Apostles. He meets and becomes friends
with the poet Arthur Henry Hallam (1811-1833) who would die young and inspire
Tennyson's elegy In Memoriam A.H.H.
1828 The birth of the English poet, painter, illustrator and translator Dante Gabriel Rossetti
(1828-1882), the elder brother of the poet Christina Rossetti. The birth of the
English poet George Meredith (1828-1909). The birth of the French writer Jules
Verne, who has been called a father of the science fiction novel. William
Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are reconciled and tour the Rhineland
1829 Through essays like "Signs of the Times" in the Edinburgh Review,
Thomas Carlyle emerges as "the dominant social thinker of early Victorian
England." Carlyle pointed out the "gulf between the rich and poor" and called
for a hero capable of "galvanizing society and forcibly moving history
forward." Tennyson wins a prize at Cambridge for his long undergraduate prize
poem "Timbuctoo." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow becomes a professor at
Bowdoin College, where he is also the librarian and writes his own textbooks!
1830 Alfred Tennyson publishes "The Kraken,"
"Mariana," "Claribel" and "The Lotus Eaters" in Poems Chiefly Lyrical,
which received "hostile attention." However, Leigh Hunt compared Tennyson's
verse to that of Keats. Walt Whitman, age eleven, drops out of school but never stops reading.
The birth of the American poet Emily
Dickinson (1830-1866). Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), an English poet, is
born; her father, sister and two brothers were all writers, so she came from a
very literate family.
"My Country 'Tis of Thee" (also known as: "America") was first sung at Park
Street Church in Boston. The words were written by Samuel Francis Smith and set
to the tune of "God Save the King." Edgar Allan Poe's Poems:
Second Edition is published at age 22.
1832 John Clare's poem "Remembrances" is published. Sir
Walter Scott dies. The death of George Crabbe. Edgar Allan Poe marries his
cousin Virginia and becomes the editor of Southern Literary Messenger.
1833 Alfred Tennyson publishes Poems. Arthur Henry
Hallam dies in Vienna, and Tennyson will publish little for the next nine years.
However, one of Tennyson's best and strongest poems, "Ulysses," is composed
shortly after Hallam's death. Henry David Thoreau enters Harvard.
1834 The birth of the English poet, novelist and translator William Morris
(1834-1896). The death of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Charles Dickens attacks the 1834 Poor Law with his novel Oliver Twist.
1835 John Clare publishes The Rural Muse. "Amazing Grace" is published to
the tune of "New Britain" in William Walker's The Southern Harmony (this
is the version most often sung today). Edgar Allan Poe's The Unparalled
Adventure of One Hans Pfaall is an early example of science fiction about a
balloon trip to the moon. Poe may thus be called a father of science fiction and
he has been called a "strong influence" on Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback.
1836 Charles Dickens has success with the serial publication of The
Pickwick Papers. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow becomes a professor at Harvard. Ralph Waldo Emerson is a founder of the Transcendental Club. Emerson
publishes his first essay, "Nature," anonymously. In his essay, Emerson declared
American literary independence and urged American writers to develop their own
independent style, rather than imitating European writers. Emerson would be the
first American writer to be "successfully exported." James Russell Lowell,
who was a student at Harvard at the time, called it "an event without former
parallel on our literary annals." Emerson would eventually "discover" Walt
Whitman, who at this time had just taken a job as a schoolteacher, despite
having dropped out of school at age eleven! Here is a brief recap of the
American Transcendentalists (1836-1860): "Of all the great communities and
movements, the American Transcendentalists might be the first to have an
intentional, chronicled starting date: September 8, 1836, when a group of
prominent New England intellectuals led by poet-philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson
met at the Transcendental Club in Boston. They gathered to discuss Emersons
essay 'Nature' and developed 'The American Soul,' which stated, 'We will walk on
our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds ... A
nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself
inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men.' The Transcendentalists
grew from that mission statement, which was inspired by Emersons love of
Hinduism, Swedenbourgs mystical Christianity, and Immanuel Kants
transcendental philosophy. They created a shadow society that espoused utopian
values, spiritual exploration, and full development of the arts. They revolted
against a culture they thought was becoming too puritanical, and an educational
system they thought overly intellectual. Like the Romantics, heart-centered,
personal expression was their aim and so was the development of socialized
community. They even had a commune, Brook Farm. These sentiments informed their
gatherings, discussions, public meetings, essays, and poetry. Unlike the
Romantics, who often clashed because of their personal differences, the
Transcendentalists sought commonalities, no doubt influenced by Emersons
adherence to Hinduism. A number of great authors, poets, artists, social
leaders, and intellectuals called themselves Transcendentalists. They included
Emerson, Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret
Fuller, Orestes Brownson, William Ellery Channing, Sophia Peabody, and her
husband, Nathaniel Hawthorne."
Our top ten poets of the Victorian Era: Anne Reeve Aldrich, Oscar Wilde, Ralph
Waldo Emerson, Matthew Arnold, Edgar Allan Poe, Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman
The Victorian Era and Pre-Modernism (1837-1901)
This is an interesting period because poets like Tennyson and Longfellow were
writing in a more traditional style, while poets like Whitman and Dickinson were
beginning to "make it new" (to borrow a phrase from Ezra Pound). Whitman,
Dickinson and Mark Twain would help free American poetry and literature from
what had been largely mimicry of European voices.
1837 Queen Victoria takes the throne of the United Kingdom, leading to what
has become known as tame and staid Victorianism. The birth of the English
Romantic poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), who has also been
described as a "decadent" and "indecent" poet, and as a master of meter and
mellifluous rhyme. Charles Dickens publishes
Oliver Twist at age 25. John Clare enters a mental asylum; one of his
delusions is that he is Lord Byron. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow begins his
Harvard lectures. Henry David Thoreau quits a public school job to avoid
administering corporal punishment. Thoreau meets Ralph Waldo Emerson around this
1838 Elizabeth Barrett publishes The Seraphim and Other Poems.
1839 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's first book of poems, Voices of the Night,
is published, as is his first novel, Hyperion: a Romance. The birth of
the notable English skeptic and critic Walter Pater (1839-1894). Edgar Allan Poe
writes The Fall of the House of Usher.
1840 The birth of the English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928).
Henry David Thoreau's first essay is published in The Dial, with the
encouragement of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Herman Melville embarks on his first
whaling vessel at age 21.
1841 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow publishes Ballads and Other Poems. Edgar Allan Poe invents and writes the first
modern detective story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Henry David
Thoreau moves into the house of Ralph Waldo Emerson, where he serves as a
children's tutor, editorial assistant, repairman and gardener. Dante Gabriel
Rossetti enters Henry Sass's Drawing Accademy.
1842 Robert Browning's Dramatic Lyrics, including "My Last Duchess."
Alfred Tennyson publishes a revised version of Poems with poems like "Ulysses,"
"Locksley Hall" and "Morte d'Arthur" which bring him back into the public eye
and cement his reputation as the greatest of the Victorian poets. (Being ahead
of their time, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman seem more modern than
Victorian.) After meetings with Charles Dickens and other writers, Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow publishes a volume of anti-slavery poems, Poems on
Slavery. He allowed the poems to be distributed for free by abolitionists.
Poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier felt Poems on Slavery had
been an important service to the Liberty movement and inquired as to whether
Longfellow would be a candidate for Congress on the Liberty Party ticket. Our
friends think they could throw for thee one thousand more votes than any other
man. Longfellow declined the proposal. Herman Melville jumps ship and ventures
into mountains to avoid capture. Melville then boards the Lucy Ann, participates
in a mutiny, and is briefly jailed. Christina Rossetti begins to record the
dates of her poems at age twelve.
1843 The Christy Minstrels form; they perform in blackface and are very
popular. The group pays Stephen C. Foster $15,000 for exclusive rights to his
song "Old Folks at Home." The birth of the American novelist Henry
James (1843-1916). When his friend Robert Southey dies, William Wordsworth
becomes England's Poet Laureate.
1844 The birth of the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). Hopkins,
considered by many to be a major poet, is notable for his eclectic style and use
of "sprung rhythm." Virtually unknown in his lifetime, Hopkins would become a
known poet only after his poems were published in 1918 by his friend and British
poet laureate Robert Bridges. The birth of Robert Bridges (1844-1930). Robert
Browning and Elizabeth Barrett begin to correspond. Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow publishes The Waif.
1845 Edgar Allan Poe writes and publishes his most famous poem, The Raven.
It becomes a "popular sensation" and makes Poe a household name. Henry
David Thoreau moves into a small house on the banks of Walden Pond, with the
goal of "simple living." Robert Browning begins to court Elizabeth
Barrett. Dante Gabriel Rossetti enters the Antique School of the Royal Accademy.
1846 Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning secretly marry at St.
Marylebone Church in London: they would become poetry's first "super
couple." Walt Whitman becomes an editor and writes a review of the
early novels of a young writer named Herman Melville. Melville publishes
Typhee, a romanticized account of his life among "cannibal" Polynesians; it
becomes an "overnight bestseller." Adolphe Sax invents the
saxophone. Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte and Anne Bronte publish a joint
collection of poems under the pseudonyms "Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell." It
sells a whopping two copies the first year. They would do better as novelists.
1847 Tennyson publishes The Princess: A Medley containing poems such
as "The splendor falls" and "Tears, Idle Tears." Longfellow publishes
Evangeline. Emily Bronte publishers her dark gothic/romantic
masterpiece Wuthering Heights. Her sister Charlotte Bronte publishes
Jane Eyre under the pseudonym "Currer Bell." Edgar Allan
Poe's wife Virginia dies and he becomes increasingly unstable. Herman Melville
publishes Omoo, again romanticizing adventure and cannibalism. The
novel becomes his second bestseller.
1848 Walt Whitman loses his editing job because he opposes slavery. He returns
to New York, where he founds an antislavery newspaper called the Weekly
Freeman. The paper's offices are burned after the first issue is published.
For the next six years, Whitman works as a freelance journalist while honing his
poetic style. Dante Gabriel Rossetti leaves the Royal Accademy to study under
Ford Madox Brown. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is founded by Dante Gabriel
Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais; aligned poets and
artists would include William Michael Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, William
Morris, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Edward Bourne-Jones and Ford Maddox Brown. The German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
publish The Communist Manifesto. Edgar Allan Poe's poem
Eureka posits a singularity (a "primordial particle") that produces the Big
Bang (a theory that didn't achieve mainstream acceptance until more than a
century later, in the 1960s). Poe
also predicts an expanding universe and black holes. Poe publishes his poem
"Ulalume," which has been called a masterpiece. Alfred Tennyson and Ralph
Waldo Emerson meet at Coventry Patmore's house in Killarney, Ireland. Henry
David Thoreau delivers a lecture on civil disobedience, a concept that would
appeal to Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Emily Bronte dies
prematurely at age 30, shortly after the death of her brother Branwell.
1849 Edgar Allan Poe is found "delirious" on the streets of Baltimore; he dies
shortly thereafter. Poe was a pioneer of the "art for art's sake" movement, the
symbolist movement, science fiction, the detective story, and the psychological
thriller. But he has his detractors; Ralph Waldo Emerson called him "the jingle
man." Anne Bronte dies prematurely at age 29.
1850 The birth of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). William Wordsworth dies.
His widow publishes The Prelude (his "poem to
Coleridge") posthumously. Tennyson publishes his masterpiece In Memoriam A.H.H.
anonymously and is made Poet Laureate, succeeding Wordworth.
T. S. Eliot opined that in Maud and In Memoriam, Tennyson
displayed "the greatest lyrical resourcefulness that a poet has ever shown."
Tennyson marries the same year. Dante Gabriel Rossetti publishes his best-known
poem, "The Blessed Damozel" in the Germ, which is edited by
William Michael Rossetti. Charles Dickens attacks the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
over the painting Christ in the House of His Parents by John Everett
Millais, in which Dickens considered Mary to be ugly and thus the painting
blasphemous! The Brotherhood would eventually disband, apparently at least in
part because of the controversy. Elizabeth
Barrett Browning publishes Sonnets from the Portuguese, which she
dedicates to her husband the poet Robert Browning.
1851 Stephen Foster writes "Old Folks at Home" for a minstrel show; it is
published in sheet music. Herman Melville publishes his best-known novel,
Moby Dick, which he dedicates to a new friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne. But the
novel is a flop in its day.
1852 Alfred Tennyson's son is born and is named Hallam after his friend and
fellow poet. Charles Dickens publishes Bleak House.
1854 Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" is perhaps the most
famous occasional poem by a Poet Laureate. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow receives
so much fan mail he says "all my unanswered letters hang upon me like an evil
conscience." Charles Dickens
publishes Hard Times, his "baldest and sharpest" work. The
birth of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), an Anglo-Irish poet, playwright, novelist, wit
and "quintessential aesthete." Henry David Thoreau publishes his
best-known work, Walden. Robert Frost later wrote: "In one book ... he
surpasses everything we have had in America."
1855 Walt Whitman self-publishes his revolutionary book of free verse poems,
Leaves of Grass. Ralph Waldo Emerson sends Whitman a letter praising
the book and congratulating him on "the beginning of a great career."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow publishes Song of Hiawatha. Charlotte Bronte
dies at age 39, the last of the three Bronte sisters.
1856 Walt Whitman publishes the second edition of Leaves of Grass,
with 32 new poems. He also reprints Emerson's congratulatory letter without
permission, angering the elder poet. Whitman makes a career out of revising and
updating the book, with more than half a dozen editions in his lifetime. The birth of the Anglo-Irish writer and playwright George Bernard Shaw
(1856-1950). Dante Gabriel Rossetti begins painting femme fatales,
using models such as Elizabeth Siddal, Fanny Cornforth and Jane Morris (the wife
of his friend William Morris). These paintings are what Rossetti is best known
1857 The verse novel Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning's was
called "the greatest poem in the English language" by John Ruskin (an idea that
did not seem to catch on with the public or with most critics). The birth of the
novelist George Gissing (1857-1903). The birth of Joseph Conrad (1857-1924). An
ethnic Pole born in the Ukraine, he would become famous as one of the greatest
writers of English novels. On May 5, 1857, "a group of Boston Brahmins gathered
for dinner at the Parker House Hotel and decided to create a new magazine,"
The Atlantic Monthly, know today as The Atlantic. The new
publication would make "politics, literature, and the arts its chief concerns."
The men who met that day were united "in their opposition to slavery, their love
of American writing, and their tripartite names" which included Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Greenleaf Whittier
and James Russell Lowell (the latter served as the magazine's first editor).
"They did not set out to exclude women from the gathering," but Harriet Beecher
Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, boycotted the dinner when she
learned that alcohol would be served! The Atlantic would go on to
publish some of America's best known literary and political names, including
Nathaniel Hawthorne (the magazine's Civil War correspondent), Frederick
Douglass, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Helen Keller, W. E. B. Du Bois, Booker T.
Washington, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath,
Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and JFK. Herman Melville publishes the
longest poem in American literature, Clarel.
1859 The biggest hit song of the era, "Dixie," was ironically written by
Daniel Decatur Emmett, a Northerner from Ohio. The song became enormously
popular in the South during the Civil War and was also ironically one of Abraham
Lincoln's favorite songs. Charles Dickens publishes A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Darwin publishes
On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection,
intensifying what has been called the "Victorian crisis of faith." George
Eliot's novel Adam Bede. Alfred Tennyson publishes the first four
Idylls of the King. The birth of the English poet A. E. Housman
1860 Charles Dickens publishes Great Expectations. George Eliot
publishes The Mill on the Floss. Gerard Manley Hopkins has his first
published poem, "The Escorial."
1861 The Confederates attack Fort Sumter, starting the Civil War. Julia Ward
Howe writes the poem "Battle Hymn of the Republic" based on the hymn "John
Brown's Body." Walt Whitman moves to Washington D.C. and works as a nurse
in military hospitals. Jules Verne works on his first published science fiction
novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon.
1862 Emily Dickinson's "Safe in their Alabaster Chambers" is published; hers
is one of the first and most unique voices of modernism. Christina Rossetti's
The Goblin Market and Other Poems is published. George Meredith's
sonnet sequence Modern Love is published. Henry David Thoreau dies.
1863 Samuel Langhorne Clemens uses the penname "Mark Twain" for the first
time; although better known as a novelist and humorist, Twain would write more
than 120 poems during his storied career. Twain was another uniquely modern
voice and was called the "father of American literature" by William Faulkner.
Gerard Manley Hopkins studies the classics at Oxford, where he meets the poet
Robert Bridges; they would become lifelong friends.
1864 Gerard Manley Hopkins meets a female poet he greatly admires, Christina
Walter Savage Landor dies in Florence. John Clare dies at the asylum where he
spent his last 23 years. Jules Verne writes the early science fiction novel Journey to the Center of
1865 The Civil War ends when the Confederate states surrender. Slavery is abolished by the Thirteenth
Amendment. Abraham Lincoln is assassinated. Walt Whitman publishes his elegy for Lincoln, "When lilacs last
in the dooryard bloom'd." Whitman's boss at the Department of the
Interior fires him because of the supposedly obscene content of Leaves of
Grass, which Whitman works on during his downtime at the office. He
immediately gets another job at the U.S. Attorney General's Office.
Algernon Charles Swinburne achieves his first literary success with Atalanta
in Calydon, which was written in the form of classical Greek tragedy.
Gerard Manley Hopkins meets Digby Mackworth Dolben, a "Christian Uranian," at
Oxford, and there seems to have been a strong erotic connection on Hopkins'
part. The birth of the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939).
Jules Verne writes the first outer space adventure novel, From the Earth to
the Moon. The birth of the English journalist, poet, short-story writer and
novelist Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936).
Kipling has been accused of being an imperialist.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow publishes his translation of Dante, The Divine
Comedy, just in time for Dante's 600th birthday! One of the first ten
copies is rushed to Italy!
1866 The birth of the American poet and novelist
Anne Reeve Aldrich.
Her books include The Rose of Flame (1889),
Feet of Love (1890), Nadine and Other Poems (1893), A Village Ophelia and Other
Stories (1899) and Songs about Life, Love, and Death (1892). She
has been called an American Sappho. Whitman and his friend William D. O'Connor
publish The Good Gray Poet, a defense of Whitman in the wake of his
firing from the Interior. Fisk University, a black college, is founded in
Nashville, Tennessee. Algernon Charles Swinburne's Poems and Ballads
brought him instant notoriety because of his "indecent" themes. Walter Pater
tutors Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins writes his most ascetic poem, "The Habit
of Perfection," then gives up writing poetry for Lent! John Henry Newman
receives Hopkins into the Roman Catholic Church. The birth of H. G. Wells (1866-1946), an English writer
who has been called the "father" of the science fiction novel, along with Jules
Verne. Herman Melville, strongly opposed to slavery, publishes a book of poems,
1867 Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach has been called a
masterpiece of Early
Modernism, employing irregular rhyme and form, skepticism,
pessimism, and exhibiting a crisis of faith in both God and mankind. The birth of Scott Joplin, the African-American pianist and
composer known as the "King of Ragtime." Slave Songs of the United States,
the earliest collection of African-American spirituals, is published. Digby
Mackworth Dolben drowns. His death inspires a number of poems by Gerard Manley
Hopkins. The birth of Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), who sometimes wrote "potboiling
fiction" and became "unusually wealthy for a writer."
1868 Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book has been called the
climax of his poetic career. Gerard Manley Hopkins elects to become a
Jesuit, makes a "bonfire" of his poems and gives up poetry for seven years.
1869 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow receives an honorary degree from Cambridge and
visits with Queen Victoria. The birth of the American poet Edward Arlington Robinson
(1869-1935), who would win three Pulitzer Prizes and be nominated for the Nobel
Prize in Literature four times. The birth of the English poet Charlotte Mew
(1869-1928). Her poetry would be admired by Thomas Hardy, who called her the
best female poet of her day, and by Virginia Woolf, who called her "quite unlike
anyone else." Mew never married, cut her hair short, and often dressed like a
male dandy. Matthew Arnold's
collection of essays, Culture and Anarchy.
1870 Charles Dickens dies with his Mystery of Edwin Drood unfinished and is
appropriately buried at the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. The birth of J.
M. Synge (1871-1909), the author of the play The Playboy of the Western
World. Jules Verne writes Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, a
science fiction novel about a submarine and its pilot, Captain Nemo. The birth
of Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), an Anglo-French writer, poet and historian.
1871 Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. George
Eliot publishes Middlemarch. Stephen Crane, an
American poet, is born. The Fisk Jubilee Singers are formed.
1873 Walter Pater publishes Studies in the History of the Renaissance.
Oscar Wilde wrote that the book "has had such a strange influence over my life,"
while Arthur Symons wrote that it "seems to me sometimes the most beautiful book
of prose in our literature." Robert Bridges publishes his first collection
of poems. Jules Verne writes Around the World in Eighty Days.
1874 Robert Frost, an American poet, is born. Gertrude Stein, an American
poet, is born. G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), an English journalist, novelist,
poet, critic and Christian apologist. Jules Verne writes The Mysterious Island, which
brings back the mysterious Captain Nemo.
1875 Gerard Manley Hopkins resumes writing poetry with his long poem "The
Wreck of the Deutschland."
1876 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow meets Walt Whitman. George Eliot publishes Daniel Deronda.
1877 Gerard Manley Hopkins writes a collection of sonnets, God's Grandeur.
The title poem would become one of his most famous, along with other poems like
1878 Carl Sandburg, an American poet, is born. Henry James's novel The
1879 Wallace Stevens, an American poet, is born. E. M.
Forster, an English novelist, is born.
1880 Ten years after the death of Charles Dickens, George Eliot dies. Thus the
High Victorian era lapses into the Late Victorian.
1881 Oscar Wilde's poems are published; he and Whitman were among the first
gay poets to "come out of the closet" publicly. Tony Pastor, a former
circus ringleader, creates what we now call vaudeville by creating
family-friendly acts for his New York theaters. However, over time vaudeville
acts would often be less "polite" than what Pastor had envisioned.
Henry James's novel A Portrait of a Lady.
1882 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow dies, comparable to Tennyson in fame,
popularity, influence and book sales. Longfellow was the first American poet to
have a bust at Poet's Corner. Francis James Child publishes a book of 305 popular ballads as The
English and Scottish Popular Ballads. The ballads included are often called
the "Child ballads." Some probably date back to the 13th century. The
birth of the English writer Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). The
birth of the English painter and writer Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957). The death of
Ralph Waldo Emerson.
1883 Alfred Tennyson accepts a peerage, becoming Lord Alfred Tennyson, as he
is known today (or Alfred, Lord Tennyson). William Carlos Williams, an American poet, is born. Robert Louis
Stevenson's novel Treasure Island.
1884 Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn takes a strong stand against
racism and slavery. Huck says he would rather go to hell then turn in his friend
Jim, the escaped slave. Alfred Tennyson is made a Baron by Queen Victoria and
takes his place in the House of Lords. He
was the first British subject to be made a lord for his writing.
1885 Ezra Pound, an American poet and critic, is born.
1886 H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), an American poet, is born. William Butler Yeats
meets Gerard Manley Hopkins in Dublin; at the time Hopkins was a professor of
Greek and Yeats was a student. Robert Louis Stevenson's novels Kidnapped
and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Joseph Conrad
applies for British nationality and is accepted.
1888 T. S. Eliot, an American poet, is born. Columbia Records, the first major
American record label, is founded.
1889 William Butler Yeats publishes The Wanderings of Oisin. He would
become a leading poet of modernism. Yeats meets and falls in love with the
lovely Irish nationalist and revolutionary Maude Gonne. Robert Browning dies and is buried next to
Alfred Tennyson at the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. Gerard Manley Hopkins
dies unknown as a poet, of typhoid fever. George Bernard Shaw's Fabian
Essays. Rudyard Kipling meets Mark Twain.
1890 Emily Dickinson's poems are published posthumously. Fin-de-siθcle (1890-1900) poets who took notes from the French symbolists
include William Butler Yeats, Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson,
Arthur Symons, Oscar Wilde and Charles Algernon Swinburne. Yeats co-founds the
Rhymer's Club. Yeats is admitted into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
1891 William Butler Yeats proposes to Maude Gonne, but is rejected. Oscar
Wilde's novella A Picture of Dorian Gray. William Morris writes the
"utopian romance" novel News from Nowhere. Herman Melville
dies with Billy Budd completed but unpublished. The novel would be
discovered in a breadbox in 1919 and published in 1924.
1892 Whitman prepares the final edition of Leaves of Grass, known as
the "Deathbed Edition." In his author's note, he writes that he would like "this
new 1892 edition to absolutely supersede all previous ones. Faulty as it is, he
decides it is by far his special and entire self-chosen poetic
utterance." Whitman dies at age 72, one of the greatest and most influential
poets of all time. Lord Alfred Tennyson also dies at age 83, the greatest of the
Victorian poets and the longest-tenured English Poet Laureate, at 42 years. "Harlem Rag" by the pianist Tommy Turpin is the first known
ragtime composition. The birth of the American poet and playwright Edna St.
Vincent Millay (1892-1850).
1893 The birth of the great English war poet (or anti-war poet), Wilfred Owen
(1893-1918). William Butler Yeats publishes The Celtic Twilight.
1894 E. E. Cummings, an American poet, is born. William Butler Yeats has an
affair with Olivia Shakespear. Rudyard Kipling writes The Jungle Book.
1895 "America the Beautiful" is a poem written by Katharine Lee Bates that is
later set to music by Samuel A. Ward. Scott Joplin publishes two ragtime
compositions. Cornetist Buddy Bolden forms a band; he has been credited with the
creation of the countermelody of jazz. Oscar Wilde's play The
Importance of Being Earnest. H. G. Wells writes the early science fiction
novel The Time Machine.
1896 A. E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad is published. Gay and an atheist, Housman
was one of the strongest voices of early modernism. The introduction of radio
technology. William Butler Yeats attends his first sιance and is introduced to
Lady Gregory, who becomes his patron. Thomas Hardy's last novel, Jude the
Obscure, is considered "shocking" and he turns to poetry for the last 30
years of his life. H. G. Wells writes The Island of Dr. Moreau.
1897 John Philip Sousa composes "Stars and Stripes Forever" and more than 100
popular marches; composers Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb establish
and popularize ragtime, giving birth to America's popular music industry. Jimmie
Rogers, known as the "father of country music," is born. H. G.
Wells writes the early science fiction novel The Invisible Man.
1898 Thomas Hardy's Wessex Poems. Oscar Wilde's long poem The Ballad of
Reading Gaol. H. G. Wells writes The War of the Worlds.
1899 Ernest Dowson's Decorations: in Verse and Prose. Dowson would be
a major influence on T. S. Eliot, and thus on modernism. Hart Crane, an American
poet, is born. Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" is published and becomes the
first big Ragtime hit with over 100,000 copies sold. Duke Ellington is born.
William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory combine to help found the Irish Literary
Theatre. Rudyard Kipling begins working on Just So Stories. Joseph
Conrad writes the novel Heart of Darkness, which will strongly
influence the movie Apocalypse Now.
1900 William Butler Yeats publishes The Shadowy Waters. Yvor Winters
is born. Joseph Conrad writes Lord Jim. Thomas Hardy pens "The
Darkling Thrush" and dates it December 31, 1900, which he considers to be the
last day of the old century. Queen Victoria died a few days later, marking the
end of the Victorian Era.
Our top ten poets of Early Modernism: James Joyce, William Carlos Williams,
Algernon Charles Swinburne, Vachel Lindsay, Carl Sandburg, Ernest Dowson, Ezra
Pound, Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman, William Butler Yeats
Early Modernism and the Edwardian Period (1901-1910)
1901 Approximate beginning time for American country music and jazz.
Sears, Roebuck and Co. is selling record players to the public, setting the
stage for the coming explosion of hit record sales. Charles Booth's performance
of J. Bodewalt Lange's "Creole Blues" is recorded for the new Victor label. This is
the first acoustic recording of ragtime to be made commercially available. A
plaque with Emma Lazarus's poem "The New Colossus" is added to the Statue of
Liberty. Laura Riding is born. King Edward VII assumes the British throne,
beginning the Edwardian Period.
1902 Thomas Hardy publishes Poems of the Past and Present. Alfred
Noyes publishes The Loom of Years. Hilda Doolittle, aka H.D., meets and
befriends Ezra Pound. Ogden Nash is born, synchronistically, in the same year as
the earliest-published American limerick, which appeared in 1902 in the
Princeton Tiger: This is the popular limerick that starts "There once was a
man from Nantucket." Victor Records issues the first known recording of
black music, "Camp Meeting Shouts." Pianist Jelly Roll Morton claims
to have invented jazz in this year. Buddy Bolden is another candidate, as he
creates a fusion of blues and ragtime. Henry James publishes the novel The
Wings of the Dove.
1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright fly the first airplane at Kitty Hawk. William Butler Yeats
publishes In the Seven Woods. Countee Cullen, an American poet, is
born. W. C. Handy sees a bluesman playing a guitar with a knife (the first
"pick"?). A plaque bearing the sonnet "The New Colossus" by Manhattan
socialite Emma Lazarus is mounted inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty,
greeting newcomers with the lines, "Give me your tired, your poor, / Your
huddled masses yearning to breathe free." George Bernard Shaw's play
Man and Superman. Henry James publishes the novel
The Ambassadors. Samuel Butler's posthumous novel
The Way of All Flesh "attacked all the major doctrines of his day."
1904 Thomas Hardy's The Dynasts. Christina Rossetti's Poetical
Works. Algernon Charles Swinburne's A Channel Passage and Other Poems.
Carl Sandburg's In Restless Ecstasy. Pablo Neruda, the great Chilean
poet, is born. Henry James publishes the novel The Golden Bowl.
1905 Albert Einstein presents his Special Theory of Relativity. Vachel Lindsay
peddles his poems on the street, makes 13 cents, and is ecstatic. Ernest
Dowson's The Poems of Ernest Dowson. Oscar Wilde's De Profundis
(posthumous). Paul Laurence Dunbar's Lyrics of Sunshine and Shadow.
George Bernard Shaw's play Major Barbara.
1906 Alfred Noyes's "The Highwayman." Thomas Hardy's The Dynasts II.
1907 James Joyce's Chamber Music. Sara Teasdale's Sonnets to Duse
and Other Poems. Rudyard Kipling, an English poet and novelist, wins the
Nobel Prize for Literature. W. H. Auden, an English poet, is born. Buddy Bolden
is committed to a mental institution without having ever recorded any music. The
first wireless broadcast of classical music is produced in New York. Rudyard
Kipling becomes the first English language writer to win a Nobel Prize for
Literature, and the youngest at age 42. Ezra Pound is forced to leave a teaching
position at Wabash College after offering a stranded chorus girl tea and his
bed, claiming to have slept on the floor.
1908 Ezra Pound leaves America
for London. Pound's A Lume Spento, a collection of poems which he later
called "stale cream puffs." Pound, a transplanted American, is considered by
many to be the father of English modernism. William Butler Yeats publishes The Collected Works in Verse and
Prose. William Butler Yeats and Maude Gonne finally consummate their
relationship in Paris, but the relationship does not last. Thomas Hardy publishes The Dynasts III. Theodore Roethke,
an American poet, is born. Alcohol is banned in North Carolina and Georgia,
1909 Two poems published by T. E Hulme are considered to be the beginning of
the early modernist movement called Imagism. Hulme forms the Secession Club with
F. S. Flint and other poets. Ezra Pound soon joins the club. The poets discuss
free verse and employing the methods of Oriental verse forms such as haiku and
tanka. Pound publishes Personae and Exultations. Pound meets William
Butler Yeats; Pound becomes Yeats's secretary. William Carlos
Williams publishes Poems. Joseph Conrad completes The Secret Sharer. Robert Peary reaches the North Pole.
1910 Rudyard Kipling writes his most famous poem, "If." Ford Madox Ford publishes Poems from
London. Charles Olson, an American poet, is born. The NAACP is founded.
Mark Twain dies. E. M. Forster's early novel Howard's End. Marie Curie isolates radium. King George V assumes the British
throne, beginning the Georgian Period. Virginia Woolf writes
that "In or about December 1910, human character changed." The change became
known as "modernism" ... one aspect of modernist literature is that the
"complexity of modern urban life must be reflected in literary form" ...
Our top ten Modernist poets: E. E. Cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, D. H.
Lawrence, Louise Bogan, Dylan Thomas, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Hart Crane, Wilfred Owen, Wallace Stevens
The Georgian Period (1910-1936), World War I and the Modernists
1911 Georgian poets include Rupert Brooke, W. H. Davies, Robert Graves, D. H.
Lawrence, Walter de la Mare, John Masefield, Harold Monro, Wilfred Owen,
Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas, Vita Sackville-West. Wilhelm Apollinaris de
Kostrowitzky, who writes under the pen name "Guillaume Apollinaire," is
suspected in the theft of the Mona Lisa from The Louvre museum in Paris and is
imprisoned for six days. Ezra Pound's Canzoni is published in London.
Irving Berlin completes "Alexander's Ragtime Band," his first hit; the culmination
of the ragtime craze. The birth of the American playwright Tennessee Williams.
1912 Harriet Munroe founds the literary journal Poetry, influenced by
Ezra Pound as a foreign editor. Pound, H.D. and Richard Aldington work out the
principles of Imagist poetry. The first Imagist poems and essays to be published
appear in Poetry. Ironically in certain instances "modernism" became a
retreat to the past: Pound looked back to Confucius; T. S. Eliot to Dante; James
Joyce to Homer; Lawrence to primitive tribes. The Titanic sinks, inspiring Thomas Hardy's "The Convergence of
the Twain." Rudyard Kipling publishes his Collected Poems. Walter de la
Mare publishes The Listeners and Other Poems. Robinson Jeffers
publishes Flagons and Apples. Edna St. Vincent Millay publishes
Renascence. Elinor Wylie publishes Incidental Numbers. Northrop
Frye is born. The "father of the blues," W. C. Handy, publishes songs titled
"Memphis Blues" and helps inaugurate a new style based on rural black
1913 D. H. Lawrence's Love Poems. Ezra Pound publishes an article
about Imagism. Notable imagist poets include Pound, Hulme, F. S. Flint, H. D.,
Aldington and Amy Lowell. Pound's Des Imagistes is published. Harold
Monro founds the Poetry Bookshop in London, where Ezra Pound and Robert Frost
will eventually meet. Wallace Stevens and his wife, Elsie, rent a New York City
apartment from sculptor Adolph Weinman, who makes a bust of Elsie; her image
later is used on the artist's 1916-1945 Mercury dime design. Rabindranath Tagore
is awarded the Nobel prize in literature. D. H. Lawrence publishes Love
Poems and Others. The word "jazz" first appears in print. Robert
Bridges is appointed British Poet Laureate.
1914 Great Britain enters World War I by declaring war on Germany. Famous war
poets would include Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg, Edmund
Blunden and Wilfred Owen. The Panama
Canal opens to commercial traffic. Ezra Pound marries English artist Dorothy Shakespear at St Mary Abbots
church, Kensington, London. T. S. Eliot meets Pound for the first time, in
London. Pound is particularly taken with Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock" and writes that Eliot "actually trained and modernized himself
on his own." Pound and Eliot would become leading voices of English modernism. Edward Thomas makes the English railway journey which inspires his poem
"Adlestrop" en route to meet Robert Frost; Thomas begins writing poetry for the
first time after this summer. BLAST, a short-lived literary magazine of
the Vorticist movement, is founded with the publication of the first of its
total of two editions, edited by Wyndham Lewis in collaboration with Pound. J. R. R. Tolkien writes a poem
about Eδrendil, the first appearance of his mythopoeic Middle-earth legendarium
that will, in time, spawn the Lord of the Rings trilogy. At this time
Tolkien is an Oxford undergraduate living at Phoenix Farm, Gedling near
Nottingham. Thomas Hardy publishes Satires of Circumstance. William
Butler Yeats publishes Responsibilities. Robert Frost publishes his
first book of poems, North of Boston, at age 46. Wallace Stevens has
his first major publication, "Phases" in Poetry at age 35. Carl
Sandburg publishes "Chicago" in Poetry. Dylan Thomas, a Welsh poet, is
born. Randall Jarrell, an American poet is born. John Berryman, an American
poet, is born. Pianist W.C. Handy writes St. Louis Blues.
1915 The last issue of Blast includes the first poems of T. S. Eliot
to be published in England. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is published with the
help of Ezra Pound by Poetry. Pound is completing the first section of
his long poem The Cantos. Virginia Woolf publishes her first novel,
The Voyage Out. Herbert Read publishes Songs of Chaos.
John McCrea publishes "In Flanders Fields." Edgar Lee Masters publishes
Spoon River Anthology. Billie Holliday, an African-American singer, is
born. Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity.
1916 Thomas Hardy's Selected Poems. D. H. Lawrence's Amores.
Edward Thomas's first published poetry collection, Six Poems, under the
pseudonym Edward Eastway. William Butler Yeats's "Easter, 1916." Yeats
also writes one of his loveliest poems, "The Wild Swans at Coole" at the Coole
Park estate of his patron Lady Gregory. Robert Frost's
Mountain Interval, including his famous poem "The Road Not Taken,"
written about Edward Thomas. Carl Sandburg publishes Chicago Poems,
including his best-known poem, "Chicago." W. H. Davies publishes Selected
Poems. John Ciardi, an American poet, is born. The Bolshevik Revolution in
Russia will have worldwide repercussions. George Bernard Shaw's popular play
1917 The U.S. enters World War I and begins to dominate international affairs.
More than 200,000 black men will serve in the U.S. armed forces in segregated
units; they can fight and die for their country, but are not equal citizens.
When William Butler Yeats proposes to Maude Gonne and is rejected yet again, her
then proposes to her daughter Iseult Gonne, and is also rejected!
1918 Wilfred Owen writes his graphic anti-war poem, "Dulce et Decorum Est." He
dies just one week before the armistice that ends WWI. Tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins
tours with blues singer Mamie Smith and begins to develop a unique style of
playing. The black singer, actor, and civil rights activist Paul Robeson
graduates first in his class from Rutgers University. Robert Bridges publishes
the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins posthumously.
1919 George Gershwin's first and biggest hit is "Swanee." It is introduced by
the singer Al Jolson, famous for performing in blackface. Physicist Ernest
Rutherford, known as the father of nuclear physics, discovers a way to induce
the splitting of an atom. This is the first instance of an experiment performing
nuclear transmutation, the changing of one chemical element into another. The
Original Dixieland Jass Band performs in London.
1920 Women's suffrage adopted in the U.S. Edna St. Vincent Millay's "First
Fig." Jazz is made popular by musicians like Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll
Morton. Mamie Smith records for Okeh Records; her "Crazy Blues" becomes the
first blues hit, beginning the business of "race" recording. The first
blues record is recorded on Valentine's Day (February 14, 1920) when Mamie
Smith, a black vaudeville performer cuts "Crazy Blues." The records sells
"phenomenally" well and record companies are soon "beating the bushes for any
black woman who can sing."
1921 Adolf Hitler is elected leader of the Nazi Party in Germany.
1922 T. S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" (considered by many to be a foundational
text of English modernism). Edward Arlington Robinson wins the first Pulitzer
Prize for Poetry. The jazz pianist William "Count" Basie makes his first
recordings. The first commercial recordings of what was considered country music
were "Arkansas Traveler" and "Turkey in the Straw" by fiddlers Henry Gilliland &
A.C. (Eck) Robertson on June 30, 1922 at the office of Victor Records in New
York. They were Confederate veterans playing "hillbilly music."
William Butler Yeats becomes a senator of the Irish Free State.
1923 Wallace Stevens's Harmonium. William Carlos Williams's "The Red
Wheelbarrow." W. B. Yeats wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Edna St. Vincent Millay wins the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Bessie Smith and Ma
Rainey, the defining performers of classic blues, make their recording debuts.
Ralph Peer of Okeh records the music of Fiddlin' John Carson in an empty loft in
Atlanta. Carson's record becomes a regional hit and convinces Peer that there is
an untapped market for "hillbilly" music. Hiram King "Hank" Williams is born in
Olive, Alabama. Hank Williams will become country music's greatest icon and most
1924 The birth of the American writer and social critic James Baldwin
(1924-1987). Robert Frost wins the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Robinson Jeffers'
poem "Shine, Perishing Republic." E. M. Forster writes his best-known
novel, A Passage to India.
1925 Amy Lowell wins the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. E. E. Cummings receives
the Dial Award. In Nashville the Grand Ole Opry begins radio broadcasts,
bringing country and western music to the masses. Blind Lemon Jefferson is first
recorded; he will become the dominant blues figure of the late 1920s and the
first star of the folk blues. Virginia Woolf publishes her novel Mrs
1926 The birth of the American poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), the author of
"Howl" and perhaps the
greatest and most influential of the Beat poets. Langston Hughes' The Weary Blues.
1927 Show Boat becomes the first hugely popular American musical
comedy. Jimmie Rogers, the "father of country music," appears on a radio station
for the first time, in Ashville, North Carolina. Rogers then records "Blue
Yodel," better known as "T for Texas" and is catapulted to stardom. The Carter
family, another country music group, also makes its first recordings. They would
employ a black man to find black tunes for them to use. It would be the
convergence of black music and country music that would eventually "fuse" into
rock and roll in the hands of artists like Elvis Presley. Virginia Woolf
publishes her novel To the Lighthouse. Wyndham Lewis's play
The Wild Body.
1928 Edward Arlington Robinson wins his third Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
Virginia Woolf publishes her novel Orlando. Thomas Hardy dies and is buried at the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. Or
rather, his ashes are buried there and his heart is buried at Stinsford with his
wife Emma. (Shades of David Livingston!)
1929 The Great Depression cripples the American economy, hurting the sales of
books, phonographs and records. Virginia Woolf publishes her
book-length essay A Room of One's Own.
1930 Hart Crane's The Bridge. Conrad Aiken wins the Pulitzer Prize
for Poetry. The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas writes his first poem, around age 15.
Many of his most famous poems were written as a teenager. Years later, Bob Dylan
would take his assumed last name from Thomas's first.
1931 E. E. Cummings writes the great modernist anti-war poem "i sing of Olaf
glad and big."
1933 Archibald MacLeish wins the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
1934 Adolf Hitler becomes dictator of Germany.
1936 Debut of the electric guitar; the dawn of the rock 'n' roll age.
Legendary Delta bluesman Robert Johnson begins his short recording career.
Rudyard Kipling dies and is buried at the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.
King George V dies, ending the Georgian Period.
World War II, the Cold War, Modernism and Postmodernism (1937-Present)
1937 Robert Frost wins his third Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Joseph Auslander
is appointed the first American Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
1939 Great Britain enters World War II. During the war, pocket-sized
collections of poems by writers including Percy Bysshe Shelley, Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are distributed to soldiers for comfort
and inspiration. (Wilfred Owen is presumably not included.) Yeats dies at age 73. W. H. Auden
famous elegy "In
Memory of W. B. Yeats." Eddie Durham records the first music featuring the
electric guitar; it will influence the development of the blues, which will in
turn influence the popular music that came to be known as rock'n'roll.
1941 T. S. Eliot's "Four Quartets." The debut of FM radio stations.
Alan Lomax records McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, at
Stovall's Farm in Mississippi.
1942 Wallace Stevens's Of Modern Poetry. The first award of a gold
record for a million-selling hit went to Glenn Miller for "Chatanooga
1943 Robert Frost wins his fourth Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Allen Tate is
appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Allen Ginsberg graduates
from high school, where he fell under the spell of Walt Whitman's poetry.
1944 Stephen Vincent Benet wins his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Robert
Penn Warren is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Tennessee
Williams has a hit play with The Glass Menagerie.
1945 The end of World War II. Louise Bogan is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Allen Ginsberg joins the Merchant Marine in order to pay his tuition at pricey
Columbia University. At Columbia, Ginsberg meets other writers who will
eventually become known as the Beats, including Lucien Carr, Neal Cassady, Jack
Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. Ginsberg also meets Gregory Corso in the Pony
Stable Bar; Corso had written a poem about a girl who sunbathed nude (she turned
out to be Ginsberg's girlfriend).
1946 Elizabeth Bishop's "The Fish." Dylan Thomas's "Fern Hill." Herman Hesse,
a German poet, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. Karl Shapiro is appointed
Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. The Irving Berlin musical Annie
Get Your Gun is huge hit. Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup records "That's All
Right," a tune that recalls Blind Lemon Jefferson's "That Black Snake Moan" from
twenty years earlier. Within a decade, Elvis Presley will cover "That's All
Right" for his debut hit (perhaps the first rock'n'roll song as we think of the
1947 Robert Lowell wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and is appointed Poet
Laureate to the Library of Congress. Bluesman T-Bone Walker plays electric
guitar on the recording of his standard "Call it Stormy Monday." Muddy Waters
makes his first Chicago recordings, beginning his tenure as the dominant figure
in the Chicago blues and a key link between the Mississippi Delta and the urban
styles. Tennessee Williams has another hit play with A Streetcar Named
Desire, which becomes a major motion picture starring Marlon Brando and
1948 T. S. Eliot wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. W. H. Auden wins the
Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Leonie Adams is appointed Poet Laureate to the
Library of Congress. Columbia Records introduces the LP ("long playing") vinyl
record, or "album." Allen Ginsberg has his "auditory vision" of
William Blake; Ginsberg would become the foremost Beat poet. Here is a quick recap of the Beat movement (1948-1963):
"It only lasted 15 years and was known by the masses only in the last six, but
the combination of disenfranchisement, wanderlust, and creative expression that
inflicted a handful of New York and San Francisco students and young
intellectuals resulted in the most influential movement of the past 100 years
the Beat movement. The Beats formed from a wide variety of characters and
interests, but were linked by a common thread: a desire to live life as they
defined it. The mixture of academia, be-bop jazz, the liberating free verse of
William Carlos Williams, and the influence of budding author Jack Kerouac (who
coined the term 'Beat Generation' in 1948 at a meeting with Allen Ginsberg,
Herbert Huncke, and William S. Burroughs) inspired a young Ginsberg to change
everything hed learned about poetry. He wrote throughout the early 1950s in a
narrative free verse, joined by the young Gregory Corso and Peter Orlovsky, and
the older Burroughs, who, like Kerouac, opted for fiction though Kerouac wrote
beautiful poetry that has been read and appreciated over the past two decades.
By the mid-1950s, the Beats mixture of free-expression jazz and socially
informed free verse poetry became the anthem for a generation of Greenwich
Village youth seeking greater spiritual meaning through visceral experiences and
the laying down or trampling of their parents strict, Depression and World
War II-fed mores. In 1956, the scene exploded into the public eye when Ginsberg
published Howl, followed a year later by Kerouacs On The Road, which hed been
shopping to publishers since 1949. Ironically, the explosion was triggered not
in New York, the center of early Beat poetry, but across the continent at San
Franciscos Six Gallery. On October 9, 1955, a group of Beat poets from both
coasts gathered for what became the 20th centurys most famous single reading
but it was Ginsbergs reading of Howl that left his peers gasping in amazement
and that ignited a subculture. By the time of the Six Gallery reading, San
Francisco was host to a burgeoning Beat community that included poets Gary
Snyder, Michael McClure, Philip LaMantia, and three older influences: Kenneth
Rexroth, Lew Welch, and Philip Whalen. In 1947, Rexroth launched the San
Francisco Renaissance, a loose poetic movement including he, Whalen, Kenneth
Patchen, and William Everson. It directly fed the San Francisco Beats, as did
the Black Mountain Poets that included Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov.
Another major contributor was former New York poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who
owned and operated City Lights bookstore, which in the 1950s sold books that
were banned by the U.S. Justice Department. He published Howl, thus creating a
legacy as the greatest publisher and distributor of Beat literature. In 1947,
Kenneth Rexroth launched the San Francisco Renaissance, which fed into the San
Francisco Beats. Beat poets and their works fostered a new era of appreciation
and study of poetry. The emerging Baby Boomer generation fanned the fame of the
Beats far beyond what any of them imagined. The Beats also influenced East
Village poet-musicians Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg (who formed the Fugs), and
a group of artistic, musically inclined youth who hung out in San Franciscos
North Beach and Haight-Ashbury districts. That group went on to launch
psychedelic rock and the cultural revolution of the late 1960s. Growing fame
also brought many fine Beat poets to the surface, such as Diane Di Prima, Joanne
Kyger, LeRoi Jones, and Herbert Huncke, who worked in the shadows of their more
1949 Elizabeth Bishop is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Hank Williams Sr. made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry. Jerry Wexler, an editor
at Billboard magazine, coins the term "rhythm and blues" as a substitute for the
older term "race records."
1950 Nat King Cole hits the charts with "Mona Lisa." Little Richard is an
electric star. Conrad Aiken is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of
1951 Carl Sandburg wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Cleveland disc jockey
Alan Freed uses the term "rock 'n' roll" to promote rhythm and blues to white
audiences. Muddy Waters is the king of the blues singers.
1952 Dylan Thomas's great villanelle for his dying father, "Do Not Go Gentle
into That Good Night." William Carlos Williams is appointed Poet Laureate to the
Library of Congress. Kitty Wells with her recording of "It Wasn't God Who Made
Honky Tonk Angels" has the first No. 1 Billboard country hit for a solo female
artist. She was the first female singer to sell a million records. Sam Phillips
founds Sun Records. B.B. King has his first major rhythm and blues hit with a
version of "Three O'Clock Blues."
1953 Archibald MacLeish wins his second Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. John F.
Kennedy marries Jacqueline Lee Bouvier; the American Camelot has its royal
1954 Bill Haley and the Comets have the first rock smash with "Rock Around the
Clock." Elvis Presley records his first commercial record, a cover of the
Arthur Crudup song "That's
All Right, Mama," at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Theodore Roethke wins the
Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Wallace Stevens' Collected Poems.
1955 Black artists. sometimes employing racy lyrics, begin to hit the pop
charts: Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Sam
Cooke, the Platters. Chuck Berry's "Maybellene." Buddy Holley watches Elvis
perform in Lubbock, Texas, and begins to perform in a similar rockabilly style.
Decca Records soon signs Holley, but misspells his last name "Holly." Later the
same year, the renamed Holly opens for Elvis and Bill Haley. Wallace Stevens
wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" is a precursor
of rap and modern performance poetry. Louise Bogan wins the Bollingen award.
Tennessee Williams has another hit play with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,
which becomes a major motion picture starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor.
1956 Elizabeth Bishop wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Randall Jarrell is
appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Elvis tops the pop charts
with "Heartbreak Hotel," "Don't Be Cruel," "Hound Dog" and "Love Me Tender."
Elvis "the Pelvis" performs "Hound Dog" on the Milton Berle TV show, gyrating
his hips and causing girls in the audience to swoon and scream. Black artists have mainstream hits: the Platters, Nat King Cole, Fats Domino,
1957 San Francisco book publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti is arrested for
publishing Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl." The landmark obscenity trial (and
not-guilty verdict) essentially leads to the end of U.S. government censorship. Richard Wilbur wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Elvis is "All Shook
Up" and doing the "Jailhouse Rock." His rockabilly protιgι Buddy Holly and the
Crickets hit the charts with "That'll Be the Day."
1958 Robert Penn Warren wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Robert Frost is
appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Rock hits a high gear with
up-tempo classics like "Tequila," "Get a Job" and "At the Hop." Buddy Holly
appears on the Ed Sullivan show. Boris Pasternak, a Russian poet, wins the Nobel
Prize for Literature. Ezra Pound's indictment for treason is dismissed. The
Bollingen Prize is awarded to e. e. cummings. Billboard magazine begins its Hot
100 chart, listing popular songs. Ricky Nelson's "Poor Little Fool" is the first
No. 1 record. The second gold record for selling a million copies is awarded to
Perry Como for "Catch a Falling Star."
1959 Stanley Kunitz wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Richard Eberhart is
appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Berry Gordy Jr. founds the
Motown record label to mass-market black music; its future stars include the
Miracles, Supremes, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Tennessee Williams has a hit
play with Sweet Bird of Youth.
1960 W. D. Snodgrass wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Sam Cooke scores big
with "Chain Gang." Muddy Waters performs at the Newport Jazz Festival
to tremendous acclaim.
1961 Louis Untermeyer is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
The Motown record label has its first number one hit with "Please Mr. Postman"
by the girl group The Marvelettes. Roy Orbison has an operatic pop hit with
"Cryin'." Ben E. King scores with "Stand By Me" and "Spanish Harlem." Country
music singer Patsy Cline becomes a mainstream star.
1962 Bob Zimmerman changes his name to Bob Dylan, taking his new last name
from Dylan Thomas's first. James Brown records "Live At The Apollo." Browns
drummer Clayton Fillyau introduces a sound now known as the break beat, which
would later inspire the b-boy movement, and rap. Ray Charles tops the charts
with "I Can't Stop Lovin' You." Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hit the high
notes on "Sherry." Sylvia Plath's tormented "Daddy." Robert Hayden's "Those
1963 William Carlos Williams wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Howard
Nemerov is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Bob Dylan becomes
famous for folk songs and protest songs like "Blowin' in the Wind."
1964 Reed Whittemore is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
The Beatles top the American charts for the first time with "I Want To Hold Your
Hand" and Beatlemania has begun. The Beatles appear on the Ed
Sullivan show on February 9, 1964 with an estimated audience of 73 million. The British invasion also includes the Animals
with "House of the Rising Sun" and the Kinks with "You Really Got Me." Other
popular British invasion groups include the Rolling Stones, the Who and Herman's
Hermits. Ironically, the "invasion" largely consists of white English rockers
importing American blues classics and emulations!
1965 Stephen Spender is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Jim Morrison and The Doors begin to perform, taking their name from poet William
Blake's "Doors of Perception." The bad boys of rock'n'roll, the Rolling Stones,
score with "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Bob Dylan has a major hit with "Like
a Rolling Stone" and goes electric at the Newport Folk Festival (receiving
boos from the audience and producers). Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Clay) recites one of his first
rhymes before defeating Sonny Liston for the heavyweight boxing title. Elizabeth
Bishop's "The Armadillo." James Brown is the "godfather of soul."
1966 James Dickey is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. The
Beatles, Monkees, Beach Boys, Supremes, Rolling Stones, Petula Clark and Frank
and Nancy Sinatra somehow manage to coexist on the popular charts.
1967 Anne Sexton wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Lulu, Englebert
Humperdink, the Sinatras, the Doors and the Rolling Stones incongruously top the
charts together. Dolly Parton begins singing on the Porter Wagoner show. The
birth of Kurt Cobain, who would become the leading poet/songwriter/performer of
the "grunge movement" and an important spokesman for Generation X.
1968 At a campaign stop in Indianapolis it falls to democratic presidential
candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy to deliver news of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s
assassination to a largely black crowd. In his spontaneous eulogy from the back
of a flatbed truck, Kennedy quotes his "favorite poet," Aeschylus: "In our
sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our
own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God." William Jay Smith is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Cream, the Beatles, Bobby Goldsboro, Herb Alpert, Jeanie C. Riley, Richard
Harris and Archie Bell and the Drells top the schizophrenic Billboard charts.
Jimi Hendrix becomes a guitar legend and pioneer of psychedelic rock.
1969 Woodstock features folk and rock poets Arlo Guthrie; Joan Baez; John
Fogerty; Sly Stone; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Hendrix steals the show by playing a hard rock version of "The Star Spangled
Banner" on his electric Fender Stratocaster. (But
somehow the Archies maintain the number one position on the charts with the
sugary pop hit "Sugar, Sugar.") Johnny Cash, who had some problems with the
law himself, performs for the inmates of San Quentin.
1970 William Stafford is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
The Moody Blues, ELO and Pink Floyd invent "art rock."
1971 Josephine Jacobsen is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Ex-Beatle John Lennon releases his Imagine album with its utopian title song.
Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. Andrew Lloyd
Webber's musical Jesus Christ, Superstar.
1972 The earliest "rap" musical events are held in the Bronx.
1973 Great Britain joins the European Union. Daniel Hoffman is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. An
estimated one billion viewers watch Elvis Presley's TV concert Aloha from
Hawaii. The film American Graffiti is the first major movie about rock
1974 Robert Lowell wins his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Stanley Kunitz
is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. The debut of disco music.
1975 Queen releases the single "Bohemian Rhapsody" which features surreal,
ultra-modernistic lyrics. It is followed by the album A Night at the Opera.
Bruce Springsteen is all the rage as the reigning rock poet with "Born to Run."
Patti Smith is the pioneer of punk music with "Horses."
1976 Robert Hayden is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art." James Merrill's The Changing Light at Sandover.
1977 The movie Saturday Night Fever popularizes disco and makes the
Bee Gees major stars. Elvis Presley dies prematurely and unexpectedly (although
some of his fans still insist that he remains alive!). Steven Biko, a black
South African student leader and anti-apartheid activist, dies while in police
custody, apparently the victim of a savage beating. An international outcry
arises. Bantu Stephen Biko (his full name) had articulated his ideas in a series
of articles published under the pseudonym Frank Talk. He helped popularize the
slogan "black is beautiful." Biko's friends regarded him as "handsome, fearless,
a brilliant thinker." His life, work and death inspired the 1987 movie Cry
Freedom. His funeral was attended by 20,000 people, including Desmond Tutu
and diplomats from thirteen nations. Today, Biko is viewed as the "father" of
the Black Consciousness Movement and the anti-apartheid movement's first icon.
Nelson Mandela called him "the spark that lit a veld fire across South Africa"
adding that the apartheidist South African government "had to kill him to
prolong the life of apartheid." Peter Gabriel released the song "Biko" in 1980;
it was banned in South Africa. But it was Biko, Mandela and Tutu who won the
battle for racial equality in the end. In 1994, Mandela was elected president of
South Africa. In March 2017, South African President Jacob Zuma laid a wreath at
Biko's grave to mark Human Rights Day.
1978 William Meredith is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Sony introduces the Walkman and the concept of personal, portable music. The
debut of hip-hop music, which is very close to poetry and rap. The debut of
1979 The Sugarhill Gangs "Rapper's Delight" is released; it becomes the first rap/hip-hop
song/poem to reach the Billboard's Top 40. Robert Penn Warren wins his second
Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
1980 Blondie has the first white rap/hip-hop hit with "Rapture."
1981 Maxine Kumin is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
debuts with innovative music videos.
1982 Sylvia Plath wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her collected poems.
Anthony Hecht is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. Michael
Jackson releases his album "Thriller," which becomes the biggest-selling album
of all time. The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, based on poems
written by T. S. Eliot, goes on to become the longest-running Broadway musical
of all time. Nineteen-year-old Occidental College student Barack Obama
publishes his poem, "Pop," in the school's literary magazine. It reads, in part:
Pop switches channels, takes another
Shot of Seagrams, neat, and asks
What to do with me, a green young man
Who fails to consider the
Flim and flam of the world.
1983 Compact discs begin to replace vinyl records. Madonna has her first
international hits with "Holiday," "Borderline" and "Lucky Star." Michael
Jacksons wows the MTV world with his first public moonwalk during a live
performance of "Billie Jean," but the "backslide" had actually been around since
the 1930's when it was called the "Buzz" by Cab Calloway. The first recorded
performance of the gliding-backwards dance step is a film of Bill Bailey tap
dancing then exiting by moonwalking at the Apollo in 1955. The "backslide" was
being performed by street dancers when Jackson adopted and renamed it. Other
performers of the "backslide" before MJ include Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien,
Dick Van Dyke, Lucille Ball, James Brown, Bob Fosse and Judy the Frog (who
called the step the "moonwalk" in a 1969 demonstration on H. R. Pufnstuf.)
1984 Reed Whittemore is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress for
the second time, on an interim basis. Robert Fitzgerald is later appointed Poet
Laureate. Marvin Gaye, who wrote the lyric "Father, father, there's no need to
escalate" was shot and killed by his father, a preacher. Prince wins an Oscar
for the score to "Purple Rain." Madonna becomes an outrageous new kind of
liberated female pop star with her album and title song "Like a Virgin."
1985 Gwendolyn Brooks is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Freddy Mercury and Queen steal the show at Live Aid.
1986 President Ronald Reagan borrows a few lines from the James Magee Jr. poem
"High Flight" in his Oval Office address to comfort a grieving nation following
the Challenger disaster, saying the crew had "slipped the surly bonds of Earth
to touch the face of God." Robert Penn Warren is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress
for the second time.
1987 Joseph Brodsky, a Russian poet, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Richard Wilbur is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
1988 Howard Nemerov is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress for
the second time. Michael Jackson, the "King of Pop," buys a ranch and calls it
1989 Richard Wilbur wins his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
1990 Octavio Paz, a Mexican poet, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. Mark
Strand is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
1991 Nirvana's first single, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," helped make grunge
cool. Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen, dies from complications of AIDS.
1992 Derek Walcott wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. Mona Van Duyn is
appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
1993 Maya Angelou, great granddaughter of an Arkansas slave, becomes the
second poet to read at a presidential inauguration when she delivers "On the
Pulse of Morning" at Bill Clinton's swearing-in. Rita Dove is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress. The
Who's rock opera Tommy debuts on Broadway. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana have
an epic moment on MTV Unplugged, despite performing only one of their
better-known songs ("Come As You Are").
1995 Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature; Philip
Levine wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for The Simple Truth. Robert
Hass is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
1996 Rap poet Eminem releases his debut album, Infinite.
1997 Robert Pinksy is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Elton John sings "Candle In The Wind" with revised lyrics for the funeral of
Princess Diana in Westminster Abby; it quickly becomes the all-time global
1999 Gunter Grass, a German poet, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.
2000 Stanley Kunitz is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress for
the second time. The Internet begins to transform music, poetry and art. The
movie O Brother, Where Art Thou rekindles an interest in bluegrass
music, especially the hit "Man of Constant Sorrow."
2001 Following the September 11th attacks, a flurry of poems is pinned to
makeshift memorials across New York City and circulates widely on the internet
(such as W.H. Auden's "September 1, 1939" which says about the German invasion
of Poland: "The unmentionable odour of death / Offends the September night").
"In times of crisis it's interesting that people don't turn to the novel or say,
"We should all go out to a movie," then U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins
told The New York Times after the tragedy. "It's always poetry." Billy Collins is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
Apple releases the iPod, a portable MP3 player.
2003 Louise Gluck is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
introduces its iTunes online store, where songs can be purchased for less than a
2004 Ted Kooser is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
2005 Ted Kooser wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
2006 Donald Hall is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
2007 Charles Simic is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
2008 Kay Ryan is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
2009 W. S. Merwin wins his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Michael Jackson,
the "king of pop," dies in the middle of his comeback tour.
2010 The Pulitzer Prize for poetry is awarded to Versed by Rae
Armantrout. W. S. Merwin is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
2011 The Pulitzer Prize for poetry is awarded to Kay Ryan. Philip Levine is
appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress.
2012 The Pulitzer Prize for poetry is awarded to Tracy K. Smith for Life
on Mars. Natasha Trethewey is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of
2013 The Pulitzer Prize for poetry is awarded to Sharon Olds for Stag's
2014 The Pulitzer Prize for poetry is awarded to Vijay Seshadri for 3
Sections. Charles Wright is appointed Poet Laureate to the Library of
2015 The Pulitzer Prize for poetry is awarded to Gregory Pardlo for
2016 Great Britain leaves the European Union in a movement known as "Brexit."
Donald Trump is elected president of the United States in a shocking upset.
2017 Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, buys a majority stake
in The Atlantic (please see the 1857 entry for information about how
the magazine was founded by some of America's most famous writers, and to learn
why Harriet Beecher Stowe boy-cotted [pun intended] the first meeting).
And who can guess what the future will hold? ...
Related Pages in Chronological Order:
Song of Amergin,
Bede's Death Song,
Wulf and Eadwacer,
The Wife's Lament,
Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings,
How Long the Night,
Sumer is Icumen in,
Fowles in the Frith,
Ich am of Irlaunde,
Tom O'Bedlam's Song,
Now Goeth Sun Under Wood,
Sweet Rose of Virtue,
Lament for the Makaris