Ten of the Worlds Greatest Poets You Will Ever Read

Ten of the Worlds Greatest Poets You Will Ever Read

The world is filled with millions of people but there are only a few people who are acquainted with the art to give words to their sentiments those people are called none other than poets. A poet is an individual who composes poetry. A poet’s work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary greatly in different cultures and time periods. Throughout each civilization and language, poets have used various styles that have changed through the course of literary history, resulting in a history of poets as diverse as the literature they have produced.

French poet Arthur Rimbaud summarized the “poet” by writing: “A poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself; he exhausts within himself all poisons, and preserves their quintessence. Unspeakable torment, where he will need the greatest faith, a superhuman strength, where he becomes all men: the great invalid, the great criminal, the great accursed—and the Supreme Scientist! For he attains the unknown! Because he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than anyone! He attains the unknown, and, if demented, he finally loses the understanding of his visions; he will at least have seen them! So what if he is destroyed in his ecstatic flight through things unheard of, unnamable: other horrible workers will come; they will begin at the horizons where the first one has fallen!”

This list is a matter of personal taste, but if you disagree with my list of the top ten worlds greatest poets you can always let me know in the comments below…

Wole Soyinka

10. Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka was born on 13 July 1934 at Abeokuta, near Ibadan in western Nigeria. After preparatory university studies in 1954 at Government College in Ibadan, he sustained at the University of Leeds, where, later, in 1973, he took his doctorate. During the six years spent in England, he was a dramaturge at the Royal Court Theatre in London 1958-1959. In 1960, he was awarded a Rockefeller bursary and returned to Nigeria to study African drama. At the same time, he taught drama and literature at various universities in Ibadan, Lagos, and Ife, where, since 1975, he has been a professor of comparative literature. In 1960, he founded the theatre group, “The 1960 Masks” and in 1964, the “Orisun Theatre Company”, in which he has produced his own plays and taken part as an actor. He has periodically been visiting professor at the universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, and Yale.
During the civil war in Nigeria, Soyinka appealed in an article for a cease-fire. For this, he was arrested in 1967, accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels, and was held as a political prisoner for 22 months until 1969. Soyinka has published about 20 works: drama, novels and poetry. He writes in English and his literary language is marked by great scope and richness of words.

As a dramatist, Soyinka has been influenced by, among others, the Irish writer, J.M. Synge, but links up with the traditional popular African theatre with its combination of dance, music, and action. He bases his writing on the mythology of his own tribe-the Yoruba-with Ogun, the god of iron and war, at the centre. He wrote his first plays during his time in London, The Swamp Dwellers and The Lion and the Jewel (a light comedy), which were performed at Ibadan in 1958 and 1959 and were published in 1963. Later, satirical comedies are The Trial of Brother Jero (performed in 1960, publ. 1963) with its sequel, Jero’s Metamorphosis (performed 1974, publ. 1973), A Dance of the Forests (performed 1960, publ.1963), Kongi’s Harvest (performed 1965, publ. 1967) and Madmen and Specialists (performed 1970, publ. 1971). Among Soyinka’s serious philosophic plays are (apart from “The Swamp Dwellers”) The Strong Breed (performed 1966, publ. 1963), The Road ( 1965) and Death and the King’s Horseman (performed 1976, publ. 1975). In The Bache of Euripides (1973), he has rewritten the Bache for the African stage and in Opera Wonyosi (performed 1977, publ. 1981), bases himself on John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera and Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera. Soyinka’s latest dramatic works are A Play of Giants (1984) and Requiem for a Futurologist (1985).

Soyinka has written two novels, The Interpreters (1965), narratively, a complicated work which has been compared to Joyce’s and Faulkner’s, in which six Nigerian intellectuals discuss and interpret their African experiences, and Season of Anomy (1973) which is based on the writer’s thoughts during his imprisonment and confronts the Orpheus and Euridice myth with the mythology of the Yoruba. Purely autobiographical are The Man Died: Prison Notes (1972) and the account of his childhood, Aké ( 1981), in which the parents’ warmth and interest in their son are prominent. Literary essays are collected in, among others, Myth, Literature and the African World (1975).
Soyinka’s poems, which show a close connection to his plays, are collected in Idanre, and Other Poems (1967), Poems from Prison (1969), A Shuttle in the Crypt (1972) the long poem Ogun Abibiman (1976) and Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems (1988).

Antarah Ibn Shaddād al-’Absī

9. Antarah Ibn Shaddād al-’Absī

‘Antarah Ibn Shaddād al-’Absī عنترة بن شداد العبسي was a pre-Islamic Arabian conqueror and poet (525-608) eminent equally for his poetry and his courageous life. What many think his finest or chief poem is enclosed in the Mu’allaqat. The account of his life forms the basis of a long and extravagant romance.

Antarah was born in Najd (northern Saudi Arabia), He was the son of Shaddād, a well-respected member of the Arabian tribe of Banu Abs, his mother was named Zabibah, an Ethiopian woman, whom Shaddad had enslaved after a tribal war. The tribe neglected Antara at first, and he grew up in servitude. Although it was fairly obvious that Shaddad was his father. He was considered one of the “Arab crows” (Al-aghribah Al-’Arab) because of his jet black complexion. Antara gained attention and respect for himself by his remarkable personal qualities and courage in battle, excelling as an accomplished poet and a mighty warrior. When the tribe needed his assistance to fend off another tribe in battle, Shaddād acknowledged Antara as his son and granted him freedom.

Antarah fell in love with his cousin Abla and sought to marry her despite his status as a slave. To secure allowance to marry, Antarah had to face challenges including getting a special kind of camel from the northern Arabian kingdom of al-No’man Ibn al-Munthir Ibn Ma’ al-Sama’.

Antarah took part in the Great War between the related tribes of Abs and Dhubyān, which began over a contest of horses and was named after them the war of Dāhis and Ghabrā. He died in a fight against the tribe of Tai.

Antarah’s poetry is well preserved, and often talks of chivalrous values, courage and heroism in battle, as well as his love for Abla. It was immortalized when one of his poems was included in the Hanged Poems. The poetry’s historical and cultural importance stems from its detailed descriptions of battles, armour, weapons, horses, desert and other themes from his time.

In 1898 the French painter Étienne Dinet published his translation of a 13th century epic Arab poem Antar which brought Antar bin Shaddad to European notice. It has been followed by a number of derivative works such as Diana Richmond’s Antar and Abla which furthered western exposure to the Antar bin Shaddad legends.

8. Dante Alighieri

8. Dante Alighieri

Durante degli Alighieri was born in Florence, Itly. He was a poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. The exact dates of Dante’s birth and death are not known, although it is generally believed to be around (1265–1321). He is best known for the monumental epic poem La Commedia, later named La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy). His Divine Comedy originally called Commedia and later called Divina by Boccaccio, is considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature.

In Italy, he is known as il Sommo Poeta (“the Supreme Poet”) or just il Poeta. Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio are also known as “the three fountains” or “the three crowns”. Dante is also called the “Father of the Italian language”.

Dante’s reputation as the outstanding figure of Italian letters rests mainly on the Divine Comedy, a long vernacular poem in 100 cantos (more than 14,000 lines) composed during his exile. Dante entitled it Commedia; the adjective Divina was added in the 16th cent. It recounts the tale of the poet’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, and is divided accordingly into three parts. In Hell and Purgatory Dante is guided by Vergil, through Heaven, by Beatrice, for whom the poem is a memorial. The work is written in terza rima, a complex verse form in pentameter, with interlocking triads rhyming aba, bcb, cdc, etc.

A magnificent synthesis of the medieval outlook, the Divine Comedy pictures a changeless universe ordered by God; its allegorical theme is the gradual revelation of God to the pilgrim. It is also a religious dialogue on the gradations of earthly sin and piety as well as on such topics as predestination and classical philosophy. The symbolism is complex yet highly rational; the verse is musical, and the entire work is one of great imagination. Through his masterpiece, Dante established Tuscan as the literary language of Italy surpassed all previous Italian writers, and gave rise to a vast literature.

Dante’s works also include La vita nuova [the new life] (written c.1292), a collection of prose and lyrics celebrating Beatrice and illustrating his idealistic concept of love; the Convivio (c.1304), an encyclopedic allegory praising both love and science; De monarchia, a treatise on the need for kingly dominance in secular affairs; and De Vulgare eloquentia, on rules for the Italian vernacular. In addition, he wrote numerous lyrics, eclogues, and epistles.

Not much is known about Dante’s education, and it is presumed he studied at home or in a chapter school attached to a church or monastery in Florence. It is known that he studied Tuscan poetry, at a time when the Sicilian School (Scuola poetica Siciliana), a cultural group from Sicily, was becoming known in Tuscany. His interests brought him to discover the Provençal poetry of the troubadours and the Latin poetry of classical antiquity, including Cicero, Ovid, and especially Virgil.

Dante claims to have first met Beatrice Portinari, daughter of Folco Portinari, at age nine, and claims to have fallen in love “at first sight”, apparently without even speaking to her. He saw her frequently after age 18, often exchanging greetings in the street, but he never knew her well; he effectively set the example for so-called courtly love, a phenomenon developed in French and Provençal poetry of the preceding centuries. Dante’s experience of such love was typical, but his expression of it was unique. It was in the name of this love that Dante gave his imprint to the Dolce Stil Novo (Sweet New Style, a term which Dante himself coined) and would join other contemporary poets and writers in exploring the themes of Love (Amore), which had never been so emphasized before. Love for Beatrice (as in a different manner Petrarch would show for his Laura) would apparently be the reason for poetry and for living, together with political passions. In many of his poems, she is depicted as semi-divine, watching over him constantly and providing spiritual instruction, sometimes harshly. When Beatrice died in 1290, Dante sought refuge in Latin literature. The Convivio reveals that he had read Boethius’s De consolatione Philosophiae and Cicero’s De amicitia. He then dedicated himself to philosophical studies at religious schools like the Dominican one in Santa Maria Novella. He took part in the disputes that the two principal mendicant orders (Franciscan and Dominican) publicly or indirectly held in Florence, the former explaining the doctrine of the mystics and of Saint Bonaventure, the latter presenting Saint Thomas Aquinas’ theories.

At 18, Dante met Guido Cavalcanti, Lapo Gianni, Cino da Pistoia and soon after Brunetto Latini; together they became the leaders of the Dolce Stil Novo. Brunetto later received a special mention in the Divine Comedy (Inferno, XV, 28), for what he had taught Dante. Nor speaking less on that account, I go With Ser Brunetto, and I ask who are His most known and most eminent companions. Some fifty poetical components by Dante are known (the so-called Rime, rhymes), others being included in the later Vita Nuova and Convivio. Other studies are reported, or deduced from Vita Nuova or the Comedy, regarding painting and music.


7. Rudaki

Abu Abdollah Jafar ibn Mohammad Rudaki (Ādam ul-Shoara or Adam of Poets), also written as Rudagi (858 – ca. 941), was a Persian poet and is considered as the first great literary genius of the Modern Persian, who composed poems in the “New Persian” alphabet. Rudaki is considered a founder of Persian classical literature.

He was born in 858 in Rudak (Panjrud), a village located in Panjakent, Tajikistan. Even though most of his biographers assert that he was completely blind, some early biographers are silent about this or do not mention him as being born blind. His accurate knowledge and description of colours, as evident in his poetry, renders this assertion very doubtful. He was the court poet to the Samanid ruler Nasr II (914–943) in Bukhara, although he eventually fell out of favour; his life ended in poverty.

Early in his life, the fame of his accomplishments reached the ear of the Samanid Nasr II ibn Ahmad, the ruler of Khorasan and Transoxiana, who invited the poet to his court. Rudaki became his daily companion, amassed great wealth, and become highly honoured. It is claimed that he well deserves the title of the father of Persian literature, or the Adam or the Sultan of poets even though he had various predecessors because he was the first who impressed upon every form of epic, lyric and didactic poetry its peculiar stamp and its individual character. He is also said to have been the founder of the diwan, or the typical form of the complete collection of a poet’s lyrical compositions in a more or less alphabetical order, which all Tajik-Persian writers use even today.

The common opinion was that Rudaki was born blind or was blind from his childhood. However, some of the early biographies, like Samani and Nezami Aruzi do not emphasise his blindness as natural-born. Ferdowsi just mentions in his Shahnameh that they recited Kelileh o Demneh to him and he rendered it into a poem. Also using some of his poems we can see that he had sight:

I saw a bird near the city of Sarakhs
It had raised its song to the clouds
I saw a colourful chador on it
So many colours on its chador

The great contemporary Iranian scholar, Said Nafisi, has a book about Rudaki called Biography, Environment and Time of Rudaki. On pages 394-404, he refers to historical events and references in Persian books and poems, as well as the forensic findings of Russians in the early 20th century including Mikhail Gerasimov (who reconstructed Rudaki’s face based on his bones found in his tomb, see above picture), concludes that Rudaki and Amir Nasr Samani were Ismailis and there was a revolt against Ismailis around 940, a few years before Rudaki’s death. This revolt led to the overthrow of the Samanid king and Rudaki, as his close companion, was tortured and blinded and his back was broken while they were blinding him. After this, Rudaki went back to the small town where he was born and died shortly after that. He was buried there.

Of the 1,300,000 verses attributed to him, only 52 qasidas, ghazals and rubais survived; of his epic masterpieces, we have nothing beyond a few stray lines in native dictionaries. However, the most serious loss is that of his translation of Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa’s Arabic version of the old Indian fable book Kalila and Dimna (Panchatantra), which he put into Persian verse at the request of his royal patron. Numerous fragments, however, are preserved in the Persian lexicon of Asadi Tusi (the Lughat al-Furs, ed. P. Horn, Göttingen, 1897). In his qasidas – all of which are devoted to the praise of his sovereign and friend – unequalled models of a refined and delicate taste, very different from the often bombastic compositions of later Persian encomiasts, have survived. His didactic odes and epigrams expressed in well-measured lines a type of Epicurean philosophy of life and human happiness, and more charming still are the purely lyrical pieces that glorify love and wine.

Veda Vyasa

6. Veda Vyasa

Veda Vyasa was an ancient Indian author and poet who had composed Mahabharata around 1000 BC. Mahabharata is supposed to be an enlarged version of the original work – ‘Jaya’ composed by sage Vyasa. Vaishampayana and Sauti made additions to Jaya and expanded it into the epic Mahabharata. It is the second-longest literary epic poem in the world (after the Tibetan Epic of King Gesar).

Veda Vyasa is a legendary Hindu sage, whose very name is synonymous to Hindus with knowledge. According to traditional Hindu accounts, he lived at the end of the Treta Yuga and early Kali Yuga (the date for the beginning of the Kali Yuga is 3102BC).

Veda Vyasa is accredited with compiling the Vedas and writing the Brahma Sutras (one of the three great authoritative Hindu philosophical texts.

Vyasa is traditionally known as a poet of this epic. But he also features as an important character in it. His mother later married the king of Hastinapura and had two sons. Both sons died without issue and hence their mother asked Vyasa to go to the beds of the wives of her dead son Vichitravirya.

Vyasa fathers the princes Dhritarashtra and Pandu by Ambika and Ambalika. Vyasa told them that they should come alone near him. First did Ambika, but because of shyness and fear, she closed her eyes. Vyasa told Satyavati that this child would be blind. Later this child was named Dhritarāshtra. Thus Satyavati sent Ambālika and warned her that she should remain calm. But Ambālika’s face became pale because of fear. Vyasa told her that child would suffer from anaemia, and he would not be fit enough to rule the kingdom. Later this child was known as Pāndu. Then Vyasa told Satyavati to send one of them again so that a healthy child can be born. This time Ambika and Ambālika sent a maid in their place of themselves. The maid was quite calm and composed, and she got a healthy child later named as Vidura. While these are his sons, another son Śuka, born of his wife, sage Jābāli’s daughter Pinjalā (Vatikā), is considered his true spiritual heir. He makes occasional appearances in the story as a spiritual guide to the young princes.

In the first book of the Mahābhārata, it is described that Vyasa asked Ganesha to aid him in writing the text, however, Ganesha imposed a condition that he would do so only if Vyasa narrated the story without pause. To which Vyasa then made a counter-condition that Ganesha must understand the verse before he transcribed it.

Thus Lord VedVyas narrated the whole Mahābhārata and all the Upanishads and the 18 Puranas, while Lord Ganesha wrote.

Vyasa is supposed to have meditated and authored the epic by the foothills of the river Beas (Vipasa) in the Punjab region.

There is an ashram of veda vyasa in Vedagiri. It is believed that Pandavas visited Vyasa at vedhagiri and got advice during their vanavasa (exile period). The remnants of the ashram are still there on the top of Vedhagiri hill.

Alexander Pushkin

5. Alexander Pushkin

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was a Russian writer of the idealistic era who is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.

He was born on May 26, 1799, in Moscow. In 1811 he attended the Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoe Selo, where his poetic talent began to grow. After graduating in 1817, Pushkin was taken to the ministry of foreign affairs in Petersburg. There his works began to reflect his liberal views until 1820. In 1820 these political poems led to an inspection by the Petersburg governor-general then to an exile to South Russia. In July 1823 Pushkin was transferred to Odessa with the aid of influential friends. There he became involved with theatre and social outgoings. Later in a letter, Pushkin wrote that supported atheism officials had interrupted it, and exiled Pushkin to north Russia, on his mother’s estate of Mikhaylovskoe. In 1825, while still in Mikhaylovskoe, the Decembrist party rebellion took place. Though Pushkin not being part of this party all members had copies of Pushkin’s early political poems. Consequently, he destroyed all the papers he believed could harm him. In 1826 Pushkin sent the Tsar a petition for him to be released. After a study showing Pushkin’s behaviour to be cooperative Nicholas, I released him from exile. Though he was liberated he was not allowed to make any trip, participate in any journal, publish any work, or read in literary circles without permission.

Alexander Pushkin began to seek a wife, no less than the most beautiful one in Russia. In 1829 he proposed to Natalia Goncharova. She agreed to marry him, on the condition of his situation with the government to be elucidated. Finally, he was authorized to marry Goncharova, and given permission to publish Boris Godunov as a wedding present. Also as a wedding present, he received half of his father’s estate. In order for him to receive it, Pushkin needed to visit Boldino. Though Pushkin thought he would only stay for a few days he was kept there for three months due to the epidemic of Asiatic cholera. On February 18, 1831, Pushkin was wed to Goncharova. After their marriage, they moved to Tsarskoe Selo hoping to live in “inspirational solitude and in the circle of sweet recollections.” Contrarily the Tsar and court took refuge there because of the cholera epidemic. So in 1831, the Pushkins made their final move, to Petersburg. Here Natalia was known and liked much by all, especially the Tsar. Pushkin was made a court rank by the Tsar so Natalia could attend the balls. Pushkin wrote letters of his humiliation of her. Officials stopped these letters and he consequently resigned from his rank. Later he overthrew his resignation, thinking this would upset the tsar more since he would not see Natalia at balls.

Over time Pushkin grew more and more in debt, from Natalia’s balls, supporting her two sisters, and undertaking his brother’s debts. Finally, he asked to retire in the country, or a loan and permission to publish a journal. Though a loan and permission to publish a journal were granted, the journal, The Contemporary, was not financially successful. Natalia’s popularity grew more as well. She grew fond of a young French royalist, Heeckeren. He pursued her as well. Their relationship growing into an affair, Pushkin challenged Heeckeren to a duel but then declined. He declined because of rumours that Heeckeren was really in love with Natalia’s sister. Unexpectedly Natalia’s sister and Heeckeren wed in 1837. Though he was married to her sister, Heeckeren and Natalia still met in secret. On November 4 Pushkin wrote Heeckeren a letter accusing him of his “bastard” and challenging him to a duel. The duel occurred on January 27, 1837. Heeckeren fired first and fatally injured Pushkin. Two days later Pushkin died. Many sympathized and mourned his death. To avoid public display the funeral was moved to a small church with admission only by ticket. Then later during midnight, secretly, his corpse was sent to his burial. On February 6, 1837, Alexander Pushkin was buried in Svyatye Gory Monastery beside his mother.

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

4. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Sor (Sister) Juana Inés de la Cruz (12 November 1648 – 17 April 1695), fully Juana Inés de Asbaje y Ramírez de Santillana, was a self-taught scholar and poet of the Baroque school, and nun of New Spain. Although she lived in a colonial-era when Mexico was part of the Spanish Empire, she is considered today a Mexican writer and stands at the beginning of the history of Mexican literature in the Spanish language.

Juana Ramirez de Asbaje was born in Mexico in the year 1648. She was born to an illiterate mother who ran her own hacienda. Her father was always absent from her life. It was her grandfather who inspired her to seek intelligence. Juana learned with great ease and triumphed in anything she did. She learned to read before the age of three. She would often punish herself for not learning fast enough by cutting off her hair. She pleaded her mother to dress her up in boys clothing and let her go to the University of Mexico, but she refused on account of her age. She desperately wanted to do advanced studies, but her mother refused. Because of this, she taught herself Latin in twenty lessons.

Word soon spread about Juana’s immense intelligence. She was invited to the court of Marquis of Mancera. There, she was “tested” by forty philosophers, theologians, and scholars. The forty men were astonished at Juana’s great intelligence. She had finally proven herself. People finally recognized a female intellectual, in a world where women were oppressed and looked down upon. She was invited to stay at the court, and while there, she was asked to write poetry for social and political events. Juana wrote, concentrating her knowledge on mathematics, logic, music, and theology. This was sure to attract attention from enemies since she lived in a world where intelligence was only associated with men, but in the meantime, she had “royal protection,” since she was a friend of the Marquis, and she could continue without threat from anyone.

Sometime later in 1667, Juana joined the convent of the Barefoot Carmelites, but approximately a year and a half later, she left the convent and entered a new one, the Convent of the Order of Saint Jerome. One of the main reasons she joined the convent wasn’t to get closer to God, but as a means to escape marriage. The Convent of the Order of Saint Jerome was where she would live to the end of her days. This new convent was not strict like the Carmelite Convent. There she had living quarters that resembled apartments. It was there that she taught girls music and drama. During her time there, she continued to write for the viceroy and acquired a large library. When the Marquis’ term had ended, Marquis de la Laguna and his wife Maria Luisa took their places. Sor Juana and Maria became intimate friends, due to their closeness in age. Maria Luisa helped publish some of Juana’s works. When the Marquis de Laguna’s term had ended, she no longer had that “royal protection” that enabled her to defend her intellectual life. It didn’t take long for envious men to attack her. She was asked to criticize a sermon by an anonymous person. The sermon attacked the Jewish people and the priest boasted that his blood was better than those of the Jews. She wrote Carta Athenagórica, but she never published it. Without her knowledge, the Bishop of Puebla published Carta Athenagórica under the pen name Sor Filotea, with his own introduction accusing Sor Juana of being immature and stupid. Soon, Sor Juana published La Respuesta (The Response) in which she defended her rights as a woman and her right to education. She presented her thoughts about the equality of men and her thoughts on the education of women. It was this response that ended her career as an intellectual nun. Under threat of severe persecution, she was forced to stop writing and she sold her books and musical instruments. Sor Juana was forced to sign, in her own blood “I, Sor Juana, worst of all.” She never wrote again and dedicated her life to caring for others. When a plague came to Mexico, she caught it while she was attending to her fellow nuns.

Even though she was threatened, Sor Juana managed to break the silence that women had been forced to keep. Juana fought to protect her rights and when silenced, she fought back, with even greater strength than before. In a world that was entirely against her, she made her voice known and through her actions, she dealt a powerful blow to a male-dominated world. It is through her that women know that they too can be heard.

Allama Mohammed Iqbal

3. Allama Mohammed Iqbal

Allama Muhammad Iqbal was a famous Muslim poet from the colonial era, a philosopher and thinker of Kashmiri origin. He is one of the most outstanding poets, writers, intellectuals and thinkers of modem times. A major Urdu and Persian writer is a major force behind the creation of Pakistan. He is revered in Pakistan as Muffakir-e-Pakistan (The Thinker of Pakistan) or Shair-i-Mashriq (The Poet of the East).

Allama Iqbal was born on November 9, 1877 in Sialkot. He held a brilliant academic record. He did his Masters in Philosophy from Government College, Lahore and joined there as a lecturer. He left for Europe in 1905 and studied Philosophy and Law at the Trinity College, Cambridge, Lincoln’s Inn, London and the Munich University. He was awarded a ‘Ph.D’ by Munich University. He returned home in 1908 and rejoined service in the Government College, Lahore. He resigned after some time and started practising Law, but for financial reasons, he relinquished it within a year to practice law.

While maintaining his legal practice, Iqbal began concentrating on spiritual and religious subjects and publishing poetry and literary works. He became active in the Anjuman-e-Himayat-e-Islam, a congress of Muslim intellectuals, writers and poets as well as politicians. In 1919, he became the general secretary of the organisation. Iqbal’s thoughts in his work primarily focus on the spiritual direction and development of human society, centred around experiences from his travels and stays in Western Europe and the Middle East. Iqbal’s poetic works are written primarily in Persian rather than Urdu. Among his 12,000 verses of poetry, about 7,000 verses are in Persian. His first poetic work Asrar-i Khudi (1915) was followed by Rumuz-I Bekhudi (1917). Payam-i Mashriq appeared in 1923, Zabur-i Ajam in 1927, Javid Nama in 1932, Pas Cheh bayed kard ai Aqwam-i Sharq in 1936, and Armughan-i Hijaz in 1938. All these books were in Persian. The last one, published posthumously is mainly in Persian: only a small portion comprises Urdu poems and ghazals.
His first book of poetry in Urdu, Bang-i Dara (1924) was followed by Bal-i Jibril in 1935 and Zarb-i Kalim in 1936.

Bang-i Dara consists of selected poems belonging to the three preliminary phases of Iqbal’s poetic career. Bal-i Jibril is the peak of Iqbal’s Urdu poetry. It consists of ghazals, poems, quatrains, epigrams and displays the vision and intellect necessary to foster sincerity and firm belief in the heart of the ummah and turn its members into true believers. Zarb-i Kalim was described by the poet himself “as a declaration of war against the present era”. The main subjects of the book are Islam and the Muslims, education and upbringing, woman, literature and fine arts, politics of the East and the West. In Asrar-i Khudi, Iqbal has explained his philosophy of “Self”. He proves by various means that the whole universe obeys the will of the “Self”. Iqbal condemns self-destruction. For him, the aim of life is self-realization and self-knowledge. He charts the stages through which the “Self” has to pass before finally arriving at its point of perfection, enabling the knower of the “Self” to become the viceregent of Allah on earth/Khalifat ullah fi’l ard. In Rumuz-i Bekhudi, Iqbal proves that the Islamic way of life is the best code of conduct for a nation’s viability. A person must keep his individual characteristics intact but once this is achieved he should sacrifice his personal ambitions for the needs of the nation. Man cannot realize the “Self” out of society. Payam-i Mashriq is an answer to West-Istlicher Divan by Goethe, the famous German poet. Goethe bemoaned that the West had become too materialistic in outlook and expected that the East would provide a message of hope that would resuscitate spiritual values. A hundred years went by and then Iqbal reminded the West of the importance of morality, religion and civilization by underlining the need for cultivating feeling, ardour and dynamism. He explained that life could, never aspire for higher dimensions unless it learnt of the nature of spirituality.

Zabur-i Ajam includes the Mathnavi Gulshan-i Raz-i Jadid and Bandagi Nama. In Gulshan-i Raz-i Jadid, he follows the famous Mathnavi Gulshan-i Raz by Sayyid Mahmud Shabistri. Here like Shabistri, Iqbal first poses questions, then answers them with the help of ancient and modern insight and shows how it affects and concerns the world of action. Bandagi Nama is in fact a vigorous campaign against slavery and subjugation. He explains the spirit behind the fine arts of enslaved societies. In Zabur-i Ajam, Iqbal’s Persian ghazal is at its best as his Urdu ghazal is in Bal-i Jibril. Here as in other books, Iqbal insists on remembering the past, doing well in the present and preparing for the future. His lesson is that one should be dynamic, full of zest for action and full of love and life. Implicitly, he proves that there is no form of poetry that can equal the ghazal in vigour and liveliness. In Javid Nama, Iqbal follows Ibn-Arabi, Marri and Dante. Iqbal depicts himself as Zinda Rud (a stream, full of life) guided by Rumi the master, through various heavens and spheres and has the honour of approaching Divinity and coming in contact with divine illuminations. Several problems of life are discussed and answers are provided to them. It is an exceedingly enlivening study. His hand falls heavily on the traitors to their nation like Mir Jafar from Bengal and Mir Sadiq from the Deccan, who were instrumental in the defeat and death of Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula of Bengal and Sultan Tipu of Mysore respectively by betraying them for the benefit of the British. Thus, they delivered their country to the shackles of slavery. In the end, by addressing his son Javid, he speaks to the young people at large and provides guidance to the “new generation”.

Pas Cheh Bay ed Kard ai Aqwam-i Sharq includes the mathnavi Musafir. Iqbal’s Rumi, the master, utters this glad tiding “East awakes from its slumbers” “Khwab-i ghaflat”. Inspiring detailed commentary on voluntary poverty and free man, followed by an exposition of the mysteries of Islamic laws and sufic perceptions is given. He laments the dissension among the Indian as well as Muslim nations. Mathnavi Musafir, is an account of a journey to Afghanistan. In the mathnavi the people of the Frontier (Pathans) are counselled to learn the “secret of Islam” and to “build up the self” within themselves.

Armughan-i Hijaz consists of two parts. The first contains quatrains in Persian; the second contains some poems and epigrams in Urdu. The Persian quatrains convey the impression as though the poet is travelling through Hijaz in his imagination. The profundity of ideas and intensity of passion are the salient features of these short poems. The Urdu portion of the book contains some categorical criticism of the intellectual movements and social and political revolutions of the modern age.

His verses in Urdu and Persian and his monumental treatises have been translated into almost all the important languages of the world and found wide recognition in Iran, Turkey, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Italy, USSR and many other countries.

Allama Iqbal died on April 21, 1938 in Lahore at the age of 60. His tomb is inside Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. An academy named after him has been established by the Government of Pakistan to promote and disseminate the messages and teachings of Allama Iqbal.

Emily Dickinson

2. Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) was an American poet. In 1830, Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts. She attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, but severe homesickness led her to return home after one year. Throughout her life, she seldom left her house and visitors were scarce. The people with whom she did come in contact, however, had an enormous impact on her thoughts and poetry. She was particularly stirred by the Reverend Charles Wadsworth, whom she met on a trip to Philadelphia. He left for the West Coast shortly after a visit to her home in 1860, and some critics believe his departure gave rise to the heartsick flow of verse from Dickinson in the years that followed. While it is certain that he was an important figure in her life, it is not certain that this was in the capacity of romantic love—she called him “my closest earthly friend.” Other possibilities for the unrequited love in Dickinson’s poems include Otis P. Lord, a Massachusetts Supreme Court Judge, and Samuel Bowles, editor of the Springfield Republican.

By the 1860s, Dickinson lived in almost total physical isolation from the outside world, but actively maintained many correspondences and read widely. She spent a great deal of this time with her family. Her father, Edward Dickinson, was actively involved in state and national politics, serving in Congress for one term. Her brother Austin attended law school and became an attorney, but lived next door once he married Susan Gilbert (one of the speculated—albeit less persuasively—unrequited loves of Emily). Dickinson’s younger sister Lavinia also lived at home for her entire life in similar isolation. Lavinia and Austin were not only family but intellectual companions during Dickinson’s lifetime.
Dickinson’s poetry reflects her loneliness and the speakers of her poems generally live in a state of want, but her poems are also marked by the intimate recollection of inspirational moments which are decidedly life-giving and suggest the possibility of happiness. Her work was heavily influenced by the Metaphysical poets of seventeenth-century England, as well as her reading of the Book of Revelation and her upbringing in a Puritan New England town which encouraged a Calvinist, orthodox, and conservative approach to Christianity.

She admired the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as well as John Keats. Though she was dissuaded from reading the verse of her contemporary Walt Whitman by the rumour of its disgracefulness, the two poets are now connected by the distinguished place they hold as the founders of a uniquely American poetic voice. While Dickinson was extremely prolific as a poet and regularly enclosed poems in letters to friends, she was not publicly recognized during her lifetime. The first volume of her work was published posthumously in 1890 and the last in 1955. She died in Amherst in 1886.

Upon her death, Dickinson’s family discovered 40 handbound volumes of nearly 1800 of her poems, or “fascicles” as they are sometimes called. These booklets were made by folding and sewing five or six sheets of stationery paper and copying what seem to be final versions of poems in an order that many critics believe to be more than chronological. The handwritten poems show a variety of dash-like marks of various sizes and directions (some are even vertical). The poems were initially unbound and published according to the aesthetics of her many early editors, removing her unusual and varied dashes and replacing them with traditional punctuation. The current standard version replaces her dashes with a standard “n-dash,” which is a closer typographical approximation of her writing. Furthermore, the original order of the works was not restored until 1981, when Ralph W. Franklin used the physical evidence of the paper itself to restore her order, relying on smudge marks, needle punctures and other clues to reassemble the packets. Since then, many critics have argued for thematic unity in these small collections, believing the ordering of the poems to be more than chronological or convenient. The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson (Belknap Press, 1981) remains the only volume that keeps the order intact. For instance in poetry; Poems by Emily Dickinson (1890), Poems: Second Series (1891), Poems: Third Series (1896), The Single Hound: Poems of a Lifetime (1914), The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1924), Further Poems of Emily Dickinson: Withheld from Publication by Her Sister Lavinia (1929), Unpublished Poems of Emily Dickinson (1935), Bolts of Melody: New Poems of Emily Dickinson (1945), The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (1960), Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson’s Poems (1962), and in prose; Letters of Emily Dickinson (1894), Emily Dickinson Face to Face: Unpublished Letters with Notes and Reminisces (1932) were her famous volumes.

Geoffrey Chaucer

1. Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 25 October 1400), recognized as the Father of English literature, is generally considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages and was the first poet to have been buried in Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey. While he achieved fame during his lifetime as an author, philosopher, alchemist and astronomer, composing a scientific treatise on the astrolabe for his ten-year-old son Lewis, Chaucer also maintained an active career in the civil service as a bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat. Among his many works, which include The Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame, the Legend of Good Women and Troilus and Criseyde, he is best loved today for The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer is a crucial figure in developing the legitimacy of the vernacular, Middle English, at a time when the dominant literary languages in England were French and Latin.

Before William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer was the preeminent English poet, and he remains in the top tier of the English canon. He also was the most significant poet to write in Middle English. Chaucer was born in London sometime around 1343, though the precise date and location of his birth remain unknown. He belonged to a fairly rich, well-to-do, though not aristocratic family. His father, John Chaucer, was a vintner and deputy to the king’s butler. His family’s financial success came from work in the wine and leather businesses, and they had considerable inherited property in London. Little information exists about Chaucer’s education, but his writings demonstrate a close familiarity with a number of important books of his contemporaries and of earlier times (such as Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy). Chaucer likely was fluent in several languages, including French, Italian, and Latin. Sons of wealthy London merchants could receive good educations at this time, and there is reason to believe that, if Chaucer did not attend one of the schools on Thames Street near his boyhood home, then he was at least well-educated at home. Certainly, his work showcases a passion for reading a huge range of literature, classical and modern.

Chaucer first appears in public records in 1357 as a member of the house of Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster. This was a conventional arrangement in which sons of middle-class households were placed in royal service so that they could obtain a courtly education. Two years later, Chaucer served in the army under Edward III and was captured during an unsuccessful offensive at Reims, although he was later ransomed. Chaucer served under a number of diplomatic missions.

By 1366 Chaucer had married Philippa Pan (daughter of the Flemish Sir Gilles de Roet, called “Paon”–medieval surnames were often changed between generations), who had been in service with the Countess of Ulster. Chaucer married well for his position, for Philippa Chaucer received an annuity from the queen consort of Edward III. Philippa’s sister Katherine de Roet (later Lady Swynford, later Duchess of Lancaster) was John of Gaunt’s mistress for twenty years before becoming the Duke’s wife. Through this connection, John of Gaunt was Chaucer’s “kinsman.” Chaucer himself secured an annuity as a yeoman of the king and was listed as one of the king’s esquires.

Chaucer’s first published work was The Book of the Duchess, a poem of over 1,300 lines, supposed to be an elegy for Blanche, Duchess of Lancaster, addressed to her widower, the Duke. For this first of his important poems, which was published in 1370, Chaucer used the dream-vision form, a genre made popular by the highly influential 13th-century French poem of courtly love, the Roman de la Rose, which Chaucer translated into English. Throughout the following decade, Chaucer continued with his diplomatic career, travelling to Italy for negotiations to open a Genoa port to Britain as well as military negotiations with Milan. During his missions to Italy, Chaucer encountered the work of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, which were later to have a profound influence upon his own writing. In 1374 Chaucer was appointed comptroller of the customs and subsidy of wool, skins, and tanned hides for the Port of London, his first position away from the British court. Chaucer’s only major work during this period was House of Fame, a poem of around 2,000 lines in the dream-vision form, which ends so abruptly that some scholars consider it unfinished.

According to Derek Pearsall, “the one biographical fact everyone remembers about Chaucer” is his brush with the law, when, in a deed of May 1st 1380, he is released from culpability in the raptus or rape of Cecily Chaumpaigne. No-one knows exactly what the accusation – despite attempts to mistranslate “raptus” as “abduction” – precisely amounted to, still less whether it was rooted in truth. But it casts an ominous shadow over an otherwise pure-white biography, and, rather like the presence of the Pardoner and the Manciple in the Tales, gives a discordant dark wash to our image of Chaucer.

In October 1385, Chaucer was appointed a justice of the peace for Kent, and in August 1386 he became a knight of the shire for Kent. Around the time of his wife’s death in 1387, Chaucer moved to Greenwich and later to Kent. Changing political circumstances eventually led to Chaucer falling out of favour with the royal court and leaving Parliament, but when Richard II became King of England, Chaucer regained royal favour.

During this period Chaucer used writing primarily as an escape from public life. His works included Parlement of Foules, a poem of 699 lines. This work is a dream-vision for St. Valentine’s Day that makes use of the myth that each year on that day the birds gather before the goddess Nature to choose their mates. This work was heavily influenced by Boccaccio and Dante.

Chaucer’s next work was Troilus and Criseyde, which was influenced by The Consolation of Philosophy, which Chaucer himself translated into English. Chaucer took some of the plot of Troilus from Boccaccio’s Filostrato. This 8,000-line rime-royal poem recounts the love story of Troilus, son of the Trojan king Priam, and Criseyde, the widowed daughter of the deserter priest Calkas, against the background of the Trojan War. (Compare Shakespeare’s version in Troilus and Cressida.)

The Canterbury Tales secured Chaucer’s literary reputation. It is his great literary accomplishment, a compendium of stories by pilgrims travelling to the shrine of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury. Chaucer introduces each of these pilgrims in vivid, brief sketches in the General Prologue and intersperses the twenty-four tales with short dramatic scenes with lively exchanges. Chaucer did not complete the full plan for the tales, and surviving manuscripts leave some doubt as to the exact order of the tales that remain. However, the work is sufficiently complete to be considered a unified book rather than a collection of unfinished fragments. The Canterbury Tales is a lively mix of a variety of genres told by travellers from all aspects of society. Among the genres included are courtly romance, fabliaux, saint’s biography, allegorical tale, beast fable, and medieval sermon.

Information concerning Chaucer’s descendants is not fully clear. It is likely that he and Philippa had two sons and two daughters. Thomas Chaucer died in 1400; he was a large landowner and political officeholder, and his daughter, Alice, became Duchess of Suffolk. Little is known about Lewis Chaucer, Geoffrey Chaucer’s youngest son. Of Chaucer’s two daughters, Elizabeth became a nun, while Agnes was a lady-in-waiting for the coronation of Henry IV in 1399. Public records indicate that Chaucer had no descendants living after the fifteenth century.

Author: Gus Barge

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