This page provides selected poetry and illustrated biographies of all of the United Kingdom’s ‘Poet Laureates’ to date. The role of Poet Laureate does not involve any specific duties, but there is an expectation that the holder will write verse for significant national occasions.
The origins of the laureateship date back to 1616 when a pension was provided to Ben Jonson, but the first official holder of the position was John Dryden, appointed in 1668 by Charles II. Four poets, Philip Larkin, Thomas Gray, Samuel Rogers and Walter Scott, turned down the laureateship. The following list is in chronological order:
b. 1631 – d. 1700
John Dryden was an English poet, literary critic and translator, and playwright who was made England’s first Poet Laureate in 1668. He is seen as dominating the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as ‘The Age of Dryden.’ Dryden was poet laureate between April 1668 and January 1688 under the reign of King Charles II.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
19 November 1850 – 6 October 1892
On the death of Lord Tennyson, who held the post between November 1850 and October 1892 (appointed by Victoria), there was a break of four years as a mark of respect. Tennyson’s laureate poems “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington” and “The Charge of the Light Brigade” were particularly cherished by the Victorian public.
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child’s name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside, the radio’s prayer –
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.
Carol Ann Duffy