Friday, January 2, 2015

Modern British Poets

W.B Yeats (detail), by his father, John Butler Yeats
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) - The Artist's Son

Poet and playwright, Yeats's father was a portraitist living in London and Dublin. William began writing poetry at a young age, inspired by older generations such as Shelly and Spencer, and by Irish folklore. Yeats co-founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, the Emer Press (a publisher) and the Rhymer's Club of poets in London. He also joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which studied magic and the occult. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, claiming it more as a reward for the newly free Irish state. He then served as an Irish senator, supporting the right to divorce and re-marry.

Hugh MacDiarmid, by Leonard Penrice

Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978) - The Scottish Extremist

A communist and Scottish nationalist, his real name was Christopher Murray Grieve. Hugh MacDiarmid was his pen name. He was a leading modernist poet in Scotland. He served in WWI, and was a career journalist. His major fear was the concentration of power in England and France, to the point where he even supported Nazi Germany. His daughter-in-law once said, "I think he entertained almost every ideal it was possible to entertain at one point or another."


Robert Graves (1895-1985) - The War Poet

Robert von Ranke Graves suffered a difficult childhood, despite his wealthy family, due to his German name, which came from his mother. Bullying about his name and homosexuality led him to become his school's boxing champion. At 21 he entered WWI and became popular as a war poet, something he later rejected and despised. Graves managed to survive double pneumonia as a child, lung damage in the war, and the Spanish Flu of 1918. He suffered "shell shock" fearing gas and loud noises after the war. He began writing historical novels about ancient Rome, and translated many Greek and Roman texts. He taught at Oxford, and is now memorialised in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) - the "roistering, drunken and doomed poet"

Dylan Thomas was a great poet from Wales, who drank too much, and died from alcohol poisoning. His most famous poem is "Do not go gentle into that good night." He recorded over a hundred readings for the BBC, reciting his poetry and critiquing other literary figures. He died in New York City - despite a respiratory illness, he couldn't stop drinking day and night, while trying to work full time, giving poetry readings. Two days before he died he exclaimed, "I've had 18 straight whiskies. I think that's the record!"


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