Since the 1600s, the post of poet laureate has been a regular institution in the UK. Over the years, the poet laureate has been tasked with various responsibilities. These included writing and presenting official verses to commemorate various occasions. Such as royal birthdays, births and marriages. They might also write about coronations and military victories. Eventually, these obligations became optional.
Poet Laureates of the UK
- 1668-89 First Poet Laureate: John Dryden
- 1689-92: Thomas Shadwell
- 1692-1715: Nahum Tate
- 1715-18: Nicholas Rowe
- 1718-30: Laurence Eusden
- 1730-57: Colley Cibber
- 1757-85: William Whitehead
- 1785-90: Thomas Warton
- 1790-1813: Henry James Pye
- 1813-43: Robert Southey
- 1843-50: William Wordsworth
- 1850-92: Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- 1896-1913: Alfred Austin
- 1913-30: Robert Bridges
- 1930-67: John Masefield
- 1968-72: Cecil Day-Lewis
- 1972-84: Sir. John Betjeman
- 1984-98: Ted Hughes
- 1999-2009: Andrew Motion
- 2009-2019: Carol Ann Duffy
- 2019 – (Current Poet Laureate): Simon Armitage
1668-89 First Poet Laureate: John Dryden
- Length of Tenure: 1668-1689, 20 years
- Famous works: ‘Absalom and Achitophel’ (1681) and the poem Marriage à la Mode (1673)
Excerpt from ‘Absalom and Achitophel’:
He said. Th’ Almighty, nodding, gave consent;
And peals of thunder shook the firmament.
Henceforth a series of new time began,
The mighty years in long procession ran:
Once more the god-like David was restor’d,
And willing nations knew their lawful lord.
1689-92: Thomas Shadwell
- Length of Tenure: 1689-1692, 3 years
- Famous works: ‘Dear Pretty Youth’ and ‘Love in their little veins inspires’
Excerpt from ‘Love in their little veins inspires’:
Love in their little veins inspires
their cheerful notes, their soft desires.
While heat makes buds and blossoms spring,
those pretty couples love and sing.
But winter puts out their desire,
and half the year they want love’s fire.
1692-1715: Nahum Tate
- Length of Tenure: 1692-1715, 23 years
- Famous works: ‘Panacea, a poem’ (1700) and The History of King Lear (1681)
Excerpt from ‘Panacea, a poem’
Tea was not sprung—reserv’d by friendly Fate,
For last Distress of China‘s suff’ring State.
Whose Griefs and wondrous Cure I shall recite,
A Tale that may your Patience well requite.
1715-18: Nicholas Rowe
- Length of Tenure: 1715-1718, 3 years
- Famous works: The Fair Penitent and ‘A Poem upon the Late Glorious Successes of Her Majesty’s Arms’
Except from ‘Ode for the New Year MDCCXVI’:
Hail to thee, glorious rising Year,
With what uncommon grace thy days appear!
Comely art thou in thy prime,
Lovely child of hoary Time;
1718-30: Laurence Eusden
- Length of Tenure: 1718-1730, 12 years
- Famous works: ‘The Origin of the Knights Of the Bath’
Excerpt from: ‘The Origin of the Knights Of the Bath’
Hail glorious Off-spring of a glorious Race!
Britannia’s other Hope, and blooming Grace!
Thou smil’st already on the burnish’d Shield,
And thy weak Hand the little Sword can wield:
Already, clad in Arms, Thou mov’st along,
The Love, and Wonder of each ravish’d Throng!
1730-57: Colley Cibber
- Length of Tenure: 1730-1757, 27 years
- Famous works: An Apology for the Life of Colley Cibber, Comedian (autobiography)
1757-85: William Whitehead
- Length of Tenure: 1757-1785, 27 years
- Famous works: ‘The Je Ne Sais Quoi’
Except from ‘The Je Ne Sais Quoi’ :
Yes, I’m in love, I feel it now,
And Cælia has undone me;
And yet I’ll swear I can’t tell how
The pleasing plague stole on me.
‘Tis not her face that love creates,
For there no graces revel;
‘Tis not her shape, for there the fates
Have rather been uncivil.
1785-90: Thomas Warton
- Length of Tenure: 1785-1790, 5 years
- Famous works: ‘The Pleasures of Melancholy’ and ‘To the River Lodon’
Excerpt from ‘To the River Lodon’
Ah! What a weary race my feet have run,
Since first I trod thy banks with alders crown’d,
And thought my way was all through fairy ground,
Beneath thy azure sky, and golden sun:
Where first my Muse to lisp her notes begun!
1790-1813: Henry James Pye
- Length of Tenure: 1790-1813, 23 years
- Famous works: “Commentary on Shakespeare’s commentators”
1813-43: Robert Southey
- Length of Tenure: 1813-1843, 30
- Famous works: The Story of the Three Bears and ‘The Battle of Blenheim’
Excerpt from The Battle of Blenheim’:
It was a summer evening,
Old Kaspar’s work was done,
And he before his cottage door
Was sitting in the sun,
And by him sported on the green
His little grandchild Wilhelmine.
1843-50: William Wordsworth
- Length of Tenure: 1843-1850, 7 years
- Famous works: The Prelude and Songs of Innocence and Experience
Excerpt from ‘Daffodils’ (‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’)
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
1850-92: Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- Length of Tenure: 1850-1892, 42 years
- Famous works: ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’
Excerpt from ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’:
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed
1896-1913: Alfred Austin
- Length of Tenure: 1896-1913, 7 years
- Famous works: ‘Love’s Blindness’ and ‘A Country Nosegay’
Excerpt from ‘Love’s Blindness’
Now do I know that Love is blind, for I
Can see no beauty on this beauteous earth,
No life, no light, no hopefulness, no mirth,
Pleasure nor purpose, when thou art not nigh.
1913-30: Robert Bridges
Clear and gentle stream !
Known and loved so long,
That hast heard the song,
And the idle dream
Of my boyish day ;
1930-67: John Masefield
- Length of Tenure: 1930-1967, 37 years
- Famous works: ‘Sea-Fever’
1968-72: Cecil Day-Lewis
- Length of Tenure: 1968-1972, 4 years
- Famous works: ‘Is it Far to Go?’ and ‘Walking Away’
Excerpt from ‘Is it Far to Go?’:
Shall I be gone long?
For ever and a day.
To whom there belong?
Ask the stone to say.
Ask my song.
1972-84: Sir. John Betjeman
- Length of Tenure: 1972-1984, 12 years
- Famous works: ‘The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel’ and ‘On a Portrait of a Deaf Man’
Excerpt from ‘‘The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel’:
“I want some more hock in my seltzer,
And Robbie, please give me your hand —
Is this the end or beginning?
How can I understand?
1984-98: Ted Hughes
- Length of Tenure: 1984-1998, 14 years
- Famous works: ‘Snowdrops’
Excerpt from ’Snowdrops’:
Now is the globe shrunk tight
Round the mouse’s dulled wintering heart.
Weasel and crow, as if moulded in brass,
Move through an outer darkness
1999-2009: Andrew Motion
- Length of Tenure: 1999-2009, 10 years
- Famous works: ‘Regime change’ and ‘The Ring’
Excerpt from ‘A Moment of Reflection’:
Although an assassin has tried
and failed to blow him to pieces earlier this morning,
Archduke Ferdinand has let it be known
he will very soon complete his journey
as planned along the quay in Sarajevo.
2009-2019: Carol Ann Duffy
Excerpt from ‘The Love Poem’:
Till love exhausts itself, longs
for the sleep of words –
my mistress’ eyes –
to lie on a white sheet, at rest
in the language –
let me count the ways –
2019 – (Current Poet Laureate): Simon Armitage
- Length of Tenure: 2019 – Present (2020)
- Famous works: ‘Poem’ and ‘A Vision’
Excerpt from ‘The Shout’ :
We went out
Into the school yard together, me and the boy
Whose name and face
I don’t remember […]