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A Very Brief History | National Poetry Day


Who better than Prince Charles to kick off National Poetry Day with a reading of Heaney’s, The Shipping Forecast!

This year’s theme is messages, so… say it with a poem!

There’s over 40 poets on the radio today, The Royal Mail are using a special stamp and poetry themed tickets are being given out at St Pancras station.

The National Poetry Day website also has some nifty features – printable cards (as we so gracefully put to use below), posters and links to nearby events. Check them out! http://nationalpoetryday.co.uk/


“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

Poetry is one of the most respected genres of literature and also one of the first to make it to the public eye!
Famous for using a mixture of aesthetic and rhythmic qualities, the first record dating back to the 3rd Millennium, BC, with the poem Epic of Gilgamesh from ancient Mesopotamia –tablet_v_of_the_epic_of_gligamesh written on a clay tablet using reeds – it’s fair to say we have made it easier to note down our thoughts since then.

The Egyptians certainly took to poetry, with The Story of Sinuhe, the beginning found on a limestone Ostracon over a metre long!


The Chinese also excelled in early poetry with the well-known Odes of Poems more commonly known as Classics of Poetry – made up of 305 poems and songs dating from the 10th-7th century BC.

The Ancient Greeks pathed the way for future poets next with the wonderful Iliad and Odyssey attributed to Homer, written around 800 BC.

If you haven’t read it, do. It’s an archaic masterpiece. With outstanding use of metaphors, historical reference and mystical elements.
If you can read Latin, we advise you read it in its original form to get the full effect, otherwise Richard Lattimore’s translation is excellent.

If you’re not an avid reader, you could always watch Troy (2004), which was loosely (very loosely – if anything, just inspired) by it. If not for the story, for Brad Pitt with luscious locks and little clothing.



Moving on to Tibetan literature, we cannot ignore the mighty Epic of King Gesar, beginning in the eleventh century – there’s magic, there’s adventure and there’s a whole lot of it… Gesar is considered to be the longest single work in the world literary canon.

Now, we have to mention sonnets: Giacomo Da Lentini’s invention in 1235. The term loosely translates to ‘little poets’, they thrived in Italy in the 13th century, even Michelangelo dabbled in them.


Geoffrey Chaucer brought his unique style of poetry to the general public in The Middles Ages, he’s often renowned as the greatest poet of his time, also nicknamed Father of English literature. Most famous for The Canterbury Tales which introduced Middle English vernacular to a country that wrote mainly in French and Latin.

The renaissance bought many variations of poetry – Thomas Wyatt introduced the sonnet to the English and with that a new era of poets were born, including one of the most recognised poets of all time, William Shakespeare. Famous for his invention of words, beautiful plays and his use of Iambic pentameter, which is traditional in sonnets.

Poetry soon shifted to Restoration Poetry in the 16th century. John Dyden came to light in 1660 with his mock-heroic poems, making fun of Thomas Shadwell’s ‘offences in literature’ – Alexander Pope is a later example of a comedic poet.

Next we have the 19th century romantics, William Blake,Wordsworth and of course, Lewis Carroll. The list goes on and on. Emily Dickenson, who was recognised posthumously .

American poets such as Edgar Allan Poe and his mysterious work such as, The RavenHenry Longfellow – one of the fireside poets or ‘household poets’, Wadsworth and Bryant also being in that group. It was a good time for American literature and it was about to explode.

It’s hard to keep this brief as there has been, and is, so much talent in the world of poetry. It’s even harder now we’re reaching the 20th century… T.S Elliot and his ‘ancient’ style of writing is just one stunning example.
The 20th century was infamous for the greats of America and Ireland – not so much the UK, aside for Dylan Thomas and poetic styles in musical lyrics. To list some of the American greats we were treated to Howl, Daddy and For the Union Dead.

Of course, music had a huge impact from the 20th century and still does! With poetic lyrics from Bob Dylan,Jim Morrison (known for his spoken word poetry on stage and known as the Lizard King…) Johnny Cash,Led Zeppelin and even comedians could be poets! Bill Hicks was known as The Dark Poet.

Very modern examples in the 21st century include musicians such as Jack White, Colin Meloy, and Eminem. In the world of written literature – Amber Tamblyn and Richard Blanco; we could go on for pages.


So, we repeat…Say it with a poem!

Here’s a modern one from Jack White…


“What you know in your heart to be true and what you know your ears will forever hear that the melody of the human race is a song that never ends. Music is sacred”


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