Grief, Struggle And Fame Are Interlinked #NationalPoetryMonth


Many of our favorite poets who inspire us, had to battle with life and its miseries. I have compiled some interesting and amazing facts from their lives to reiterate the facts that success doesn’t come on a platter; grief transcends all boundaries and the icy finger of death may squeeze all your dreams.

 Robert Frost sold his first poem “My Butterfly, An Elegy, to the New York Independent for $15. He was an extremely successful poet but his life was full of sorrow and suffering. His father died of tuberculosis when he was just 11 years old, leaving the family with just eight dollars. Frost’s mother died of cancer in 1900. His younger sister Jeanie died in a mental hospital, where she struggled with her mental illness for nine years. Mental illness apparently ran in Frost’s family, as both he and his mother suffered from depression and his daughter too was committed to a mental hospital in 1947.

John Keats, an English Romantic poet who is known for his brilliant poetry, vivid imagery and sensuous appeal died from tuberculosis at the age of 25. He received fame only after his death. His poems were not received well by critics during his lifetime; his reputation grew after his death.

S.T. Coleridge had bipolar disorder, which had not been defined during his lifetime. Throughout his adult life Coleridge had crippling bouts of anxiety and depression was treated for these conditions with laudanum, which fostered a lifelong opium addiction.

He is best known for his long poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel and Kubla Khan, some of which were written under the influence of opium. He has given the English language the famous metaphor of “an albatross around one’s neck”, the quotation of “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink” and the phrase “a sadder and a wiser man.”

Walt Whitman, one of the most influential poets in the American canon, often called “the father of free verse” was very controversial in his time, particularly for his poetry collection ‘Leaves Of Grass,’ which was described as obscene for its overt sexuality.

Maya Angelou, best known for ‘I know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ became a poet and writer after a series of occupations as a young adult, including fry cook, sex worker, nightclub dancer and performer, cast member of the opera ‘Porgy and Bess’ and journalist in Egypt and Ghana during the decolonization of Africa.

When Angelou was three and her brother four, their parents’ “calamitous marriage” ended, and their father sent them to Stamps, Arkansas, alone by train, to live with their paternal grandmother. She was sexually assaulted by her mother’s boy friend when she was eight. It was her tumultuous life that molded her into a multi-faceted personality.

Mirza Ghalib, the last great poet of the Mughal Era, is considered to be one of the most famous and influential poets of the Urdu language but fame came to him posthumously. He started composing poetry at the age of 11. His verses eloquently expressed philosophy, the travails and mysteries of life.

Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese American writer, a poet and a visual artist is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Laozi. Due to his family’s poverty, Gibran received no formal schooling during his youth in Lebanon. Gibran’s father was imprisoned for embezzlement and his family’s property was confiscated by the authorities. It was only when his mother took him to New York that he could attend school.

Emily Dickinson, a prolific poet lived much of her life in reclusive isolation. Considered to be an eccentric by locals, she developed a noted penchant for white clothing and became known for her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, to even leave her bedroom. Dickinson’s poems are unique for the era in which she wrote; they contain short lines, typically lack titles, and often use slant rhyme as well as unconventional capitalization and punctuation.

For a poet of his stature, T.S.Eliot produced a relatively small number of poems. He was aware of this even early in his career. He wrote to J.H. Woods, one of his former Harvard professors, “My reputation in London is built upon one small volume of verse, and is kept up by printing two or three more poems in a year.”

Rudyard Kipling was born in Mumbai. (India) His parents had been so much moved by the beauty of the Rudyard Lake in Rudyard Staffordshire, (England) that when their first child was born they named him after it. In a 1995 BBC opinion poll, his poem ‘If’ was voted the UK’s favorite poem.

A 13th-century Persian poet, Rumi’s influence transcends national borders and ethnic divisions. Rumi has been described as the “most popular poet”and the “best selling poet” in the United States.

Source: Wikipedia

Compiled by Balroop Singh

Thank you for extending your support during the National Poetry Month by sharing your poems and reflections. Next post will announce the two winners of the gift that I had promised in the beginning of this month.

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33 thoughts on “Grief, Struggle And Fame Are Interlinked #NationalPoetryMonth

  1. Your poem strikes a deep chord in me, Balroop. How eager we are to wish away painful emotions, not realizing that entering them and being absorbed by them is the only route to the other side. The way out is the way in. Your poem exemplifies this beautifully ❤️

  2. That’s a great poem. I was wondering if suffering is the underlying reason for creating great poets. Maybe the words just flow easily. Just a thought.

    1. There is no doubt that suffering ennobles us, it makes us realise the value of life. Grief adds depth to our words. This poem was written few years ago when I was dealing with similar emotions. Thank you for an insightful reaction arv. 🙂

      1. In my opinion, grief and pain are like a hammer. We, on the other hand, are like a metal sheet. Hammering causes a change of shape in a sheet, That’s the kind of affect grief and pain results in humans.

  3. So many histories of grief and sadness. No wonder I am not a famous writer. My childhood was completely ordinary. Thanks for this enlightening article, Balroop.

  4. Grief in poetry seem to go hand in hand. Yours is beautiful, Balroop. Thanks for sharing all of these facts about well known poets. What a great tribute during poetry month. I read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. It was a phenomenal memoir. Actually, she was full on raped by the man living with her mother. Not long after that traumatic event, Maya and her brother were sent back to Arkansas. She was treated differently by her grandmother. It was as though she was blamed for the seduction and attack. She was eight years old but this was the twisted thinking. She rose above it though and found joy in writing as she went through school. Sorry, to make this so long. My point being that MA truly was a survivor and a thriver.

    1. Poetry absorbs all kinds of emotions Lisa. Why the Caged Bird Sings exemplifies it eloquently. Thank you for sharing your emotions Lisa. Stay blessed!

  5. Great… moving post… I like your introductory words… “success doesn’t come on a platter;”… It is interesting to see how different people can experience things and turn pain into something that trascends the feeling itself. Poetry is such a perfect way to sublimate our deepest pains and fears. Thanks for sharing, dear Balroop ❤

    1. You are so right dear Aqui, poetry carries pains and fears in a subtle manner, providing solace and peace within. Words are our best friends as they inspire, absorb and still refresh each time we approach them. Many thanks for sharing your perspective. Stay blessed and have a wonderful weekend.

  6. I’ve always believed that the richness of emotion brought on by an experience of pathos adds depth to art. Fascinating post, Balroop, and touching. Your poem is beautiful.

  7. I’ve heard that heartstrings are more common than humor. In other words, we tend to laugh at different things depending on our culture, but the same things touch our hearts no matter where we live. What do you think, do you think this is true?

    1. I agree Jen…human beings all over the world are ruled by the same emotions.
      Welcome to Emotional Shadows, I appreciate your initiative of connecting.

  8. Suffering often becomes the reason for a timeless creation. I think when a poet suffers, they try to vent out the emotion through words. A wonderful compilation of great poets who stand the test of time!

    I loved your poem, especially, the last line… 🙂

  9. A beautiful compendium, Balroop, and their heartrending accounts. Didn’t know John Keats died at the age of 25. I never understood posthumous recognition (is great and nobody’s complaining). But it’s sad the creators couldn’t be around long enough to see the impact of their creations. John Kennedy Toole wrote A Confederacy of Dunces; the publishing world didn’t take him seriously, but eleven years after his suicide he was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Thank you for this initiative, Balroop. In one post you put together all of these wonderful poets. And speaking of grief, in your beautiful words “I know it is self-healer.”

    1. Thank you Mahesh for recognising the effort behind this post. I have always felt inspired by the struggle behind the success and when you read the poetry of these poets, you know why it was not appreciated…it was much beyond the ordinary! Posthumous awards hold no significance and are like putting flowers on the grave! I appreciate your insights dear friend. Stay blessed.

  10. Balroop, first thank you so much for these snapshots of some famous poets … I read them eagerly, always keen to learn about others lives. Oh, what tragic sad lives on the whole…Does it have to be a prerequisite to being a poet! The intensity and absolute nature of emotions, the extremes, the hardships does create a rich creative well upon to draw on. I would love to read more detailed biographies about all their lives following this post.

    Your poem touches to the core of loss, that ‘…deeper love causes greater grief’. I know people so fearful of grief, they have chosen not to love … an aberration of life itself almost, so empty.

    1. Lives of great men always inspire and these poets evoke the same feelings even in their struggle. When there was no Google and we were told some such fact by one of our professors, we would discuss it for hours and wonder why those who had written great poetry had to struggle for recognition and get their works published! Now all those stories are before us just a click away!
      Many thanks dear Annika for such lovely words for my poem. Nobody would like to be acquainted with grief but it visits everyone in one form or another to make them understand the real value of life.

  11. Wow, thanks Balroop for these fun snippets and facts about some our beloved poets. And it’s not surprising that so many were controversial for the times, and often only famous after death. 🙂

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