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.
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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