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By Remi, published on 07/08/2018 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Poetry > The Most Famous British Poets

The Greatest British Poets Of All Times

The list of British writers, poets, novelists, essayist or story writer is almost endless and the amount of plays, poems, novels, biographies, tales, essays, prose and verse that they have published through the centuries is probably beyond our imagination.

Lord Byron, William Butler Yeats, William Blake, Matthew Arnold or Rudyard Kipling are just a few names of the British Literature Pantheon.

From the Renaissance movement, led in Britain by Geoffrey Chaucer and his work to modernise the English language, to the fables of J.R.R. Tolkien who went to the extent of inventing a new language for his master story, the vision of British artist has long been shining its light on the rest of literary world.

In this article, we shine a light on some of the greatest writers of English poetry.

Willian Shakespeare, Father of English Literature

William Shakespeare's first printed book at the Seattle public Library. This book, the very first printed version of Shakespeare’s work might be the only reason that this genius’ work did not disappear forever. (by knkx)

Maybe the most famous author of all English literature, Shakespeare was a poet, playwright and actor. He is still regarded today as the world’s most eminent dramatist.

While he is mainly known by the public for his numerous theatre play, among which Romeo And Juliet, the most famous romantic tragedy of all times, has been adapted countless times, both for the theatre, Broadway or Hollywood.

Shakespeare’s plays are still performed today all around the world, and at any given time of the year, it is not surprising to find more than one of his plays being acted on the stage of London’s theatres.

What the public might not know as much are Shakespeare’s sonnets and narrative poems.

Published in 1609, towards the end of his life, Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets were probably never meant to be released and the order they have been printed in most likely did not reflect their actual chronology nor the author’s wishes.


“Unthrifty loveliness why dost thou spend,
Upon thy self thy beauty’s legacy?
Nature’s bequest gives nothing but doth lend,
And being frank she lends to those are free:
Then beauteous niggard why dost thou abuse,
The bounteous largess given thee to give?
Profitless usurer why dost thou use
So great a sum of sums yet canst not live?
For having traffic with thy self alone,
Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive,
Then how when nature calls thee to be gone,
What acceptable audit canst thou leave?
Thy unused beauty must be tombed with thee,
Which used lives th‘ executor to be.”

Willian Shakespeare, The Fair Youth, Sonnet 5


Elizabeth Barrett Browning, The Romantic Poetess

Born in 1806, Elizabeth Barrett started to write poetry from the early age of 6 years old. Her mother collected her poems, which became the most extensive surviving collection of juvenile writing by any English writer, ever.

Barrett suffered poor health for most of her life and possibly had tuberculosis. It did not stop her writing, and she published her first collection of poems at the age of 32 years old. Her poetry was very well received, and she wrote profusely in the following years.

She also actively campaigned against slavery and influenced the reforms of child labour legislation.

Her work also caught the attention of another poet, Robert Browning, who after writing to her, began to court her secretly. Knowing that her father would disapprove, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browing married in secret in 1846 before moving to Italy where they lived happily for the rest of their lives.

The work of Elizabeth Barrett Browning had a great influenced on some of her famous contemporary writers among which Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson.

Commemorative plaque on the house of the Barrett Browning in Florence, Italy. Elizabeth Barrett Browning escaped her overprotecting father and fled to Italy with her husband. this plaque, in Florence, marks the house the family happily lived in until Elizabeth’s death.


“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.”

Elizabeth Barret Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese, Sonnet 43


Robert Burns, The Bard Of Ayrshire

Celebrated as the most significant Scottish writer of all time, the popularity of Burns through all of Scotland and with the Scottish diaspora all over the world, made him the subject of a real personality cult during the 19th and 20th century.

Still today, Burns supper, a national holiday in Scotland, is more celebrated than the actual National Day of St. Andrew’s.

He popularised the use of the Scots language in literature, though most of his work was written in English. His direct, sincere and straightforward style, approaching many serious subjects such as equalitarianism, anticlericalism or Scotish nationalism, had a significant influence on many British poets and writers such as  William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley,  Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson or  Hugh MacDiarmid but also had a profound impact on the future founders of socialism and liberalism.

Some of his most famous work was inspired by the French Revolution which unfolded when Burns was about 30 years old. Coming from a family of poor tenant farmers, his point of view is far from being the one of the bourgeoisie but is close to the mass of the oppressed.

A firm believer that the poor of humankind will one day come to realise their “sense and worth” and unite against the oppression of the elites, though this part of his work and philosophy is often left aside.

Note of Robert Burns. Robert Burns is such a cultural icon in Scotland that his face is on every £10 note printed by the Clydesdale Bank.


A prince can mak a belted knight,
         A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s aboon his might,
         Guid faith he mauna fa’ that!
                For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
                        Their dignities, an’ a’ that,
                The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
                        Are higher rank than a’ that.
Then let us pray that come it may,
         As come it will for a’ that,
That sense and worth, o’er a’ the earth,
         May bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
                For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
                        It’s coming yet, for a’ that,
                That man to man, the warld o’er,
                        Shall brothers be for a’ that.

 Robert Burns, For a’ That and a’ That


Dylan Thomas, Poetry and Radio

Probably the most famous of Welsh poets, Dylan Thomas became known to the British public through his poetry programs broadcasted by BBC Radio.

Born in 1914 in Swansea into a middle-class family, Thomas started writing poetry when he was only 15 years old, and in the following four years, while working as a freelance journalist, he amassed more than 200 poems compiled in four books.

His publications in The New English Weekly and The Listener caught the attention of three major writers of the time, T. S. Eliot, Geoffrey Grigson and Stephen Spender. They helped launch his career, and in 1934 when Thomas was only 20 years old, his first poetry book was published under the title 18 Poems.

The Listener newspaper belongs to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), established his connections with the network which would later bring his poems into the homes of millions of Britons.

Photo of Dylan Thomas. Dylan Thomas, the famous Welsh poet, became famous thanks to his BBC radio recordings. He was one of the first poets to bring his poetry into the heart of British homes (by Daily Beast).


“Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.
And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.”

– Dylan Thomas, And Death Shall Have No Dominion


J.R.R. Tolkien, The Linguist Poet

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is mostly known for his books, later adapted to cinema, The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit. 

Both these books are amongst the best selling novels ever written and combined; it is estimated that around 250 million copies were sold, making Tolkien one of the most successful authors of all times.

While Tolkien is most famous for his fantasy writings, most British ignore that he was also a talented poet. His work as a linguist made him an expert in manipulating words’ aesthetics and euphony. He also created two entirely new languages, an exhaustive work that probably explains why his academic research at the Oxford University remained so thin.

Some of his poems have been included in his fantasy work, and one of the most famous ones is part of The Lord Of The Rings and is titled All that is gold does not glitter. The poem was there to warn readers that Aragorn, one of the main characters in the book, his far more important than it seems.

Picture of JRR Tolkien. J.R.R. Tolkien brought joy to millions of fans around the world, through his Lord of The Rings anthology (by Imbd).


“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes, a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king”

J.R.R. Tolkien, All that is gold does not glitter


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