- 01. 1. Sappho, The Lyric Poetess
- 02. 2. Elizabeth Barrett Browning And Romanticism
- 03. 3. Elizabeth Bishop, The Travelling Poet
- 04. 4. Gwendolyn Brooks, A Poetic Genius
- 05. 5. Maya Angelou, The Heart Of Modern America
- 06. 6. Sylvia Plath
- 07. 7. Emily Dickinson
- 08. 8. Rupi Kaur
- 09. 9. Mary Oliver
- 10. 10. Phillis Wheatley
The list of famous American and English poets is endless. From Thomas Wyatt, Willian Shakespeare, Walter Raleigh, John Milton, Lord Byron, John Keats, Willian Wordsworth, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, Robert Burnes, Rudyard Kipling or T.S. Elliot in the United Kingdom to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry David Thoreau, James Whitcomb Riley, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost or E.E. Cummings for the United States' American poets, the poetry literary genre has been dominated by males entities. The patriarchy of the time often belittled women for being too sensitive, too emotional, too dramatic, but such attributes are often what characterises poetry. Using words, their order, dissonance and assonance, and the weight they carry rather than their semantic meaning, to convey an emotion or a feeling are often what characterized the best work of poetry. Fortunately, there have been women whose work emerged and was published, which 200 years ago was an accomplishment in itself. In this article, we will shed some light on these female poets that have been acclaimed by literary critics and subsequently enriched our common heritage. Find poetry writing courses online here.
1. Sappho, The Lyric Poetess
Born sometime around 630 BC, Sappho is probably the first example of a female poet in history. Her legacy during antiquity was just as great as Homer. While he was referred to as "The Poet," she was sometimes called "The Poetess." Plato and Socrates, the classical Greece philosopher founders of Western Philosophy, even cited her or her work in some of their speeches and writings. Most of Sappho's work did not survive time, a lot of it is only fragmented pieces, but one complete poem survived to this day, The Ode To Aphrodite. The poem is a prayer to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, where Sappho asks for help in getting attention from an unnamed woman, for which Sappho has fallen in love.
"To my side: "And whom should Persuasion summon Here, to soothe the sting of your passion this time? Who is now abusing you, Sappho? Who is Treating you cruelly?
Now she runs away, but she'll soon pursue you; Gifts she now rejects--soon enough she'll give them; Now she doesn't love you, but soon her heart will Burn, though unwilling."
- Sappho, Hymn to Aphrodite
2. Elizabeth Barrett Browning And Romanticism
Born in 1806, Elizabeth Barrett, a British poet, started to write poetry from the early age of 6 years old. Her mother collected her poems, which became the largest surviving collection of juvenile writing by any English writer ever. Barrett suffered a 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 labor legislation. Her work also caught the attention of another poet, Robert Browning, who, after writing to her, began to secretly court her. 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.
"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
3. Elizabeth Bishop, The Travelling Poet
Elizabeth Bishop was born in Massachusetts in 1911. Her childhood was far from being happy as she lost her father to illness when she was only eight months old, and her mom subsequently lost her mind. She was going to be sent to live with different relatives, first her maternal grandparents, then her paternal family. Being a sickly child, Bishop barely attended school before she was 14 years and was accepted in high school. She went on studying at the Vassar University, one of the oldest universities in America, to grant women access to higher education. First studying music, she quickly changed her mind after realizing that she was terrified of performing in public. Living on a small income left by her father inheritance, she was able to travel all around the United States, though always on the cheap. She predated the beatnik movement of the 1950's and 60's. Her love for traveling transpired greatly in her work. Learn how to write with the best poetry writing courses. Bishop did not publish much of her work, but when she did, her famous poetry won her immediate success. From 1946 and the publication of her first poetry book North & South, she won awards after awards: a Guggenheim Fellowship, Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, the Lucy Martin Donelly Fellowship (awarded by Bryn Mawr College), the Shelley Memorial Award, a lifetime membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the Chapelbrook Foundation Award, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship.
Elizabeth Bishop became the archetype of the traveling writer. Her work has been greatly influenced by her journeys. ( by Alice Methfesse)
After receiving a traveling fellowship from the Byrn Mawr College, she started a journey that would take her around South America by boat. Arriving in Brazil in November 1951, she stayed in the country for 15 years.
"The art of losing isn't hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn't hard to master."
- Elizabeth Bishop, One Art
4. Gwendolyn Brooks, A Poetic Genius
Born in 1917 and raised during the Great Depression, Gwendolyn Brooks would face bias and racism during her school years, but it never stopped her from writing. Taking inspiration from her southside community of Chicago, she began writing during her early teens, strongly encouraged to do so by her mother, who was a teacher. She was first published when she was 13 years old, and by the time she was 16, she had written and published at least 75 poems. Her unique point of view as a black teenager in a very racially charged America often depicted and celebrated ordinary people from Brooks neighborhood. After attending many writing workshops during the early 1940's, she eventually published her first poetry book in 1945, A Street In Bronzeville with Harper & Brothers, one of the biggest publishing house of the country. Her book received immediate success, and she was granted a Guggenheim Fellowship the next year. Following that success, she wrote Annie Allen, the story of a young black girl growing in the same neighborhood of Bronzeville that she depicted in her first book. For this work, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1950, making her the first African American woman to be awarded a Pulitzer. She continued to write and was passionate about teaching and helping other young African American students to develop their talent for writing.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters made her the first African American member in 1976. Gwendolyn Brooks legacy and influence on a whole generation was especially strong in her hometown of Chicago, where many schools and cultural centers have been named after her. In 2002 she was declared one of the 100 greatest African American by the Temple University in their biographical dictionary.
"Exhaust the little moment. Soon it dies. And be it gash or gold, it will not come Again in this identical disguise."
- Gwendolyn Brooks, Annie Allen
5. Maya Angelou, The Heart Of Modern America
Maya Angelou has had an extraordinary life. Born in 1928, in the Southern state of Missouri, she recounted her troubled childhood in her autobiography and international best-seller, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969. Her book, the first of a seven-volume series, described how she overcame racism and trauma through love and determination. Her first poetry work dates from her childhood, during which she used literature as a healing tool. Her first published work only occurred after she performed various jobs, such as a cast member for the Porgy and Bess European tour and calypso music performer during the 1950's. Her first volume of poetry, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie, published in 1971, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. During Bill Clinton Presidential inauguration, she recited "On the Pulse of Morning" and became the first African American and woman to read a poem at a presidential inauguration. She won a Grammy Award the following year for "Best Spoken Words". She mentioned in her autobiographies that she was greatly affected by the work of William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, or Douglas Johnson during her childhood. She, in turned had a huge impact on African American literature, and her poetry influenced modern hip-hop musicians such as Kanye West, Tupac Shakur, or Nicki Minaj.
"A Rock, A River, A Tree Hosts to species long since departed, Mark the mastodon. The dinosaur, who left dry tokens Of their sojourn here On our planet floor, Any broad alarm of their of their hastening doom Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages. But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully, Come, you may stand upon my Back and face your distant destiny, But seek no haven in my shadow. I will give you no hiding place down here. You, created only a little lower than The angels, have crouched too long in The bruising darkness, Have lain too long Face down in ignorance. Your mouths spelling words Armed for slaughter."
- Maya Angelou, On The Pulse Of Morning
6. Sylvia Plath
No list of the best female poets is complete without the 20th-century American confessional poet Sylvia Plath.
She was born in 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father was a German settler and one of the leading voices on Bumblebees and a biology professor as well. An aristocrat by birth, her father, compelled her mother to quit teaching and raise their children.
He passed away after going through a chronic illness. As a result, Sylvia Plath's mother started teaching to raise the family.
'Sunday at the Mintons' was the first story Plath published in the "Mademoiselle" magazine while in Smith College.
Later, she secured summer employment in the same magazine as the "guest editor."
After the job ended, she suffered a major nervous breakdown, and almost got herself killed, and was admitted to a hospital. Then, she came back to school and got a scholarship for studying in England. After graduation, she went to the University of Cambridge, where Plath met Ted Hughes, an English poet, in 1956. Within a few months of their first meeting, they got married.
Sylvia Plath started teaching poetry at "Smith College." She serviced for a year and later quit to pursue her career as a full-time poet.
Sylvia, along with Robert Lowell – an American poet – started taking poetry workshops. Lowell's confessional take on poetry strongly influenced her.
The "Colossus and Other Poems" was the first and only poetry collection published before her death in 1963, and It received many favorable reviews.
Her husband left her for his lover, putting Plath in a state of depression. She desperately tried to keep a brave face, but the emotional turmoil that followed was quite apparent.
She then shifted to London and wrote several poems, arguably the best works. In 1963, her novel, "The Bell Jar," was published. It told the story of a girl working at a local magazine who went through a mental breakdown. However, the novel received average reviews.
With frozen pipes, severe depression, and sick children, Sylvia Plath couldn't take it anymore and killed herself in 1963 when she was 30.
Ted Hughes edited many volumes of Plath's poetry, which were published after her untimely death. These included some her of her famous works such as "Crossing the water," "Ariel," and "Collected Poems" that even got the "Pulitzer Prize" in 1982.
Overall, the poetry of Sylvia Plath is best known for having a deep coupling of disturbed or violent imagery along with a frisky use of rhyme and alliteration.
Undoubtedly, she is one of the best women poets in the entire English Language.
"Water will run by; the actual sun
Will scrupulously rise and set;
No little man lives in the exacting moon
And that is that, is that, is that"
From "Two Lovers And A Beachcomber By The Real Sea" by Sylvia Plath.
7. Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. An introvert by nature, many of her associations were formed via correspondences.
Throughout her life, Dickinson was termed eccentric, and very few people realized her huge talent. After she died, people came to know about her works, especially the 1800 poems she had composed.
At the start, there was a mixed reaction to her writings, with some commending her rare originality and individuality, while others were critical of her peculiar style.
In the early 20th-century, people started taking a lot of interest in Emily's poems, and critics also understood the unevenness in her works was purely artistic.
Today, she is most widely celebrated for her exceptional use of syntax and form; and in addition to that, she is also known as the "poet of paradox."
Some of her best works include "The Complete Poems," "Because I could not stop for Death," "Selected Poems," "Hope is the thing with feathers," "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" and "Final harvest."
"Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity"
From "Because I could not stop for Death," by Emily Dickinson.
She had a profound influence not only on Americans but the world over. Also called the 'Belle of Amherst,' Dickinson is ranked as one of the most famous female poets worldwide.
8. Rupi Kaur
Rupi Kaur was born in 1992 in Hoshiarpur, India. Her parents settled in Canada when she was merely four. At first, she started penning poetry for friends. And during high school, Kaur anonymously shared her writings.
Later, she started writing poems on social media, precisely on Tumblr and Instagram. With time, Kaur became an internet sensation. "Milk and Honey" was her first 'published' poetry collection.
The book, which is both prose and poetry, is all about survival. It topped the "New York Times Bestsellers" list for several weeks and has sold 2.5M copies worldwide, and is translated into more than 20 languages.
Moreover, Kaur's second poetry collection, "The Sun and Her Flowers," was ranked 2nd among Amazon's best-selling products. Her poetry emphasizes love, sex, relationships, and rejection. She also pens poetry on dark topics such as beauty standards, racism, and abuse.
Some of her best poems include but are not limited to "For the passionate ones," "For anyone who feels rejected," "Be kind," "Be water," "In an ideal world," "What every girl needs to hear," "Don't trust just anyone."
"Did you think I was a city
big enough for a weekend getaway
I am the town surrounding it
the one you've never heard of
but always pass through
there are no neon lights here
no skyscrapers or statues
but there is thunder
for I make bridges tremble
I am not street meat I am homemade jam
thick enough to cut the sweetest
thing your lips will touch
I am not police sirens
I am the crackle of a fireplace
I'd burn you, and you still
couldn't take your eyes off me
cause I'd look so beautiful doing it
I am not a hotel room I am home
I am not the whiskey you want
I am the water you need
don't come here with expectations
and try to make a vacation out of me"
An excerpt from the "Milk and Honey"
Rapi Kaur is unquestionably one of the most famous female poets in contemporary and overall poetry.
9. Mary Oliver
Born in 1935, in Maple Heights, Ohio, Mary Oliver published her first poetry collection titled "No Voyage and Other Poems" in 1963. In 1984, she received Pulitzer Prize for her book "American Primitive."
Apart from that, Oliver won many other reputed awards, such as the "National Book Award" for "New and Selected Poems" in 1992. Her poems were primarily motivated by nature. Also, her poetry was filled with symbolism and imaging from her routine walks close to home.
This is the reason she has been portrayed as the unflagging guide to "nature," especially to its hardly known aspects. And because of Oliver's affinity for inner monologues and solitude, she has been matched with Emily Dickinson.
Some of her best works include "Devotions: The Selected Poems," "New and Selected Poems," "Wild Geese," "American Primitive" "A Thousand Mornings", and "Why I Wake Early: New Poems."
"When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it's over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."
From "When Death Comes by MaryOliver.
That said, Mary Oliver deserves to be included in the list of the most famous women poets worldwide.
10. Phillis Wheatley
Born in 1753 in West Africa, Phillis Wheatley was sold as a slave. In 1761, she was taken to Boston on a ship named "the Phillis" and was then sold to an affluent Boston merchant, John Wheatley. He bought her for his better half, Susanna, and they named the 8-year-old girl Phillis.
Wheatley was just 13-years-old when she began writing poems, and by 14, her poetry made way to different periodicals and newspapers in Britain and the US.
In 1773, her first collection of poems was published in London, making her the first African American to publish poems. Her works were praised by many reputed figures, including Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.
A few of her famous works include "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral," "Poems of Phillis Wheatley," "Being Brought from Africa to America - The Best of Phillis Wheatley," and "America's First Black Poet: A Biographical Sketch of Phillis Wheatley."
She was emancipated ultimately. However, Wheatley struggled hard because of poverty and eventually died at the early age of 31.
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