Poet Laureate


Information & Library Science

  • noun a poet appointed by the British Queen to write poems for official occasions


  • In Britain, a poet appointed to compose odes on important state occasions.The appointment dates essentially from the time of James I, although the titlewas first used officially in 1668. The laurel crown was an ancient mark of distinction and honour.

    Oddly enough, the great majority of 17th- and 18th-centurylaureates were principally men of the theater rather than poets perse. Although Ben Jonson (1619 - 37), Sir William Davenant(1638 - 68), and John Dryden (1670 - 88) were poets ofdistinction as well as successful playwrights, this can hardly be said ofThomas Shadwell (1688 - 92), Nahum Tate (1692 - 1715), NicholasRowe (1715 - 18), Colley Cibber (1730 - 57) or William Whitehead(1757 - 85).

    This trend reached the point of absurdity in the appointmentof Cibber, a comic actor and playwright who demonstrated little abilityto write verse, let alone poetry. The laureate was mercilessly ridiculedby such literary figures as Alexander Pope, who wrote:

    Cibber! write all thy verses upon Glasses,
    The only way to save 'em from our A---s.
    'Epigram Occasioned by Cibber's Verses in Praise of Nash'