I’ve been looking at lists of 10, 30 and 50 Greatest Poets and Greatest Poems to give myself some perspective on yesterday’s surprise about people not recognising the name Adlestrop. Robert Frost ranks highly in most lists. Edward Thomas, his friend, does not. Frost after surviving the trip back to America in 1915, which was not a foregone conclusion in that year, as the Lusitania shows, developed a poetic career and eventually died at the age of 88. Thomas enlisted in 1915, prompted by Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken, and was killed in 1917. It seems to me that poetic reputations are often developed by such quirks of history, rather than by the quality of the poetry. Death, and its timing has a lot to do with reputations. Thomas died too soon, Byron died at about the right time, at which point he became a legend rather than a mere poet. I could name several poets who died too late, but that would be mean-spirited.
What I can tell you about some of the lists is that I haven’t heard of many of the poets on one of the lists, which, as far as I can tell, was chosen on political rather than poetic grounds. Such is life when you start making lists. Any list you make is bound to be biased, though you only notice when it is biased in a way you don’t like.
The average list is composed of classic white men with a few Indians, Japanese and female poets thrown in jut to show how well read the lister is. I’m always left with a feeling that these lists reveal just how little I really know about poetry and how any list I write on this subject should not be titled “100 Best Poets” but “100 best Poets in the Opinion of a man of limited reading and ingrained prejudices”. This would be more accurate.
It’s the same with many articles in the news, in the UK they should all be qualified with the words “written by a young and overconfident Oxbridge graduate”.
And that is the opinion of the blogger Quercus Community (a miserable old git who is not fond of modern life and young people).