Past Poets 2017

While the fact of his existence is up for debate, his influence on the canon of Western literature is beyond doubt. Described in Plato’s Republic to be the first teacher of tragedy, Homer is known as the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, although a number of further works have also been attributed to him. The earliest mention of Homer was in the 7th century BCE, but critics continue to dispute whether the texts can be attributed to a single author.

Hugh Miller (1802-1856) was a Scottish writer and geologist. He discovered fossils from a number of previously unknown species and is considered one of Scotland’s most important palaeontologists. He wrote poetry and prose and his engaging writing on geology continues to be popular today.

Arguably the most prolific poet from Latin America in the twentieth century, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) began his careers as a poet and a diplomat in the 1920s and politics and poetry were to remain important throughout his life. Known as the ‘people’s poet’, he received numerous awards for his writing, most notably the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, just two years before his death.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) is one of the leading poets of World War One and is well-known for his graphic depiction of the horrors of trench warfare. Owen was working as a private tutor in France when the war broke out and enlisted in the army a year later, in October 1915. On being sent to recuperate from shell shock at Craiglockhart in Edinburgh, he met Siegfried Sassoon who was to become a close friend of Owen’s and greatly influenced his poetry. He died on 4 November 1918, one week before Armistice Day.

Nan Shepherd (1893-1981) was a Scottish writer and is perhaps best known for her non-fiction book The Living Mountain, prompted by her experiences of walking in the Cairngorms. The landscape of Northern Scotland played an important role in her fiction and poetry as well, as is clear from the title of her poetry collection In the Cairngorms. In 2016, Shepherd became one of the first two women to feature on the Royal Bank of Scotland’s main issue notes.

Muriel Spark (1918-2006) was a Scottish writer best known for her novels. These included The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means and the darkly wry Loitering With Intent. However, she also wrote criticism and poetry, and said herself that she regarded herself as a poet. Spark won a number of awards for her writing, and was made a Dame in 1993 for her services to literature.

The Australian poet Judith Wright (1915-2000) was also well known as an environmentalist and campaigner for Aboriginal land rights. She founded one of the earliest conservation movements, and her advocacy informed her poetry, which explored people’s relationship with nature, as well as that between settlers, Indigenous Australians and the bush.