Dean Rader at SFGate (the website of the San Francisco Chronicle) recently posted his list of the ten greatest poets of all time, incorporating hundreds of "passionately argued" inputs from his poetry-loving readers. The list in unavoidably American- and English-language-centric, since Dean is an American whose native language is English. Still, the list includes a 13th-century Persian, an 8th-century Chinese, an Italian, and a Chilean.
My friend Jim Schley (Managing Editor of Tupelo Press)—who knows I like lists—forwarded the post to me.
Here's the rundown "naked"...
9. William Butler Yeats (pronounced "Yates," in case you might not know)
8. Li Po (a.k.a. Li Bai, Li Bo)
7. Emily Dickinson
6. John Donne
5. Wallace Stevens
4. Walt Whitman
3. Dante Alighieri
2. William Shakespeare
1. Pablo Neruda
...However, you really should read Dean's explanations if you have any interest at all.
Strangely, Dean Rader discovered to his surprise that his list was largely not controversial—hardly anyone complained, proponents of Rilke and Eliot being the most notable of the exceptions. (I came to poetry through Eliot myself, but I'm perfectly sanguine with the idea that he wrote history's greatest poem without being among history's greatest poets.)
I'm right there with the list until we get to Walt. I've never really grokked Whitman, Dante and Shakespeare are names so big I find them unapproachable, and I've never read Neruda at all.
That last might change soon, though. Jim is currently working on a new translation of Neruda's great epic Canto General with a Chilean poet.
(Thanks to Jim)
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Stephen McCullough: "Thanks for this link. Fascinating. I had heard of Neruda, but not read him until my wife (a Chilean) introduced me. Twenty years later I remain hooked to, and in awe of, both wife and Neruda."
William Barnett-Lewis: "It's not a bad list, but as with all lists, everyone's is different. I'd replace Whitman with Dylan Thomas and Neruda with T.S. Eliot myself, with those two being moved in to the second ten of such a list.
"As for Dante, he's a delight. Find a good translation of "A Vita Nuova" and don't sweat the Comedy. When you get to the poem about ladies who know by insight what love is, you will, I believe, understand why he's still remembered 700 year later.
"Shakespeare, well, is Shakespeare and must be seen on stage where he returns to life. You live close enough so I'd suggest going over to Spring Green, Wisconsin, and trying one of the Comedies or Tragedies at The American Player's Theatre there. There is nothing quite so delightful as a crowd of people under the moonlit sky to share in his whimsy, humor and wisdom."
Ed: "Lists (any of them) are basically an Anglo-Saxon pastime (I have to say). So who cares? Basically, there are great poets in every language (Gerrit Komrij tops the bill in Dutch for me). Since poetry is inherently untranslatable (though sometimes there are valiant attempts made), an international list is even more nonsensical then an English-language list, since any non-English-speaking poet is at the mercy of his or her translator."
adamct: "I'm not the first person to say this, but the point of lists and rankings isn't actually the content of the lists or the rankings. The point is simply to encourage discussion about the general topic. How often do you get people talking about poetry and great poets? Never. What is a cheap, quick and effective way of getting people to talk about both in today's age? Simple: publish a list of the 10 greatest poets, then sit back and enjoy the conversation.
"(Actually, by that measure, if this list is uncontroversial, then far from being a success, maybe that is a sign it is a failure?)"
Mike replies: Well, we're discussing it. Sort of.
Alex S: "My favorite quote about Pablo Neruda: