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The 10 Most Influential Poets in History


A network of inspiration and influence means that all art, including poetry, is deeply interconnected.

We’re accustomed to understanding creativity as a “talent” owned by a person. We think of it as an individual trait, one that allows the genius to rise above others, highlighted and singular. And while this may be partly true, all creative activity is like other human activities in one specific aspect: its interconnection with other human activities. What we have done since the very beginning of history, we have always done with others.

In literature, this fact has borne a particular color through time. The apparent solitude of the literary work is always accompanied by the presence, sometimes real and tangible, as with friends or teachers, and at other times as symbolic, as with the influences that every writer recognizes in his or her work.

Praising books, Carl Sagan said that they were like time machines that allow us to keep in touch with the great minds that have guided humanity. Francisco de Quevedo, the Spanish poet, wrote in a famous sonnet that for him reading is to “listen with his eyes toward the dead.”

Beyond these brief references, here we’d like to share a resource very often cited with regard to the connections drawn between some of the great poets of the West. Ten of them, in fact, are like nodes which have held together and enlivened a network of poetic inspiration.

This infographic, well founded as it is, is the work of Joanne Jeffries and Julian Yanover and based on a fairly simple question: which poets have remained in full force through history in that they have inspired the work of others?

That is the hallmark of the great geniuses in virtually all creative areas: that their work never ceases to be significant. After all, as much as the circumstances of reading and interpreting can change, the work always says something relevant to those who read and enjoy it.

Network of portraits of historic poets.*Images: 1) Arthur Rackham, The Rhinegold, (1910) / Creative Commons; 2) Infographic: Joanne Jeffries and Julian Yanove

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