poems

Charles Baudelaire

Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1897) holds the most wide-ranging influence of the French Symbolist poets. A respected reviewer and critic whose translations of Edgar Allan Poe were much admired in his time, he died young, at only forty-six, but left behind a legacy of work at the center of which stands his masterpiece, the poems of Les Fleurs du mal, first published in 1857 to shock and acclaim.

 

Heinrich Heine

Heinrich Heine was born in Düsseldorf in either 1797 or 1799. He has been called the last of the Romantics, no doubt because he clearly skirted Romanticism through irony and satire. His university career progressed from Bonn in 1819 to Göttingen in 1820 to the more intellectual climate of the University of Berlin; by 1823 he had fled Berlin as well. When Prussia legislated against Jews taking university posts, Heine converted to Protestantism (1825), saying this was “the ticket of admission into European culture,” and changed his name from Harry to Heinrich.

 

Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956) was a German playwright and poet. A dedicated Marxist, Brecht is perhaps best known for helping to develop the theatrical movement known as epic theater, which considered the stage a medium for exploring political ideas and dialectical materialism. Over his lifetime, Brecht wrote two books of fiction, multiple theoretical works on theatre, over fifty plays, and hundreds of poems. He composed “Vom ertrunkenen Mädchen” [Of the Drowned Girl] after the brutal murder of revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg during the Spartacist Uprising of 1919.

 

Gaspara Stampa

Gaspara Stampa was born in Padua in about 1523 to Bartolomeo and Cecilia Stampa. Her father, a jewel merchant, died in the early 1530s leaving the family impoverished. Cecilia moved to her native city, Venice, where Gaspara and her sister Cassandra became celebrated musicians.

 

Cecco Angiolieri

Cecco Angiolieri (c. 1260 – c. 1312), the son of a banker father and noblewoman mother, lived in Siena and wrote roughly 110 sonnets. He sometimes found himself in legal and financial troubles, and upon his death he left an indebted estate to his children. At some point he met Dante, possibly when both were involved in Siena’s and Florence’s alliance against Arezzo in the Battle of Campaldino (1289). Three of Angiolieri’s sonnets to Dante exist, perhaps as a part of a tenzone or poets’ exchange.

 

C.P. Cavafy

C.P. Cavafy (1863 – 1933) is the most famous and arguably greatest of the Modern Greek Poets. He was born and died in Alexandria, but spent part of his childhood in Liverpool (his first poems were in English and he is said to have spoken Greek with an English accent), and he lived for a time in Constantinople. His subjects range from homosexual love affairs to arcane Hellenistic history, but his treatments of them share a remove in time, a distance or irony. His poems were collected only after his death. Many celebrations this past year have marked the sesquicentennial of his birth.

 

Francesco Petrarch

Francesco Petrarch (1304 – 1374) is the great Italian master whose work helped to create the Renaissance sonnet craze in England. He was a priest, a scholar of the Classics, a friend to the great poet Giovanni Boccaccio, and an immensely popular poet in his day. Although a religious professional, he had two children out of wedlock, and is best known for his sonnets professing his intense love for a woman named Laura.

 

 

Martial

Martial, Latin in full Marcus Valerius Martialis (c. 40 – c. 103), was born in the Roman colony on the Iberian peninsula in present-day Spain. He made his way to Rome and chronicled courtly life with epigrams, some of which were bitingly satirical, and others of which were clearly poems-for-hire and occasional verse likely commissioned or written with the anticipation of patronage in return. As the winds of favor shifted, he returned to his native Iberia, where he died.

 

 

Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan (1364 – c. 1430) was the daughter of the official astrologer to the French court, who gave her the same education that a son would have received. When her husband died of plague, leaving her a widow with three children at the age of 25, she began a career of writing, both prose and poetry, which marks her as a first European woman to support herself entirely by her pen.

 

José Luis Puerto

José Luis Puerto (b. 1953) was born in the village of La Alberca, in the Sierra de Francia of Salamanca Province. Graduating from the University of Salamanca with a degree in Romance Philology, he served as secretary to Rafael Alberti. In addition to his many volumes of poetry, he has edited several anthologies, translated Portuguese poetry, and produced works of ethnography focusing primarily on folk legends of Northern Spain. He has taught in Sevilla, Segovia and León, where he now resides with his wife María.

 

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