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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.


Poets’ Corner

By Robert Leighton (1822–1869)

O WORLD, what have your poets while they live

But sorrow and the finger of the scorner?

And, dead, the highest honor you can give

Is burial in a corner.

Not so, my poets of the popular school

Disprove that mean, yet prevalent conception.

Once in an age that may be; but the rule

Is proved by the exception.

And so, good World, the poet still remains

To all your benefices a poor foreigner;

Considered well rewarded if he gains

At last rest in a corner.

Here in Westminster’s sanctuary, where

Some two-three kings usurp one half the Abbey,

Whole generations of the poets share

This nook so dim and shabby.

So when we come to see Westminster’s lions,

The needy vergers of the Abbey wait us;

And while we pay to see the royal scions,

We see the poets gratis.

Some in corporeal presence crowd the nook,

While others, who in body are not near it,

Are here as in the pages of a book,—

Present only in spirit.

White-bearded Chaucer’s here, an honored guest,

His sword of cutting humor in its scabbard;

And, sooth, he did not find such quiet rest

In Southwark at the Tabard!

Here ’s Michael Drayton in his laurelled tomb,

And Shakespeare over all the host commanding;

And rare Ben Jonson, who got scanty room,

And so was buried standing.

Spenser is here from faerie land, his eyne

Filled with the glamour of some dreamy notion,

Admired the more that half his “Faerie Queen”

Was lost in middle ocean.

Here ’s Prior, who was popular no doubt;

And Guy, with face and cowl round as a saucer;

And Dryden, who, some think, should be put out

Because he murdered Chaucer.

And Milton, after all his civil shocks,

Is here with look of sweet, yet strong decision,—

John Milton, with the soft poetic locks

And supernatural vision.

Beaumont of the firm of B. and F. is here;

And Cowley, metaphysical and lyric;

And Addison, the elegant and clear;

And Butler, all satiric.

Gray, of the famous Elegy, who found

His churchyard in the country rather lonely,

Lies with the rest in this more classic ground,

Although in spirit only.

And Goldsmith at the Temple leaves his bones,

Comes here with tender heart and rugged feature,

And mingles through this wilderness of stones

His milky human nature.

And here is he that wrote the Seasons four;

And so is Johnson, who discovered “Winter,”

And Garrick, too, who had poetic lore

Enough to bid him enter.

And Southey, who for bread wrote many a tome,—

Of prose and verse a progeny plethoric,—

And he that sung the lays of ancient Rome,—

Macaulay, the historic.

Campbell is here in body as in soul,—

He for a national song eclipsed by no land;

And in whose grave the patriotic Pole

Sprinkled the earth of Poland.

Of other famous names we find the trace,

And think of many from their non-appearance;

Byron, for one, who was denied a place

Through priestly interference.

Now most upon their own true genius stand;

A few, perhaps, on little else than quackery;

But all in all, they are a glorious band,

From Chaucer down to Thackeray.