Two Victorian poets who published little in the 19th century, Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89), have since come to be regarded as major poets. While Hardy first established his reputation the late 19th century with novels, he also wrote poetry throughout his career. However he did not published his first collection until 1898, so that he tends to be treated as a 20th century poet. Hardy lived well into the third decade of the twentieth-century, an important transitional figure between the Victorian era and the 20th century, but because of the adverse criticism of his last novel, Jude the Obscure, in 1895, from that time Hardy concentrated on publishing poetry. Victorian poet Gerald Manley Hopkins's Poems were posthumously published in 1918 by Robert Bridges (1844 - 1930, Poet Laureate from 1913). Hopkins' poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland", written in 1875, first introduced what Hopkins called "sprung rhythm." As well as developing new rhythmic effects, Hopkins "was also very interested in ways of rejuvenating poetic language" and frequently "employed compound and unusual word combinations". Several twentieth century poets, including W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and American Charles Wright, "turned to his work for its inventiveness and rich aural patterning".
Irish modernist W. B. Yeats's career began in the Victorian era and continued as he became a major 20th century poet. Yeats one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, Yeats had a major influence on both British and Irish poets. In his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms. Yeats was a driving force behind the Irish Literary Revival and in 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature; the first Irishman so honoured Yeats is generally considered one of the few writers who completed their greatest works after being awarded the Nobel Prize; such works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1929).
Free verse and other stylistic innovations came to the forefront in this era, with which T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were especially associated. T. S. Eliot (1888 – 1965) was born American, moved to the United Kingdom in 1914 (at age 25) and was naturalised as a British subject in 1927 at age 39. He was "arguably the most important English-language poet of the 20th century." He produced some of the best-known poems in the English language, including "The Waste Land" (1922) and Four Quartets (1935-1942). He is also known for his seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral (1935). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. Eliot's friend Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972), an American expatriate, made important contributions of British literature during his residence in London. He was responsible for the publication in 1915 of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", but more important was the major editing that he did on the "The Waste Land".
The Georgian poets like Rupert Brooke, Walter de la Mare (1873 – 1956), John Masefield (1878 - 1967, Poet Laureate from 1930) maintained a more conservative approach to poetry by combining romanticism, sentimentality and hedonism, sandwiched as they were between the Victorian era, with its strict classicism, and Modernism, with its strident rejection of pure aestheticism. Edward Thomas (1878 - 1917) is sometimes treated as another Georgian poet.
A duality of character in the literature of Scotland came to be characterised as Caledonian Antisyzygy - a self-imposed critical discourse about how to forge a model of homogenous national Scottish culture out of a heterogenous patchwork of language communities and national loyalties. In the early 20th century in Scotland, a renaissance in the use of Lowland Scots occurred, its most vocal figure being Hugh MacDiarmid whose A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), is widely regarded as one of the most important long poems in 20th-century Scottish literature. Other contemporaries were Douglas Young, Sidney Goodsir Smith, Robert Garioch and Robert McLellan. The revival produced verse and other literature, including the plays for which Robert McLellan is best known.
James Pittendrigh MacGillivray (1856 - 1938) and Lewis Spence (1874 – 1955) looked back to what they regarded as a Golden Age of Middle Scots literature, partly as a political gesture to revive the style that prevailed when Scotland was a sovereign nation under the Stuarts. Such experimentation with archaising language for poetic effect did not found a new direction for literature in Scots, but their willingness to play with Mediaeval poetic language had an influence by stimulating debate and stimulating new ways of experimenting with Scots as a literary language.
A somewhat diminished tradition of vernacular Ulster Scots poetry survived into the 20th century in the work of poets such as Adam Lynn, author of the 1911 collection Random Rhymes frae Cullybackey, John Stevenson (died 1932), writing as "Pat M'Carty", and John Clifford (1900–1983) from East Antrim.
With the revival of Cornish there have been newer works written in the language. In the first half of the 20th century poetry was the focus of literary production in Cornish. The epic poem Trystan hag Isolt by A. S. D. Smith (1883 – 1950) reworked the Tristan and Iseult legend. Peggy Pollard's 1941 play Beunans Alysaryn was modelled on the 16th-century saints' plays. John Hobson Matthews wrote several poems, such as the patriotic "Can Wlascar Agam Mamvro" ("Patriotic Song of our Motherland"). Robert Morton Nance (1873 - 1959) created a body of verse, such as "Nyns yu Marow Myghtern Arthur" ("King Arthur is not Dead").
In the 1930s the Auden Group, sometimes called simply the Thirties poets, was an important group of politically left-wing British and Irish writers, that included W. H. Auden (1907–73), Louis MacNeice (1907-63), Cecil Day-Lewis (1904–72, Poet Laureate from 1968), and Stephen Spender (1909–95). Auden was a major poet who had a similar influence on subsequent poets as W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot had had on earlier generations. Others associated with this group were novelist and playwright Christopher Isherwood (1904–86), and sometimes, novelist Edward Upward (1903-2009), and poet and novelist Rex Warner (1905–86).
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“Good poetry could not have been otherwise written than it is. The first time you hear it, it sounds rather as if copied out of some invisible tablet in the Eternal mind than as if arbitrarily composed by the poet.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882)