A poet laureate is appointed officially by the government as a spokesperson the nation. The title was first used in Great Britain granted by the monarch for a poet who had to take on the responsibility of writing verses in honor of the nation. Today, the post of laureate is conferred on a poet whose work signifies national importance. The poet laureate has the responsibility of functioning as the literary advocate of the nation. All the poet laureates are generally famous and celebrated for their works. The popular poet laureates of the “Love-Poems” include Robert Bridges, Robert Frost, William Wordsworth, John Dryden, Alfred Tennyson and Geoffrey Chaucer.
The tradition of the laurel dates back to ancient Greece where a crown of laurel(type of tree or shrub) was used to honor heroes and poets. It then took on as an English custom in the Middle Ages when minstrels and poets were appointed to praise the king through poetry and song. Later on the word laureate was used metaphorically in England to represent glory and eminence. Laureate letters signified the announcement of victory while it denoted degrees granted by the European universities as reflected in the term baccalaureate. In the Middle Ages the poet laureate was a royal degree for rhetoric conferred by European Universities. The person holding a poet laureate had the required skill in grammar, language and rhetoric.
It is not clearly known when the poet laureate got established as an official post. In 1617 Ben Jonson was appointed as official court poet by James I, Sir William Davenant was poet laureate in the court of Charles I and Charles II. Since then there has been a continuous succession of poet laureates. Some of the poet laureates include great English poets such as John Dryden, Thomas Shawell, Naham Tate, William Wordsworth, Alfred Tennyson, and Ted Hughes among others. Some poets who have refused the honor of poet laureate include Walter Scott, John Gray and Philip Larkin.
The poet laureate in the USA is appointed every year by the Librarian of Congress after consulting notable poetry critics, the current poet laureate and former laureates. This tradition started in 1937 and was carried till 1985. The post was changed to poet laureate in 1985 by the new act of Congress. The position of poet laureate is meant for one year with chances for reappointment. Some of the recent American Poet Laureates include Robert Pinsky(1997-2000), Stanley Kunitz(2000-2001), Billy Collins(2001-2003) and Louise Gluck.
The main duty of the poet laureate is to create and raise the interest of the nation in reading and writing of verse and poetry. The poet laureate has to render an annual lecture and is given an opportunity to read his own poetry. The Poet laureate is chosen by the Librarian of Congress after discussions with former poet laureates, critics and the reigning poet laureate. The poet laureates are not political appointees and enjoy freedom to create their own works. The poet laureate is given annual stipend of $35,000 sourced by a gift from Archer M. Huntington.