Do you want to read more poetry but not sure where to start?
For April, poetry month, I’ll be sharing various poetry recommendations to help you read more poetry.
For this week, I wanted to share five women poets that are considered classics from around the turn of the century (1800→1900). I tried to give a range of options from a few countries around the world.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more women poets, each week moving closer to present day.
All five of the women poets discussed below were born in the 1800’s and published most of their work in the early 1900’s. Each of them are significant both for their literary contributions and their impact on society.
Five women poets
Here’s a list of five women poets who lived through the turn of the century (1800→1900).
- Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)
- Hilda “H.D.” Doolittle (1886-1961)
- Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)
- Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
- Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
I’ve listed them in order of when they were born. Keep reading to find out more about each one.
1. Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)
- Indian political activist and poet
- In India, Naidu’s birthday, February 13th, is celebrated as Women’s Day
Sarojini was both an Indian political activist and poet. She played an important role in the Indian independence movement and had close ties to Gandhi. She even persuaded Gandhi that women should join the famous Salt March (he was initially against it). After he was arrested on April 6, 1930, Gandhi appointed Naidu as the replacement leader.
She actively fought for civil rights, women’s emancipation and anti-imperialism. She was the first woman to be the president of the Indian National Congress (during British rule). Then after independence she was appointed as governor of a state.
Because of her poetry, Gandhi nicknamed her the “Nightingale of India”. Her poetry was written in English (she was educated in Madras, London, and Cambridge). One of her most popular poems is called “In the Bazaars of Hyderabad” from the year 1912.
Naidu’s birthday is February 13th, and each year India celebrates Women’s Day on her birthday to recognize the powerful women’s voices that shaped India.
- You can find out more on:
- You can access some of her works for free on the Gutenberg Project.
2. Hilda “H.D.” Doolittle (1886-1961)
- American modernist poet, novelist, and memoirist
- Wrote under the pen name “H.D.”
H.D. was primarily known as a poet, but she wrote so much more than that. She wrote novels, memoirs, and essays, along with translating a number of texts from Greek. She produced work over five decades, from 1910-1960s.
As a poet, she was known for her innovative and experimental approaches. Her work had strong themes of literary modernism and she participated in the avant-garde milieu era.
She started as an Imagist and for a long time only her early poems were studied. But was an Imagist for a short time and moved on to create many different types of content and developed her craft for decades past that. Interest in her later work was reignited from a feminist and queer studies perspective in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
H.D. was also bisexual, having her first same-sex relationship while in college. Over her life, she had several relationships with both men and women. The longest lasting relationship seems to be with Bryher (pen name for: Annie Winifred Ellerman). They met in 1918 and lived together off and on for a few decades and even continued their relationship after that, until H.D.’s death.
Fun fact. In the 1930’s, H.D. was treated by Sigmund Freud for both her war trauma and bisexuality.
- You can find out more on:
- You can access some of her work for free on the Gutenberg Project.
3. Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)
- 1889 – 1966
- Shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in 1965
- Regarded as one of Russia’s greatest poets
Anna is regarded as one of Russia’s greatest poets. Her father was Ukrainian and her mother was Russian, so sometimes you’ll see her referred to as Ukrainian.
Her full name is Anna Andreyevna Gorenko, but she is better known by her pen name Anna Akhmatova. Her pen name comes from their family lore of a maternal ancestor, Khan Akhmat, who was a Tatar chieftain and is believed to have been a descendant of Genghis Khan.
Her poetic work has significant range, from short lyric poems up to intricately structured cycles. Her style was considered strikingly original and very distinct form her contemporaries, especially with her use of restraint. She was considered an icon of both noble beauty and catastrophic predicament.
Anna lived in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era. Much of her work was condemned and censored by Stalinist authorities. However, she choose to remain in the Soviet Union and act as a witness to the historical events.
Unfortunately, many written records were destroyed during the Soviet regime, especially of those condemned by Stalinist authorities, and so there is very little information about her life.
4. Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
- 1892 – 1950
- American lyrical poet and playwright
- Won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
- Pseudonym: Nancy Boyd
Millay is one of the most respected and successful American poets, and notably, she was recognized throughout much of her life. However, she did write much of her work under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd.
She was also a well-known social figure, feminist, and was known for her progressive political views. She was also known for her riveting readings and performances, which garnered her even more attention as a poet. Within her work, she had both homo and hetero portrayals of sexuality and was known for her descriptions of the female experience.
In 1923, Millay won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (for her poem “Ballad of the Harp-Weaver”) and in 1943 she won the Frost Medal for her lifetime contribution to American poetry. She was the first woman and second person (ever) to win the Pulitzer for poetry.
In the 1930’s, modernist critics dismissed her work due to her use of traditional poetic forms. However, in the 1960’s and 70’s, interest in her work increased due to feminist literary criticism and feminist movements. She regained her reputation as being a highly gifted writer.
- You can find out more on:
- You can find two poems by her here on my website.
5. Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
- 1893 – 1967
- American poet, writer, critic, and satirist
Dorothy Parker was an American poet, writer, critic and satirist. She was known for her humour, through her wit, wisecracks and social commentary.
She rose to fame in the 1920’s, both from her work in magazines and as part of the social scene in New York City. She was an inaugural member of the board of editors at the magazine the New Yorker and frequently contributed her own writings. She was also a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. A group of writers, critics, actors, etc. that met together everyday for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City.
In 1926, Parker published “Enough Rope”, her first book of poetry that became a bestseller. You can access it for free here on the Gutenberg Project.
She also moved to Hollywood and worked as a screenwriter. She was nominated for two Academy Awards before being placed on the Hollywood blacklist. The films she worked on included:
- A Star is Born → for which they were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing—Screenplay (This is the original version of the 2018 movie starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.)
- Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman → together with Frank Cavett, she received a nomination for an Oscar for the screenplay in 1947
- Saboteur → a Hitchcock directed movie
Due to her left-wing politics (aka suspected of being a communist), Parker was placed on the Hollywood blacklist. Parker was listed as a communist in the “Red Channels” publication in 1950, which was an anti-communist document published by the right-wing journal Counterattack. Also, the FBI complied a large dossier on her (1,000 pages!) based on her suspected communist activities during the McCarthy era. She was also the chair of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee’s fundraising arm and help found the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League in 1936.
When she died (1967), she willed her estate to Martin Luther King Jr., and upon his death in 1968, it was then given to the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
- You can find out more on:
- You can access some of her work for free on the Gutenberg Project website. Only some of her work has reached the end of the 95-year copyright protection as she published work across several decades (the 1920-60s).
- You can find an excerpt by her here and quotes by her here on my website.
All these women seem like powerhouses. They were all known for being disrupters and social justice advocates.
I hope you’re learned something new and maybe discovered a new poet to read.
I think it’s incredible to see how influential these women were and to learn about their lives outside of just being a poet.
Have you read any of these poets’ work?
Who would you add to this list of classic women poets?
I would love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.