The great and good of the literary world are buried and are commemorated at the south transept of Westminster Abbey. This part of the Abbey is better known as Poet’s corner. The first poet to be interred here was Geoffrey Caucher. He held several positions in the King’s household and in 1399 was awarded the lease of a tenement in the garden of the Lady Chapel of Westminster Abbey, where he died in 1400. Still in favour with the Royal Court for his duties to King and country, Chaucer was granted a burial spot in this part of the Abbey. It was not until Edmond Spencer was buried close to Chaucer in 1598, that the concept of poets’ corner began to take place. The poet William Mason raised a subscription to pay for a marble memorial to be erected to Spenser near Chaucer’s tomb. It reads:
“Here close to Chaucer lies Spencer; Nearest to him in genius, so nearest to him in burial. Here near Chaucer, O poet Spencer, you will join a poet, even closer to him in your verse than in your tomb, While you were living, English poesy lived and clapped her hands, now at the point of death, you dying, she fears to die.”
Spencer was later followed by Michael Drayton, Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare and John Dryden, among many others. Ben Jonson was buried standing up because of a lack of funds to pay for his tomb. His thigh bone, it has been said, was exposed twice during the nineteenth century causing quite a stir! In 2011 a memorial stone to Ted Hughes was unveiled in the Abbey and close to his mentor T.S Eliot.
In Westminster Abbey
By John Betjeman
Let me take this other glove off
As the vox humana swells,
And the beauteous fields of Eden
Bask beneath the Abbey bells.
Here, where England’s statesmen lie,
Listen to a lady’s cry.
Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans,
Spare their women for Thy Sake,
And if that is not too easy
We will pardon Thy Mistake.
But, gracious Lord, whate’er shall be,
Don’t let anyone bomb me.
Keep our Empire undismembered
Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
Honduras and Togoland;
Protect them Lord in all their fights,
And, even more, protect the whites.
Think of what our Nation stands for,
Books from Boots’ and country lanes,
Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
Democracy and proper drains.
Lord, put beneath Thy special care
One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square.
Although dear Lord I am a sinner,
I have done no major crime;
Now I’ll come to Evening Service
Whensoever I have the time.
So, Lord, reserve for me a crown,
And do not let my shares go down.
I will labour for Thy Kingdom,
Help our lads to win the war,
Send white feathers to the cowards
Join the Women’s Army Corps,
Then wash the steps around Thy Throne
In the Eternal Safety Zone.
Now I feel a little better,
What a treat to hear Thy Word,
Where the bones of leading statesmen
Have so often been interr’d.
And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait
Because I have a luncheon date.
A Dead Statesman
By Rudyard Kipling
I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?
By John Clare
I ne’er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet,
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale as deadly pale,
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked, what could I ail?
My life and all seemed turned to clay.
And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away,
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start—
They spoke as chords do from the string,
And blood burnt round my heart.
Are flowers the winter’s choice?
Is love’s bed always snow?
She seemed to hear my silent voice,
Not love’s appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more.
Two Sides of War
By Grantland Rice
All wars are planned by older men
In council rooms apart,
Who call for greater armament
And map the battle chart.
But out along the shattered field
Where golden dreams turn gray,
How very young the faces were
Where all the dead men lay.
Portly and solemn in their pride,
The elders cast their vote
For this or that, or something else,
That sounds the martial note.
But where their sightless eyes stare out
Beyond life’s vanished toys,
I’ve noticed nearly all the dead
Were hardly more than boys