No one could envy Ted Hughes’s admission to Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey’s chaotic rockery of memorials.http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/8938472/Ted-Hughes-memorial-Poets-Corner-is-a-white-elephants-graveyard.html
Photo: NILS JORGENSEN / REX
What a mess the floor of Poets’ Corner looks, with its new memorial slab to Ted Hughes. The letter-cutter Ronald Parsons has made a good job of the inscription on slate, but the greenish stone is shoved into a jumble of floor memorials that scream at each other. Notably crass is the neighbouring slab to Edward Lear, depicted in a brown and white cameo wearing rather postmodern spectacles.
It is no wonder that there are plenty of well-forgotten poets memorialised in this preposterous corner that is forever England at its silliest. Not just poets, either, for here is Sir John Pringle, not the maker of golfing jerseys, but a nutcracker-faced military physician who was sacked as President of the Royal Society for disagreeing with King George III about the best shape for lightning-conductors. (The king insisted rounded ends were best.) Pringle, remarks his biographer laconically, “had no liking for poetry”.
So who is this poet over here, commemorated by a carving of a deer with an arrow through its neck? No poet at all, but Thomas Triplet, described by some as a philanthropist, but better remembered as the schoolmaster whose career wobbled in 1662 when he kicked downstairs a boy called George Ent. The boy survived and became a poet of sorts, though he is not commemorated in Westminster Abbey.
If Pringle and Triplet are hardly household names, what of the glorious dead who were poets? Thomas Shadwell’s name for one is familiar, if not as familiar as Shadwell the station between Wapping and Whitechapel. Like Ted Hughes, he was poet laureate. Can you quote any line he wrote? Or name any one of his plays?
If Shadwell is remembered, it is as the butt of Dryden’s satire Mac Flecknoe. There, he is the heir to the kingdom of Nonsense: “The rest to some faint meaning make pretence, /But Shadwell never deviates into sense.” The poem describes his solemn crowning with poppies as tokens of his dullness. In a striking example of life imitating art, Shadwell died of an overdose of comforting opium.