It is often said that a good story is timeless, but the best literature can also provide an insight into the time and place in which it was created, specifically its values and attitudes. The period spanning the Dark Ages, Middle Ages, and Early Modern Period, in which some of the most important works of British Literature were written, has often been characterized in later periods as misogynistic, with women being seen as irrelevant or looked upon with loathing. But a closer examination of works from the first thousand years of British Literature shows that the position of women in the past was more complex than that. Seemingly insignificant characters, such as Queen Wealhtheow in Beowulf, can tell us a lot about the important role royal women played in Anglo-Saxon society, and mother monsters can tear that society apart. Depictions of sexualized women in High Medieval poetry can challenge the Madonna-Whore dichotomy and complicated female figures can be forces of creation or destructions in the works of some of England's greatest poets, Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton.
The poet and artist, William Blake, spent most of his life living in London, eaking out a living as an engraver. The London of Blake’s day was a dark, violent, and oppressive place where violence and exploitation of the poor and vulnerable, specifically child abuse, was rampant. In 1822, the British Parliament passed the Martin’s Act, which prohibited the cruel treatment of animals; legislation preventing cruelty towards children was not passed until much later. During Blake’s lifetime, you could buy three children from an orphanage or workhouse for the price of a horse. (Mayall) Poor and unwanted children were subject to appalling living and working conditions and beatings from both their employers and parents. Corporal punishment was a fixture of the British school system and would remain so until the 1990s. Much of Blake’s work addressed the issues of his day rather directly or indirectly and was inspired by his strong but unconventional religious and spiritual beliefs. In discussing the themes of innocence and experience, Blake gives a voice to the abused underclasses. (Martin 1)
My favorite book is Villette by Charlotte Bronte. It's one of the few novels of hers that was not adapted to a BBC miniseries. To be honest, I read a lot of the classics so I could guiltlessly watch their adaptations. It started with Wuthering Heights when I was 13 or so. At that age, I couldn't completely grasp the nuance, but its story impacted me (even after I realized how convoluted and hateable the characters were. Literally all of them.) Yeah, the book is pretty cheesy and outlandish.
Poetry is one of the rare genres of writing that seems to strike a nerve in almost everyone. It's fun to make, and it's also fun to read. That being said, there are millions of poets out in the world right now and very few of them actually make it to fame.
Most people can tell you about some of the greatest classical poets of all time. Most people should be able to tell you at least a little bit about the best writers of all time, especially when it comes to fields as important as poetry.