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A poet is someone who writes poetry. This is usually influenced by a cultural and intellectual tradition, and written in a specific language. Some consider the best poetry to be, to some extent, timeless, and to address issues common to all humanity; others are more absorbed by its particular and ephemeral qualities.

In the English language, poets generally considered to be of the most influential and profound include Chaucer, William Shakespeare, John Milton, Wordsworth, John Keats, W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. American poet Walt Whitman was one of the first poets to write a kind of poetry now called free verse, though French poet Jules Laforgue was also writing in free verse around the same time as Whitman. Free verse differed from traditional verse because it was not bound by rhyme or meter. In the Western tradition, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Fernando Pessoa and Goethe round out a basic list. In Chinese, Li Bai, Du Fu and other Tang dynasty poets produced some of the oldest poetry in the world, which is still read today. Basho and Omar Khayyám complete one defensible canon. As the very definition of a canon is political and personal, and the notion of poetry itself is fluid and subject to change, complete objectivity is impossible. Relying on numerous inclusionist lists is a possible, partial solution.

[edit] Poets and society

Perhaps no other occupation demands so much thought for so little output. In the Japanese haiku tradition involves production of seventeen syllable poems. Even in other traditions including thousand-line poems, a poet's total lifetime output might fill only two or three volumes. For this reason, poets occupy a peculiar position in society, even when compared to other artists, tending to reside on the fringes of their culture. Even poets who have achieved prominence within their tradition can remain completely unknown in the world at large.

In the past, bards of remarkable skill might be maintained by a lord or by royalty as part of the artistic coterie at court. Away from the refinement of court, wandering troubadours would have brought their romantic, bawdy chansons from town to town, supporting themselves by passing the hat.

In the east, poets were similarly maintained by royal patronage, and those of high birth were expected to develop this skill alongside many others. Within the tradition of Japanese chivalry, bushido, Japanese knights, known as samurai, were expected to become poets only once: right before death. Thus, the tradition of love poems does not exist in Japan, but the quantity and quality of death poems is renowned.

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