Poets University [infographic]

Do you want to make it as a poet? Do you see yourself as the next William Wordsworth? Are you inspired by the likes of Ezra Pound and Sylvia Plath? If so, you might want to replicate how your favourite poet started out. Did you know, for example, that Theodore Roethke went to the University of Michigan? Or, that Gerard Manley Hopkins studied classics at Balliol College in Oxford? Of course, this is not a guaranteed route to success, but getting an education is important, and there are plenty of courses available today to help you hone your skills. Below, we are going to take a look at where some of the most famous poets were educated in further detail.

Where did your favourite poet study?

If you take a look at our infographic, you will note that we have used our research to come up with two “top 10s” – the first is the top ten education spots for poets listed by institution, and the second is the top education spots for poets listed by city. Underneath here, you will find our “bonus data” section where the top 25 education cities and institutions attended by poets are listed. You can click on each one for further information about the poets and their education.

Poets University

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There are some interesting findings if you compare the two rankings against one another. For example, the number one spot in terms of institution is Harvard University, but the number one city is Oxford, in the UK. This is probably because there are more options in Oxford as a whole. If you take a look at the top ten institutions, you will note that Balliol College is number four, and Merton College is number eight, both of which are in Oxford. Also, Oxford University is older, being established around 1096, while Harvard began its operation over 500 years later, in 1636.

So, who started their poetry career in the popular city of Oxford? Gerard Manley Hopkins, deemed “the most original poet of the Victorian age” by literary critic Sir Christopher Bruce Ricks, studied at Balliol College. He took a course in ‘classics’, yet this is also the time in his life when he started to become a prolific poet. Robert Southey, Matthew Arnold, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and Hilaire Belloc also attended Balliol College. “Balliol made me, Balliol fed me/ Whatever I had she gave me again” is one of Belloc’s verses. He obtained first-class honours in History. The college may not have had such a profound impact on Southey, however, as he claimed that all he learned how to do was a little boating and a little swimming.

What about the other education institutions in Oxford? Thomas Carew, Louis MacNeice, and Keith Douglas attended Merton College. MacNeice also studied at the University of Oxford, as did Edward FitzGerald and Robert Graves. Interestingly, Edward FitzGerald studied Persian literature at the University of Oxford. Robert Graves took an English Language and Literature course, as a lot of budding poets still do today.

Thirteen poets attended Harvard University from our database, including Countee Cullen, Delmore Schwartz, Wallace Stevens, Theodore Roethke, Robert Frost, and James Russell Lowell. Although, the latter has admitted that he wasn’t a very good student, stating that he did nothing throughout Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, or Senior year. He contributed poetry and prose to the Harvardiana literary magazine in his final year, although he stated that this was not of a great quality. But, don’t let this trick you into thinking you can get by at university by doing nothing!

Wallace Steven’s attendance at Harvard led to him forging a career as a journalist in the early days. He went to the university as a non-degree special student, which many attribute to the fact that his father was a prosperous lawyer. Countee Cullen did a masters degree in English at Harvard University; he had previously studied at New York University, where he won second prize in the Witter Bynner poetry competition for undergraduates. Delmore Schwartz also attended Harvard University as a graduate, undertaking some philosophy work. Interestingly, he had previously graduated from New York University as well.

Another education institution that is worth a mention is Trinity College, in Cambridge, as seven poets went here. This includes some notable names, such as George Herbert, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Aleister Crowley, Andrew Marvell, and Alan Alexander Milne. The latter actually took a mathematics degree, which is an unusual route for a poet. Alfred Lord Tennyson won the Chancellor’s Gold Medal while at Trinity College for “Timbuktu”, which was one of his first pieces. Aleister Crowley studied philosophy at Cambridge, but he spent a lot of time embracing his love for poetry – the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley in particular.


One interesting point worth noting from this study is that women aren’t covered in the rankings. This is something you may have noticed from the names mentioned above. The reason for this is because education was harder for women to get in the past, plus they went to all female colleges.

We’ve got some examples for you to illustrate this point. Famous British poet Kathleen Raine studied in Cambridge at Girton College in 1924. However, it would be another 52 years until Girton College became co-educational. In fact, it was the first of Cambridge University’s women’s colleges to become so.

We then have Gertrude Stein who attended Radcliffe College, in Cambridge in the US. She studied psychology here from 1893 to 1897. Elizabeth Bishop and Edna St Vincent Millay went to New York’s Vassar College in the early 20th century.

Finally, both Elizabeth Jennings and Vera Brittain went to college in Oxford, enhancing its reputation as one of the most popular places where poets have studied. Jennings went to St Anne’s College and Brittain attended Somerville College. The population at Somerville College nowadays is 50/50 male and female. St Anne’s, like all the others, became coeducational, in 1979.

Poetry at University

Studying poetry and poetry alone at university isn’t the traditional route in. As you will have gathered from the research conducted, a lot of poets studied philosophy or English language and literature, and then naturally progressed into poetry. There are creative writing courses as well. Anything in this field works well, and you can always look at specialising in poetry, or, if that is not possible, you can take poetry courses on the side.

The great thing about taking a writing course at university is that you will not only hone your talents, but you will make some great contacts for the future, as you will no doubt have classes with agents, publishers, and published writers. And while you are busy embracing a number of different writing styles, you may find that you have skills in an area you never even realised.

So, let’s end by taking a look at some of the course options that are available to you at these colleges and universities. There are various poetry courses at Harvard University, including a number of free online courses, such as “Poetry in America: Modernism”, “Poetry in America: The Civil War and Its Aftermath”, and “Poetry in America: Emily Dickinson.” One of the paid courses that can be taken at Harvard University is “American Poetry from the Mayflower through Emerson”.

As you will see, Boston, Massachusetts, is number nine on the infographic for top education cities for poetry, and there are a number of free online courses available at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This includes “Studies in Poetry: 20th Century Irish Poetry: The Shadow of W. B. Yeats”, “Studies in Poetry – British Poetry and the Sciences of the Mind,” “Major Poets”, and “Literary Interpretation: Beyond the Limits of the Lyric”.

The University of Oxford has numerous choices available as well, including their online course “Writing Poetry”, which covers everything from lyric poetry and the sonnet, to syllabic verse and figurative language. There is also the “Reading and Writing Poetry” courses for those who wish to attend the university in person. A lot of this course options are ideal to do as an add-on to your current degree, which is the approach many people prefer to take.

Perhaps you have a completely different interest? Maybe you want to study medicine? No matter whether you want to go to law school or you want a career in engineering, don’t fear that your writing is going to suffer. There is no such thing as reading too widely. As many poets have stated over the years, your poetry will be enriched by all types of knowledge – from nursing to science.

Just think – if every poet read the same book, how dull would poetry be? Do the degree that is right for you, and you can always take a course in poetry on the side. With online study options, it’s even easier to learn, allowing you to pursue your interest in poetry around your other studies!

Bonus data

Get more info, up to 25 institutions and cities data! Choose first how you want to browse information by clicking the “By institution” or “By city” buttons, and then navigate through the listings.

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