someone who has won a prize for their achievements, especially a Nobel Prize
Origin and usage
The word laureate was first used in Late Middle English as an adjective, a use that survives today in the term ‘poet laureate‘. It comes from the Latin word ‘laureatus’ meaning ‘crowned with a laurel wreath’. The leaves of the bay tree (Laurus nobilis) woven into a crown were used as a mark of honour or victory in classical times.
The Yorkshire-born poet Simon Armitage has been appointed as the UK’s new Poet Laureate, succeeding Carol Ann Duffy, who was the first woman to hold the post in this country. While laureate is usually used nowadays as a noun to refer to someone who has won an important prize, in the term Poet Laureate it functions as an adjective, one of a select group that only ever occur after the noun (‘designate‘ is another). Armitage is the 21st person to hold the post, following in the illustrious footsteps of George Dryden, William Wordsworth and another Yorkshireman, Ted Hughes. The position of Poet Laureate used to be held for life but more recently has been limited to a period of ten years. While the role does not carry any specific duties, poet laureates are expected to work to increase appreciation and understanding of poetry and to produce verses for certain special occasions, a task some previous laureates have admitted to finding challenging. The post attracts a very modest salary and a barrel or butt of sherry, a tradition that had lapsed before being rekindled for the 17th laureate, John Betjeman.
“Prose fills a space, like a liquid poured in from the top, but poetry occupies it, arrays itself in formation, sets up camp and refuses to budge.”
(Simon Armitage, Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey)
“It’s never going to be very mainstream. One reason is that poetry requires concentration, both on the part of the writer and the reader. But it’s kind of unkillable, poetry. It’s our most ancient artform and I think it’s more relevant today than ever, because it’s one person saying what they really believe.”
bard, imbongi, poet