Great People vs. Good People — Which is better?

Can you be both? A case study in poets

Anonymous Bird
4 min readOct 16, 2022
Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash


For this epiphany (and subsequent rumination), I have the poets to thank. Not because of their poetry, but just how terrible their lives were.

Enticed by Amazon’s Early Access Sale for Prime members, I bought a copy of A Little History of Poetry by John Carey (an Emeritus Professor at Oxford University). My motivations for buying this book are simple: for better or for worse, I am doing an English degree.

The book takes us from poetry dating back 4000 years ago to the present day. However before Shakespeare even got a chance to show up, I had to close the book, take a breath, and reevaluate my life.

I, a self-professed poetry nerd, reading a book about poetry on a Friday night, and who very much wanted to be a poet (I blush), was struck by how absolutely awful many of these poets’ lives were.

Poets and their Piss-Poor Personalities

In my 21st century comfy slippers, I don’t have much right to judge the older olden day oldies for the problems they had, but many of these poets dealt with suffering that was mostly self-inflicted, or created more suffering just from the sheer nastiness of their…