The South Transept is lit by a large rose window, with glass dating from 1902. Beneath it, in the angles above the right and left arches, are two of the finest medieval carvings in the Abbey, depicting censing angels. In addition to the many monuments, there are two fine late thirteenth-century wall paintings, uncovered in 1936, to be seen by the door leading to St. Faith's Chapel. They depict Christ showing his wounds to Doubting Thomas, and St. Christopher. At one time the south wall supported the dorter staircase, used by monks going from their dormitory to the Choir for their night offices. No sign of the staircase exists but if you look inside St. Faith's chapel you will see the passage leading to the staircase.
"The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living" - Epitaph on the memorial to T.S.Eliot.
One of the best known parts of Westminster Abbey, Poets' Corner can be found in the South Transept. It was not originally designated as the burial place of writers, playwrights and poets; the first poet to be buried here, Geoffrey Chaucer, was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey because he had been Clerk of Works to the palace of Westminster, not because he had written the Canterbury Tales.
Over 150 years later, during the flowering of English literature in the sixteenth century, a more magnificent tomb was erected to Chaucer by Nicholas Brigham and in 1599 Edmund Spenser was laid to rest nearby. These two tombs began a tradition which developed over succeeding centuries.
Burial or commemoration in the Abbey did not always occur at or soon after the time of death. Lord Byron, for example, whose lifestyle caused a scandal although his poetry was much admired, died in 1824 but was finally given a memorial only in 1969. Even Shakespeare, buried at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1616, had to wait until 1740 before a monument, designed by William Kent, appeared in Poets' Corner.
Other poets and writers, well known in their day, have now vanished into obscurity, with only their monuments to show that they were once famous.
Conversely, many whose writings are still appreciated today have never been memorialised in Poets' Corner, although the reason may not always be clear.
Some of the most famous to lie here, include the poets John Dryden, Tennyson, Robert Browning and John Masefield. Many writers, including William Camden, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy are also buried here.
Charles Dickens's grave attracts particular interest. As a writer who drew attention to the hardships borne by the socially deprived and who advocated the abolition of the slave trade, he won enduring fame and gratitude and today, more than 110 years later, a wreath is still laid on his tomb on the anniversary of his death each year.
Those who have memorials here, although they are buried elsewhere, include the poets John Milton, William Wordsworth, Thomas Gray, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Burns, William Blake, T.S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Writers such as Samuel Butler, Jane Austen, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir Walter Scott, John Ruskin, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, Henry James and Sir John Betjeman have also been given memorials here.
Not all those buried in the South Transept are poets or writers. Several of Westminster's former Deans and Canons lie here. Also buried here is Thomas Parr, who was said to have died at the age of 152 in 1635 after having seen ten sovereigns on the throne during his long life.
Arnold, Thomas (memorial in n.w.tower chapel)
Atkyns, Sir Robert
Auden, Wystan Hugh
Betjeman, Sir John, Poet Laureate
Bronte, Anne, Charlotte and Emily
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett
Bunyan, John (memorial window, north transept)
Burney, Fanny, Mme. D’Arblay
Carroll, Lewis (Charles L.Dodgson)
Churchill, Winston (memorial in the nave)
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
Coward, Sir Noel (memorial in south choir aisle)
Cowper, William (memorial window, St George’s chapel)
Curzon, Lord (memorial in Henry VII chapel)
Disraeli, Benjamin (statue in north transept)
Eliot, George (Mary Ann Evans)
Fox, Henry Vassal (memorial in n.w.tower chapel)
Gordon, Adam Lindsay
Herbert, George (memorial window, St George’s chapel)
Hopkins, Gerard Manley
Hughes, Ted, Poet Laureate
Kingsley, Charles (bust in St George’s chapel)
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth
Lowell, James Russell (memorial in Chapter House vestibule)
Lyte, Henry Francis (memorial south choir aisle)
Maitland, Frederick W.
Maurice, Frederic Denison (bust in St George’s chapel)
Scott, Sir Walter
Shadwell, Thomas, Poet Laureate
Shelley, Percy Bysshe
Southey, Robert, Poet Laureate
Thackeray, William Makepeace
Tyndale, William (memorial south choir aisle)
Watts, Isaac (memorial south choir aisle)
Wesley, John and Charles (memorial south choir aisle)
Wordsworth, William, Poet Laureate
Addison, Joseph (buried in Henry VII chapel)
Atterbury, Francis (buried in the nave)
Ayton, Sir Robert (buried in the south ambulatory)
Beaumont, Sir John (no marker)
Behn, Aphra (buried in the east cloister)
Brown, Tom (buried in the cloister, no marker)
Buckingham, George (Villiers), 2nd Duke of (buried Henry VII chapel)
Buckingham, John (Sheffield), Duke of (buried Henry VII chapel)
Cary, Henry Francis
Cavendish, Margaret and William (buried north transept)
Clarendon, Edward (Hyde), 1st Earl of (buried north ambulatory)
Congreve, William (buried nave)
D’Avenant, Sir William, Poet Laureate
Denham, Sir John
Dillon, Wentworth (location unknown, no marker)
Dryden, John, Poet Laureate
Fisher, Ambrose (buried in the cloister)
Hakluyt, Richard (no marker)
Hardy, Thomas (except his heart which is in Dorset)
Hawkins, Sir John (buried in the cloister)
Heylin, Peter (buried in the north choir aisle)
Howard, Sir Robert (buried St John the Baptist chapel)
Johnson, Dr Samuel
Jonson, Ben, Poet Laureate (buried nave)
Killigrew, Thomas (no marker)
King, William (buried in the cloister, no marker)
Lytton, Edward Bulwer (buried St Edmund’s chapel)
Macaulay, Thomas Babington
Masefield, John, Poet Laureate
Newton, Sir Isaac (buried in nave)
Rennell, James (buried in nave)
Rowe, Nicholas, Poet Laureate
St Denis, Charles de
Sheridan, Richard Brinsley
Spelman, Sir Henry (buried south ambulatory)
Spottiswoode, John (no marker)
Sprat, Thomas (buried St Nicholas’ chapel)
Stanley, Arthur Penrhyn (buried in Henry VII’s chapel)
Staplyton, Sir Robert (no marker)
Stepney, George (buried south choir aisle)
Temple, William and Dorothy (buried in nave)
Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, Poet Laureate
Thorndike, Herbert (buried in the cloister, no marker)
Trench, Richard Chenevix (buried in nave)
Ussher, James (buried St Paul’s chapel)
Vincent, William (buried St Benedict’s chapel)
Webb, Sidney and Beatrice (buried in nave)
Wharton, Henry (buried in the nave)
Copyright: Dean and Chapter of Westminster
See James Wilkinson Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey available from Westminster Abbey Bookshop.
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