No other painting from Spitzweg today enjoys the kind of popularity like "The Poor Poet". The cliché of the poet who is centered only in the intellectual and shows no interest in material trappings is prototypically depicted here by Spitzweg: In a shabby attic room a poet lies on a mattress covered against the cold wearing a worn out jacket and a sleeping cap, holding up an umbrella against the dripping rainwater - working away diligently at his poem and apparently unaffected by the adverse conditions.
When the painting was first presented to the public at the Munich Kunstverein in 1839 it was criticized for its ironical portrayal of the poor poet. The painting was interpreted as being an attack against the idealization of the art of poetry as well as an attack again the general idealization of art, as it was primarily portrayed in academic history painting. In addition the often miserable conditions under which a large number of artists suffer are unambiguously shown, drawing attention to the question, often discussed by Spitzweg's contemporaries, of the rhyme and reason of an overflowing amount of mostly mediocre art: the work of the poet is stacked up near the oven as fuel.