Cecil Day-Lewis

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Living in Time : The Poetry of C. Day Lewis
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Cecil Day Lewis

Poet Laureate and Greenwich resident.

Anglo-Irish poet, critic, and educator. Cecil Day-Lewis was appointed Poet Laureate in 1968 and also gained fame as detective story writer under the name Nicholas Blake. He was married twice and fathered five children, one of whom is Academy Award-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis.

Day-Lewis was born at Ballintubbert, Queen's county (now county Laois), Ireland. His father was a Protestant clergyman. After his mother died he was brought up in London by his father, with the help of an aunt. Day-Lewis graduated from Wadham College, Oxford, in 1927. In Oxford he became part of the circle gathered around W.H. Auden and helped him to edit Oxford Poetry 1927. His own first collection of poems, BEECHEN VIRGIL, appeared in 1925

In his youth Day-Lewis adopted communist views but after the late 1930s he gradually became disillusioned. He married in 1928 Mary King, the daughter of a Sherborne master, and worked as a schoolmaster on three schools. In 1935 Day-Lewis decided to supplement his income from poetry by writing a detective novel and created Nigel Strangeways, the hero of sixteen of his twenty books. The first novel, A QUESTION OF PROOF, written under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake, was followed by nineteen more crime novels. From the mid-1930s Day-Lewis was able to earn his living by writing.

By the end of the decade Day-Lewis lived in Devon. He had published several collections of poems, under the influence of Auden, among others FROM FEATHERS TO IRON (1932) and COLLECTED POEMS (1935) and A TIME TO DANCE AND OTHER POEMS (1935). From 1941 he worked at the Ministry of Information as an editor in the publication department. At the end of the war he joined the firm Chatto & Windus as a director and senior editor.

In WORD OVER ALL (1943) Day-Lewis distanced him from Auden and reached his full stature as a poet. The poems reflected also his personal life, an affair which resulted in a son, and the relationship with the novelist Rosamund Lehmann.

In 1951 Day-Lewis married actress Jill Balcon, with whom he lived in a large Georgian house in Greenwich. He was professor of poetry at Oxford in 1951-56, and lecturer in the 1950s and 1960 at several universities.

In succession to John Masefield he was appointed Poet Laureate in 1968. Day-Lewis was also chairman of the Arts Council Literature Panel, vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature, Honorary Member of American Academy, Member of Irish Academy of Letters. Day-Lewis died on May 22, 1972, in the Hertfordshire home of Kingsley Amis and Elisabeth Jane Howard, where he and his wife were staying.   A great admirer of Thomas Hardy, he had arranged that he should be buried as close as possible to the author's grave in Stinsford churchyard.


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