The Blagger's Guide To: Cecil Day-Lewis

The Poet Laureate, political activist and Casanova

The papers of the former poet laureate Cecil Day-Lewis have been donated to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The stash of some 54 boxes, containing essays, drafts of poems and letters from many eminent 20th-century figures, were presented to the university on Tuesday by his children, the actor Daniel and the cookery writer Tamasin. "If the manuscripts had ended up outside the country, it would have saddened us all as a family, as the poets who became papa's lifelong friends and peers all met up at Oxford as undergraduates," they said.

Day-Lewis was born in Ireland in 1904, the son of an Anglican vicar. The family moved to England the following year, but he would always consider himself Anglo-Irish, and Ireland is a recurring theme in his poems. After attending Sherborne School (with fellow Ireland-born poet Louis MacNeice), he read classics at Oxford, where he became a close friend of WH Auden, helping him to edit the 1927 edition of the literary magazine Oxford Poetry. With Stephen Spender, they would become known as the Thirties Poets, a group of politicised left-wing writers; rival poet Roy Campbell lumped them all together as MacSpaunday. Day-Lewis was a member of the Communist Party for three years and was the most politically active of the group.

In 1928, he married Constance Mary King, the daughter of a teacher at his old school. He had two children with her and worked as a schoolmaster. Tall and handsome, he was much sought after, and, during the 1940s, had an affair with the novelist Rosamond Lehmann. Torn between two women, he agonised over his double life in his poetry. In 1951, his first marriage dissolved, and he married the actress Jill Balcon, by whom he had Daniel and Tamasin.

In 1935, he wrote a crime novel under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake, to top up his income. It proved a hit, and he went on to write a further 19, most of them starring his gentleman detective, Nigel Strangeways.

After the war, when he worked for the Ministry of Information, he was asked to deliver the Clark lectures at Cambridge. In one, he pondered whether an advert for shoes qualified as poetic imagery: "Midsummer flooding the fields with flowers! Oh the bliss of the sun-filled hours when foot-forgotten in Panda shoe, you dream along under cloudless blue!" He concluded it didn't, as it had "no emotion, no passion".

From 1951, he taught poetry at Oxford; then, in 1962, moved to Harvard. In 1968, upon the death of John Masefield, he was appointed Poet Laureate, but he held the post for only four years. In 1972, he died of pancreatic cancer while staying with Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard at their home in Hertfordshire. She had also been his lover, once saying, "I would defy any woman to resist him."

Unusually, Day-Lewis is not commemorated in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey, an honour typically bestowed on the Poet Laureate. The reason is not clear, but abbey authorities at the time were thought to have disapproved of his highly political writings from the 1930s. Instead, he is buried in Stinsford, in the same churchyard as Thomas Hardy, whom he asked to lie as close as possible.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent