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.

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?