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 & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on The Crimson Field
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal