Cecil Day-Lewis

Cecil Day-Lewis (1904-1972). Courtesy Wikipedia.

Cecil Day-Lewis
Born 27 April 1904 (Template:Four digit-04-27)
Ballintubbert, Co. Laois, Ireland
Died 22 May 1972 (Template:Four digit-05-23) (aged 68)
Hadley Wood, Hertfordshire, England
Pen name Nicholas Blake
Occupation Poet, Novelist
Spouse(s) Constance Mary King (1928-1951)
Jill Balcon (1951-1972)
Children Tamasin Day-Lewis (b. 1953)
Daniel Day-Lewis (b. 1957)
Sean Day-Lewis (b. 1931)
Nicholas Day-Lewis (b. 1934)

Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) CBE (27 April 1904 - 22 May 1972) was an Irish-born English poet who served as Poet Laureate He also wrote mystery stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake.


Day-Lewis was born in Ballintubbert, County Laoise, Ireland. He was the son of the Reverend Frank Cecil Day-Lewis (December 1872 - 19 April 1938) and Kathleen Squires. After Day-Lewis's mother died in 1906, he was brought up in London by his father, with the help of an aunt, spending summer holidays with relatives in Wexford. Day-Lewis continued to regard himself as Anglo-Irish for the remainder of his life, though after the declaration of the Republic of Ireland in 1948 he chose British rather than Irish citizenship, on the grounds that 1940 had taught him where his deepest roots lay.(Citation needed) He was educated at Sherborne School and at Wadham College, Oxford, from which he graduated in 1927.

In 1928 he married Mary King, the daughter of a Sherborne master (i.e. teacher), and worked as a schoolmaster in three schools.[1] During the 1940s he had a long and troubled love affair with the novelist Rosamond Lehmann. His second marriage was to actress Jill Balcon.

Flirtation with CommunismEdit

In his youth Day-Lewis adopted communist views, becoming a member of the Communist party from 1935 to 1938, and his early poetry was marked by didacticism and a preoccupation with social themes.[2] In 1937 he edited The Mind in Chains: Socialism and the Cultural Revolution. In the introduction he supported a popular front against a "Capitalism that has no further use for culture". He explains that the title refers to Prometheus bound by his chains, quotes Shelly's preface to Prometheus Unbound and says the contributors believe that "the Promethean fire of enlightenment, which should be given for the benefit of mankind at large, is being used at present to stoke up the furnaces of private profit". The contributors were: Rex Warner, Edward Upward, Arthur Calder-Marshall, Barbara Nixon, Anthony Blunt, Alan Bush, Charles Madge, Alistair Brown, J. D. Bernal, T.A.Jackson and Edgell Rickword. After the late 1930s he gradually became disillusioned with communism.[1] Among his works is his autobiography, Buried Day (1960), in which he renounces his communist views,[3] while his detective story The Sad Variety (1964) contains a scathing portrayal of doctrinaire communists, the repression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, and the ruthless tactics of Soviet intelligence agents.

World War II and afterEdit

During the Second World War he worked as a publications editor in the Ministry of Information, an institution satirised by George Orwell in his dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four, but equally based on Orwell's experience of the BBC.

After the war he joined the publisher Chatto & Windus as a director and senior editor. In 1946 Day-Lewis was a lecturer at Cambridge University, publishing his lectures in The Poetic Image (1947). In 1951 he married the actress Jill Balcon, daughter of Michael Balcon. He later taught poetry at Oxford, where he was Professor of Poetry from 1951-1956.[1] From 1962-1963 Day-Lewis was the Norton Professor at Harvard University.

Day-Lewis's 2 marriages yielded 4 children,[4] including Academy Award-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis, food writer and journalist Tamasin Day-Lewis, and TV critic and writer Sean Day-Lewis, who wrote a biography of his father, C. Day Lewis: An English Literary Life (1980).

Cecil Day Lewis headstone, geograph

Cecil Day-Lewis's gravestone, Stinsford, Dorset, UK, 2006. Photo by Caroline Tandy. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy

Day-Lewis was chairman of the Arts Council Literature Panel, vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature, an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Member of the Irish Academy of Letters and a professor of rhetoric at Gresham College, London.

Day-Lewis died from pancreatic cancer on 22 May 1972 in the Hertfordshire home of Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard, where he and his wife were staying. He was a great admirer of Thomas Hardy, and he had arranged to be buried as close as possible to the author's grave in Stinsford churchyard.[1] His epitaph reads: "Shall I be gone long? / For ever and a day / To whom there belong? / Ask the stone to say / Ask my song"


In Oxford, Day-Lewis became part of the circle gathered around W.H. Auden and helped him to edit Oxford Poetry 1927. His first collection of poems, Beechen Vigil, appeared in 1925.[1] During the Second World War his work was now no longer so influenced by Auden and he was developing a more traditional style of lyricism. Some critics believe that he reached his full stature as a poet in Word Over All (1943), when he finally distanced himself from Auden.[5]

Nicholas BlakeEdit

In 1935, Day-Lewis decided to supplement his income from poetry by writing a detective novel, A Question of Proof, in which he created Nigel Strangeways, an amateur investigator and gentleman detective who, as the nephew of an Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard, has the same access to, and good relations with, official crime investigation bodies as those enjoyed by other fictional sleuths such as Ellery Queen, Philo Vance and Lord Peter Wimsey.[6] This was followed by nineteen more crime novels. (In the first Nigel Strangeways novel, the detective is modeled on Auden, but Strangeways becomes a far less extravagant and more serious figure in later novels.) From the mid-1930s Day-Lewis was able to earn his living by writing.[1] Four of the Blake novels - A Tangled Web, Penknife In My Heart, The Deadly Joker, The Private Wound - do not feature Strangeways.

Minute for Murder is set against the background of Day-Lewis's World War II experiences in the Ministry of Information. Head of a Traveler features as a principal character a well-known poet, currently frustrated and blocked from writing, whose best poetic days are long behind him; the reader is free to speculate whether the author is describing himself, one of his colleagues, or has entirely invented the character.


He was appointed Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom in 1968, in succession to John Masefield.



  • Beechen Vigil, and other poems. Fortune Press, 1925.
  • Country Comets, 1928.
  • Transitional Poem. Hogarth, 1929.
  • From Feathers to Iron. Hogarth, 1932.
  • The Magnetic Mountain. Hogarth, 1933.
  • Collected Poems, 1929-1933. Hogarth, 1935; 2nd edition, 1945.
    • Collected Poems, 1929-1933 [&] A Hope For Poetry. Random House, 1935.
  • A Time to Dance, and other poems. Hogarth, 1935.
    • A Time to Dance; Noah and the Waters, [and] Revolution in Writing, Random House, 1936.
  • Overtures to Death, and other poems. London: Cape, 1938.
  • Poems in Wartime. London: Cape, 1940.
  • Selected Poems. Hogarth, 1940
  • Word Over All. London: Cape, 1943; Transatlantic, 1944.
  • Short is the Time: Poems, 1936-1943 (previously published as Overtures to Death, and other poems and Word Over All). New York: Oxford University Press, 1945.
  • Collected Poems, 1929-1936. Hogarth, 1948.
  • Poems, 1943-1947. Oxford University Press, 1948.
  • An Italian Visit (narrative poem). Harper, 1953.
  • Collected Poems. London: Cape, 1954
    • published as Collected Poems, 1954, 1970.
  • Pegasus, and other poems. London: Cape, 1957, Harper, 1958.
  • The Newborn: D.M.B., 29th April, 1957. Favil Press of Kensington, 1957.
  • The Gate, and other poems. London: Cape, 1962.
  • Requiem for the Living. Harper, 1964.
  • On Not Saying Anything. privately printed, 1964.
  • The Room, and other poems. London: Cape, 1965.
  • A Marriage Song for Albert and Barbara. privately printed, 1965.
  • Selected Poems. Harper, 1967
    • revised edition, Penguin, 1969.
  • Selections from His Poetry (edited by Patric Dickinson). London: Chatto & Windus, 1967.
  • The Abbey That Refused to Die: A poem. Ballintubber Abbey, 1967.
  • The Whispering Roots, and other poems. Harper, 1970
    • published in UK as The Whispering Roots. London: Cape, 1970.
  • The Poems of C. Day Lewis (edited by Ian Parson). London: Cape, 1970.
  • Posthumous Poems (leather bound facsimiles), (introduction by Jill Balcon). Andoversford, England: Whittington Press, 1979.
  • The Complete Poems. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.


  • Noah and the Waters (modern morality play). London: Hogarth, 1936.


  • The Friendly Tree. London: Cape, 1936; New York: Harper, 1937.
  • Starting Point. London: Cape, 1937; New York: Harper, 1938.
  • Child of Misfortune. London: Cape, 1939.

As "Nicholas Blake"Edit

  • A Question of Proof. Harper, 1935.
  • Shell of Death. Harper, 1936 (
    • published in England as Thou Shell of Death. Collins, 1936).
  • There's Trouble Brewing. Harper, 1937.
  • The Beast Must Die. Harper, 1938.
  • The Smiler With the Knife. Harper, 1939.
  • The Summer Camp Mystery. Harper, 1940
    • published in UK as Malice in Wonderland. Collins, 1940
    • American paperback edition published as Malice with Murder
  • The Corpse in the Snowman, Harper, 1941
    • published in England as The Case of the Abominable Snowman. Collins, 1941.
  • Minute for Murder. Harper, 1947.
  • Head of a Traveler. Harper, 1949.
  • The Dreadful Hollow. Harper, 1953.
  • The Whisper in the Gloom. Harper, 1954
    • also published as Catch and Kill
  • A Tangled Web. Harper, 1956
    • also published as Death and Daisy Bland
  • End of Chapter. Harper, 1957.
  • A Penknife in My Heart. Collins, 1958, Harper, 1959.
  • The Widow's Cruise. Harper, 1959.
  • The Worm of Death. Harper, 1961.
  • The Deadly Joker. Collins, 1963.
  • The Sad Variety. Harper, 1964.
  • The Morning after Death. Collins, 1966.
  • The Nicholas Blake Omnibus. Collins, 1966.
  • The Private Wound. Harper, 1968.


  • A Hope for Poetry (criticism). Basil Blackwell, 1934
    • reprinted with a postscript, Folcroft, 1969.
  • Revolution in Writing (commentary). Hogarth, 1935.
  • We're Not Going to Do Nothing (commentary). Left Review, 1936.
  • Imagination and Thinking (with L.S. Stebbing). Life and Leisure, 1936.
  • The Poetic Image (criticism). Oxford University Press, 1947.
  • Enjoying Poetry. Cambridge University Press for National Book League, 1947.
  • The Colloquial Element in English Poetry (criticism). Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1947.
  • The Poet's Task (criticism). Clarendon Press, 1951.
  • The Grand Manner (criticism), University of Nottingham, 1952.
  • The Lyrical Poetry of Thomas Hardy (criticism). Oxford University Press, 1953; Folcroft, 1970.
  • Christmas Eve. Faber, 1954.
  • Notable Images of Virtue: Emily Bronte, George Meredith, W. B. Yeats. Ryerson, 1954.
  • The Poet's Way of Knowledge. Cambridge University Press, 1957.
  • The Buried Day (autobiography). Harper, 1960.
  • The Lyric Impulse (Charles Eliot Norton lectures). Harvard University Press, 1965.
  • Thomas Hardy (with R.A. Scott-James) (criticism). Longman, 1965.
  • A Need for Poetry? University of Hull, 1968.
  • On Translating Poetry: A lecture. Abbey Press, 1970.
  • Going My Way. [London], 1970.


  • Dick Willoughby (fiction). Basil Blackwell, 1933; Random House, 1938.
  • Poetry for You: A book for boys and girls on the enjoyment of poetry. Basil Blackwell, 1944; New York: Oxford University Press, 1947.
  • The Otterbury Incident (adaptation of the French film Nous le gosses, released in England as Us Kids). Putnam, 1948; reissued, 1963.


  • Virgil, Georgics. London: Cape, 1940.
  • Paul Valery, Le Cimetiere marin. Secker & Warburg, 1947.
  • Virgil, Aeneid. Oxford University Press, 1952; Doubleday Anchor, 1953.
  • Virgil, Eclogues. London: Cape, 1963.
  • Virgil, The Eclogues and Georgics. Doubleday Anchor, 1964
    • published in UK as The Eclogues, Georgics and Aeneid. Oxford University Press, 1966.
  • Erzsi Gazdas, The Tomtit in the Rain: Traditional Hungarian rhymes (With Matyas Sarkozi). London: Chatto & Windus, 1971.


  • Oxford Poetry (with W.H. Auden). Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1927-32.
  • The Mind in Chains: Socialism and the cultural cevolution. Muller, 1937; Folcroft, PA: Folcroft, 1972.
  • Ralph Fox: Writer in Arms (with John Lehmann, T.A. Jackson Fox, and Ralph Winston). International Publishers, 1937.
  • Anatomy of Oxford: An anthology (with Charles Fenby). Cape, 1938.
  • An Anthology of Modern Verse, 1920-1940 (also published as A New Anthology of Modern Verse, 1920-1940) (with L.A.G. Strong) Methuen, 1941.
  • The Echoing Green: An Anthology of Verse (3 volumes). Basil Blackwell, 1941-1943..
  • Orion(With others) Nicholson & Watson, Volume II, 1945, Volume III, 1946.
  • Francis T. Palgrave, The Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language. Collins, 1954.
  • The Chatto Book of Modern Poetry, 1915-1955 (edited with John Lehmann). Chatto & Windus, 1956.
  • Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Collins, 1956.
  • New Poems 1957 (with Kathleen Nott and Thomas Blackburn). M. Joseph, 1957.
  • Wilfred Owen, Collected Poems (amended edition; editor and author of introduction and notes). New Directions, 1954.
  • English Lyric Poems, 1500-1900. Appleton, 1961
    • published in England as A Book of English Lyrics. Chatto & Windus, 1961.
  • Edmund Charles Blunden, The Midnight Skaters: Poems for Young Readers (editor and author of introduction). Bodley Head, 1968.
  • The Poems of Robert Browning. Cambridge, UK: Limited Editions Club, 1969; Heritage Press, 1971.
  • A Choice of Keats's Verse. Faber, 1971.
  • George Crabbe, Crabbe. Penguin, 1973.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[7]

Audio / videoEdit

Cecil Day Lewis reads four of his poems05:23

Cecil Day Lewis reads four of his poems

  • C. Day Lewis: Reads from his own works (LP). New York: Carillon, 1961; New York: Decca, 1965.
  • The Voice and Pen of C. Day Lewis, Poet Laureate (LP). London: Saga, 1968.
  • The Poetry of C. Day Lewis (LP). New York: Spoken Arts, 1971.
  • C. Day Lewis (LP). London: Argo (British Poets of Our Time), 1973.
  • C. Day Lewis: A collection of his own poetry (cassette). Cheltenham, UK: Talking Tape, 1981.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[8]

See alsoEdit

Preceded by
Maurice Bowra
Oxford Professor of Poetry
Succeeded by
W.H. Auden

Preceded by
John Masefield
Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
John Betjeman


  • Sean Day-Lewis, Cecil Day-Lewis: An English literary life" (1980)
  • Alfred Gelpi, Living in Time: The poetry of C. Day Lewis (1998)
  • Peter Stanford, C Day-Lewis: A life (2007)


External linksEdit

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