Tag: Cecil Day Lewis

Epitaph for an enemy

Saturday, 27 April, 2019

The Anglo-Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) was born on this day in 1904. Along with being the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis, celebrity chef Tamasin Day-Lewis and critic Sean Day-Lewis, he was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972. “The poet’s inverted snobbery in dropping the hyphen in his name on his publications (beginning in 1927) has been a source of trouble for librarians and bibliographers ever since,” is how his biographer at the Poetry Foundation puts it.

Cecil Day-Lewis became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1935 and he practiced the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist faith until the early 1950s. He renounced it in 1960 and his detective story, The Sad Variety (1964), written using the pseudonym Nicholas Blake, is a derisive portrayal of doctrinaire communists and their role in the brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. While the works of his poetic friends Auden and Spender have endured the test of time, his own verse has faded. The visceral sentiment at the heart of Epitaph for an Enemy continues to pulsate, however.

Epitaph for an Enemy

You ask, “What sort of man
Was this?”
— No worthier than
A pendulum which makes
Between its left and right
Involuntary arcs
Proving from morn to night
No contact anywhere
With human or sublime —
A punctual tick
A mere accessory of Time

His leaden act was done
He stopped, and Time went on.

Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 – 1972)

The enemy


The wolves among us and around us

Sunday, 3 September, 2017 0 Comments

Homo homini lupus est is a Latin proverb meaning “A man is a wolf to another man.” And this truth is a lesson that life teaches again and again. The proverb’s wisdom is incorporated in Wolves, one of Louis MacNeice’s best-known poems. He wrote it in 1934 and it’s often viewed as a meditation on that dark decade and an expectation of the horrors that were to come, but treating Wolves merely as a relic of those days doesn’t do it justice because the idea of wolves lurking on the edges of civilization goes far deeper than any specific historical period. “He’d remind you of a wolf,” my mother would say when viewing a particularly lupine individual prowling past her front window.

Louis MacNeice was a Northern Irish poet and a member of the lyrical generation of that included W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Cecil Day-Lewis. Born in Belfast on 12 September 1907, he died in London on this day, 3 September, in 1963.

Wolves

I do not want to be reflective any more
Envying and despising unreflective things
Finding pathos in dogs and undeveloped handwriting
And young girls doing their hair and all the castles of sand
Flushed by the children’s bedtime, level with the shore.

The tide comes in and goes out again, I do not want
To be always stressing either its flux or its permanence,
I do not want to be a tragic or philosophic chorus
But to keep my eye only on the nearer future
And after that let the sea flow over us.

Come then all of you, come closer, form a circle,
Join hands and make believe that joined
Hands will keep away the wolves of water
Who howl along our coast. And be it assumed
That no one hears them among the talk and laughter.

Louis MacNeice (1907 – 1963)

Wolf


An epitaph for an enemy

Sunday, 22 May, 2016 0 Comments

The Anglo-Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis (or Day Lewis) died on this day in 1972. He was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 until his death in 1972, and the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis, celebrity chef Tamasin Day-Lewis and critic Sean Day-Lewis. “The poet’s inverted snobbery in dropping the hyphen in his name on his publications (beginning in 1927) has been a source of trouble for librarians and bibliographers ever since,” is how his biographer at the Poetry Foundation puts it.

Cecil Day-Lewis became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1935 and he adhered to its Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist line until the early 1950s. He renounced communism in 1960 in his autobiography, Buried Day, and his detective story, The Sad Variety (1964), is a contemptuous portrayal of doctrinaire communists and their role in the brutal suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. While the works of his poetic friends, Auden and Spender, have endured the test of time, his own verse has faded. The visceral sentiment at the heart of Epitaph for an Enemy continues to echo, however.

Epitaph for an Enemy

You ask, “What sort of man
Was this?”
— No worthier than
A pendulum which makes
Between its left and right
Involuntary arcs
Proving from morn to night
No contact anywhere
With human or sublime —
A punctual tick
A mere accessory of Time

His leaden act was done
He stopped, and Time went on.

Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 – 1972)

The enemy


The dreamy, liquid daybreak of Stephen Spender

Sunday, 28 February, 2016 0 Comments

On this day in 1909, Stephen Spender was born. A member of a generation of British poets who came to prominence in the 1930s, he counted W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Cecil Day Lewis and Louis MacNeice as contemporaries. Like many daring young intellectuals of the era, Spender became a member of the Communist party and was adventurous in his sexuality. His autobiographical World within World, published in 1951, created a commotion with the disclosure of a homosexual relationship he had had at the time of the Spanish Civil War, but the affair ended when Spender married.

When critic Helen Vendler compared Spender and Auden she concluded that no two poets could have been more different. “Auden’s rigid, brilliant, peremptory, categorizing, allegorical mind demanded forms altogether different from Spender’s dreamy, liquid, guilty, hovering sensibility,” she wrote, adding: “Auden is a poet of firmly historical time, Spender of timeless nostalgic space.” Daybreak is dreamy and timeless.

Daybreak

At dawn she lay with her profile at that angle
Which, when she sleeps, seems the carved face of an angel.
Her hair a harp, the hand of a breeze follows
And plays, against the white cloud of the pillows.
Then, in a flush of rose, she woke and her eyes that opened
Swam in blue through her rose flesh that dawned.
From her dew of lips, the drop of one word
Fell like the first of fountains: murmured
‘Darling’, upon my ears the song of the first bird.
‘My dream becomes my dream,’ she said, ‘come true.
I waken from you to my dream of you.’
Oh, my own wakened dream then dared assume
The audacity of her sleep. Our dreams
Poured into each other’s arms, like streams.

Stephen Spender (1909 – 1995)

Dawn