Authors: C. Day Lewis

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet and critic

Author Works


Beechen Vigil, and Other Poems, 1925

Country Comets, 1928

Transitional Poem, 1929

From Feathers to Iron, 1931

The Magnetic Mountain, 1933

Collected Poems, 1929-1933, 1935

A Time to Dance, and Other Poems, 1935

Overtures to Death, and Other Poems, 1938

Poems in Wartime, 1940

Selected Poems, 1940

Word over All, 1943

Short Is the Time: Poems, 1936-1943, 1945

Poems, 1943-1947, 1948

Collected Poems, 1929-1936, 1948

Selected Poems, 1951

An Italian Visit, 1953

Collected Poems, 1954

The Newborn: D.M.B., 29th April 1957, 1957

Pegasus, and Other Poems, 1957

The Gate, and Other Poems, 1962

Requiem for the Living, 1964

A Marriage Song for Albert and Barbara, 1965

The Room, and Other Poems, 1965

Selections from His Poetry, 1967 (Patric Dickinson, editor)

Selected Poems, 1967

The Abbey That Refused to Die: A Poem, 1967

The Whispering Roots, 1970

The Poems, 1925-1972, 1977 (Ian Parsons, editor)

The Complete Poems of C. Day Lewis, 1992

Long Fiction:

A Question of Proof, 1935

The Friendly Tree, 1936

Starting Point, 1937

Child of Misfortune, 1939

Malice in Wonderland, 1940

The Case of the Abominable Snowman, 1941

Minute for Murder, 1947

A Tangled Web, 1956

The Deadly Joker, 1963

The Private Wound, 1968


Noah and the Waters, pb. 1936


A Hope for Poetry, 1934

Revolution in Writing, 1935

The Poetic Image, 1947

The Colloquial Element in English Poetry, 1947

The Poet’s Task, 1951

The Poet’s Way of Knowledge, 1957

The Buried Day, 1960

The Lyric Impulse, 1965

A Need for Poetry?, 1968


The Georgics of Virgil, 1940

The Graveyard by the Sea, 1946 (Paul Valéry)

The Aeneid of Virgil, 1952

The Eclogues of Virgil,1963

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

The Otterbury Incident, 1948


Cecil Day Lewis (originally Day-Lewis) was a leading figure among the young British poets who in the 1930’s were concerned chiefly with themes of social protest, and his reputation both in that unsettled decade and after was solid and secure. He was born on April 27, 1904, in Ballintubbert, Ireland; his father was an English clergyman, his mother a descendant of Oliver Goldsmith. She died while he was still young, leaving him with an emotionally demanding father. During his childhood the family returned to England. Day Lewis began to write verses when he was six, and at the Sherbourne School he was several times awarded its poetry prize. At Wadham College, Oxford, he first became affiliated with the literary group which included W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, and others. With Auden he edited the 1927 volume of Oxford Poetry. In 1928 he married Constance King, with whom he had two sons, Sean and Nicholas. He and his wife were divorced in 1951.{$I[AN]9810000478}{$I[A]Day Lewis, Cecil}{$S[A]Lewis, Cecil Day;Day Lewis, Cecil}{$S[A]Blake, Nicholas;Day Lewis, Cecil}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Day Lewis, Cecil}{$I[tim]1904;Day Lewis, Cecil}

Leftist in politics, the group with which Day Lewis was associated engaged in violent and often obscure protest against conditions of the 1930’s, primarily in the areas of social class and politics. Their poetry, however, was often characterized by esoteric imagery and private allusion, so that many readers found themselves bewildered by verse that ranged in style from the gravely satirical to the frivolously diffuse. Among some readers and critics this poetry came to be known as “coterie verse”; nevertheless it was a significant reflection of the uncertainty of the decade.

More concerned with the individual in his later works, and less with ideological causes, Day Lewis softened his attacks on what he once thought of as the weakening culture of the modern world and on religion. This change is apparent in the verse written during the years he was teaching at various colleges before he turned to poetry as his essential occupation in 1935. World War II deepened in him a sense of responsibility; his verse about the dangers of fascism is sharp and severe, and in the poems of his middle period he showed awareness of the social weaknesses that open the way for aggression.

Day Lewis was also distinguished as a writer of prose. He wrote several books on the nature and function of poetry that gave him considerable stature as a critic. His novel Starting Point was followed by a series of entertaining mystery stories published under the pen name of Nicholas Blake. Poetry remained his first interest, though. Never an exclusive poet, he did much to bring poetry to a wider audience. He lectured successfully on the subject and, with his second wife, Jill Balcon, whom he married in 1951, gave extremely popular readings from his own work. In later years he became interested in poetry for children and tried in a number of ways to help them develop an appreciation of verse. Day Lewis was made professor of poetry at Oxford in 1951. In 1968 he was appointed poet laureate as a successor to John Masefield. His son by his second marriage, Daniel, became a well-known and respected film actor.

BibliographyBayley, John. The Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature–Essays, 1962-2002. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. The collected essays of this major critic feature one on Blake (C. Day Lewis) and his use of pastiche, both in poetry and in fiction. Index.Daiches, David. Poetry and the Modern World: A Study of Poetry in England Between 1900 and 1939. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1940. Daiches devotes a full chapter to Day Lewis and the problems facing the poet: how to face the disintegrating civilization after World War I? What audience would a poet write for? Instead of turning to mysticism or religion as did William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot, Day Lewis seeks a singleness of personality in revolutionary hope and mature self-understanding. A major study of this important poet.Day-Lewis, Sean. Day-Lewis: An English Literary Life. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1980. The first son of Blake wrote this year-by-year biography of his father within a decade of his father’s death. Family members and friends contributed material to an objective but intimate portrait of the poet. Both the poetry publications and the crime novels under the name Nicholas Blake are discussed.Gelpi, Albert. Living in Time: The Poetry of C. Day Lewis. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. A full-length critical study of the works of Day Lewis and a record of his poetry within the literary ferment of the twentieth century. Explores the three major periods of the poet’s development, beginning with the emergence of Day Lewis in the 1930’s as the most radical of the Oxford poets.Gindin, James. “C. Day Lewis: Moral Doubling in Nicholas Blake’s Detective Fiction of the 1930’s.” In Recharting the Thirties, edited by Patrick J. Quinn. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1996. Discusses the moral elements of Blake’s fiction that place it distinctively within the Great Britain of the 1930’s. Bibliographic references and index.Malmgren, Carl D. Anatomy of Murder: Mystery, Detective, and Crime Fiction. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 2001. Discusses Blake’s Head of a Traveler and A Penknife in My Heart. Bibliographic references and index.“Nicholas Blake.” In Modern Mystery Writers, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1995. Critical, scholarly examination of Blake’s work and its place in the mystery-fiction canon. Bibliographic references.Riddel, Joseph N. C. Day Lewis. New York: Twayne, 1971. Riddel argues that Day Lewis should be known as more than a member of the “Auden group” of British poets of the 1930’s. His poetry is considered chronologically with emphasis on the creative and radical period from 1929 to 1938. The problems of language, individual psychology, the “divided self,” and the lyric impulse are enduring themes. An essential study supplemented by notes and a bibliography.Roth, Marty. Foul and Fair Play: Reading Genre in Classic Detective Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995. A post-structural analysis of the conventions of mystery and detective fiction. Examines 138 short stories and works from the 1840’s to the 1960’s. Helps place Blake within the context of the genre.Smith, Elton Edward. The Angry Young Men of the Thirties. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1975. In his first chapter, “C. Day-Lewis: The Iron Lyricist,” Smith outlines the dilemma of British poets in the 1930’s, a decade of worldwide economic collapse. This study of poetry is thus useful for contextualizing the poet’s detective fiction as well.Tolley, A. T. The Poetry of the Thirties. London: Gollancz, 1975. In chapter 6, “Poetry and Politics,” Tolley discusses the political content of Day Lewis’s poetry, his adherence to Marxism as a solution to the pressing contemporary problems, and the subsequent development away from the party in “Overtures to Death.” His concern for the Spanish Civil War conflict is apparent; the mood is somber and disaster seems imminent. Along with political events, the problem of a divided self continues to occupy the poet’s thoughts.
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