Authors: Charles Tomlinson

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet

Author Works


Relations and Contraries, 1951

The Necklace, 1955, rev. ed. 1966

Seeing Is Believing, 1958, 1960

A Peopled Landscape, 1963

American Scenes, and Other Poems, 1966

The Way of a World, 1969

Renga: A Chain of Poems, 1971 (with Octavio Paz, Jacques Roubaud, and Edoardo Sanguineti)

Written on Water, 1972

The Way In, and Other Poems, 1974

The Shaft, 1978

Selected Poems, 1951-1974, 1978

The Flood, 1981

Airborn=Hijos del Aire, 1981 (with Octavio Paz)

Notes from New York, and Other Poems, 1984

Collected Poems, 1985, expanded 1987

The Return, 1987

Annunciations, 1989

The Door in the Wall, 1992

Jubilation, 1995

Selected Poems, 1955-1997, 1997

The Vineyard Above the Sea, 1999


Versions from Fyodor Tyutchev, 1803-1873, 1960 (with Henry Gifford)

Castilian Ilexes: Versions from Antonio Machado, 1875-1939, 1963 (with Gifford)

Ten Versions from “Trilce” by César Vallejo, 1970 (with Gifford)

Translations, 1983

Selected Poems, 1993 (of Attilio Bertolucci)


The Poem as Initiation, 1967

Some Americans: A Personal Record, 1981

Isaac Rosenberg of Bristol, 1982

Poetry and Metamorphosis, 1983

The Sense of the Past: Three Twentieth Century British Poets, 1983

The Letters of William Carlos Williams and Charles Tomlinson, 1992

William Carlos Williams and Charles Tomlinson: A Transatlantic Connection, 1998

American Essays: Making It New, 2001

Edited Texts:

Marianne Moore: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1969

William Carlos Williams: A Critical Anthology, 1972

Selected Poems, 1976, revised 1985 (of William Carlos Williams)

Selected Poems, 1979 (poems of Octavio Paz)

The Oxford Book of Verse in English Translation, 1980

Poems of George Oppen, 1908-1984, 1990

Eros English’d: Classical Erotic Poetry in Translation from Golding to Hardy, 1992


Words and Images, 1972

In Black and White: The Graphics of Charles Tomlinson, 1976

Eden: Graphics and Poetry, 1985


Alfred Charles Tomlinson is a contemplative poet in the tradition of William Wordsworth and Wallace Stevens. Mindful of the transience and interdependence of all natural things, he focuses on the concrete, sensible world and its relationship to human knowledge. His poems typically begin with meticulous observation of the changing surfaces of the natural world, but Tomlinson always moves beyond mere observation toward meditation, exploring the ways we discover meaning in the act of perception. In “Aesthetic,” one of his earliest poems, he asserts that “Reality is to be sought, not in concrete,/ But in space made articulate.”{$I[AN]9810000785}{$I[A]Tomlinson, Charles}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Tomlinson, Charles}{$I[tim]1927;Tomlinson, Charles}

Charles Tomlinson

Tomlinson was educated at Queens College, Cambridge, where he received a B.A. in 1948, and London University, where he received an M.A. in 1955. In 1956 he joined the faculty of the University of Bristol, where he taught until his retirement in 1982; he has also, over the years, traveled widely and held several visiting professorships, including one in the southwestern United States. A painter as well as a poet, he has had many one-man shows, and he has continued to receive many literary awards. He married Brenda Raybould in 1948, becoming the father of two daughters. They made their permanent home in Gloucestershire, England.

Rejecting the insularity of much contemporary English poetry, Tomlinson has found poetic inspiration in the work of various American and European poets. He has translated the work of several modern poets and has collaborated with a number of his contemporaries, including the Mexican poet Octavio Paz. Tomlinson’s favorite subjects are rocks, mountains, water, light, and the moon and sun; as he paints his subjects, he captures gradations of coloration as well as volume, shape, and texture. While recording such changeable appearances, he addresses the predicament of locating meaning in a world of flux. For Tomlinson, the discovery of meaning requires a recognition of the world’s otherness. By acknowledging a world beyond the self, we move, he writes in “Antecedents,” out of the “shut cell” of our solitude toward an “earned relation/ With all that is other.” This “relation,” grounded in accurate perception, leads to a sense of equilibrium between the world and the self. The “basic theme” of his work, he says in Some Americans, is “that one does not need to go beyond sense experience to some mythic union, that the ‘I’ can be responsible only in relationship and not by dissolving itself away into ecstasy or the Over-soul.”

Seeing Is Believing, like A Peopled Landscape, expresses Tomlinson’s deep respect for English history, but once again, the poet focuses on the ethical implications of the act of perception. The mind, the imagination, and the eye work in unison to perceive the world and to discern meaning, as his title Seeing Is Believing suggests. Indeed, to translate seeing into meaning entails moral responsibility; one must always respect the separateness, the individuality, indeed, the autonomy, of the perceived object. “I leave you,” he writes of a tree he has just described, “to your own meaning, yourself alone.” Elsewhere, he speaks of Paul Cézanne, who knew how to paint his mountains “unposed,” to accept the object as it always “is.”

Tomlinson’s later poetry continues to broaden the ethical and political implications of his art. In The Way of a World and Written on Water, he is increasingly willing to “fix a meaning” on the world. Some of his finest poems from these and subsequent books consider various historical figures, examining the consequences of human egotism in the world. One of his most memorable political poems, “Assassin,” explores the all-consuming ego of Trotsky’s murderer, who imagines altering the course of history with an act of violence. In The Shaft Tomlinson further develops his political interests in several poems about the French Revolution. His more recent work continues to explore historical and contemporary themes while maintaining a focus on the nature and limits of perception as a basis for shaping the self and living ethically in the world.

Stylistically, Tomlinson’s verse is characterized by impressive range and variety. He can write spare, lucid descriptions notable for their precision, a mode of expression learned partly from the American poets William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore. Tomlinson has also mastered a graceful, meditative style with roots in the poetry of Wordsworth, a style rich and suggestive but remarkably free of showy verbal effects. Given his subject, it is understandable that the “I” is restrained. Effects of language, rhythm, image, and sound reinforce the relativistic nature of observed experience and knowledge–that all experience depends upon the interdependence of mind and object, and of object and the universal flux.

BibliographyClark, Timothy. Charles Tomlinson. Plymouth, England: Northcote House, 1999. Clark gives a brief but wide-ranging introduction to Tomlinson’s career, covering not only his poetry but also his work as a translator, as a graphic artist, and as a collaborator in writing experimental, multilingual poetic sequences. Features a detailed biographical outline, examples of Tomlinson’s graphics, a bibliography, notes, and index.John, Brian. The World as Event: The Poetry of Charles Tomlinson. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989. John says that Tomlinson’s poetry creates a language of the senses, enlarges definitions, and pursues understanding of experience. Includes a photograph, notes, a bibliography, and an index.King, P. R. “Seeing and Believing: The Poetry of Charles Tomlinson.” In Nine Contemporary Poets: A Critical Introduction. New York: Methuen, 1979. A substantial study, this essay presents Tomlinson’s poetry as an independent endeavor in which the poet uses his painter’s eye to search for a right relationship between people and places, time and history, to find delight in the act of seeing as the self adjusts to reality. Notes, a bibliography, and an index.Kirkham, Michael. Passionate Intellect: The Poetry of Charles Tomlinson. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999. This book provides a detailed critical reading of Tomlinson’s poetry from the 1950’s through the 1980’s. Kirkham presents Tomlinson’s work in an “unfolding sequence,” focusing on the poet’s “unified vision of the natural-human world.” Includes a bibliography, notes, and an index.O’Gorman, Kathleen, ed. Charles Tomlinson: Man and Artist. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988. Eleven essays, two interviews, a poem, a chronology, and a foreword by Donald Davie cover Tomlinson’s career. Six essays present different perspectives on his poetry, and two provide overviews of his development. Three essays study interrelationships of his painting and poetry. Illustrations, bibliography, and index.Saunders, Judith P. The Poetry of Charles Tomlinson: Border Lines. Farleigh Dickinson, 2003. Focuses narrowly on the theme of "boundaries" that Saunders sees as a key element in the poetry of Tomlinson.Swigg, Richard. Charles Tomlinson and the Objective Tradition. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1994. Swigg explores Tomlinson’s place in an Anglo-American poetic tradition of “objectivity” that values the world’s otherness, its existence apart from the ego of the poet. Focuses on the ways in which various writers within this tradition have influenced Tomlinson. A bibliography, notes, and index are included.Weatherhead, A. Kingsley. “Charles Tomlinson.” In The British Dissonance: Essays on Ten Contemporary Poets. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1983. Explores the question raised by Tomlinson about whether form is in objective reality or imposed by subjective perception. Presents Tomlinson as a poet who bridges many of the divisions separating contemporary poets and their themes. Includes notes, a bibliography, and an index.
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