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Cecil Day-Lewis
Born 27 April 1904 (1904-04-27)
Ballintubbert, Queen's County, Ireland
Died 22 May 1972 (1972-05-23) (aged 68)
Hadley Wood, Hertfordshire, England
Pen name Nicholas Blake
Occupation Poet, Novelist
Genres [1]
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 poet and the British Poet Laureate from 1968 until his death in 1972. He also wrote mystery stories under pseudonym of Nicholas Blake. He is the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis and documentary filmmaker and television chef Tamasin Day-Lewis.


Personal life

Day-Lewis was born in Ballintubber, Queen's County (now County Laois), 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. 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 Rosamund Lehmann. His second marriage was to actress Jill Balcon.

Headstone of Cecil Day-Lewis in the Stinsford churchyard.

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 two marriages yielded four children,[2] 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).

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 May 22, 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.[3]

He was appointed Poet Laureate in 1968, in succession to John Masefield.

Nicholas Blake

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.[4] This was followed by nineteen more crime novels. (In the first Nigel Strangeways novel, the detective is modeled on W. H. 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.


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.[5] 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,[6] 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.

Selected works

Poetry collections

  • Transitional Poem (1929)
  • From Feathers To Iron (1932)
  • Collected Poems 1929–1933 (1935)
  • A Time To Dance And Other Poems (1935)
  • Overtures to Death (1938)
  • Short Is the Time (1945)
  • Collected Poems (1954)
  • Pegasus and Other Poems (1957)
  • The Whispering Roots and Other Poems (1970)[5]
  • The Complete Poems of C.Day-Lewis(1992)[3]


  • A Hope for Poetry (1934)[5]


Novels written as Nicholas Blake

  • A Question of Proof (1935)
  • Thou Shell of Death (1936) (also published as Shell of Death)
  • There's Trouble Brewing (1937)
  • The Beast Must Die (1938)
  • The Smiler With The Knife (1939)
  • Malice in Wonderland (1940) (US title: The Summer Camp Mystery)
  • The Case of the Abominable Snowman (1941) (also published as The Corpse in the Snowman)
  • Minute for Murder (1947)
  • Head of a Traveller (1949)
  • The Dreadful Hollow (1953)
  • The Whisper in the Gloom (1954) (also published as Catch and Kill)
  • A Tangled Web (1956) (also published as Death and Daisy Bland)
  • End of Chapter (1957)
  • A Penknife in my Heart (1958)
  • The Widow's Cruise (1959)
  • The Worm of Death (1961)
  • The Deadly Joker (1963)
  • The Sad Variety (1964)
  • The Morning After Death (1966)
  • The Private Wound (1968)

Children's novels


  • 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)

A New Anthology of Modern Verse 1920-1940 (1941)

Edited by Day-Lewis and L. A. G. Strong. Poets included were: Lascelles Abercrombie · Kenneth Allott · J. Redwood Anderson · W. H. Auden · George Barker · Clifford Bax · Hilaire Belloc · John Betjeman · Laurence Binyon · Edmund Blunden · Gordon Bottomley · F. V. Branford · Robert Bridges · Gerald Bullett · J. Campbell · Roy Campbell · Miles Carpenter · Christopher Caudwell · G. K. Chesterton · Wilfred Rowland Childe · Richard Church · Austin Clarke · Padraic Colum · A. E. Coppard · John Cornford · Charles Dalmon · W. H. Davies · Edward Davison · Walter De la Mare · Lord Alfred Douglas · John Drinkwater · Clifford Dyment · A. E. · T. S. Eliot · John Freeman · David Gascoyne · Wilfrid Gibson · O. St. John Gogarty · G. Rostrevor Hamilton · Thomas Hardy · Kenneth Hare · Christopher Hassall · F. R. Higgins · Ralph Hodgson · A. E. Housman · Frank Kendon · D. H. Lawrence · John Lehmann · C. Day-Lewis · F. L. Lucas · G. H. Luce · Lilian Bowes Lyon · Louis MacNeice · Charles Madge · John Masefield · Hugh MacDiarmid · Michael McKenna · Charlotte Mew · Harold Monro · Charlotte Mew · T. Sturge Moore · Edwin Muir · Frank O'Connor · Seumas O'Sullivan · Herbert Palmer · Eden Phillpotts · Ruth Pitter · William Plomer · F. T. Prince · Herbert Read · Laura Riding · Anne Ridler · Michael Roberts · V. Sackville-West · Siegfried Sassoon · Edward Shanks · Edith Sitwell · Osbert Sitwell · Stevie Smith · Stanley Snaith · Helen Spalding · Stephen Spender · J. C. Squire · James Stephens · L. A. G. Strong · Randall Swingler · A. S. J. Tessimond · Dylan Thomas · Ruthven Todd · W. J. Turner · Arthur Waley · Rex Warner · Sylvia Townsend Warner · Winifred Welles · Dorothy Wellesley · Laurence Whistler · Humbert Wolfe · William Butler Yeats · Andrew Young

The Chatto Book of Modern Poetry 1915-1955 (1956)

Edited by Day-Lewis and John Lehmann. Poets included were: Thomas Hardy · Robert Bridges · A. E. Housman · Rudyard Kipling · W. B. Yeats · Laurence Binyon · Charlotte Mew · W. H. Davies · Walter De la Mare · John Masefield · Edward Thomas · Harold Monro · John Freeman · D. H. Lawrence · Andrew Young · Frances Cornford · Siegfried Sassoon · Edwin Muir · Edith Sitwell · T. S. Eliot · Fredegond Shove · W. J. Turner · Dorothy Wellesley · Isaac Rosenberg · V. Sackville-West · Osbert Sitwell · Richard Church · Robert Nichols · Wilfred Owen · Herbert Read · Lilian Bowes Lyon · Robert Graves · Edmund Blunden · Ruth Pitter · Sacheverell Sitwell · Edgell Rickword · Roy Campbell · Michael Roberts · A. S. J. Tessimond · William Plomer · Stanley Snaith · C. Day-Lewis · Frances Bellerby · Norman Cameron · Rex Warner · Peter Quennell · John Betjeman · William Empson · Vernon Watkins · Sheila Wingfield · W. H. Auden · John Lehmann · Louis MacNeice · E. J. Scovell · Julian Bell · Jocelyn Brooke · Kathleen Raine · James Reeves · W. R. Rodgers · Bernard Spencer · Stephen Spender · Lynette Roberts · Hal Summers · Rayner Heppenstall · Paul Dehn · Roy Fuller · F. T. Prince · Anne Ridler · R. S. Thomas · George Barker · Patric Dickinson · Lawrence Durrell · Clifford Dyment · Norman Nicholson · Henry Reed · Dylan Thomas · Peter Yates · John Cornford · G. S. Fraser · Laurie Lee · Diana Witherby · David Gascoyne · Jack R. Clemo · Alun Lewis · Terence Tiller · Charles Causley · W. S. Graham · John Heath-Stubbs · James Kirkup · Keith Douglas · J. C. Hall · Hamish Henderson · David Wright · Sidney Keyes · Alan Ross · Helen Spalding


  1. ^ a b c d e f Cecil Day-Lewis
  2. ^ "Cecil Day-Lewis, poet laureate, dies", The Montreal Gazette, 22 May 1972,,2147956, retrieved 15 March 2010 
  3. ^ a b c BBC
  4. ^ Neglected British Crime Writers
  5. ^ a b c d Day Lewis, C
  6. ^ Arte Historia Personajes
  7. ^ An extract from this, Orpheus and Eurydice, appeared in The Queen's Book of the Red Cross.

See also

Academic offices
Preceded by
John Masefield
British Poet Laureate
Succeeded by
John Betjeman

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Cecil Day Lewis, CBE (27 April 190422 May 1972) was an Irish poet, the British Poet Laureate between 1968 to 1972, and, under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake, a mystery writer. He is the father of the actor Daniel Day-Lewis and the TYV star Tamasin Day-Lewis.


Sourced: as Cecil Day Lewis

Poem: Birthday Poem for Thomas Hardy

  • Is it birthday weather for you, dear soul?
    Is it fine your way
  • It's hard to believe a spirit could die
    Of such generous glow

Poem: The Christmas Tree

  • Put out the lights now!
    Look at the Tree, the rough tree dazzled
    In oriole plumes of flame,
    Tinselled with twinkling frost fire, tasselled
    With stars and moons
  • So feast your eyes now
    On mimic star and moon-cold bauble:
    Worlds may wither unseen,
    But the Christmas Tree is a tree of fable,
    A phoenix in evergreen

Poem: Is it far to go?

  • Who will say farewell?
    The beating bell.
    Will anyone miss me?
    That I dare not tell -
    Quick, Rose, and kiss me.

Poem: Tempt Me No More

  • Tempt me no more, for I
    Have known the lightning's hour,
    The poet's inward pride,
    The certainty of power.

Poem: Walking Away

  • I have had worse partings, but none that so
    Gnaws at my mind still.

Poem: Where are the War Poets?

  • They who in folly or mere greed
    Enslaved religion, markets, laws,
    Borrow our language now and bid
    Us to speak up in freedom's cause.
  • It is the logic of our times,
    No subject for immortal verse—
    That we who lived by honest dreams
    Defend the bad against the worse.

Sourced: as Nicholas Blake

Novel: Thou Shell of Death (1936)

  • Nigel's six feet sprawled all over the place; his gestures were nervous and little uncouth; a lock of sandy coloured hair dropping over his forehead, and the deceptive naïveté of his face in repose gave him a resemblance to an overgrown prep. schoolboy. His eyes were the same blue as his uncle's, but shortsighted and noncommittal. Yet there was an underlying similarity between the two. A latent, sardonic humor in their conversation, a friendliness and simple generosity in their smiles, and that impression of energy in reserve which is always given by those who possess an abundance of life directed towards consciously-realised aims.

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