Martin Seymour-Smith, who died suddenly in 1998, was best known as a biographer, controversial critic and compiler of literary reference books. His biographies of Robert Graves and Thomas Hardy are amongst the best on their subjects. His Guide to Modern World Literature (1973, revised 1985) and Who’s Who in Twentieth Century Literature (1976), both one-man encyclopedic works, roused the ire of Auberon Waugh by their sheer effrontery but caused Anthony Burgess to liken their author to Samuel Johnson. Seymour-Smith certainly resembles Johnson both in the breadth of his interests and the passionate confidence of his judgements. But there was a quiet side to his scholarship also, most evident in his indispensable old-spelling edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, first published in 1963 and still in print.
It might seem paradoxical to insist that all this activity was secondary to Seymour-Smith’s true vocation, but I think it was. The man was essentially a poet. Poetry was at the heart of his life. The publication of his Collected Poems 1943–1993 confirms this.
The earliest poem here was written when