Cecil Day-Lewis: A Life by Peter Stanford - review by Peter McDonald

Peter McDonald

The Purring Poet

Cecil Day-Lewis: A Life


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Cecil Day-Lewis’s father, a clergyman who early on made the move sideways and upwards from the Church of Ireland to the Church of England (taking with him the infant poet), was particular about his outfits. Installed in a fashionable part of London, the Revd Frank Day-Lewis made sure that his top hats and tail coats came from Vanheem & Wheeler, tailors to the clerical elite. He was perhaps in better sartorial than spiritual order, though: as Peter Stanford observes of Day-Lewis père, ‘His attachment to the incidentals of ordained life became ever more marked, the outward signs compensating potentially for a loss of inner grace.’ That his only son should end up as Poet Laureate would no doubt have pleased the clerical dandy, as well as impressing his parishioners; but there is also a sense in which C Day-Lewis’s career parallels that of his father, the cultivation of trappings serving to disguise, for a time at least, uncertainty about the ‘inner grace’ of a real poetic talent.

All poetic reputations can go down as well as up, and that of Day-Lewis is no exception to the rule. It is only a fool or an ignoramus who assumes that his own standpoint in posterity offers a reliable vantage-point; even so, the critical fortunes of Day-Lewis’s poetry

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