C. Day Lewis Biography

(British poet and Poet Laureate from 1968 until his death in 1972.)

Birthday: April 27, 1904 (Taurus)

Born In: Ballintubber, Ireland

Cecil Day-Lewis was an Irish-born British poet, essayist, and novelist. He was one of the leading British poets in the 1930s and was appointed Poet Laureate in 1968. He had a difficult childhood, having lost his mother when he was just a toddler. His relationship with his father was a troubled one. To escape the harsh realities of his life, the young boy took to composing poetry. Even though he knew that he wanted to dedicate his life to writing, he often had to take up other jobs to earn adequate amounts of money. He worked as a teacher for many years while simultaneously pursuing a literary career as well. As a young man, he harbored revolutionary ideals and was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain for a few years. He eventually became disillusioned with communism. Besides poetry, he also wrote mystery and detective novels under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake. In his later years, he was a lecturer at Cambridge University and chairman of the Arts Council Literature Panel. He was twice married and had four children, including actor Sir Daniel Day Lewis, and documentary filmmaker and TV chef Tamasin Day Lewis.

Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In April

Also Known As: Cecil Day-Lewis

Died At Age: 68


Spouse/Ex-: Constance Mary King (m. 1928–1951), Jill Balcon (m. 1951–1972)

father: Rev. Frank Cecil Day-Lewis

mother: Kathleen Squires

children: Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicholas Day-Lewis, Sean Day-Lewis, Tamasin Day-Lewis

Born Country: Ireland

Poets British Men

Died on: May 22, 1972

place of death: Hadley Wood, England

: Pancreatic Cancer

Notable Alumni: Wadham College, Oxford

Cause of Death: Cancer

More Facts

education: Sherborne School, Wadham College, Oxford

Childhood & Early Life

Cecil Day Lewis was born on 27 April 1904, in Ballintubbert, County Laois, Ireland, to Frank Day Lewis and Kathleen Blake. His father was a Church of Ireland rector.

His mother died when he was just two years old, and his father took him to England. He was raised in London by his father with considerable help from Agnes, his deceased mother’s sister. Young Cecil had a difficult relationship with his father and doted on his aunt.

He was sent to Sherborne School where he developed a love for literature. He began composing poems as a small boy. He later enrolled at Wadham College, Oxford.

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C. Day Lewis became acquainted with British-American poet W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender in the early 1920s and was deeply influenced by their leftist political views.

In 1925, his first collection of poems, Beechen Vigil, was published. With Auden’s help, he became a co-editor of Oxford Poetry in 1927. 

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, he became increasingly agitated with the socio-political crises going on in the country. He developed revolutionary ideas and went on to join the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1935. He edited The Mind in Chains: Socialism and the Cultural Revolution in 1937.

During the 1930s, he worked as a teacher to earn his livelihood as he was not earning much as a poet. He worked in at least three schools in the decade, including Larchfield School.

C. Day Lewis decided to write mystery novels to augment his income. In 1935, he published a detective novel A Question of Proof, featuring a gentleman detective called Nigel Strangeways. This novel was published under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake. In the coming years, he would publish more crime novels in the series.

The Second World War broke out in 1939. C. Day Lewis took up a job as a publications editor in the Ministry of Information in 1941. He edited books and pamphlets for the organization.

In 1943, his poem Word Over All was published. He quit the Ministry of Information after the war ended and joined publisher Chatto & Windus as a senior editor.

He was appointed as Clark lecturer at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1946; his lectures were published in The Poetic Image the following year. He became the professor of poetry at Oxford University in 1951 and held this position till 1956.

He served as the Charles Eliot Norton professor of poetry at Harvard University for a few years in the 1960s. He was also a professor of rhetoric at Gresham College, London. He was appointed Poet Laureate in 1968.

C. Day Lewis was chairman of the Arts Council Literature Panel and vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature. He was a member of the Irish Academy of Letters and an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well.

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Major Works

C. Day Lewis published a series of detective novels under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake. The first novel of the series, A Question of Proof, was published in 1935. It was a big hit and was followed by 19 more crime novels, including There's Trouble Brewing, The Widow's Cruise, and The Worm of Death.

His mystery novel A Tangled Web was published in 1956. It tells the story of a simple country girl who falls in love with a cat burglar falsely accused of murder. The book was also published under the alternative title Death and Daisy Bland.

Family & Personal Life

C. Day Lewis married Constance Mary King, the daughter of a teacher, in 1928. They had two children: Sean Day Lewis, who went on to become a TV critic and writer, and Nicholas Day Lewis, who grew up to be an engineer.

He had a long and tumultuous love affair with the novelist, Rosamond Lehmann, in the 1940s. His marriage ended as a result and was dissolved in 1951.

He married actress Jill Balcon, daughter of film producer Michael Balcon, in 1951. This marriage also produced two children. Their daughter, Tamasin, is a TV chef and food critic, while their son, Daniel Day-Lewis, is an award-winning actor.

C. Day Lewis suffered from pancreatic cancer towards the end of his life and died on 22 May 1972, aged 68. His archive of poetry was donated to the Bodleian Library.

See the events in life of C. Day Lewis in Chronological Order

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