Nicholas Blake was born Cecil Day-Lewis in Ballintubbert, Ireland, on April 27, 1904, the only son of the Reverend F. C. Day-Lewis and Kathleen Blake Squires. After the death of his mother in 1908, his aunt helped to rear him, following his father, an Irish Protestant clergyman, as he moved from one London parish to another. Blake attended Sherborne School and Wadham College, Oxford University, where he received a master’s degree.
He taught at various schools from 1927 until 1935, running into trouble with school administrators because of his leftist political views. He married Constance Mary King, the daughter of one of his former teachers, in 1928, and the couple had two sons. Desperately in need of more money, Blake, who had read many mysteries himself, wrote and published his first one, A Question of Proof, in 1935. He was a member of the Communist Party in Great Britain from 1935 to 1938, and though he never resigned from it, his political views changed, particularly after the Spanish Civil War. He worked for the Ministry of Information during World War II and was made a commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1950.
Blake divorced his first wife in 1951 and the same year married Jill Balcon, with whom he had a son and a daughter. His professional reputation remained high: He held the position of professor of poetry at Oxford University (1951-1956) and director of the publishing firm Chatto and Windus (1954-1972). He was the Charles Eliot Norton professor of poetry at Harvard University (1964-1965), and finally, poet laureate of England, from 1968 until his death in 1972.