Cecil Day Lewis Essay - Critical Essays

Day Lewis, C(ecil) (Vol. 1)

Day Lewis, C(ecil) 1904–1972

An Irish-born English poet and Poet Laureate of England from 1962 until his death, Day Lewis also wrote fiction, drama, and criticism, and was a first-rate detective novelist under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 15-16.)

Cecil Day Lewis fell easily—too easily—into the Auden manner in his earliest poetry, in which we often cannot help feeling that he is simply aping a style…. Not for [Day Lewis] the flaming paradox of packed and ambivalent suggestion; he requires time and space to unfold himself; his craftsmanship, though often considerable, is much more conventional than, say, Auden's. Discursive poetry is not much to mid-twentieth century taste, and Day Lewis's reflective and reminiscent poems, his almost (at times) Victorian diction fairly quickly lost him his place among the pioneers. His eclecticism, variety and general competence as a craftsman have led him to become what might be called the academic poet of our time…. His shorter poems, often self-questioning statements in which recollection of past experience and speculation on the future of the poet's personal relationships and emotions are quietly combined, are sometimes more Georgian than contemporary in tone: the imagery is predominantly rural and English, the tone elegiac, the questioning personal yet abstract. No single poem seems representative of his peculiar talents, because his talents are so evenly dispersed over so wide a range, spreading wide rather than running deep.

David Daiches, in his The Present Age in British Literature, Indiana University Press, 1958, pp. 50-1.

[Day Lewis's] poetry I would unhesitatingly call lyrical—a poetry of the singing voice. That the pitch of his verse has this instinctive quality, this sense of spontaneity about it, does not in any way mean, of course, that it springs from an undivided self or blithely dismisses the dues of introspection….

Looking back now at Day Lewis's early work, one sees how Auden's dictatorship of taste was seeking to impose on the slightly older poet a field of imagery partly alien to him. In poem after poem in Day Lewis's first phase one observes him gallantly seeking to cope with images of an industrial order, only to yield, before the end, to his own natural inclinations toward imagery of a rural order….

The transition … from Day Lewis's verse of social commentary (on socialist assumptions) to the verse of largely private experience which he wrote in his middle and later years, affords more continuity than might have been expected. The common element was traditional form, [though] often partly disguised in the first phase…. In his volume Wind over All (1943), one sees Day Lewis's lyric gift (meaning, here, his gift for the short lyric poem) assuming its natural traditional form, both as to diction and imagery.

Derek Stanford, in his Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, Cecil Day Lewis ("Contemporary Writers in Christian Perspective"), Eerdmans, 1969, pp. 37-43.