Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Although he was born in London, Edmund Charles Blunden’s early years were spent in Yalding, a small English village, where his father was employed as a schoolmaster. For the next thirteen years, Blunden’s experience of life was formed in Yalding, where the age-old rhythms of agriculture held sway. In 1909, Blunden entered Christ College, a public school in London. Already endowed with both scholarly interests and a desire to write, Blunden won the Senior Classics scholarship to Queen’s College, Oxford, in 1914. As it did for many in his generation, World War I interrupted Blunden’s further studies.
In 1915, Blunden earned a commission in the Royal Sussex Regiment and was in active service until 1917. Although two books of his poetry were accepted for publication before enlisting—The Harbingers and Pastorals—Blunden developed his poetic voice during active service. After the war and a brief stint at Oxford, he soon joined the staff of the Athenaeum, a literary journal. For most of the next four decades, Blunden’s work life oscillated between literary journalism and teaching. For instance, a teaching post at Merton College, Oxford, lasted from 1931 to 1941 and was immediately followed by a job with the Times Literary Supplement, from 1941 to 1947.
From 1947 until his retirement in 1964, Blunden lived in Asia, first working in Japan and later taking a professorship of English literature at the University of Hong Kong. In 1966, after returning to England, Blunden was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, a post he almost rejected because of ill health. By the early 1970’s, the long-term effects of his war wounds forced him to retire from active life. He died in Long Melford, Suffolk, England, on January 20, 1974.
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Often described as a “Georgian” poet and admired for his loving descriptions of the rural English landscape, Edmund Blunden was also a noted poet of World War I, the contemporary of Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, Wilfred Owen, and Isaac Rosenberg. His Undertones of War is one of the great literary memoirs of the Great War. Blunden was also a scholar, particularly of the Romantic poets, Charles Lamb, and Thomas Hardy, a teacher and tutor of English literature in Oxford, Japan, and Hong Kong and a long-serving journalist, reviewer, and editor.
Educated in Cleaves Grammar School, Christ’s Hospital, Blunden served as a lieutenant with the Royal Sussex Regiment, received the military cross, and was wounded and gassed. After the war he studied briefly at Queen’s College, Oxford, before becoming a subeditor for J. Middleton Murry on the Athenaeum. Poor health forced him to take a tramp steamer cruise to South America, the “random journey” of which he describes in The Bonadventure: A Random Journal of an Atlantic Holiday, published in 1922. After winning the Hawthornden Prize for poetry, he was appointed to the Lafcadio Hearn Chair in English at the University of Tokyo 1924-1927. From 1931 to 1944 he was a fellow and tutor at Merton College, Oxford.
Given his experiences in World War I, Blunden was a reluctant supporter of World War II. In 1947 he returned to Japan with the United Kingdom Liaison Mission. With his love of literature and his admiration for Japan he helped heal some of the wounds of war, for which he was elected to the Japan Academy in 1950. Blunden returned to Asia in 1953 to teach English literature at the University of Hong Kong for the next ten years. He was elected professor of poetry at Oxford in 1966, but poor health forced his retirement in 1968. His last years were marked by physical and mental decline. He died in 1974.
Blunden, with his love of fishing, beer, and cricket, was in many ways an archetypal Englishman. His poems, both of war and of the English countryside, made him one of the most popular and accessible writers of his era. His prominence was recognized by the British government in 1951 when he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He was also awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1956 and the Midsummer Prize in 1970.