Charles Tomlinson Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Born in the English Midlands into a lower-class family, Alfred Charles Tomlinson was restless to escape the confinements of a mining community. The political conservatism of his father, Alfred Tomlinson, an estate agent’s clerk, had a strong influence on the development of young Tomlinson’s sensibility. Tomlinson attended Queen’s College, University of Cambridge, from 1945 to 1948; while there he studied under Donald Davie, who became a lifelong friend and colleague. After receiving his degree, Tomlinson was married to Brenda Raybould. They moved to London, where Tomlinson taught in an elementary school and worked at his painting. In 1951, he published his first collection of poems, Relations and Contraries.

In 1951-1952, he traveled in Italy, where he worked briefly as private secretary to Percy Lubbock. While in Italy, he gradually abandoned his painting in favor of composing poems. After returning to London, he earned a master’s degree from London University in 1954. In 1956, he took a position as lecturer in English poetry at the University of Bristol, where he later became a reader and then professor.

Tomlinson’s next volume of poetry, Seeing Is Believing, attracted the attention of several American critics. In 1959, he fulfilled a long-held wish to meet William Carlos Williams, whom he visited in Rutherford, New Jersey. On the same trip to the United States, made possible by a fellowship, he also visited Yvor Winters in California. Before returning home, he visited Marianne Moore in Brooklyn, New York, and returned for a second visit with Williams in New Jersey.

With Henry Gifford, he published the first of several joint projects of translation,...

(The entire section is 704 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alfred Charles Tomlinson is a contemplative poet in the tradition of William Wordsworth and Wallace Stevens. Mindful of the transience and interdependence of all natural things, he focuses on the concrete, sensible world and its relationship to human knowledge. His poems typically begin with meticulous observation of the changing surfaces of the natural world, but Tomlinson always moves beyond mere observation toward meditation, exploring the ways we discover meaning in the act of perception. In “Aesthetic,” one of his earliest poems, he asserts that “Reality is to be sought, not in concrete,/ But in space made articulate.”

Tomlinson was educated at Queens College, Cambridge, where he received a B.A. in 1948, and London University, where he received an M.A. in 1955. In 1956 he joined the faculty of the University of Bristol, where he taught until his retirement in 1982; he has also, over the years, traveled widely and held several visiting professorships, including one in the southwestern United States. A painter as well as a poet, he has had many one-man shows, and he has continued to receive many literary awards. He married Brenda Raybould in 1948, becoming the father of two daughters. They made their permanent home in Gloucestershire, England.

Rejecting the insularity of much contemporary English poetry, Tomlinson has found poetic inspiration in the work of various American and European poets. He has translated the work of several modern poets and has collaborated with a number of his contemporaries, including the Mexican poet Octavio Paz. Tomlinson’s favorite subjects are rocks, mountains, water, light, and the moon and sun; as he paints his subjects, he captures gradations of coloration as well as volume, shape, and texture. While recording such changeable appearances, he addresses the predicament of locating meaning in a world of flux....

(The entire section is 768 words.)