Charles Tomlinson 1927–
(Full name Alfred Charles Tomlinson) English poet, translator, editor, critic, and artist.
A respected English poet whose verse focuses on the philosophic implications of sensory experience, Tomlinson uses acute observation and detailed description to explore the relationship between the external world and the self. Tomlinson suggests that through sensitive perception of natural phenomenon, human beings are able to gain an awareness "that teaches us not to try to reduce objects to our own image, but to respect their own otherness, and yet find our way into contact with that otherness." Tomlinson's admiration for the work of such American writers as Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and Marianne Moore is reflected in the clarity of his language, the musical cadences of his verse, his detached tone, and his objective point of view.
Born in Stoke-on Trent in Staffordshire to a working-class family, Tomlinson attended Cambridge University from 1945-48, where he studied English literature. It was at Cambridge that he first developed an interest in American poetry, which became a significant influence on his work. In addition to his many well-regarded collections of verse, Tomlinson has translated works by such poets as Fyodor Tyutchev, Antonio Machado, and Cesar Vallejo; he has edited collections of poems and essays by Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and Octavio Paz; and he has collaborated with Paz and other poets on two other books of verse, Renga and Airborn/Hijos del aire. An accomplished graphic artist, he has also published several volumes of his visual images, including Eden: Graphics and Poetry, which combines poetry and artwork.
Tomlinson's first major collection, Seeing is Believing, was widely praised for its attention to landscape and visual detail and was noted for its emphasis on the need for disciplined and accurate observation. His succeeding volumes, A Peopled Landscape and American Scenes and Other Poems, reflect his exposure to American landscapes and his contacts with such American poets as George Oppen, Louis Zukofsky, Marianne Moore, and William Carlos Williams, whom he met during his travels across America from 1959 to 1960. Tomlinson's
concern with the natural world, with landscape, place and weather has, as critics observe, remained central to all of his work, but that concern was accompanied by an interest in the processes of time and history that came to figure more prominently in the volumes of the 1960s. In his next two major collections, The Way of a World and Written on Water, Tomlinson presents his themes through the recurring motifs of water and time. The Way of a World contains some of Tomlinson's best-known poems, including "Against Extremity" and the widely anthologized "Swimming Chenango Lake." In The Way In and Other Poems, he introduces personal elements into his verse while continuing to probe the nature of perception and reality. His poems in this volume reflect the shifting balance of constancy and change as he returns to the landscapes of England, creating imaginative portraits of familiar scenes in such poem as "At Stoke" and "The Marl Pits." The poems in his next book, The Shaft, contains the highly regarded "Lines Written in the Euganean Hills," in which the poet denounces human imposition on the natural world.
The Flood reflects his travels in England, North America, and Italy and displays a variety of literary styles, including elegiac and narrative verse and prose passages. In Notes from New York and Other Poems, he imaginatively recreates the urban landscapes of New York City. These poems attest to his concerns about the consequences of human interaction on the physical environment. Tomlinson's most recent collection, Jubilation, explores youth and aging, family life, and meditates on the dialectical relationship between rootedness and aging.
Tomlinson is well-regarded for the precision, restraint, and originality of his verse, and is often praised for his deft explorations of the relationships between the external world and the self. His complex, philosophical poetry is also noted for its clarity of language, objective tone and view, and detailed imagery. Many commentators have examined the influence of American poets on his work, especially that of Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, and William Carlos Williams. Often faulted by some critics for being preoccupied with landscape and visual objects, he is also derided for a perceived lack of human warmth and passion in his work. Despite these charges, many scholars maintain the importance of his poetry; critic Calvin Bedient has described Tomlinson as "the most considerable English poet to have made his way since the Second World War."