Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 675

Frank Templeton Prince was born in Kimberley, Cape Province, South Africa, where his father, Henry Prince, was a prosperous businessman in the diamond trade. His mother, Margaret Hetherington Prince, had been a teacher. Both parents were English. Prince was a sensitive and studious child. He already possessed keen powers of...

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Frank Templeton Prince was born in Kimberley, Cape Province, South Africa, where his father, Henry Prince, was a prosperous businessman in the diamond trade. His mother, Margaret Hetherington Prince, had been a teacher. Both parents were English. Prince was a sensitive and studious child. He already possessed keen powers of observation and an eye for detail that led to an early interest in painting. His mother’s influence and the stories and poems she read to Prince and his sister encouraged the boy to write, and he was a poet from the age of fifteen.

After a short period in which he trained as an architect, Prince went to England in 1931 and entered Balliol College, Oxford. He earned a first-class honors degree in English in 1934. It is apparent that the move to Oxford was both important and inevitable, since the poet’s sensibility and culture were, almost from the start, strongly European. He went up to Oxford already fluent in French and deeply read in French poetry. He supported this by reading Dante in Italian and by making several visits to Italy. He found the whole period of the Renaissance, and in particular its art, highly congenial.

A meeting with T. S. Eliot in 1934 probably led to the later inclusion of Prince’s first collection, Poems, in the Faber and Faber poetry list in 1938. Eliot recognized Prince’s ability as well by printing the younger poet’s “An Epistle to a Patron” in the Criterion, which Eliot edited.

During 1934-1935, Prince was a visiting fellow at Princeton University, but he returned to London to work at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, an unlikely office for so apolitical a man. He was, however, writing, and a meeting with William Butler Yeats in 1937, when Prince traveled to Dublin to meet the great man, suggests that poetry held pride of place in his mind.

There is no acknowledgment in Prince’s work at this point that Europe was on the point of war, but the poet was soon to be personally involved. He was commissioned into the Intelligence Corps of the British army in 1940 and sent to Bletchley Park. This was the Government Communications Centre, hardly a typical army environment. Men were allowed to wear civilian clothes, discipline was relaxed, and among the creative people involved there, many were not of the type to worry unduly about military correctness. The poet Vernon Watkins served there, as did the composer Daniel Jones, a friend of Dylan Thomas. Prince was at Bletchley Park until March, 1943, when he was posted to Cairo. Before leaving, he married Elizabeth Bush. There are two daughters from the marriage.

His time in Egypt, which lasted until 1944, gave Prince the experience that resulted in the writing of his best-known poem, “Soldiers Bathing.” On his return, Prince spent several months as an interpreter in Italian prisoner-of-war camps in England before his demobilization.

In 1946, Prince began his academic career, being appointed lecturer in English at the University of Southampton, at that time a small university in an interesting city, which must have been a pleasant appointment for Prince. In any event, he stayed there for nearly thirty years, becoming eventually professor of English and, between 1962 and 1965, dean of the faculty of arts. It was there, moreover, that he wrote the great bulk of his postwar poetry. He was a visiting fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, in 1968, and Clark Lecturer at Cambridge in 1972. From 1975 to 1978, he was a professor of English at the University of the West Indies, in Mona, Kingston, Jamaica. He then spent the next years as visiting professor at several institutions that included Amherst College, Washington University, and Sana’a University in North Yemen, Arab Republic.

He was writer-in-residence at Hollins College in Virginia in the spring of 1984 and spent two summers teaching at Dalhousie University, Halifax in the mid-1980’s. During the 1980’s, his American admirers, among them John Ashbery, showed their respect for his work and assisted in its dissemination. Until his death in August of 2003, Prince made his home in Southampton.

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