Biography Edmund Blunden

Edmund Blunden

photo of Edmund Blunden
  • Time Period1896 - 1974
  • PlaceLondon
  • CountryEngland

Poet Biography

Edmund Charles Blunden was born in London in 1896, moving with his family to Kent shortly afterwards. He was educated at Christ's Hospital and Queen's College, Oxford. Blunden was commissioned into the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1915 and served in France and Belgium from 1916 to 1919, fighting on the Somme and at Ypres. He was awarded the Military Cross.

In 1920 his collection of poetry The Waggoner was published after he sent a privately printed collection of verse to the then Literary Editor of The Daily Herald, Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon had immediately realised Blunden's abilities and wrote him an encouraging letter, starting a lifelong friendship between the two cricket-playing poets. In 1922 Blunden's The Shepherd followed, winning him the Hawthorden Prize. The Shepherd included poems from five previously privately printed collections published between 1914 and 1916. In 1928 Blunden published his chronicle of the First World War, Undertones of War, which gained him a wide reputation that was further enhanced by his collection The Poems of Edmund Blunden 1914-1930 published in 1930.

Edmund Blunden is largely underestimated today as a war poet, mainly because the work of other poets such as Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and Siegfried Sassoon has eclipsed that of Blunden. It is ironic that it was Blunden's edition of Owen's poetry (published in 1931) which aroused the public interest in Owen which has never died since. Further irony is to be found in that fact that Blunden took over the editing of Owen's poems after Siegfried Sassoon found he was still too upset over the death of his friend and fellow Craiglockhartian poet to continue. Blunden's own war poems are far more restrained than those of either Owen or Sassoon, but Blunden's hatred of the war and his grief for the war's dead, were just as intense as that of Owen or Sassoon. Blunden commemorated the dead in a passionately lyrical elegy, Their Very Memory. He also expressed his dismay at the destruction of the French countryside in his poetry, a theme missing from the poetry of either Owen or Sassoon (the latter preferring to glory in the beauty of the English countryside when he wasn't describing life in the trenches).

Blunden was also unusual amongst the war poets for acknowledging that even amidst the senseless slaughter there could be, and were, moments of happiness. His poem At Senlis Once is a celebration of a brief interval of rest and refreshment, whilst Concert Party : Busseboom recalls an hour of innocent entertainment.

Blunden, like Sassoon, wrote poems about the English countryside; it was Blunden's description of a Kentish barn that had alerted Sassoon to Blunden's talent. His poems about the English countryside are often considered his finest; they have been described as combining "a formal, at times, archaic utterance with an exact portrayal of the scene, a delicacy of perception, and an air of unease and foreboding." (1) Blunden's poems feature alms-women, lovers, village forefathers, midnight skaters and even a cornered weasel in Winter : East Anglia.

Between the wars Blunden earned his living as a literary journalist, as a Professor of English Literature at Tokyo University from 1924-27 (succeeding Robert Nichols), and as a fellow and tutor of English at Merton College, Oxford from 1931-43. During the ten years following the outbreak of the Second World War Blunden published three volumes of poetry : Poems 1930-1940 (1940) shows traces of his continuing preoccupation with the conflict of 1914-18. Although in the Preface he denies "morbidly wishing to go back that road" he yet acknowledges "that tremendous time does not easily give up its hold". Shells by a Stream (1944) and After Bombing (1949) reflect his sombre thoughts about the darkness of the age, although these are lightened by his hope of renewal and his belief in traditional values.

After leaving Merton, Blunden worked for the Times Literary Supplement before he joined the UK Liaison Mission in Tokyo in 1948. In 1950 he began a second stint at the TLS before being appointed Emeritus professor of English Literature at Hong Kong University in 1953. He won the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1956, and returned to England in the early 1960s.

Blunden's last two collections of poetry were A Hong Kong House : Poems 1951-1962 (1962) and Eleven Poems (1965). He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1966, but he was forced, by ill health, to resign in 1968. His final years were spent with his third wife, Claire and their four daughters in the village of Long Melford, Suffolk. There in 1966 he wrote a guide to its magnificent parish church.

Much of Blunden's time was devoted to editing and writing biography and criticism. He edited volumes of poetry by John Clare in 1920 (with Alan Porter), and of Ivor Gurney in 1954 - rendering them the same service he had previously rendered Wilfred Owen in 1931 - that of bringing their poetry to a wider audience. His most important studies were of minor and major writers of the late-seventeenth to mid-nineteenth centuries, reserving a particular affection for Shelley, Keats, Lamb, Leigh Hunt and their friends, and among later writers for Thomas Hardy.

Blunden is, however, better known for his poetry and Undertones of War. In the preface to his 1930 collection of poetry Blunden spoke of the Great War as an experience so early in his life "as to mould and colour the poetry throughout the book". In fact, as with so many other poets of the First World War, the conflict continued to colour his work throughout his life. His other major theme was the one he shared with the early Siegfried Sassoon, the English countryside in which he was born and to which he returned after his journeyings were over.

Edmund Blunden died in 1974.