Biography Laurence Binyon

Laurence Binyon

photo of Laurence Binyon
  • Time Period1869 - 1943
  • PlaceLancaster
  • CountryEngland

Poet Biography

Robert Laurence Binyon was born in Lancaster, the son of a clergyman, and educated at St Paul's School and Trinity College, London where he won the Newdigate Prize for Poetry. From Oxford Binyon went in 1893 to work in the British Museum's Department of Printed Books, before transferring two years later to the Department of Prints and Drawings where he eventually became Keeper, and an authority on Oriental Art. His book Painting in the Far East (1908) was the first book on the subject to be written in any European language. Binyon was also an expert on Japanese and Chinese Art.

His first volume of poetry, Lyric Poetry was published in 1894. His early poems show him experimenting (as did Robert Bridges and Gerard Manley Hopkins) with the natural stress-accent of English. He lectured in the United States in 1912, 1914 and 1926.

During the War he served with the Red Cross, visiting the Front in 1916. Binyon was already in his mid-forties when he wrote the poem For the Fallen in September 1914. It is the poem for which he will always be remembered as the four lines from the fourth stanza:

*They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down on the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.*

are read every year at Armistice services across Britain,and the Commonwealth and feature as an inscription for thousands of memorials. There would be another four years of fighting and more than two million Allied soldiers killed before For The Fallen took on its full meaning and impact. Although not a "Soldier Poet", Binyon is nevertheless remembered as a "War Poet".

The poems Binyon wrote during the First World War were collected in The Four Years and published in 1919 (Elkin Matthews, London). Other poems from this collection have been neglected undeservedly: The Zeppelin, The Witnesses and The Bereaved are all good examples of the genre of war poems that is usually discredited - war poems from the Home Front. Closer to the reality of battle, yet still celebrating "the beauty of the dead" are Guns at the Front, The Arras Road and Dark Wind.

Besides publishing many collections of his verse, Binyon also wrote nine verse plays (six of which were performed), including Arthur (1923) a treatment of the Arthurian legend, which was staged at the Old Vic with music by Elgar. Binyon also published books on art and allied subjects; and in 1931 he published his Collected Poems (London) in two volumes. Between the years 1933 and 1943 he published a three volume translation of the whole of Dante's Divinia Comedia in terza rima (Italian verse-form in triplets). In this translation some commentators have found the best use of Binyon's craft.

Binyon's sensibility, like that of so many of the War Poets (including Edward Thomas and Siegfried Sassoon), were rooted deeply in the English landscape. This fact is reflected both in his own verse and in his critical works on Blake, Girtin, Cottman and Towne.

Binyon lectured in Japan in 1929, was Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University in 1933-34 and was Byron Professor at the University of Athens in 1940. He died in 1943.