Cecil Day-Lewis letters donated to Oxford

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Oxford just inherited a sizable collection of letters and manuscripts from former poet laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, The Guardian reports. The archive was donated to the University’s Bodleian Library by his children, actor Daniel Day-Lewis and food writer Tamasin Day-Lewis.

The collection includes letters exchanged between the elder Day-Lewis and other notable figures, such as Kingsley Amis, Alec Guiness, and W.H. Auden. The latter, with whom Day-Lewis was especially chummy following their undergraduate years at Oxford, offers previously unseen criticism of Day-Lewis’ work that ranges from subtle (“The lines ‘For there’s no wonder … When any echo waits’, sound as if you were waiting for your tea”) to scathing (“You are not taking enough trouble about your medium, your technique of expression.”) And given that the Bodleian Library already houses archives of work by the so-called “Thirties Poets” – Auden, Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice – the addition of their contemporary Day-Lewis is a natural fit.

“It is a wonderful archive – a great archive in its own right but it makes particular sense for us because of the local context,” said Chris Fletcher, keeper of special collections.

In addition to letters, the collection features papers regarding his 1968 appointment to US Poet Laureate, drafts of poems and essays, and manuscripts of the detective novels he wrote under the pseudonym Nicholas Blake. On Tuesday, the library will host a symposium celebrating his life and work.

In a statement, Tamasin and Daniel Day-Lewis expressed their excitement about donating the archives to their father’s alma mater as opposed to an American institution: “Oxford played an important part in our father’s life. If the manuscripts had ended up outside the country it would have saddened us all as a family as the poets who became papa’s lifelong friends and peers all met up at Oxford as undergraduates.”

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