Cecil Day-Lewis, poet, novelist, critic, and the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1968 to 1972, is born in Ballintubbert, County Laois, on April 27, 1904. He also writes mystery stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake and is the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis and documentary filmmaker and television chef Tamasin Day-Lewis.
Day-Lewis is the son of Frank Day-Lewis, Church of Ireland Rector of the parish, and Kathleen Blake. His father takes the surname “Day-Lewis” as a combination of the surnames of his own birth father (Day) and his adoptive father (Lewis). After the death of his mother in 1906, Day-Lewis is brought up in London by his father, with assistance of an aunt, spending summer holidays with relatives in County Wexford. He is educated at Sherborne School and at Wadham College, Oxford. In Oxford, Day-Lewis becomes part of the circle gathered around W. H. Auden and helps him to edit Oxford Poetry 1927. His first collection of poems, Beechen Vigil, appears in 1925.
In 1928, Day-Lewis marries Constance Mary King, the daughter of a Sherborne teacher, and works as a schoolmaster in three schools, including Larchfield School in Helensburgh, Scotland. During the 1940s he has a long and troubled love affair with the novelist Rosamond Lehmann. His first marriage is dissolved in 1951, and he marries actress Jill Balcon, daughter of Michael Balcon.
During World War II he works as a publications editor in the Ministry of Information, an institution satirised by George Orwell in his dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four. During this time his work is now no longer as heavily influenced by Auden and he develops a more traditional style of lyricism. Some critics believe that he reaches his full stature as a poet in Word Over All (1943), when he finally distances himself from Auden. After the war he joins the publisher Chatto & Windus as a director and senior editor.
In 1946, Day-Lewis is a lecturer at Cambridge University, publishing his lectures in The Poetic Image (1947). He later teaches poetry at the University of Oxford, where he is Professor of Poetry from 1951 until 1956. He is the Norton Professor at Harvard University from 1962 to 1963, and is appointed Poet Laureate in 1968, in succession to John Masefield.
Day-Lewis is chairman of the Arts Council Literature Panel, vice-president of the Royal Society of Literature, an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Member of the Irish Academy of Letters, and a Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College, London.
Cecil Day-Lewis dies of pancreatic cancer on May 22, 1972, at Lemmons, the Hertfordshire home of Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard, where he and his family are staying. Being a great admirer of Thomas Hardy, he arranges to be buried as close as possible to the author’s grave at St. Michael’s Church in Stinsford, Dorset.