Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Geoffrey Edward Harvey Grigson (2 March 1905 â€" 25 November 1985) was a British poet, writer, critic and naturalist. He was born at the vicarage in Pelynt, a village near Looe in Cornwall.


Grigson's childhood in rural Cornwall had a significant influence on his poetry and writing in later life. As a boy, his love of things of nature (plants, bones and stones) was sparked at the house of family friends at Polperro who were painters and amateur naturalists. He was educated at St John's School, Leatherhead, and at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. He first came to prominence in the 1930s as a poet, then as editor from 1933 to 1939 of the influential poetry magazine New Verse. Fiercely combative, he made many literary enemies for his dogmatic views.

At various times he was involved in teaching, journalism and broadcasting. During World War II he worked in the editorial department of the BBC Monitoring Service at Wood Norton near Evesham, Worcestershire and at Bristol. In 1946 he was one of the founders of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, together with Roland Penrose, Herbert Read, Peter Watson and Peter Gregory, in 1946. In 1951 he curated a touring exhibition of drawings and watercolours drawn from the British Council Collection.

Later in life he was a noted critic, reviewer (for the New York Review of Books in particular), and compiler of numerous poetry anthologies. He published 13 collections of poetry, and wrote on travel, on art (notably works on Samuel Palmer, Wyndham Lewis and Henry Moore; he also had a volatile friendship with the painter John Piper), on the English countryside, and on botany, among other subjects.

Grigson was the castaway featured in an edition of Roy Plomley's Desert Island Discs broadcast on 16 October 1982. His chosen records were: Joseph Haydn, String Quartet in F major, Op. 3/5 "Serenade" (Janáček Quartet); Benjamin Britten, Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings (soloist Peter Pears, Dennis Brain; Boyd Neel String Orchestra, conductor Benjamin Britten); Henry Purcell, "When I am laid in earth" ("Dido's Lament"), from Dido and Aeneas (soloist Victoria de los Ángeles; English Chamber Orchestra, conductor John Barbirolli); Joseph Haydn, "She Never Told Her Love" (Canzonetta) (soloist Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten) â€" picked as Grigson's favourite; Joseph Haydn, String Quartet in D major (Tátrai Quartet); Georges Bizet, Jeux d'enfants (Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, conductor Jean Martinon); Benjamin Britten, "Death Be Not Proud" (from The Holy Sonnets of John Donne), soloist Peter Pears, Zorian String Quartet, conductor Benjamin Britten; Giuseppe Verdi, "Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate" (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco (La Scala Chorus and Orchestra). His chosen book was The Oxford English Dictionary, and his luxury item was Pâté de foie gras.

Geoffrey Grigson in his later life lived partly in Wiltshire, England, and partly in Trôo, a village in the Loir-et-Cher département in France, which features in his poetry. He died in 1985 in Broad Town, Wiltshire, and is buried there in Christ Church Churchyard.


Grigson was born in 1905, the youngest of seven sons of Canon William Shuckforth Grigson (1845â€"1930), a Norfolk clergyman who had settled in Cornwall as vicar of Pelynt, and Mary Beatrice Boldero, herself the daughter of a clergyman. The inscription on his father's slate headstone in Pelynt Churchyard is the work of Eric Gill, 1931. Five of Grigson's six brothers died serving in the first and second world wars, among them John Grigson. This was one of the highest prices paid by any British family during the conflicts of the twentieth century. Grigson's one surviving brother Wilfrid Grigson died in an air accident in 1948, while serving as Commissioner for Refugees in Pakistan.

Geoffrey Grigson's first wife was Frances Franklin Galt (who died in 1937 of tuberculosis). With her, he founded New Verse. They had one daughter, Caroline (who was married to the designer Colin Banks). Grigson's second marriage was to Berta (Bertschy) Emma Kunert, who bore him two children, Anna and Lionel Grigson, the jazz musician and educator. Following their divorce, Grigson's third and last marriage was to Jane Grigson, née McIntire (1928â€"90), the writer on food and cookery. Their daughter is the cookery writer Sophie Grigson.

Honours and legacy

Grigson was awarded the Duff Cooper Prize for his 1971 volume of poetry Discoveries of Bones and Stones.

A collection of tributes entitled Grigson at Eighty, compiled by R. M. Healey (Cambridge: Rampant Lions Press), was published in 1985, the year of his death.

In 2005, to mark the centenary of Grigson's birth a conference was held at St Edmund Hall, Oxford.


New Verse: An Anthology (1942 edition)

Compiled by Grigson. Poets included were:

C. Day-Lewis â€" E. V. Swart â€" Bernard Spencer â€" Philip O'Connor â€" Louis MacNeice â€" George Barker â€" Kathleen Raine â€" Frederic Prokosch â€" A. J. Young â€" Archibald MacLeish â€" Norman Cameron â€" Stephen Spender â€" Geoffrey Taylor â€" Dylan Thomas â€" A. J. M. Smith â€" W. H. Auden â€" Pablo Neruda â€" Geoffrey Grigson â€" Hugh Chisholm â€" Kenneth Allott â€" Alberto Giacometti â€" Paul Éluard â€" Bernard Gutteridge â€" Ruthven Todd â€" Gavin Ewart â€" Charles Madge

Poetry of the Present (1949)

Drummond Allison â€" Kenneth Allott â€" W. H. Auden â€" George Barker â€" John Bayliss â€" John Betjeman â€" Norman Cameron â€" Cecil Day-Lewis â€" William Empson â€" G. S. Fraser â€" Christopher Fry â€" David Gascoyne â€" Geoffrey Grigson â€" John Hewitt â€" Esmé Hooton â€" Glyn Jones â€" Sidney Keyes â€" James Kirkup â€" Laurie Lee â€" Louis MacNeice â€" Charles Madge â€" Hubert Nicholson â€" Norman Nicholson â€" Clere Parsons â€" Kathleen Raine â€" W. R. Rodgers â€" E. J. Scovell â€" John Short â€" Bernard Spencer â€" Stephen Spender â€" Derek Stanford â€" Dylan Thomas â€" Evan Thomas â€" Ruthven Todd â€" Rex Warner â€" Vernon Watkins


Further reading

  • Barfoot, C. C. and R. M. Healey (eds), "My Rebellious and Imperfect Eye": Observing Geoffrey Grigson, DQR Studies in Literature 33. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 2002. (Contains a comprehensive Geoffrey Grigson bibliography.) ISBN 978-9042013582
  • Ostrom, Hans. "The Mint," in British Literary Magazines: The Modern Age, 1914-1984. Ed. Alvin Sullivan. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1986, 264-267. (Grigson edited The Mint).

External links

  • Julian Symons, "Grigson, Geoffrey Edward Harvey (1905â€"1985)", rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009, accessed 2 December 2013.
  • "Geoffrey Grigson â€" Poet, writer, critic, broadcaster, 1905â€"1985" at
  • "Geoffrey Grigson â€" alumnus of St Edmund Hall, Oxford"
  • I. Woncewas, "A Centenary Reconsideration: Thinking About Geoffrey Grigson". Parameter Magazine.
  • Geoffrey Grigson page at Faber.
  • "Correspondence. William Empson and Geoffrey Grigson on climbers, criticism, and the morality of rudeness", Poetry Foundation.

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