Biography of Edmund Blunden by Anna Fletcher
Edmund Charles Blunden, CBE, MC
Born: 1 November 1896 in London
Died: 20 January 1974 in Long Melford, Suffolk
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Occupation: poet, critic, journalist, essayist, author, Officer in British Army
Edmund Blunden was one of nine children to school-teacher parents, who grew up in a village in the countryside of Kent. When Blunden was seventeen, the family moved to Sussex where he attended Christ’s Hospital School and he began to write poetry which was published in the school magazine.
In 1914, Blunden began a scholarship at Queen’s College, Oxford but his studies were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. In 1915, he enlisted, joining the Royal Sussex Regiment as a lieutenant and arrived at the Western Front by the spring of 1916.
Blunden fought on the front line for two years and suffered from no physical injury, despite taking part in some of the most violent action of the campaign, including The Somme Offensive and Ypres. In January 1917, Blunden was awarded the Military Cross after completing a reconnaissance mission while under constant shelling.
He continued writing poetry from the trenches, offering a different perspective to those of his counterparts, where he focused on his feelings of guilt for his survival, as well as the damage the war was causing to the physical world, a beloved countryside.
After the Armistice in November 1918, Blunden returned to England and married Mary Daines before leaving the Army. He suffered severely with the psychological effects of war and the horror of his experiences. The couple started a family but were devastated when their first born died just a few weeks old; the grief of which is reflected in his poetry.
In 1919, Blunden resumed his studies at Oxford and began a friendship with fellow soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon. He left college after a year to pursue a career in writing, relocating to London, and continued to suffer with hauntings of the war.
He became a literary journalist for the Atheneum and expanded his writer connections when he joined an intellectual circle whose members included Virginia Woolf, Rupert Brooke, and Robert Frost.
Blunden had a reputation as being a kindly literary critic, ensuring neglected writers received the recognition he felt they deserved, including John Clare, Ivor Gurney, and Wilfred Owen.
In 1921, in an effort to recover from his psychological wounds and the physical damage to his lungs from gas attacks, Blunden travelled to South America. He wrote the first of many pieces of travel writing and The Bonaventure was published in 1922.
By 1924, Blunden was acquainted with the Far East and was appointed as Professor of English Literature at Tokyo’s Imperial University. Living in Japan, Blunden began to feel relief from his war suffering.
He wrote his memoir of active service, Undertones of War (1928), considered to be his most popular publication, detailing the day-to-day life of a platoon.
During his time in Japan, Blunden trained a generation of Japanese scholars, encouraged aspiring poets, and helped found the English Reading Society. His work strongly influenced the study of English Literature in the country.
Blunden returned to England in 1927, rejoining the military as a staff member of the Oxford Training Corps. While in post, he continued to write prose and essays, publishing a series of literary criticisms and philosophies about the relationship between nature and humans.
After having two more children with his wife Mary, the couple divorced in 1931. This same year, Blunden became a fellow and tutor in English Literature at Merton College, Oxford.
Blunden remarried in 1933, to the novelist Sylva Norman, who co-wrote his only novel, We’ll Shift Our Ground; or Two on a Tour published the same year. The couple had no children and divorced in 1945.
The same year of his divorce to Sylva, Blunden remarried again. This time to Claire Margaret Poynting, a former student. The couple went on to have four daughters and Blunden remained married to Claire for the rest of his life.
In 1947, Blunden returned to Japan as a cultural liaison officer at the British Embassy in Tokyo. He also lectured extensively on English Literature before returning to England in 1950 where he wrote for The Times Literary Supplement. In 1951, Blunden was awarded the CBE for his work in Japan, and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1956, as well as honours in Japan.
He travelled again to the Far East in 1953, where for a decade, he taught English Literature at the University of Hong Kong, then returned to England in 1964 to retire in Suffolk. However, his retirement was short-lived and in 1966 he became Professor of Poetry at Oxford University for two years before being forced to resign due to ill-health.
Edmund Blunden died at his home on 20th January 1974.
A prolific writer, critic, and scholar, Blunden was also the longest serving soldier poet of the First World War, seeing continuous action at the front line.
Like many of his brothers-in-arms, Blunden was haunted for all of his life from his experiences of war; a war which provided him a backdrop for so much of his writings. His contributions to the literary world in Western Europe and the Far East continue to influence to this day.
Blunden is one of sixteen poets of the First World War who is commemorated at Poets Corner Westminster Abbey. It is the short biography of Edmund Blunden.
Edmund Blunden Quotes:
“They died in splendour, these who claimed no spark. Of glory save the light in a friend’s eye.”
“Devise some creed, and live it, beyond theirs, Or I shall think you but their spendthrift heirs.”