It took me some time to hunt down any of the poetry of C. Day-Lewis, even second-hand. The centenary of his birth, in 2004, saw the publication of a selection edited by his widow, the actress Jill Balcon, but it had to be printed by subscription and seems to have vanished already. I can report, however, that there is a good reason for this; the poetry is mostly dreadful. Naturally, Peter Stanford does not think so, and quotes liberally, but the more he quotes the clearer the mediocrity becomes. Nor does Stanford succeed in making us warm to the man. Day-Lewis’s own autobiography, The Buried Day (1960), is elegant but evasive. The life by his son Sean (1980) is more frank about his sexual escapades. Stanford is more detailed still—fatally so, for who could like, or even respect, a man who could write the following?

Poets do tend to fall in love with a woman (sometimes consciously even) in order to beget a...


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