Life and work
Alun Lewis was born on 1 July 1915 at Cwmaman, near Aberdare in Cynon Valley in the South Wales Coalfield. His father was a school teacher; and he had a younger sister, Mair. By the time he attended Cowbridge Grammar School, he was already interested in writing. He went on to study at Aberystwyth University and the University of Manchester. Although he was born in South Wales, he wrote in English only.
Lewis was unsuccessful as a journalist, and instead earned his living as a supply teacher. He met the poet Lynette Roberts (whose poem "Llanybri" is an invitation to him to visit her home), but she was married to another poet, Keidrych Rhys. In 1939 Lewis met Gweno Ellis, a teacher, whom he married before the year was out.
After the outbreak of the Second World War Lewis joined the British army, although he inclined to pacifism. In 1941 he collaborated with artists John Petts and Brenda Chamberlain on the "Caseg broadsheets". His first published book was the collection poetry Raider's Dawn and other poems (1942) (in which he makes a reference to Saints Peter and Paul), which was followed up by volume of short stories, The Last Inspection (1942) In 1942 he was sent to India with the South Wales Borderers.
Lewis died on 5 March 1944 in Burma, in the course of the campaign against the Japanese. He was found shot in the head, after shaving and washing, near the officers' latrines, with his revolver in his hand, and died from the wound six hours later. Despite a suggestion of suicide, an army court of inquiry concluded that he had tripped and that the shooting was an accident.
His second book of poems, Ha!Ha! among the trumpets. Poems in transit, was published in 1945, and his Letters from India in 1946. Several collections of his poems, letters and stories have been published subsequently.
One of his poems
- All Day it has Rained
All day it has rained, and we on the edge of the moors
Have sprawled in our bell-tents, moody and dull as boors,
Groundsheets and blankets spread on the muddy ground
And from the first grey wakening we have found
No refuge from the skirmishing fine rain
And the wind that made the canvas heave and flap
And the taut wet guy-ropes ravel out and snap,
All day the rain has glided, wave and mist and dream,
Drenching the gorse and heather, a gossamer stream
Too light to stir the acorns that suddenly
Snatched from their cups by the wild south-westerly
Pattered against the tent and our upturned dreaming faces.
And we stretched out, unbuttoning our braces,
Smoking a Woodbine, darning dirty socks,
Reading the Sunday papers – I saw a fox
And mentioned it in the note I scribbled home;
And we talked of girls and dropping bombs on Rome,
And thought of the quiet dead and the loud celebrities
Exhorting us to slaughter, and the herded refugees;
– Yet thought softly, morosely of them, and as indifferently
As of ourselves or those whom we
For years have loved, and will again
Tomorrow maybe love; but now it is the rain
Possesses us entirely, the twilight and the rain.
And I can remember nothing dearer or more to my heart
Than the children I watched in the woods on Saturday
Shaking down burning chestnuts for the schoolyard's merry play
Or the shaggy patient dog who followed me
By Sheet and Steep and up the wooded scree
To the Shoulder o' Mutton where Edward Thomas brooded long
On death and beauty – till a bullet stopped his song.
- Raiders' Dawn and other poems (1942)
- The Last Inspection and other stories (1942)
- Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets. Poems in Transit (1945)
- Letters from India, edited by Gweno Lewis & Gwyn Jones (1946)
- In the Green Tree (letters & stories) (1948)
- Selected Poetry and Prose, edited by Ian Hamilton (1966)
- Selected Poems of Alun Lewis, edited by Jeremy Hooker and Gweno Lewis (1981)
- Alun Lewis. A Miscellany of His Writings, edited by John Pikoulis (1982)
- Letters to My Wife, edited by Gweno Lewis (Seren Books: 1989)
- Collected Stories, edited by Cary Archard (Seren Books, 1990)
- Collected Poems, edited by Cary Archard (Seren Books, 1994)
- A Cypress Walk. Letters to 'Frieda', with a memoir by Freda Aykroyd (Enitharmon Press, 2006)
- Alun Lewis. A Life by John Pikoulis (Seren Books, 1991)
- Poet in Khaki: Alun Lewis and his Combat Writings by Pinaki Roy, War, Literature and the Arts, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2012-13: http://wlajournal.com/24_1/pdf/Roy.pdf
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