Frances Cornford

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Frances Cornford née Darwin should not be confused with her husband Francis Cornford.

Frances Crofts Cornford (née Darwin; 30 March 1886 – 19 August 1960) was an English poet; because of the similarity of her Christian name and her husband's, she was known to her family before her marriage as "FCD" and after her marriage as "FCC" and her husband Francis Cornford was known as "FMC". Her father Sir Francis Darwin, a son of Charles Darwin, yet another 'Francis', was known to their family as "Frank", or as "Uncle Frank".

Life[edit]

She was the daughter of the botanist Francis Darwin and Newnham College fellow Ellen Wordsworth Crofts (1856-1903), and born into the Darwin — Wedgwood family. She was a granddaughter of the British naturalist Charles Darwin. Her elder half-brother was the golf writer Bernard Darwin. She was raised in Cambridge, among a dense social network of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and was educated privately.[1]

In 1909, Frances Darwin married Francis Cornford, a classicist and poet. They had 5 children:

She is buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge,[5] where she is in the same grave as her father Sir Francis Darwin. Her mother Ellen Wordsworth Darwin, née Crofts, is buried in St. Andrews Church's churchyard in Girton, Cambridgeshire.

Her late husband, Francis, was cremated at Cambridge Crematorium on 6 January 1943.

Works[edit]

Frances Cornford published several books of verse, including her debut (as "F.C.D"), The Holtbury Idyll (1908), Poems (1910), Spring Morning (1915), Autumn Midnight (1923), and Different Days (1928). Mountains and Molehills (1935) was illustrated with woodcuts by her cousin Gwen Raverat.

She wrote poems including "The Guitarist Tunes Up":

With what attentive courtesy he bent
Over his instrument;
Not as a lordly conqueror who could
Command both wire and wood,
But as a man with a loved woman might
Inquiring with delight
What slight essential things she had to say
Before they started, he and she, to play.

One of Frances Cornford's poems was a favourite of Philip Larkin and his lover Maeve Brennan. "All Souls' Night" uses the superstition that a dead lover will appear to a still faithful partner on that November date. Maeve, many years after Larkin's death, would re-read the poem on All Souls:

My love came back to me
Under the November tree
Shelterless and dim.
He put his hand upon my shoulder,
He did not think me strange or older,
Nor I him.

Although the myth enhances the poem - it can be read as the meeting of older, former lovers.

To a Fat Lady Seen from the Train[edit]

However, Cornford is possibly best remembered for her triolet poem "To a Fat Lady Seen from the Train" in Poems of 1910.[6]

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering-sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?

To which G. K. Chesterton replied in "The Fat Lady Answers” in his Collected Poems of 1927:[7]

Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads; ...

Earlier, in 1910, A. E. Housman had written a parody in a private letter: [8]

O why do you walk through the fields in boots,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody shoots,
Why do you walk through the fields in boots,
When the grass is soft as the breast of coots ...

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Period Piece, a memoir by Frances Cornford's first cousin and close friend, Gwen Raverat, sheds much light on Cornford's childhood.
  2. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/04/us/04henderson.html?_r=0
  3. ^ Flora Bridge · Barrie Alfred Ernest Chapman · Amiya Kumar Chatterjee · Hugh Wordsworth Cornford... - Europe PMC Article - Europe PubMed Central
  4. ^ Marriages The Times, Friday, Apr 11, 1947; pg. 1; Issue 50732; col A
  5. ^ A Guide to Churchill College, Cambridge: text by Dr. Mark Goldie, pages 62 and 63 (2009)
  6. ^ The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English (1999). Lorna Sage, Germaine Greer, Elaine Showalter, ed. The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English. Cambridge University Press. p. 153. ISBN 978-0521668132. 
  7. ^ Ahlquist, Dale. "The Collected Poems II". Chesterton 101 lecture series. American Chesterton Society. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  8. ^ Housman, A..E. Archie Burnett, ed. The Letters of A. E. Housman. Oxford University Press. p. 249. ISBN 9780198184966. 

External links[edit]