Charles Causley

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Charles Causley
The Grave of Charles Causley in St Thomas Churchyard - - 323515.jpg
Causley's grave in St Thomas Churchyard
Born 24 August 1917
Launceston, Cornwall, England
Died 4 November 2003(2003-11-04) (aged 86)
Resting place St Thomas Churchyard, Launceston
Nationality British
Genre Poetry (notably ballads)
Notable works Green Man In The Garden

Charles Stanley Causley, CBE, FRSL (24 August 1917 – 4 November 2003) was a Cornish poet, schoolmaster and writer. His work is noted for its simplicity and directness and for its associations with folklore, especially when linked to his native Cornwall.

Life and work[edit]

Former National School, Launceston, where Causley was both pupil and teacher

Causley was born at Launceston in Cornwall and was educated there and in Peterborough. His father died in 1924 from long-standing injuries from the First World War. Causley had to leave school at 15 to earn money, working as an office boy during his early years. He served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, as a coder, an experience he later wrote about in a book of short stories, Hands to Dance and Skylark. His first collection of poems, Farewell, Aggie Weston [1] (1951) contained his "Song of the Dying Gunner A.A.1":

Farewell, Aggie Weston, the Barracks at Guz,
Hang my tiddley suit on the door
I'm sewn up neat in a canvas sheet
And I shan't be home no more.

"Survivor's Leave" followed in 1953, and from then until his death Causley published frequently. He worked as a teacher at a school, St. Catherines CoE, in Launceston, leaving the town seldom and reluctantly, though he twice spent time in Perth as a visiting Fellow at the University of Western Australia, and worked at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Canada, and especially after his retirement which taken early in 1976 [2] was much in demand at poetry readings in the United Kingdom. He made many broadcasts.

An intensely private person, he was nevertheless approachable. He was a friend of such writers as Siegfried Sassoon, A. L. Rowse, Jack Clemo and Ted Hughes (his closest friend). His poems for children were popular, and he used to say that he could have lived comfortably on the fees paid for the reproduction of "Timothy Winters":

Timothy Winters comes to school
With eyes as wide as a football pool,
Ears like bombs and teeth like splinters:
A blitz of a boy is Timothy Winters.
--first verse

So come one angel, come on ten:
Timothy Winters says "Amen
Amen amen amen amen."
Timothy Winters, Lord.
--last verse

In 1958, Causley was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was awarded a CBE in 1986. When he was 83 years old he was made a Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature: he greeted this award with the words, 'My goodness, what an encouragement!' Other awards include the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1967 and a Cholmondeley Award in 1971. In 1973/74 he was Visiting Fellow in Poetry at the University of Exeter, receiving an honorary doctorate from that university on 7 July 1977.[3] He was presented with the Heywood Hill Literary Prize in 2000. Between 1962 and 1966 he was a member of the Poetry Panel of the Arts Council of Great Britain. He was twice awarded a travelling scholarship by the Society of Authors. There was a campaign to have him appointed Poet Laureate on the death of John Betjeman, but to the people of his home town, he became "the greatest poet laureate we never had". He was interviewed by Roy Plomley on Desert Island Discs on 1 December 1979: his music choices included five classical selections and three others while his chosen book was Boswell's Life of Johnson.[4]

In 1982, on his 65th birthday, a book of poems was published in his honour that included contributions from Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin and twenty-three other poets, testifying to the respect and indeed love that the British poetry community had for him. His work, influenced by W. H. Auden, is intensely original and many consider him to be, as Betjeman was, a man working outside of the dominant trends of the poetry of his day.[citation needed] Because of this, academia has paid less attention to his work than it might have done.[citation needed] His popularity, particularly among the Cornish, remains high.

Reception and legacy[edit]

According to the Norton Anthology of Children's Literature,[5] "because his characteristic themes, preoccupations, and freshness of language vary little, it is often difficult to distinguish between his writings for children and those for adults. He himself declared that he did know whether a given poem was for children or adults as he was writing it, and he included his children's poetry without comment in his collected works."[5]

W. H. Auden comments on Causley stating that "Causley stayed true to what he called his 'guiding principle' ... while there are some good poems which are only for adults, because they pre-suppose adult experience in their readers, there are no good poems which are only for children."

His close friend Ted Hughes said of Causley:

"Among the English poetry of the last half century, Charles Causley's could well turn out to be the best loved and most needed ... Before I was made Poet Laureate, I was asked to name my choice of the best poet for the job. Without hesitation I named Charles Causley–this marvelously resourceful, original poet, yet among all known poets the only one who could be called a man of the people, in the old, best sense. A poet for whom the title might have been invented afresh. I was pleased to hear that in an unpublished letter Philip Larkin thought the same and chose him too."[6]

The Charles Causley Trust secured the poet's house in Launceston for the nation in 2006, and is working towards opening the house to the public and providing a programme of heritage activities to promote Causley's life and work.

In June 2010, the first Charles Causley Festival took place in Launceston, held over a long weekend. The programme included literature, music, art and a variety of other activities. A second, expanded Festival took place in the town over a full week, spanning the end of May and the start of June 2011, and broadened its themes still further with a science-based talk from Professor James Lovelock (of 'Gaia Theory' fame) who lives in the district.

Further annual festivals have followed, each year since (2012-2016), with a wide variety of events both directly and indirectly connected to Causley and his work. In the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th annual Festivals respectively, the centrepiece events were readings given by Sir Andrew Motion (former Poet Laureate, and patron of the Causley Society), and Carol Ann Duffy (the current Poet Laureate), Brian Patten and Lemn Sissay (the 2012 London Olympics Poet).

The 4th festival, in June 2013, saw a performance of a number of new settings of Causley poems by his distant relative, folk singer Jim Causley. These had been recorded for a commercial CD in Cyprus Well (and titled with that name), Causley's home of many years in Launceston -- even using Causley's own piano, there. The 5th festival in June 2014 featured a session marking the centenary of the start of the First World War with a series of talks on war poetry. The rough cut of a new documentary film about Causley's life and work, made by Jane Darke and Andrew Tebbs of Boatshed Films, was the climactic event of the 6th festival in June 2015. Another highlight that year was a three-day 'guided open house' opportunity at Causley's restored and extended house, Cyprus Well.

The June 2016 Festival (no.7) featured the premiere of the finished 90-minute version of the Darke and Tebbs documentary film, 'The Poet: Charles Causley'. In addition, a plaque was unveiled at Cyprus Well, now a working writer's residence as well as a memorial. A further festival is planned for 2017 -- the centenary of Causley's birth.

A one-day academic symposium 'Charles Causley: Influence and Legacy' took place at Falmouth University's Penryn Campus on Saturday 6 December 2014. It included some ten papers or presentations organised under three themes ('Friendship, Faith and Childhood', 'Causley in the Wider World' and 'Influence and Legacy'), as well as a discussion of a documentary film on Causley currently in the process of being completed, and from which extracts were shown. The Symposium itself ended with readings from the current Causley Trust Writer-in-Residence at Cyprus Well, Alyson Hallett, and students who attended associated writing workshops. The day as whole was rounded off by an evening reading from the poet Brian Patten.

The majority of the songs of Alex Atterson (1931-1996) are settings of Causley poems.[7] A number of other settings have been made of Causley poems, over many years -- and new ones continue to be composed.


For adults[edit]

  • Hands to Dance (short stories, 1951)
  • Farewell, Aggie Weston (1951)
  • Survivor's Leave (1953)
  • Union Street (1957)
  • Johnny Alleluia (1961)
  • Underneath the Water (1968)
  • Secret Destinations (1984)
  • Collected Poems (1975)
  • "Hospital Visitor"

For children[edit]

  • Figure of 8 (narrative poems 1969)
  • Figgie Hobbin: Poems for Children (for children, 1970)
  • 'Quack!' said the Billy-Goat (c. 1970)
  • The Tail of the Trinosaur (for children, 1973)
  • As I went down Zig Zag (1974)
  • Dick Whittington (1976)
  • The Animals' Carol (1978)
  • Early in the Morning: A Collection of New Poems (1986) with music by Anthony Castro and illustrations by Michael Foreman
  • Jack the Treacle Eater (Macmillan, 1987), illustrated by Charles Keeping — winner of the Kurt Maschler Award, or the Emil, for integrated writing and illustration[8]
  • The Young Man of Cury and Other Poems (1991)
  • All day Saturday: and other poems (1994)
  • Collected poems for children (1996) as illustrated by John Lawrence
  • The Merrymaid of Zennor (1999)
  • What Has Happened to Lulu?


  • Runaway (1936
  • The Conquering Hero (1937)
  • Benedict (1938)
  • How Pleasant to Know Mrs. Lear: A Victorian comedy in one act (1948)
  • The Ballad of Aucassin and Nicolette (Libretto, 1981)

As editor[edit]

  • Peninsula
  • Dawn and Dusk
  • Rising Early
  • Modern Folk Ballads
  • The Puffin Book of Magic Verse
  • The Puffin Book of Salt-Sea Verse
  • The Sun, Dancing - Christian Verse compiled by Charles Causley

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aggie Weston
  2. ^ Guardian obituary; by Wendy Trewin
  3. ^ Laurence Green (2013) All Cornwall Thunders at My Door: A Biography of Charles Causley. Sheffield: The Cornovia Press, p173 ISBN 978-1-908878-08-3
  4. ^ "Charles Causley gallery". Charles Causley Society. Retrieved 27 June 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Zipes, J. et al., eds. (2005) The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature. New York & London: Norton ISBN 0-393-97538-X; p. 1253.
  6. ^ Dana Gioia Barrier of a Common Language: an American looks at contemporary British poetry (2003) University of Michigan Press ISBN 9780472095827; p. 58
  7. ^ Woods, Fred (1979) Folk Revival. Poole, Dorset: Blandford; p. 118
  8. ^ "Kurt Maschler Awards". Book Awards. Retrieved 7 October 2013.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]