Life and career
Jennings was born in Boston, Lincolnshire. When she was six, her family moved to Oxford, where she remained for the rest of her life. There she later attended St Anne's College. After graduation, she became a writer.
It was a yellow voice, a high, shrill treble in the nursery
White always and high, I remember it so,
White cupboard, off-white table, mugs, dolls’ faces
And I was four or five. The garden could have been
Miles away. We were taken down to the green
Asparagus beds, the cut lawn, and the smell of it
Comes each summer after rain when white returns. Our bird,
A canary called Peter, sang behind bars. The black and white cat
Curled and snoozed by the fire and danger was far away.
Jennings' early poetry was published in journals such as Oxford Poetry, New English Weekly, The Spectator, Outposts and Poetry Review, but her first book was not published until she was 27. The lyrical poets she cited as having influenced her were Hopkins, Auden, Graves and Muir. Her second book, A Way of Looking, won the Somerset Maugham award and marked a turning point, as the prize money allowed her to spend nearly three months in Rome, which was a revelation. It brought a new dimension to her religious belief and inspired her imagination.
Regarded as traditionalist rather than an innovator, Jennings is known for her lyric poetry and mastery of form. Her work displays a simplicity of metre and rhyme shared with Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis and Thom Gunn, all members of the group of English poets known as The Movement. She always made it clear that, whilst her life, which included a spell of severe mental illness, contributed to the themes contained within her work, she did not write explicitly autobiographical poetry. Her deeply held Roman Catholicism coloured much of her work.
The life and career of "the bag lady of the sonnets", as tabloid newspapers called her when honored by the Queen in 1992, were reviewed in 2018 by Dana Gioia, concluding: "Despite her worldly failures, her artistic career was a steady course of achievement. Jennings ranks among the finest British poets of the second half of the twentieth century. She is also England’s best Catholic poet since Gerard Manley Hopkins."
Selected honours and awards
- 1953: Arts Council of Great Britain Prize for the best first book of poems for Poems
- 1955: Somerset Maugham Prize for A Way of Looking.
- 1987: W.H. Smith Literary Award for Collected Poems 1953–1985
- 1992: Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE)
- 2001: Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Durham University
- Poems. Oxford: Fantasy Press, 1953
- A Way of Looking. London: André Deutsch, 1955
- A Sense of the World. London: André Deutsch, 1958
- Song For a Birth or a Death. London: André Deutsch, 1961
- The Sonnets of Michelangelo (translated by Jennings). London: Folio Society, 1961
- Recoveries. London: André Deutsch, 1964
- The Mind has Mountains. London: Macmillan, 1966
- The Secret Brother and Other Poems for Children. London: Macmillan, 1966
- Collected Poems 1967. London: Macmillan, 1967
- The Animals' Arrival. London: Macmillan, 1969
- Lucidities. London: Macmillan, 1970
- Relationships. London: Macmillan, 1972
- Growing Points. Cheadle: Carcanet, 1975
- Consequently I Rejoice. Cheadle: Carcanet, 1977
- After the Ark. Oxford University Press, 1978
- Selected Poems. Cheadle: Carcanet, 1979
- Moments of Grace. Manchester: Carcanet, 1980
- Celebrations and Elegies. Manchester: Carcanet, 1982
- Extending the Territory. Manchester: Carcanet, 1985
- Collected Poems 1953-1985. Manchester: Carcanet, 1986
- An Oxford cycle Poems. Oxford:Thornton's, 1987
- Tributes. Manchester: Carcanet, 1989
- Times and Seasons. Manchester: Carcanet, 1992
- Familiar Spirits. Manchester: Carcanet, 1994
- In the Meantime. Manchester: Carcanet, 1996
- A Spell of Words: Selected Poems for Children. London: Macmillan, 1997
- Praises. Manchester: Carcanet, 1998
- Timely Issues. Manchester: Carcanet, 2001
- New Collected Poems. Manchester: Carcanet, 2001
- Elizabeth Jennings: The Collected Poems. Manchester: Carcanet, 2012
Selections and anthologies edited by Jennings
- The Batsford Book of Children's Verse (illustrated). London: Batsford, 1958
- An Anthology of Modern Verse: 1940-1960. London: Methuen, 1961
- Wuthering Heights and Selected Poems by Emily Brontë. London: Pan Books, 1967
- A Choice of Christina Rossetti's Verse. London: Faber and Faber, 1970
- The Batsford Book of Religious Verse. London: Batsford, 1981
- A Poet's Choice. Manchester: Carcanet, 1996
- "The Difficult Balance". London Magazine 6.9 (1959): 27–30
- "The Restoration of Symbols: The Poetry of David Gascoyne". Twentieth Century 165 (June 1959): 567–577
- Let's Have Some Poetry! (for children). London: Museum Press, 1960
- "Poetry and Mysticism: on re-reading Bremond". Dublin Review 234 (1960): 84–91
- "The Unity of Incarnation: a study of Gerard Manley Hopkins". Dublin Review 234 (1960): 170–184
- Every Changing Shape: Mystical Experience and the Making of Poems. London: André Deutsch, 1961; Manchester: Carcanet, 1996 ISBN 978-1-85754-247-9
- Poetry Today (British Council and National British League). London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1961
- "Emily Dickinson and the Poetry of the Inner Life". Review of English Literature 3.2 (April 1962): 78–87
- Frost (Robert Frost). Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1964
- Christianity and Poetry. London: Burns & Oates, 1965
- Reaching into Silence: a study of eight twentieth-century visionaries. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1974
- Seven Men of Vision: an appreciation. London: Visa Press, 1976
- "The State of Poetry". Agenda 27.3 (Autumn 1989): 40–41
- Grevel Lindop (31 October 2001). "Elizabeth Jennings Obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
- Couzyn, Jeni (1985) Contemporary Women Poets. Bloodaxe, pp. 98-100.
- "Elizabeth Jennings - poetryarchive.org". www.poetryarchive.org.
- ""A Bird in the House" at the Poetry archive".
- "Clarify Me, Please, God of the Galaxies - Dana Gioia".
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- Elizabeth Jennings Project. Profile and works.
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- Elizabeth Jennings Papers at Burns Library, Boston College
- Elizabeth Jennings archive at University of Delaware
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- "The Poetry of Elizabeth Jennings" Poetry nation No 5 1975