John Heath-Stubbs

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John Heath-Stubbs, poet, photographed in 1994

John Francis Alexander Heath-Stubbs OBE (9 July 1918 – 26 December 2006) was an English poet and translator, known for verse influenced by classical myths, and for the long Arthurian poem Artorius (1972).


Heath-Stubbs was born in London, and educated at Bembridge School and Queen's College, Oxford. He co-edited Eight Oxford Poets in 1941, with Sidney Keyes and Michael Meyer, and helped edit Oxford Poetry in 1942–43. He held the Gregory Fellowship of Poetry at Leeds University (1952–55) and he had professorships in Alexandria (1955–58) and Ann Arbor, Michigan (1960–61). He taught at the College of St Mark and St John in Chelsea (1962–72), as well as at Merton College, Oxford for twenty years from 1972. He lived for a time in the 1950s at Zennor in Cornwall.

His translations included works by Sappho, Horace, Catullus, Hafiz, Verlaine, and most notably Giacomo Leopardi. He was a representative figure in British poetry in the early 1950s, editing the poetry anthology Images of Tomorrow (1953), and with David Wright, the Faber Book of Twentieth Century Verse, among others. He was elected to the RSL in 1954, awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry 1973, and appointed OBE in 1989. Although afflicted by blindness from the 1960s, and completely without sight from 1978, he continued to write almost to the end. A documentary film about him, titled Ibycus: A Poem by John Heath-Stubbs, was made by the Chilean director Carlos Klein in 1997.

He died in London on 26 December 2006, aged 88.[1]

Writing style[edit]

His diction was strong, yet subtle. Running through his work, like that of most romantic poets, was a nostalgia for "classicism". He was consciously literary, and his work was elaborately wrought rather than spontaneous, so it was not the kind of poetry likely to have mass appeal. However, his devotion to the craft of poetry makes his work impressive. Few writers of his time had a deeper knowledge of the English language, or cared for it more devotedly.[2]

Poetry collections[edit]

John Heath-Stubbs, by Patrick Swift, c.1960.
  • 1942: Wounded Thammuz
  • 1948: The Swarming of the Bees
  • 1950: The Forsaken Garden: An Anthology of Poetry 1824–1909, edited with David Wright
  • 1953: New Poems
  • 1953: Faber Book of Twentieth Century Verse, edited with David Wright
  • 1954: A Charm Against the Toothache
  • 1962: The Blue-Fly in His Head
  • 1965: Selected Poems
  • 1969: Cosmic Poem
  • 1972: Penguin Modern Poets 20, co editor
  • 1974: Artorius: A Heroic Poem in Four Books and Eight Episodes
  • 1978: The Watchman's Flute
  • 1979: Omar Khayyám, The Rubaiyat, translated with Peter Avery
  • 1981: In The Shadows - David Gray, editor
  • 1982: Naming the Beasts
  • 1985: The Immolation of Aleph
  • 1987: Cat's Parnassus, Hearing Eye. ISBN 1-870841-00-X
  • 1988: Collected Poems 1942–1987, Carcanet Press
  • 1988: Time Pieces, Hearing Eye. ISBN 1-870841-02-6
  • 1988: A Partridge in a Pear Tree: Poems for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Hearing Eye, illustrations by Emily Johns
  • 1989: A Ninefold Of Charms, Hearing Eye, illustrations by Emily Johns
  • 1990: Selected Poems
  • 1992: The Parson's Cat, Hearing Eye, illustrations by Emily Johns
  • 1993: Sweet-Apple Earth
  • 1993: Hindsights : An Autobiography
  • 1994: Chimaeras, Hearing Eye, lino etchings by Emily Johns
  • 1996: Galileo's Salad
  • 1998: The literary essays of John Heath-Stubbs, edited by A.T. Tolley
  • 1999: The Sound of Light
  • 2000: The Poems of Sulpicia, translator, Hearing Eye, illustrations by Emily Johns
  • 2002: The Return of the Cranes
  • 2005: Pigs Might Fly


  1. ^ Meyer, Michael (29 December 2006). "John Heath-Stubbs". Obituary from The Guardian. London, England. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  2. ^ Edward Lucie-Smith in British Poetry since 1945.

External links[edit]