Laurence Lerner

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Laurence (David) Lerner (12 December 1925 – 19 January 2016), often called Larry, was a South African born British literary critic and poet and novelist. He was born in Cape Town; his Jewish father Israel was from Zhitomir, Ukraine and his mother May from Abinger Hammer, England. He was educated at St George's Grammar School, Cape Town, the University of Cape Town and Pembroke College, Cambridge.

He was lecturer in English, at the University College of the Gold Coast, 1949–53, tutor then lecturer in English, Queen's University, Belfast, 1953–62, lecturer then reader then professor of English, University of Sussex 1962-84,[1] and Edwin W Mims Professor of English, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, 1985-95. He won the 1991 Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor Award.[2]

Larry taught in many universities around the world in addition to those where he had jobs: Munich, Dijon, various in the USA and Canada, Kashmir, Wurzburg, Vienna, and British Council lecture tours in France, Germany, Spain, South America, Turkey and India. These experiences led to his most personal book, Wandering Professor.

Although he described himself as a follower who was surprised to be accepted, Larry was an active member of the Society of Friends (Quakers), attending Brighton, Nashville and then Lewes meetings. For many years, he taught a Shakespeare summer school at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. He gave the Swarthmore Lecture in 1984 (The Two Cinnas – Quakerism, Revolution and Poetry). He was Clerk to the Lewes meeting for several years. He was also a Governor of Leighton Park School, the Quaker school in England.

He published nine collections of poetry, three novels, ten books of literary criticism, reflections on English language usage and life as a professor, and lectures, essays and poems. He edited two anthologies of modern literary criticism of Shakespeare's plays for Penguin books which were widely used by A level students in the UK.

He died on 19 January 2016 at the age of 90.[3]




  • The Englishman. Hamish Hamilton, 1959.
  • A Free Man. Chatto & Windus, 1968.
  • My Grandfather's Grandfather. Secker & Warburg, 1985. ISBN 0-436-24443-8.


Other works[edit]


Here is a poem by Laurence Lerner (not infringing copyright, since submitted by the author, who holds the copyright!)

Kaspar Hauser

All that long time there was the place I was,
All that long same, the dark and constant same.
I came to being and it bit my eyes.

I want to be a rider like my father.
A soldier was my father was a horseman.
I want to be a rider and I want

Out of that same he carried me upstairs,
Out of that dark and then I stood to lean;
The soft ground stood and hit me where I fell.

When it was hunger time they put soft life
Into my mouth. It moved. The warm flesh tore
Under my teeth. This could be me I'm eating.

I spat and called: I loved that time, those horses,
The brittle bread, the water, the soft dark,
The stiff floor always there, the always steady

Till I was carried to the bumpy world:
The air threw needles at my eyes. I fell.
Where were my walls, my horse to push, and where -

I want my floor my bread my dark my always -
I want the same the only same the only -
I want to be a rider like my father


Readings by Laurence Lerner of several of his poems are on YouTube

See also[edit]