Charles Causley (CBE, FRSL) was born on 24 August 1917 in Launceston, Cornwall, and spent most of his life there until he died on 4th November 2003. His father died shortly after the 1st World War of a lung condition induced by the conditions under which he served in the trenches. Causley was brought up by his mother to whose care in her later life he devoted himself. He showed early literary interests and talent, reading widely in his teens and writing plays for local production and publication. His first play ‘Runaway’ was published when he was only nineteen.
After serving in the navy in the second world war (experiences from which he used as a basis for a selection of short stories Hands to Dance and Skylark), he took advantage of the opportunities to train as a teacher afforded by the post-War Government and entered Peterborough Training College. On qualifying he returned to teach in the Primary School in his native Launceston and remained in that post until his early retirement.
His first published collection of poems was titled Farewell Aggie Weston and was published in the classic “slim volume” style by The Hand and Flower Press in 1951. Along with several companion volumes by other poets, this volume is now very collectable. This was followed by Survivor’s Leave (also by the Hand and Flower Press) in 1953, but his reputation was established in 1957 with the publication of Union Street by Rupert Hart-Davis. This volume contained an introduction by Edith Sitwell who was very enthusiastic about Causley’s poetry.
These early poems are noted for their narrative style and often contain strong spiritual and Christian references. In the 70s Causley started to write and publish poetry for children. Some are simple rhymes designed to delight readers by their very sound, but others follow his early style for a strong narrative.
His poetry includes many references to Cornwall and its legends, his stature being recognized by his appointment as a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd in 1955. His scope and interests, however, stretched far beyond his native County. Many of the poems relate to fellow artists whose works he revered: Keats, John Clare, Jack Clemo, Cecil Day Lewis, Lorca, Van Gogh and the sculptor of local East Cornish origin, Nevill Northey Burnard among others.
Many of his books of verse for children have been illustrated by prominent artists. In addition to his poetry, Causley wrote plays, short stories and opera librettos. He was also a prolific editor of collections of poetry. In addition he contributed poems and articles to literary magazines including The Listener, The London Magazine and Poetry Quarterly. Much of his work is now included in educational books for young children.
In 1958 Causley was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and he was awarded a CBE in 1986.
Other awards include the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1967. 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.
Causley was very highly regarded by his fellow poets, and on his 70th birthday, many of them, including Ted Hughes, Elizabeth Jennings, Philip Larkin, Roger McGough and Seamus Heaney contributed to a collection of poetry and prose tributes published in his honour.