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John Drinkwater Biography

(1882–1937), Copethua, X = 0: A Night of the Trojan War, Abraham Lincoln, Oliver Cromwell

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British poet and playwright, born in Leytonstone, Essex; he grew up in north Oxfordshire, whence the predominantly rural imagery of much of his poetry derives, and was educated at Oxford High School. He began writing poetry while working as a clerk in insurance offices in Nottingham and Birmingham, and became manager of the Birmingham Repertory Company upon its formation in 1913. He directed and acted in many productions and wrote a number of short verse-plays, among which are Copethua (1911) and X = 0: A Night of the Trojan War (1917), an allegorically effective statement against the Great War. His principal achievements as a playwright were his historical prose dramas: Abraham Lincoln (1918), Oliver Cromwell (1921), Mary Stuart (1922), and Robert E. Lee (1923). Bird in the Hand (1927) was a successful comedy in which Laurence Olivier and Peggy Ashcroft were given their first major roles. His Collected Plays appeared in two volumes in 1925. Drinkwater published over twenty books of poetry including The Death of Leander and Other Poems (1906), Poems of Love and Earth (1912), Swords and Ploughshares (1915), From an Unknown Isle (1924), and Collected Poems (3 volumes, 1923). His repute as a poet has declined with that of the Georgian movement, whose mediocre rural sentimentalism is perhaps typified by much of his verse. Certain of his poems are, however, highly memorable, like ‘Birthright’ (‘Lord Rameses of Egypt sighed | Because a summer evening passed…’) and ‘Moonlit Apples’, and have secured him a place in the modern literary tradition. He wrote numerous critical biographies, including William Morris (1912), The Pilgrim of Eternity: Byron (1925), and Pepys: His Life and Character (1930); and two volumes of autobiography, Inheritance (1931) and Discovery (1932).

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