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John Cornford (Rupert John Cornford) Biography

(1915–36), (Rupert John Cornford), Christianity and the Social Revolution, New Writing, John Cornford: A Memoir

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Cockfield Suffolk to Frances Cornford (née Darwin) Biography

British poet, born in Cambridgeshire, the son of Frances Cornford and the eminent Cambridge classicist Professor F. M. Cornford; he was educated at the London School of Economics and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took a first in History. An active member of the Communist Party, he contributed the essay ‘What Communism Stands For’ to Christianity and the Social Revolution (1935, edited by John Lewis and others). In 1936 he travelled to Spain to join the International Brigade and was made leader of its English contingent. He was killed outside Lopera on the day after his twenty-first birthday. He began writing poetry at an early age in emulation of his mother, whose traditional style he dismissed when he encountered the work of T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden. His poems attracted favourable notice when they appeared in New Writing. His finest work is contained in ‘Poems from Spain, 1936’, which frequently display a poised acuteness of concentration in the face of battle similar to that found in the writing of Keith Douglas. John Cornford: A Memoir (1938), edited by Pat Sloan, collects many of his poems and some political essays, which show a concern with defining the nature of ideological commitment. Understand the Weapon, Understand the Wound (edited by J. Galassi, 1986) is an edition of his poetry, essays, and letters. Journey to the Frontier: Julian Bell and John Cornford (1986) is a ‘dual biography’ by William Abrahams and Peter Stansky.

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