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Vernon Watkins (Vernon Phillips Watkins) Biography

(1906–67), (Vernon Phillips Watkins), œuvre, The Ballad of the Mari Lwyd, The Lady with the Unicorn

Welsh poet, born in Maesteg, Glamorgan, educated at Repton School. He left Cambridge after one year at Magdalene College and worked at a bank in Cardiff until he underwent a severe breakdown. He described this interlude as a ‘revolution of sensibility’ and determined to devote himself as a poet to ‘the conquest of time’. From this intention stems the cohesiveness of his œuvre as a sustained celebration of the imperishable essences of experience. Two years later he resumed his duties as a bank clerk in Swansea, where he remained, refusing promotion, until his retirement in 1965. He subsequently travelled widely as a lecturer and died while playing tennis in Seattle. His numerous collections of verse include The Ballad of the Mari Lwyd (1941), The Lady with the Unicorn (1948), The Death Bell (1954), Cyprus and Acacia (1959), and Affinities (1963). The visionary emphasis in his poetry led to his association with the writers of the New Apocalypse in the 1940s; his lucid neo-Platonism and fluent accomplishment in traditional forms was distinct, however, from the undisciplined tendencies of that movement, as Philip Larkin noted in his contribution to Vernon Watkins, 1906–1967 (edited by Leslie Norris, 1970). While many of his poems are rooted in immediate perceptual experience, his work frequently invokes Welsh history and mythology, most notably in his recurrent adoptions of the persona of Taliesin, who provides a mouthpiece for his metaphysical view of poetry in ‘Taliesin and the Spring of Vision’. His Collected Poems, edited by Ruth Pryor, appeared in 1986. Among the translations he produced is The North Sea (1955), his version of two sequences by Heine. His long friendship with Dylan Thomas, whom he commemorated in the elegy ‘A True Picture Restored’, is recorded in Dylan Thomas: Letters to Vernon Watkins (1957).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Robert Penn Warren Biography to Kenneth White Biography