Charles Causley

Charles Stanley Causley, CBE, FRSL (24 August 1917 – 4 November 2003) was a Cornish poet, schoolmaster and writer. His work is noted for its simplicity and directness and for its associations with folklore, especially when linked to his native Cornwall.

Charles Causley
Pencil drawing of Causley by Stanley Simmonds
Born24 August 1917
Launceston, Cornwall, England
Died4 November 2003(2003-11-04) (aged 86)
Launceston, Cornwall, England
Resting placeSt Thomas Churchyard, Launceston, Cornwall, England
GenrePoetry (ballads, other forms and free verse and children's poetry)
Notable worksCollected Poems, 1951-1997; Collected Poems for Children; individual poems including 'Timothy Winters', 'Eden Rock' and many more

Early years

Causley was born at Launceston in Cornwall and was educated there and at a teacher training college in Peterborough. His father died in 1924 from long-standing injuries from the First World War. Largely because of this, Causley had to leave school at 15 to earn money for the family, working as an office boy during his early years.


He enlisted in the Royal Navy and served as a coder during the Second World War, aboard the destroyer HMS Eclipse in the Atlantic and later in the Pacific as part of the crew of the aircraft carrier HMS Glory. Causley later wrote about his wartime experiences in his poetry, and also in a book of short stories, Hands to Dance and Skylark.[1] His first collection of poems, Farewell, Aggie Weston[2] (1951) contained his "Song of the Dying Gunner A.A.1":[3]

Farewell, Aggie Weston, the Barracks at Guz,
Hang my tiddley suit on the door
I'm sewn up neat in a canvas sheet
And I shan't be home no more.

The collection Survivor's Leave followed in 1953, and from then until his death Causley published frequently. He worked as a teacher at his old school, St. Catherine's CofE Primary, in Launceston, leaving the town seldom and reluctantly. He did however twice spend time in Perth as a visiting Fellow at the University of Western Australia, and also worked at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Canada. He travelled widely and frequently, especially after his retirement, early in 1976.[4] Causley was much in demand at poetry readings in the United Kingdom and worldwide. He also made many television and radio appearances over the post-war period, particularly for the BBC in the West Country, and as the presenter for many years of the BBC Radio 4 series Poetry Please.

An intensely private person, he was nevertheless approachable. He was a friend of such writers as Siegfried Sassoon, A. L. Rowse, Susan Hill, Jack Clemo and Ted Hughes (his closest friend). As well as Causley's other poetry dealing with issues of faith, travel, friends and family, his poems for children were popular. He used to say that he could have lived comfortably on the fees paid for the reproduction of "Timothy Winters":

Timothy Winters comes to school
With eyes as wide as a football pool,
Ears like bombs and teeth like splinters:
A blitz of a boy is Timothy Winters.
—first verse

So come one angel, come on ten:
Timothy Winters says "Amen
Amen amen amen amen."
Timothy Winters, Lord.''
—last verse

In 1958, Causley was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was awarded a CBE in 1986. When he was 83 years old he was made a Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature: he greeted this award with the words, "My goodness, what an encouragement!" Other awards include the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1967 and a Cholmondeley Award in 1971. In 1973/74 he was Visiting Fellow in Poetry at the University of Exeter, receiving an honorary doctorate from that university on 7 July 1977.[5] 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. He was twice awarded a travelling scholarship by the Society of Authors. There was a campaign to have him appointed Poet Laureate on the death of John Betjeman, but to the people of his home town, he became "the greatest poet laureate we never had". He was interviewed by Roy Plomley on Desert Island Discs on 1 December 1979: his music choices included five classical selections and three others while his chosen book was Boswell's Life of Johnson.[6]

In 1982, on his 65th birthday, a book of poems was published in his honour that included contributions from Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin and twenty-three other poets, testifying to the respect and indeed love that the British poetry community had for him. This was followed by a fuller and more wide-ranging tribute, Causley at 70, published in 1987.

His work, influenced by W. H. Auden, is intensely original and many consider him to be, as Betjeman was, a man working outside of the dominant trends of the poetry of his day.

Causley's popularity amongst general readers and listeners, particularly among the Cornish, remains high, and also appears to be expanding. A particular piece that has gained considerable attention in recent years is the late poem "Eden Rock", an elegiac reflection on childhood, family and mortality. Its opening lines are:

They are waiting for me somewhere beyond Eden Rock:
My father, twenty five, in the same suit
Of Genuine Irish Tweed, his terrier Jack
Still trembling at his feet.

The former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has said that if he could write a line as perfect as the one that closes this poem, he would die a happy man. The full text of "Eden Rock" accompanies a recording on the Poetry Archive website of Causley himself reading it aloud, shortly before his death.


According to the Norton Anthology of Children's Literature,[7] "because his characteristic themes, preoccupations, and freshness of language vary little, it is often difficult to distinguish between his writings for children and those for adults. He himself declared that he did know whether a given poem was for children or adults as he was writing it, and he included his children's poetry without comment in his collected works."[7]

W. H. Auden comments on Causley stating that "Causley stayed true to what he called his 'guiding principle' ... while there are some good poems which are only for adults, because they pre-suppose adult experience in their readers, there are no good poems which are only for children."

His close friend Ted Hughes said of Causley:

"Among the English poetry of the last half century, Charles Causley's could well turn out to be the best loved and most needed.... Before I was made Poet Laureate, I was asked to name my choice of the best poet for the job. Without hesitation I named Charles Causley–this marvelously resourceful, original poet, yet among all known poets the only one who could be called a man of the people, in the old, best sense. A poet for whom the title might have been invented afresh. I was pleased to hear that in an unpublished letter Philip Larkin thought the same and chose him too."[8]

Perhaps because of that widespread perception of Causley as a poetic "outsider", academia has paid less attention to his work than it might have done. However, the publication over recent years of a book of critical essays edited by Michael Hanke, Through the Granite Kingdom, as well as a number of dissertations about Causley's work (alone, or alongside poets such as Larkin and R. S. Thomas) suggest that this situation is changing. . Another indication of that increased attention was a one-day academic symposium "Charles Causley: Influence and Legacy" took place at Falmouth University's Penryn Campus on Saturday 6 December 2014. It included some ten papers or presentations organised under three themes ("Friendship, Faith and Childhood", "Causley in the Wider World" and "Influence and Legacy"), as well as a discussion of a documentary film on Causley currently in the process of being completed, and from which extracts were shown. The Symposium itself ended with readings from the current Causley Trust Writer-in-Residence at Cyprus Well, Alyson Hallett, and students who attended associated writing workshops. The day as whole was rounded off by an evening reading from the poet Brian Patten.


The Charles Causley Trust, a registered charity, exists to celebrate his life and work and promote new literature activity in the community and region in which he lived.[9] The Trust secured the poet's house in Launceston for the nation in 2006. After considerable repairs, refurbishment and upgrading, the house has been opened on a limited basis to the public, providing a programme of heritage activities to promote Causley's life and work, and in particular the base for a Poet-in-Residence programme.

In June 2010, the first Charles Causley Festival took place in Launceston, held over a long weekend. The programme included literature, music, art and a variety of other activities. A second, expanded Festival took place in the town over a full week, spanning the end of May and the start of June 2011, and broadened its themes still further with a science-based talk from Professor James Lovelock (of "Gaia Theory" fame) who lives in the district.

Further annual festivals have followed, each year since (2012–18), with a wide variety of events both directly and indirectly connected to Causley and his work. In the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh annual Festivals respectively, the centrepiece events were readings given by Sir Andrew Motion (former Poet Laureate, and patron of the Causley Society), and Carol Ann Duffy (the current Poet Laureate), Brian Patten and Lemn Sissay (the 2012 London Olympics Poet).

The fourth festival, in June 2013, saw a performance of a number of new settings of Causley poems by his distant relative, folk singer Jim Causley. These had been recorded for a commercial CD in Cyprus Well (and titled with that name), Causley's home of many years in Launceston—even using Causley's own piano, there. The fifth festival in June 2014 featured a session marking the centenary of the start of the First World War with a series of talks on war poetry. The rough cut of a new 90' documentary film about Causley's life and work, made by Jane Darke and Andrew Tebbs of Boatshed Films, was the climactic event of the sixth festival in June 2015. Another highlight that year was a three-day "guided open house" opportunity at Causley's restored and extended house, Cyprus Well. The June 2016 Festival (no.7) featured the premiere of the finished 90-minute version of the Darke and Tebbs documentary film, The Poet: Charles Causley. In addition, a plaque was unveiled at Cyprus Well, now a working writer's residence as well as a memorial.

The June 2017 Festival — the 8th one, and marking the centenary of Causley's birth—featured Murray Lachlan Young, the Fisherman's Friends, Jim Causley, Cahal Dallat, rare performances of several of Causley's one-act plays from the 1930s, and a session from the eminent illustrator John Lawrence and Gaby Morgan marking the re-issue of Causley's 'Collected Poems for Children'. 2018's Festival (the 9th) was headlined by poet and broadcaster Roger McGough, author Miriam Darlington and BBC journalist Martyn Oates. The 10th Festival, in June 2019, was headlined by the Devon folk artist Seth Lakeman, with other popular events from the novelist Patrick Gale, the artist Kurt Jackson, and the poets Alyson Hallett and Penelope Shuttle, amongst many others.

On 1 October 2017, BBC4 broadcast a 60' version of the documentary film about Causley's life and work, re-titled 'Cornwall's Native Poet', with the programme subsequently available online for the rest of that month, via the BBC iPlayer.

An original opera by Steven McNeff, based on Causley's libretto 'The Burning Boy', was premiered by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's Kokoro Ensemble in Launceston and St. Ives in November 2017. The majority of the songs of Alex Atterson (1931–1996) are settings of Causley poems.[10] A number of other settings have been made of Causley poems, over many years, by musicians such as Jim Causley (see above), Natalie Merchant, Johnny Coppin, Mervyn Horder and Phyllis Tate. New versions continue to be composed.

Charles Causley Trust International Poetry Competition

The Charles Causley International Poetry Prize began in 2013 and has continued in most recent years, the winners usually being announced in the build up to Christmas. First prize awards have been £2000, second prize awards £250 and third prize awards £100. It is an international competition open to anyone over the age of 18 and held in the memory of Charles Causley, renowned Cornish poet. Entries usually cost £7 each and more than one can be submitted per poet.[11]


1st prize – Jo Bell, ‘The Icicle Garden’ 2nd prize – Dorothy Conventon, ‘The River Trevillet’ 3rd prize – Simon Pomery, ‘Love Poem to Black Pudding’ Highly Commended: John Gallas, ‘Once in Wrapping’, Roger Elkin, ‘Fishing in the Khabur River, Syria’, Ama Bolton, ‘Sea-change’. Judges: Sir Andrew Motion [12]


1st prize – Angela Readman, ‘The Museum of Water’ [13]

2nd prize – John Haslam, ‘Draw’

3rd prize – Andrew Rudd, ‘His Wooden Shirt’

Highly Commended: Victor Tapner, ‘Holbein’s Wife’, Tania Hershman, ‘The Biologist & The Birds’ and ‘The Observer Paradox’, Sue Wood, ‘Indian Summer’, Samantha Weaver, ‘Smallholdings’.

Judges: Kathryn Simmonds [14]


1st prize – Claire Dyer, ‘Trust and the Horse’ [15][16]

2nd prize – Russell Jones, ‘Waggledancers’

3rd prize- Nell Farrell, ‘Finding the Wedding Photos’

Highly Commended: Kristen Irving, ‘Huixtocihuatl’, John Foggin, ‘For the True Naming of the World’, Jill Munro, ‘Freeze-framed’, David Curtis, ‘What the Owls Say’, Andy Humphrey, ‘Becoming Hedgehog’.


Professor Antony Caleshu

Dr. Kim Martindale

Dr. Miriam Darlington

Professor Ronald Tamplin [17]

2016 (TBC)

1st prize - Jack Thacker, 'The Load'

2nd prize - Joanne Key, 'The Year You Turned Into A Fish'

3rd prize - Liz Breslin, 'Walk A Mile/ Stepping Out'

Highly Commended: Victor Tapner, 'A Gap In The Field', Theresa Lola, 'Portrait Of Us As Snow White', Jill Munro, 'Le Nez', Tony D'Arpino, 'A Romp In Brompton Cemetery', Kerry Darbyshire, 'The Earth Of Cumberland Is My Earth'.[18]

Judges: Sir Andrew Motion [19][20]


For adults

  • Hands to Dance (short stories, later re-published as Hands to Dance and Skylark) (1951)
  • Farewell, Aggie Weston (1951)
  • Survivor's Leave (1953)
  • Union Street (1957)
  • Johnny Alleluia (1961)
  • Underneath the Water (1968)
  • Secret Destinations (1984)
  • Twenty-One Poems (1986)
  • A Field of Vision (1988)
  • Collected Poems, 1951-2000 (2000)

For children

  • Figure of 8 (narrative poems 1969)
  • Figgie Hobbin: Poems for Children (for children, 1970)
  • 'Quack!' Said the Billy-Goat (c. 1970)
  • The Tail of the Trinosaur (for children, 1973)
  • As I Went Down Zig Zag (1974)
  • Dick Whittington (1976)
  • The Animals' Carol (1978)
  • Early in the Morning: A Collection of New Poems with music by Anthony Castro and illustrations by Michael Foreman
  • Jack the Treacle Eater (Macmillan, 1987), illustrated by Charles Keeping — winner of the Kurt Maschler Award, or the Emil, for integrated writing and illustration[21]
  • The Young Man of Cury and Other Poems (1991)
  • All Day Saturday, and Other Poems (1994)
  • Collected Poems for Children (1996) as illustrated by John Lawrence
  • The Merrymaid of Zennor (1999)
  • I Had a Little Cat (2009)
  • Timothy Winters
  • Ballad of the bread man


  • Runaway (1936)
  • The Conquering Hero (1937)
  • Benedict (1938)
  • How Pleasant to Know Mrs. Lear: A Victorian Comedy in One Act (1948)
  • The Ballad of Aucassin and Nicolette (libretto, 1981)

As editor

  • Peninsula
  • Dawn and Dusk
  • Rising Early
  • Modern Folk Ballads
  • The Puffin Book of Magic Verse
  • The Puffin Book of Salt-Sea Verse
  • The Sun, Dancing: Anthology of Christian Verse

See also


  1. Waterman, Rory (2016), Belonging and Estrangement in the Poetry of Philip Larkin, R. S. Thomas and Charles Causley, Routledge
  2. Aggie Weston. Archived 21 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  3. "Guz" = Devonport; "tiddley suit" = very smart suit.—Partridge, E. (1961), A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English; 5th ed.; pp. 364 & 883.
  4. Wendy Trewin, Obituary from The Guardian, 6 November 2003.
  5. Laurence Green (2013), All Cornwall Thunders at My Door: A Biography of Charles Causley. Sheffield: The Cornovia Press, p. 173, ISBN 978-1-908878-08-3.
  6. "Charles Causley gallery". Charles Causley Society. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 27 June 2011.
  7. Zipes, J., et al., eds (2005), The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature, New York & London: Norton ISBN 0-393-97538-X; p. 1253.
  8. Dana Gioia, Barrier of a Common Language: an American looks at contemporary British poetry (2003), University of Michigan Press, ISBN 9780472095827; p. 58.
  9. Charity Commission. The Charles Causley Trust, registered charity no. 1152107.
  10. Woods, Fred (1979), Folk Revival. Poole, Dorset: Blandford; p. 118.
  11. "Charles Causley Poetry Competition - Writing East Midlands". Writing East Midlands. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  12. "The Charles Causley Poetry Competition 2013". Scribd. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  13. "Bare Fiction - Charles Causley Poetry Competition 1st... | Facebook". Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  14. "2014 Charles Causley Poetry Competition Winners". Literature Works SW - Nurturing literature development activity in South West England. 22 January 2015. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  15. "Claire Dyer Wins Charles Causley Poetry Prize".
  16. "Congratulations, Claire Dyer! 2015 Charles Causley Poetry Prize winner | Two Rivers Press". Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  17. "Charles Causley Poetry Competition 2015 – Josephine Corcoran". Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  18. "Charles Causley International Poetry Competition Winners 2016". The Charles Causley Trust. 25 January 2017. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
  19. "Sir Andrew Motion to Judge The Charles Causley Poetry Competition 2016". Literature Works SW - Nurturing literature development activity in South West England. 21 September 2016. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  20. "The Charles Causley Poetry Competition 2016". Give me challenge. 15 October 2016. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
  21. "Kurt Maschler Awards". Book Awards. Retrieved 7 October 2013.

Further reading

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