Alun Lewis

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Alun Lewis (1 July 1915 - 5 March 1944), was a poet of the Anglo-Welsh school[1], and is regarded by many as Britain's finest Second World War poet [2].

Contents

Education

He was born at Cwmaman, near Aberdare in one of the South Wales Valleys, the Cynon Valley, in the South Wales Coalfield. His father was a school teacher and he had a younger sister, Mair. By the time he attended Cowbridge Grammar School, he was already interested in writing. He went on to the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth and the University of Manchester, Manchester. He was unsuccessful as a journalist and instead earned his living as a supply teacher.

Early work

Lewis met the poet Lynette Roberts, whose poem "Llanybri" is an invitation to him to visit her home; but she was married to another poet, Keidrych Rhys. In 1939, Lewis met Gweno Ellis, a teacher, whom he married in 1941. In 1941, he collaborated with artists John Petts and Brenda Chamberlain on the "Caseg broadsheets". Although best known as a poet, his first published work was a volume of short stories, The Last Inspection (1942). In his poem Raider's Dawn Lewis makes a biblical reference to Peter and Paul.

Tragic end

He joined the army in 1940 although he was a pacifist. In 1942 he was sent to India with the South Wales Borderers.

He died in Burma, in the course of the Second World War campaign against the Japanese. He was found shot in the head, after shaving and washing, near the officers' latrines, with his revolver in his hand. He died from the wound six hours later. Despite the suggestion of suicide, an army court of inquiry subsequently concluded that he had tripped and the shooting was an accident.[3]

One of his poems

All day it has rained, and we on the edge of the moors
Have sprawled in our bell-tents, moody and dull as boors,
Groundsheets and blankets spread on the muddy ground
And from the first grey wakening we have found

No refuge from the skirmishing fine rain
And the wind that made the canvas heave and flap
And the taut wet guy-ropes ravel out and snap,
All day the rain has glided, wave and mist and dream,
Drenching the gorse and heather, a gossamer stream
Too light to stir the acorns that suddenly
Snatched from their cups by the wild south-westerly
Pattered against the tent and our upturned dreaming faces.
And we stretched out, unbuttoning our braces,
Smoking a Woodbine, darning dirty socks,
Reading the Sunday papers – I saw a fox
And mentioned it in the note I scribbled home;

And we talked of girls and dropping bombs on Rome,
And thought of the quiet dead and the loud celebrities
Exhorting us to slaughter, and the herded refugees;
– Yet thought softly, morosely of them, and as indifferently
As of ourselves or those whom we
For years have loved, and will again
Tomorrow maybe love; but now it is the rain
Possesses us entirely, the twilight and the rain.

And I can remember nothing dearer or more to my heart
Than the children I watched in the woods on Saturday
Shaking down burning chestnuts for the schoolyard's merry play
Or the shaggy patient dog who followed me
By Sheet and Steep and up the wooded scree
To the Shoulder o' Mutton where Edward Thomas brooded long
On death and beauty – till a bullet stopped his song.

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