Charles Causley

Charles Stanley Causley, CBE (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.


Life and work

Former National School, Launceston was attended by Charles Causley as both pupil and teacher

Causley was born at Launceston in Cornwall and was educated there and in Peterborough. His father died in 1924 from long-standing injuries from the First World War. Causley had to leave school at 15 to earn money, working as an office boy during his early years. He served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, as a coder, an experience he later wrote about in a book of short stories, Hands to Dance and Skylark. His first collection of poems, Farewell, Aggie Weston [1] (1951) contained his "Song of the Dying Gunner A.A.1":

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.

"Survivor's Leave" followed in 1953, and from then until his death Causley published frequently. He worked as a teacher at a school in Launceston, leaving the town seldom and reluctantly, though he twice spent time in Perth as a visiting Fellow at the University of Western Australia, and worked at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Canada, and especially after his retirement which taken early in 1976 [2] was much in demand at poetry readings in the United Kingdom. He made many broadcasts.

An intensely private person, he was nevertheless approachable. He was a friend of such writers as Siegfried Sassoon, A. L. Rowse, Jack Clemo and Ted Hughes (his closest friend). His poems for children were popular, and 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. Amen.
--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. 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.[3]

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. 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. Because of this, academia has paid less attention to his work than it might have done. His popularity, particularly among the Cornish, remains high.

The Charles Causley Trust secured the poet's house in Launceston for the nation in 2006, and is working towards opening the house to the public and providing a programme of heritage activities to promote Causley's life and work.

According to the Norton Anthology of Children's Literature,[4] "[b]ecause 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."[5] 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.".

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.


For adults

  • Hands to Dance (short stories, 1951)
  • Farewell, Aggie Weston (1951)
  • Survivor's Leave (1953)
  • Union Street (1957)
  • Johnny Alleluia (1961)
  • Underneath the Water (1968)
  • Secret Destinations (1984)
  • Collected Poems (1975)

For children

  • Figure of 999 (narrative poems for children 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 (1986) with music by Anthony Castro and illustrations by Michael Foreman
  • Jack the Treacle Eater (1987)
  • 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)


  • 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


  1. ^ Aggie Weston
  2. ^ Guardian obituary; by Wendy Trewin
  3. ^ "Charles Causley gallery". Charles Causley Society. 
  4. ^ Zipes, J. et al., eds. (2005) The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature. New York & London: Norton ISBN 0-393-97538; p. 1253.
  5. ^ Zipes et al.; p. 1253

Further reading

External links

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