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This article is taken from PN Review 23, Volume 8 Number 3, January - February 1982.


Portrait of Sylvia Townsend Warner

In February 1978, two months before her death at the age of 84, Sylvia Townsend Warner wrote to the prospective publisher of her Collected Poems, 'I intend to be a posthumous poet!'. The exclamation serves, characteristically, to bear the'years of- I will not say neglect-inattention' with ironic good humour. At the time none of her five volumes of poetry was in print.

That poetry is put to the fore in this supplement, an emphasis which may seem perverse to those who know her only as a novelist and short-story writer. It was the aspect of her writing which met with the greatest 'inattention' of the literary world, and so enjoyed very favourable conditions in which to develop, and from a large and uneven oeuvre emerges perhaps the greatest achievement of her writing career, a handful of lasting poems.

* * * * * * * *

Sylvia Townsend Warner was born in 1893 and was brought up and educated privately in Harrow, where her father was a schoolmaster. She became a distinguished music scholar as one of the editors of the influential Oxford/ Carnegie edition of Tudor Church Music (ten volumes, 1923-29), a job which took her into London. There she made many friends, one of whom -Stephen Tomlin, the sculptor and an old-Harovian, was her introduction to 'Bloomsbury'. It was also through Tomlin that she met ' a sort of hermit', as he ...

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