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upon itself. When I was eighteen, after writing verse for nine or ten years, I knew that my obsession with poetry disqualified me for anything else. I decided to work in a bank. It happened that I could do figures easily.8

The job in the bank was thus the only route Watkins could envisage that would enable him to pursue his poetry without compromise. Dylan Thomas would acknowledge this: ‘So many writers, because their own serious writing does not pay, live by writing about writing, lecturing about writing, reviewing other writers, scriptwriting, advertising, journalising, boiling pots for the chainstore publishers; Vernon Watkins writes nothing but poems.’9

Initially, though, Watkins’s move appeared more like a selfincarceration than a solution: the result was a massive heightening of his inner experience and his poetry, to an extent he was unable to sustain. He spiralled into crisis, in medical terms into a severe psychotic episode, left the bank and Cardiff, and travelled to Repton; there his previous Headmaster, Geoffrey Fisher, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, had him certified and placed in a ‘nursing home’. His crisis continued to deepen and transform, leading him eventually ‘beyond time’s chain’,10 to an inner, spiritual experience or encounter, closely akin to what have since become known as ‘near-death experiences’.

He never elaborated on this experience in prose, although he did make several brief allusions to it:

I had read Blake’s words:

Each man is in his Spectre’s power Until the arrival of that hour When his humanity awake And cast his spectre into the lake; And the eternity of which Blake spoke suddenly seemed to me more accessible than time itself.11

Elsewhere he said: ‘Time itself was changed. It could never again dominate life.’12

The experience radically altered Watkins’s relationship to his poetry. He destroyed or rejected the vast number of poems he had previously written and started, as it were, afresh. His change was nowhere more apparent than in relation to ambition – to his desire to achieve worldly success as a poet: ‘I experienced an upheaval

Introduction xiii

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