no interest whatsoever in acquiring these: ‘a poet need have only one enemy: his reputation’; ‘a good poem is one which can never be fashionable’; ‘publication is a very marginal thing really’.3 His view is epitomised in ‘Rewards of the Fountain’:
Let the world offer what it will, Its bargains I refuse. Those it rewards are greedy still. I serve a stricter Muse. To gain the right perspective on this, we must know something of Watkins’s biography, for this had by no means always been his stance.
Vernon Watkins was born in Maesteg, South Wales, on 27 June 1906. He began writing very young, as he recalled: ‘I cannot remember a time when I did not mean to write poetry’;4 or, more exactly, ‘I was already writing poems when I was seven or eight, and between that age and twelve I bought the English poets one by one.’5 He attended Swansea Grammar School for a year, before going to a preparatory school in Sussex and then on to Repton, where he was a contemporary of a very different writer, Christopher Isherwood. (Isherwood portrayed Watkins as Perceval in his fictionalised memoir Lions and Shadows.) Watkins went on to Magdalene College, Cambridge, but left after a year, finding it unconducive to the vocation of poetry. Throughout this time, with the exception of his first year at Repton, he had never ceased writing poetry. His ambition and determination to achieve fame as a poet were unambiguous. He later recollected: ‘I aimed at writing a kind of poetry that would be remembered after my time’;6
or, more emphatically, ‘I wanted, at that early stage, to be “numbered among the English poets”.’7 He had poems published in Cambridge, and one (‘True Lovers’) in the then prestigious London Mercury.
Having left Cambridge, aged nineteen, he returned to Wales and found work as a clerk at Lloyd’s Bank in Cardiff. Only once did he refer to this move in writing:
The relation of a poet to society is something I have never been able to understand or solve. If a poet is able to write plays, that is a help; but, so far, I have not been able to write a play. If he writes criticism, that is a compromise; but I do not write criticism. My whole activity is lyric poetry, which must wait xii
New Selected Poems
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