Treasures of the Library & Archives

Radley and poetry

Poetry has had a long and mostly innocuous career at Radley. One of the first three boys, Samuel Reynolds, won the Newdigate Prize for Poetry at Oxford University in 1853. Schoolboy poetry has flourished in the background ever since, with the earliest published poem appearing in the Radleian in its first year of publication, October 1866.

The Literary Society was first so-called in 1888, having transformed itself from the Shakespeare Society, and has been a continuous presence ever since. Under Warden Wilkes, 1937-1954, and particularly during the Second World War, there was an intellectual flowering across the school which found expression in a great number of arts societies: the Shakespeare Society, the Art Society, an Antiquarian Society, a Chess Club, and a Poetry Society for the reading of original verse. There were also in-house journals for creative writing, especially The emergency ration and, later, College Block. Many of the contributions were in verse. A notable poet of this period was David Raikes, shot down over Italy in 1945. His poetry was collected and published posthumously by his teacher, Charles Wrinch. The David Raikes Poetry Prize, awarded in his memory, was won by Andrew Motion in 1967-8 for his poem The pain.

In the 1960s and 1970s, P.D.L. Way, himself winner of the Newdigate Prize and a practising poet, encouraged many boys to become poets, most notable among them Andrew Motion, Stephen Romer, and Duncan Forbes. All published their first works in the Radleian. Duncan Forbes returned to Radley to teach in the late 1990s and in his turn inspired the collection Human voices, 1996, by contemporary boys, and the privately printed collection by Robert Holford, Cyclops in a coffee cup, 2002.

Radley's impact on the wider stage has been dominated by Harold Monro, who founded the Poetry Bookshop in 1912, and by Andrew Motion, appointed Poet Laureate in 1999. On a lesser scale, the work of Jonathan Griffin, particularly as translator of Fernando Pessoa and Camoens, as well as an original poet admired by Ted Hughes and likened to David Jones, is becoming increasingly appreciated.

Harold Monro's contribution to twentieth century poetry cannot be under-estimated. He encouraged and published the Georgian Poets, including Rupert Brooke; he promoted the first public reading of T.S. Eliot in 1915, and edited the Poetry Society Journal, The Poetry Review and the Chapbooks. His own Utopian views led to the founding of the Samurai Press in 1906. The Poetry Bookshop endured for twenty years as the leading home of the innovative poetry of the early twentieth century, as publisher, as bookshop and as meeting place: poets, artists and writers associated with it included Wilfred Owen, Ezra Pound, Anna Wickham, Charlotte Mew, Osbert Sitwell, Alec Waugh, E. McKnight Kauffer (who painted the shop sign), and Eric Ravilious.


Elm Angel (1930), Harold Monro