David Gascoyne (October 10, 1916 - November 25, 2001) was a British poet associated with the Surrealist movement.
Early Life and Surrealism
Gascoyne was born in Harrow and grew up in England and Scotland and attended the Choir School at Salisbury and Regent Street Polytechnic in London. He spent part of the early 1930s in Paris.
His first book, Roman Balcony and Other Poems was published in 1932, when he was sixteen. A novel, Opening Day, was published the following year. However, it was Man's Life is This Meat (1936), which collected his early surrealist work and translations of French surrealists, and Hoelderlin's Madness (1938) that established his reputation. Thess publications, together with his 1935 Short Survey of Surrealism and his work on the 1936 London International Surrealist Exhibition, made him one of a small group of English surrealists that included Hugh Sykes Davis and Roger Roughton.
Gascoyne had become friendly with Charles Madge and through him became involved in the Mass Observation movement. He joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1936 and broadcast some radio talks for the Barcelona-based propaganda ministry. However, he soon became disillusioned and left the party.
Later Life and Works
Gascoyne spent the years just before World War Two in Paris, where he became friendly with Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Andre Breton, Paul Eluard and Pierre Jean Jouve. His poetry of this period was published in Poems 1937-1942 (1943) with illustrations by the artist Graham Sutherland.
He returned to France after the war and lived there on and off until the mid 1960s. His work from the 1950s appeared in A Vagrant and Other Poems (1950), and Night Thoughts (1956). Interestingly, this later work had moved away from surrealism towards a more metaphysical and religious poetry. After suffering a mental breakdown, Gascoyne returned to England and spent the rest of his life on the Isle of Wight. He appear to have written little from that point on
In a poetic landscape dominated by W. H. Auden and other more political and social poets, the surrealist group tended to be overlooked by critics and public alike. He, among others, was lampooned by Dylan Thomas in Letter to my Aunt. Although Poems 1937-1942 received some critical acclaim at the time, it was only with the renewed interest in experimental writing associated with the British Poetry Revival that their work began to be rediscovered and discussed. His Collected Poems appeared in 1988 and his work was included in the Revival anthology Conductors of Chaos (1996).