Edmund Charles Blunden was born in London in 1896, the eldest of nine children, and grew up in rural Kent, where he developed a deep love of the English countryside. His parents were joint head teachers at Yalding School in Kent and later at Framfield School in Sussex. Edmund was educated at Christ’s Hospital School in Sussex from where he won a scholarship to Queen’s College, Oxford. Rather than take up his place, however, he joined the Royal Sussex Regiment as an officer in 1915, serving on the Western Front from 1916 until the end of the war. He took part in several major WWI battles, winning the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry. He published an account of his experiences in Undertones of War in 1928.
He left the army in 1919 to take up his university place, where he met Robert Graves, who had also served in the war and with whom he formed a close and lasting friendship. He did not find university life very stimulating, however, and left after a year to develop a literary career. In 1920 he published his first collection of poems, The Waggoner, and jointly edited the poems of John Clare. His next volume of poems, The Shepherd, won him the Hawthornden Prize in 1922 but, deciding he could not make a living from poetry, he took up the post of Professor of English at Tokyo University. After three years he returned to England to work as literary editor for The Nation and Athenaeum, a political weekly newspaper.
In 1931 he returned to Oxford as a Fellow of Merton College and during his time there published several collections of poetry, prose works, and his classic, Cricket Country, which portrays his abiding passion for village cricket. In 1944 he left Oxford to become assistant editor of The Times Literary Supplement and in 1947 returned to Japan as a member of the British liaison mission, where he remained for the next three years. In 1953 he became Professor of English at Hong Kong University. After retirement he served for two years as Oxford Professor of Poetry, succeeding Robert Graves.
Edmund Blunden was married three times. He had three children with his first wife and four with his third, one of his former pupils who was 22 years his junior. He died in Suffolk in 1974, aged 77. Blunden’s literary output was prolific and in addition to his war poetry, his themes include meditative poems and poems about the English countryside. His war poetry is generally regarded as more restrained than that of his more famous contemporaries, but the feelings he expressed were just as intense. He was awarded the CBE in 1951 and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1956. He is one of the sixteen Great War poets commemorated on the slate tile in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.