Laurence Binyon

Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) is one of the lesser known war poets. Although too old to enlist in the First World War, he went to the Western Front in 1916 to work for the Red Cross as a medical orderly with an Ambulance Unit. He wrote about his experiences in For Dauntless France (1918).

The oldest of the Great War poets (he was 45 when the war began), Laurence Binyon was an expert on Oriental art at the British Museum, and an established scholar and poet.

Binyon worked at the British Museum before WWI and it was there he returned after the war. In 1933, he was appointed Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard. In 1934 he retired from the British Museum, having risen to be the Keeper of the Prints and Drawings Department, and went to live in the country at Westridge Green, near Streatley.

The son of Quakers, Binyon was educated at St Paul's School and Trinity College, Oxford. He was already writing poetry by 1891, and won the Newdigate Prize for one poem whilst still at Oxford.

Binyon is best known for 'For the Fallen', originally published in The Times on 21 September 1914. It is still quoted at RAF funerals. William Brodrick uses 'The Burning of the Leaves' to great effect in his debut novel The Sixth Lamentation.

Binyon is among the sixteen Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey in London. The inscription on the stone was written by a fellow Great War poet, Wilfred Owen. It reads: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."

Literature ~ Siegfried Sassoon
(c) Keith Parkins 2009 -- February 2009 rev 0