Almost singlehandedly, Charles revived the ballad in the English language during the 20th c. Although his career has spanned the fields of education, the military, and criticism, Charles is best known and beloved for his poetry. While originally writing for an adult audience, Charles also writes for children, with the topics for both audiences ranging from World War II, Christianity, psychological studies, and sociological commentary. His writing is unabashedly influenced by his home county of Cornwall, where he has lived virtually his entire life in the same town.
In 1951, Charles published Farewell, Aggie Weston, his first collection of poetry. Its greatest significance lies in the fact that the poems reflect Charles’s experiences in the British navy during World War II. For Charles, the crux came after the death of a friend who was in a convoy to Russia in 1940, while Charles lasted the war on the sea. Farewell, Aggie Weston chronicles the difficulties endured by both Charles and his peers.
Union Street, Charles’s third collection of poems, included a preface by Edith SITWELL, who appreciated the unique poetry Charles creates from his use of traditional poetic forms. This 1957 publication contains selections from Charles’s first two books and nineteen new poems. Union Street displays Charles’s growing maturity as a writer and clearly marks his foray into Christian poetry. Among the many war poems in the volume lies the message that it is possible to find redemption through the good and the bad of life. In this respect, Charles seems to be alluding to the early Romantic poets who sought redemption from the evils of the aftermath of the French Revolution, the continuing slave trade, and the failure of the British poor laws.
Johnny Alleluia (1961) combines explicitly Christian themes with humanistic themes. With an empathetic pen, Charles relates tales of grief and loss, raises questions of faith and doubt. Charles’s interest in Christian themes continues throughout his oeuvre. His interest in CHILDREN’s LITERATURE surfaced soon after Johnny Alleluia with Figgie Hobbin (1970). The themes in this book mirror those of his more adult poems but his commitment to the English ballad is steadfast. Charles’s Collected Poems in 1975 was well received in both Britain and the U.S. and helped to give Charles a wider audience. In 1979, Charles wrote the foreword to Those First Affections: An Anthology of Poems Composed between the Ages of Two and Eight, edited by Timothy Rogers. The poems were written by children and the anthology is dotted with children’s art. In the foreword, Charles reveals not only his respect for literature for and by children, he also discloses his own notions of what a poem is: “A poem must possess qualities both of mystery and revelation.” It may tell us something of its subject, its author, of the world, and by a mysterious process of reciprocal communication “something of ourselves.” Charles encapsulates beautifully what his readers might deduce from reading Charles’s adult work; the notion of “reciprocal communication” is evident as the themes and topics of the poems are worked into simple yet powerful ballads that invite the reader to share experiences and questions with the poet.
Bibliography Bennett, J. R., “From Patriotism to Peace: The Humanization of War Memorials,” Humanist 58 (September-October 1998): 5–9; Gioia, D., “C. C.,” in Sherry, V. B., Jr., ed., Poets of Great Britain and Ireland, 1945–1960, DLB 27 (1984): 40–48
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