LAURENCE BINYON 1869 – 1943
It is the 11th November and the verse from Laurence Binyon’s poem The Fallen will be read at countless memorial services, as it has been for many decades since the Great War. It was first published in The Times of 21st September 1914. They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old… I think it must be the most recited verse in the English language. It is only one verse of a seven verse poem. The other six are virtually unknown, as are all the other verse he wrote. Except for those four lines he is not a well known poet. I believe that many people who know those four lines do not associate them with the name of Binyon.
I remember a poignant conversation I heard on the bus going home to Taverham many years ago. As you are probably unaware, there is an area of the village known unofficially as Poets’ Corner; the road Names of Coleridge Close, Shakespeare Way, Tusser Road and Shelley Drive all being named after British poets. To girls were talking about where they lived, and one revealed that her address was Binyon Gardens. “Oh,” said her companion, “You are not one of the poets then?” “No” came the reply. The last line of his famous verse runs We will remember them. Remember them perhaps, but not the author apparently.
Laurence Binyon was not a writer by profession. Not a poet of course because who can live by the power of verse alone. Even Roger McGough must earn more from voice-overs for broadcasts than he does from his very popular verse. Maybe Ogden Nash lived by poetry alone, but he wasc exceptional. Laurence Binyon was an art scholar by profession, and wrote (for instance) the entry on Burne-Jones in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.
His name was in fact Robert Laurence Binyon although he always used his middle name as a poet. However, in signing his name he used both initials, R. L. Binyon, as you can see in the signature from the title page from one of his books reproduced below.
He died in 1943. His library was sold after his widow Cicely’s death, and items from his book collection were bought by the author J. Stevens Cox in 1964. This information is obligingly pasted into the end paper of a copy of The Roman Triumvirates by Merrivale of 1885 from his library. I purchased this copy from a book sale at Aylsham about 35 years later, presumably after Cox’s death in 1997.
For the Fallen
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.