John Masefield poems set for Edinburgh showcase

PREVIOUSLY unseen poems by one of Britain’s best-known poet laureates are to go on display in Edinburgh this summer.

A Song of the Birds for the Queen's Majesty by John Masefield, 1937. Picture: PA
A Song of the Birds for the Queen's Majesty by John Masefield, 1937. Picture: PA

The handwritten works by John Masefield - who held the post for 37 years until he passed away in 1967 - were given to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the future Queen Mother).

But the three poems were never published and the copies held in the official royal library at Windsor Castle are the only ones in existence. Masefield experts said they were unaware they had ever been written, claiming it was rare for “unknown” works by the writer to come to light.

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Now the works by Masefield - who is also renowned for children’s books like The Box of Delights and The Midnight Folk - are to appear in public for the first time as part of a major celebration of Britain’s poet laureates.

Poet Laureate John Masefield, pictured in 1931. Picture: PA

They were discovered to be the only copies in existence during planning for the forthcoming exhibition at Holyrood Palace. There was no previous record of them anywhere.

“Lines for January 20th was composed in 1940 for the fourth anniversary of the death of King George V, father of King George VI, who was on the throne when Masefield was appointed poet laureate in 1930 and for whom Masefield wrote many poems.

“A Prayer for the King’s Majesty upon his coronation marks the coronation of King George VI in May 1937. “Song of the Birds for The Queen’s Majesty,” written in 1937, also celebrates the coronation, but focuses on Queen Elizabeth.

Oliver Urquhart Irvine, librarian at the Royal Collection Trust, said: “Many of the laureate poems in the royal library were personally presented by the authors to the reigning monarch.

“Although many were subsequently published in newspapers or books, these three poems by Masefield are the only versions known to exist. We are delighted to display these unique and moving works for the very first time.”

Dr Philip Errington, Masefield scholar and archivist of the John Masefield Society, said: “Masefield’s tenure as poet laureate covered the abdication of Edward VIII, the Second World War, the death of two kings, the coronations of George VI and the present Queen and the birth of Prince Charles.

“These newly discovered poems reveal a very personal side to the role of laureate. It is rare for entirely unknown and unrecorded poems by Masefield to come to light.”

Rare volumes, manuscripts and collections of material will feature in the Poetry for the Palace exhibition, which opens at Holyrood on 7 August, showcasing the work of the likes of John Dryden, William Wordsworth, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, John Betjeman and Ted Hughes.

Around half the exhibition, which will be staged at the Queen’s Gallery at the palace, will showcase work created by the current poet laureate, Glasgow-born Carol Ann Duffy. Among the subjects she has tackled as poet laureate have been the MPs expenses scandal, the banking crisis, David Beckham’s injury problems, the Icelandic volcano crisis and the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

The exhibition will also chart the development of the role over three and a half centuries, offer an insight into the background to some of the poems and lift the lid on the relationships between the various poets and monarchs.