Maurice English

(1909 - 1983)

Maurice English was a poet, publisher, translator, and journalist born in Chicago, Illinois. A graduate of Harvard, he worked as a journalist in the United States and Europe for twenty years before beginning his career as an editor and publisher. Over three decades, English held the roles of founding editor of Chicago Magazine, senior editor of the University of Chicago Press, founding director of the Temple University Press, and director of the University of Pennsylvania Press.

English, who published the poetry collections Midnight in the Century, A Savaging of Roots, and In Our Time, was also a prominent translator of Eugenio Montale. His honors include a Fulbright scholarship, a MacDowell fellowship, and a Friends of Literature Award.

In 1977, English lost his son Brian off Kauai’s primal cliffs on the Na Pali coast. Appearing here on our site are six devastating and restoring poems he wrote to describe the nightmare of drowning in that sea, which “knocks and rises toward my tilting bed.” He predicted Brian’s death in “The Flowing World” in 1955 and never read that poem again after his son died. English’s grief never diminished, and he continued exploring the trauma of his son’s drowning throughout his writing career.

“What Happens” was published in The New Republic in 1979. “Omega,” his last poem, was written when Maurice and his second wife, Helen Drutt English, revisited Kauai in 1983 in commemoration of Brian’s death. These poems remain as Maurice’s epitaph as well as his son’s. Brian had left his Omega watch on the beach before he drowned. Omega, the last letter of the Greek alphabet, was also Maurice’s final letter.

“The Key,” “Wading In,” “The Weaving,” and “Omega” are published here for the first time. Helen Drutt English, a famed craft historian and curator, had elevated the vocabulary of American crafts onto a global stage, and in “The Weaving” (1977, finished 1983), Maurice threads his wife and himself through his dead son’s eye into the vast tapestry of “all the waters of the world,” creating Brian’s threnody.

The Maurice English Poetry Award, founded by English’s family after his death in 1983, has honored Paul Muldoon, Marie Howe, W. S. Merwin, Galway Kinnell, Jean Valentine, Naomi Shihab Nye, among many other poets. Their fires flicker on his early grave, as constellations are models of lost light.


Photo by Deirdre English.