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University archive of influential poet’s work unsealed 100 years after his birth

Published: 
13 September 2012
F.T. Prince
An exhibition of Prince's work is being held at the University

An archive of letters, notebooks and journals sealed after the death of influential poet and University of Southampton English Professor F.T. Prince has been opened for the first time.

Frank Templeton Prince knew celebrated poets such as W.B Yeats, T.S Eliot and W.H. Auden. The archive, which was sealed with instructions to be opened in 2012 – coinciding with the University’s 60 year celebrations, contains his correspondence with these writers and other famous poets.

The University of Southampton’s Dr Will May has been studying the archive and says: “Prince wasn’t widely celebrated in Britain during his lifetime, but his verse had a profound influence on a number of well-known poets of his time.”

The documents chart Prince’s contact with several generations of writers, from Oxford contemporaries W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender, to avant-garde American poets John Ashbery and Susan Howe. It also details his meetings during the 1950s with such famous writers as E.M. Forster and Siegfried Sassoon.

Will comments: “This archive is not only a terrific new resource for anyone studying twentieth-century British or American poetry, but it also reveals how central Prince’s work was to a range of different writers and traditions.”

F.T Prince joined the University of Southampton English department in 1946 and took up his post as Professor in 1957, just a few years after Southampton was granted its Royal Charter by the Queen in 1952 and became a university. American poets visiting from New York would sometimes lodge with him in Southampton and he was more widely recognised in the US.

Prince’s most famous work is the war poem of 1942 Soldiers Bathing and the archive contains an intriguing unpublished work, thought to be a precursor to this. Written in 1930 and titled The Swimmers, the newly discovered poem suggests a more personal, less political motivation behind the later, acclaimed work.

Dr Will May comments: “The Swimmers was written while Prince was a young man living in South Africa, in tribute to a friend. Prince’s journals confess ‘I fear I have become very attached to him’ and later record Prince writing him, ‘a very emotional letter … which I shouldn’t have posted, but did.’

“This changes the way we read Prince’s most famous poem, Soldiers Bathing. He is often thought of as a scholarly, cerebral poet, but his work is full of emotional power. The earlier work offers us a new reading of his renowned war poem, which appears to be informed by personal anguish as well as more apparent political and moral themes.”

The unpublished poem The Swimmers is part of a new exhibition of F.T Prince’s work and letters being held at the University of Southampton’s Hartley Library from 3 – 28 September 2012 as part of its 60 year celebrations.

Prince’s life and work is also being celebrated with a centenary symposium at the University of Southampton on 20 September 2012, jointly organised by Southampton’s Dr Will May and Professor Peter Middleton, and Professor Peter Robinson from the University of Reading.

Notes for editors

  • For more information about the F.T. Prince symposium visit:
    https://www.southampton.ac.uk/english/news/events/2012/06/08_prince_symposium_2012.page

  • For more information about the F.T. Prince exhibition visit: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/archives/exhibitions/exhibnews.html

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