Born: November 7, 1897. Died: February 29, 1992.
The celebrated poet Ruth Pitter was a distant relative of my mother. Ruth’s classical style of poetry gained many admirers including C.S. Lewis whom became a great friend and confidenté and wrote the following critique : ‘Trophy of Arms is enough for one letter for it has most deeply delighted me. I was prepared for the more definitely mystical poems, but not for this cool, classical quality. You do it time after time—create a silence and vacancy and awe all round the poem’. Hilaire Belloc also gave praise to her poetry by writing ‘an exceptional reappearance of the classical spirit amongst us’.
Ruth Pitter received the Hawthornden Prize in 1937 and the William E. Heinemann Award in 1953 and became the first woman to receive the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1955. The Royal Society of Literature awarded her their highest honour of a Companion of Literature in 1974 and, in 1979, she was honoured with a CBE for her contributions to English literature.
Ruth published 18 volumes of new and collected verse and, despite the aforementioned accolates, remained a relatively unknown poet for much of her life and preferred to live quietly with her partner, Kathleen O’Hara, in a small village in Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom, where they opened a small business painting trays after WWII.
She frequently appeared on BBC radio and television from the 1940s and amongst her many literary friends were said to be Siegfried Sassoon, Walter de la Mare, George Orwell and his parents Richard and Ida Blair, Owen Barfield and Lord David Cecil. Thom Gunn once described her as ‘the most modest of poets, slipping us her riches as if they were everyday currency’.
First Poems. London: Cecil Palmer, 1920.
First and Second Poems. London: Sheed & Ward, 1927.
Persephone in Hades. Privately printed, 1931.
A Mad Lady’s Garland. London: Cresset Press, 1934.
A Trophy of Arms: Poems 1926-1935. London: Cresset Press, 1936 (winner of the Hawthornden Prize in 1937).
The Spirit Watches. London: Cresset Press, 1939.
The Rude Potato. London: Cresset Press, 1941.
Poem. Southampton: Shirley Press, 1943.
The Bridge. Poems 1939-1944. London: Cresset Press, 1945.
Pitter on Cats. London: Cresset Press, 1946.
Urania (Selections from A Trophy of Arms, The Spirit Watches and The Bridge. London: Cresset Press, 1950.
The Ermine: Poems 1942-1952. London: Cresset Press, 1953 (winner of the William Heinemann Award: Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, 1955).
Still by Choice. London: Cresset Press, 1966.
Poems 1926-1966. London: Barrie & Rockliff/Cresset Press, 1968.
End of the Drought. London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1975.
A Heaven to Find. London: Enitharmon Press, 1987.
Collected Poems: 1990. Petersfield: Enitharmon, 1990.
Collected Poems. London: Enitharmon, 1996.
Hunting the Unicorn: A Critical Biography of Ruth Pitter by Don W. King. Kent State University Press, 15 July 2008.