Dannie Abse 1923–2014
22 September 1923–28 September 2014
Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff in 1923 and grew up in the city. After studying at the Welsh National School of Medicine, he moved in 1943 to London where he continued
his medical studies at King’s College and Westminster Hospital; his military service was done in the RAF. Qualifying as a doctor in 1950, he worked as a specialist in a chest clinic on the fringes of Soho; he lived in Golders Green, but kept in touch with Wales through his support for Cardiff Football Club and his presidency of the Welsh Academy, the national association of writers, and for many years he had a home at Ogmore-by-sea; he also edited the anthology Twentieth Century Anglo-Welsh Poetry (1997). He published some sixteen books of verse; they include After Every Green Thing (1948), Walking under Water (1952), Tenants of the House (1957), A Small Desperation (1968), Funland (1973), Way Out in the Centre (1981), Ask the Bloody Horse (1986), On the Evening Road (1994), Arcadia: One Mile (1998) and Running Late (2007); many of his poems on Welsh themes are to be found in Welsh Retrospective (1997). He also wrote a number of prose works, mainly autobiographical, which include Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve (1954) and A Poet in the Family (1974). His Collected Poems 1948-88, entitled White Coat Purple Coat, appeared in 1989 and his New and Collected Poems, nearly three hundred in all, in 2003; a small selection was published in the Corgi series as Touch Wood in 2002. At the heart of his work lay a fascination with the foibles of human nature and he reserved his warmest admiration for those who have refused to conform and have suffered as a consequence. As a Jew, albeit secular, he was particularly sensitive to political pressures; a stronger awareness of his Jewish identity came to the fore in his mature work and some of his later poems dealt specifically with the Holocaust. In all his verse there is, in about equal measure, a deep melancholy and a sheer delight in everyday experiences, some of which is based on his experiences as a doctor. His poems have a haunting power, in which there is a place for nostalgia, humour, irony, optimism and a delicious sense of the incongruous and mysterious. He died yesterday on September 28th 2014 at the age of 91.
Our thoughts go out to his family at this difficult time.