F. T. Prince
Poet and scholar Frank Templeton (F.T.) Prince has been regarded as a significant poet of the 20th century by poets as varied as John Ashbery and Geoffrey Hill. Prince grew up in South Africa and later studied at Balliol College, Oxford University and Princeton University. He was the author of over ten books of poetry, including Poems (1938), Soldiers Bathing (1954), Walks in Rome (1987), and Collected Poems 1935-1992.
F.T. Prince’s poetry was influenced by the work of Roy Campbell, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, and Arthur Rimbaud. Although Richmond Lattimore maintained in Hudson Review that Prince “is less well known than his illustrious contemporaries,” he declared that the author “is all his own man, he is like no one else, he is a major poet.” As a scholar, Prince is best known for his work on Shakespeare and Milton. Critic Peter Levi believes that The Italian Element in Milton’s Verse is Prince’s “most famous critical book … a book only a poet and only a fine scholar could have written.” Poet-critic Philip Hobsbaum adds, “it would seem that the oeuvre of Prince adds up to a respectable contribution to modern literature by a scholar-poet.”
“Soldiers Bathing,” Prince’s “most anthologized poem ... succeeds on the basis of a direct religious reading of the ‘facts,’” contended David Tacium. “The plot is direct and moving,” recounted Hobsbaum: “Soldiers stripped of the accouterments of war show themselves thereby at once released and vulnerable. ... The poem superbly combines story line with archetype. Further, there is a highly characteristic vision here. We are aware of a detached persona considering all this ... certainly someone ... erudite, distanced, eloquent. The person is a kind of ideal aesthete.” Critic Donald Davie lauded “Soldiers Bathing” as “nearly the finest poem in English to come out of World War II … the only one, perhaps, that could justly be said to stand beside the classics of World War I. It is a remarkable fact that the techniques deployed in Prince’s other poems do duty here: the slow-moving line, the distilled concept, the imagery refracted through recollection of great art. Yet the total effect is ... urgent and poignant.” A Choice review of 1979’s Collected Poems regarded “Soldiers Bathing” as “one of the best wrought, best realized war poems of our time,” and hailed Prince’s “linguistic and technical virtuosity.”
As a student at Oxford, Prince “became enthusiastic for Renaissance art and architecture, as well as Renaissance poetry. Several years later,” reported Tacium, “this enthusiasm ripened into moving meditation on the vocation of the artist, ‘The Old Age of Michelangelo’ (first collected in The Doors of Stone, 1963), one of his finest poems.” While at Oxford he also became interested in Italian culture and taught himself the language. During World War II, he served six years in the British Army’s Intelligence Corps, spending his last six months in uniform as an interpreter in Italian prisoner-of-war camps in England; “Soldiers Bathing” was inspired by his wartime experience. “Much of Prince’s postwar poetry was written as he was teaching at Southampton University,” noted Tacium, adding, “These poems are written either in the first person or through the medium of a commentator (as in ‘Strafford’), but the first person is seldom if ever the poet himself; rather, he is a persona, often historical, who permits the ‘realization’ or ‘dramatization’ of a given theme, mood, or emotion. Prince has always been at odds with those who seek to give a reproduction of the poet’s immediate experience and way of life. Choosing dramatic subjects, he has been able to convey multiple bearings and perspectives through them.”
“What Prince’s Collected Poems reveals is the sheer copiousness and variety of his achievement,” summarized Ben Howard in a 1980 Poetry magazine review, “which includes conventional stanzaic lyrics, reflective poems on historical themes, a sequence in ‘open’ form and another in a stanza borrowed from Shelley, an experiment with Bridges’s 12-syllable measure, and several ambitious meditative monologues. Whatever the mode, Prince’s hand is deft and firm, but his most memorable work lies in his monologues, where the romantic and scholarly lineaments of his sensibility, the leisured ease and elegance of his style, can find their fullest expression.” “Admirers of ... Collected Poems (1979) may find much of Later On, quirky and frustrating,” stated critic A. Poulin, Jr. However, Poulin complimented Prince’s 1983 three-poem collection for its poem, “The Yuan Chen Variations,” which Poulin describes as “a beautiful example of Mr. Prince’s capacity for moving eloquence.” William Scammell, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, called Prince “a poet of high distinction” and concluded that Later On “is a brave and stimulating book.” Describing the 12-page poem “Afterword on Rupert Brooke” as a journalistic biography, Levi credited Prince for creating “a new literary form in English poetry” that “is a very effective piece.”
“For half a century,” proclaimed Hobsbaum, “Prince has stood fast among the tides of fashion. His verse is leisurely, eloquent, syntactically elaborate. It suggests the spaciousness of a bygone age.” Prince “is certainly among the finest of living poets writing in metrical forms,” declared Tacium, later noting that “Prince’s poetry has been called unfashionable, which may variously mean that it is not modern, that it does not conform to English or American trends and assumptions, or that it is too ‘other-worldly.’ But critics have also noticed that Prince deals consistently with recurring dilemmas—restlessness, solitude, love, growing old, the sufferings and joys of the imaginative life—in the spirit or a ‘composer’ working with a recognizable theme as his subject. His poetry offers a faithful attention to ‘the thing itself’ and a documentation of the inner life.”
Prince once wrote, “From the beginning it seemed to me that I would have to go my own way. But it takes a long time, and varied experience, to learn what one really thinks and feels—longer if one is a poet, and if one lives in this century. Some of my past work looks strange to me now, but I have kept it because at the very least it can help towards an understanding of the better things.”
Prince taught at Southampton University in England for over two decades. He also taught briefly at Oxford, Cambridge, and at institutions in Jamaica, the United States, and Yemen. He died in 2003 in Southampton.