George Orwell’s poetry was recently published as a collection. Apparently this is for the first time. Given how famous he is, I wondered why. Surely after his death any unpublished work would have been extra-valuable.
The BBC interview goes some way towards explaining this. According to Dione Venables, the collection’s editor, he wasn’t a great poet and the value of much of his verse lies in what it says about him as a person, not his politics nor poetry in general.
He was a persistent poet. Like many, he discovered the joy of writing verse when very young, but unlike many, he never gave it up, which means that this collection covers a lifetime’s output.
A good deal of his poetry has been available for some time. He published a few in magazines himself, and various websites have selections. The Orwell Prize site has links to several and also to scanned original pages of others – his handwriting was reasonably legible, but they are still difficult to read.
A lot of the poetry is light and easy reading:
A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow;
But born, alas, in an evil time,
I missed that pleasant haven,
For the hair has grown on my upper lip
And the clergy are all clean-shaven.
Cover picture from Scarthin Books.