Elizabeth Jennings was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, England in July of 1926. Her father, Dr. Henry Cecil Jennings, was a medical officer and in the early thirties he moved the family to Oxford. It was here that Jennings would spend the rest of her life. As a young woman raised in a Roman Catholic household, she first attended Rhy St Antony School in Headington. She later attended Oxford High School. Jennings received her university education from St Anne’s College in Oxford from 1944 to 1947.
It was at college that Jennings first developed a love for writing. This was partially due to the fact that she was able to attend a number of lectures given by remarkable figures such as C.S. Lewis. It was also here that she was first exposed to classic literature and philosophy.
After graduating from St Anne’s College, Jennings went on to work in advertising as well as at the City Library and in the publishing industry. During this time period her work was being published in Oxford Poetry, New English Weekly, and other literary journals such as Poetry Review. It was not until she was twenty-seven years old that her first collection of poems was released. Her second collection, A Way of Looking, was published in 1955. It won the Somerset Maugham award and included prize money which allowed the poet to travel to Rome. She spent three revelatory months there developing herself as a writer. This collection was followed quickly by A Sense of the World in 1958.
Throughout her life Jennings published, or was included in, around thirty different collections. She was also a prolific contributor of literary criticism to journals such as the Dublin Review and London Magazine. In amongst all of her successes, Jennings suffered from bouts of severe mental illness.
Elizabeth Jennings died in October of 2001, soon after receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Durham University. She is buried in Wolvercote Cemetery in Oxford.
Jennings is known today as a master of form and lyric poetry. Her work is marked by its emotional restraint and connection to the Roman Catholic church. She is often compared to, and contrasted with, Phillip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, and Thom Gunn, all members of the English poetic group known as The Movement. Today she is considered as one of the greatest English poets of the second half of the twentieth century.