Poet Biographies

Elizabeth Jennings: A Life Shaped by Words

Poet Elizabeth Jennings is a renowned British writer known for her emotional works, addressing themes such as love, loss, and faith.

Elizabeth Jennings Portrait

Elizabeth 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 Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, and Thom Gunn, all members of the English poetic group known as The Movement. Today she is considered one of the greatest English poets of the second half of the twentieth century.

Elizabeth Jennings’ poetry was inspired by her own religious beliefs and devotions. There are many examples of her verse being influenced by her strong Roman Catholic beliefs. She also had an affinity towards Italy, which is also reflected in her work.

Life Facts

  • Elizabeth Jennings was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, England, in July 1926.
  • She attended Oxford High School and St Anne’s College in Oxford.
  • Jennings worked in advertising, at the City Library, and in the publishing industry.
  • Elizabeth Jennings published or was included in around thirty different collections.
  • She died in October 2001.

Interesting Facts

  • Elizabeth Jennings first developed a love for writing at university.
  • A Way of Looking‘ was published in 1955 and won the Somerset Maugham Award.
  • An important period of her life was spent in Rome.
  • Jennings received an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Durham University shortly before her death.
  • Elizabeth Jennings is buried in Wolvercote Cemetery in Oxford.

Famous Poems

  • ‘Sequence in a Hospital’ is a fairly long poem in which the speaker describes her hopes, fears, and routines while staying at the hospital. The poem is divided into eight sections that vary in length and rhyme scheme. The speaker begins the poem hopeless. She has no control over her life or body, which is not unusual in the hospital. The following lines note some of the many ways people try to ignore their situation’s reality. In the concluding lines, Jennings describes the pain of those nearing death and the uncomfortable situations scattered throughout the hospital.
  • ‘Admonition’ is a sapphic poem in which the poet describes how one should maintain control over their own life rather than designate their responsibilities to others. She warns the reader to take a car to win their life, not to let anyone control “you.” No one should ever commit to something they can’t get out of or delegate their responsibilities to others. The speaker concludes by giving the imperfection of a star as an example.
  • ‘Song at the Beginning of Autumn’ tells of the power of sensorial memories about the coming of autumn. The poem starts with the speaker declaring that autumn is on its way. She’s the only one who can sense it in the air, knowing soon the green leaves are going to change colors. The second stanza brings in Proust’s Madeleine memory in Swann’s Way, and then finally, in the last stanza, she discusses how human beings categorize time and the seasons.
  • Rembrandt’s Late Self-Portraits’ is an original and memorable poem in which the speaker describes how Rembrandt, through all of his work, but especially his late self-portraits, took an honest look at himself and others. He depicted his face “unflinchingly.” He didn’t try to make himself more attractive or younger than he was at the time. This authentic way of creating art helped him confront his past and future. Rembrandt reckoned with his own darkness in a way that the speaker admires.
  • ‘Answers’ describes how one speaker compartmentalizes the big questions and answers in life in the back of her mind. The speaker in this particular piece prefers the company of “small” answers. These are the everyday conclusions that satisfy and comfort her. But, unfortunately for her, the “big answers” and big questions are still rattling around in her head, demanding attention. There are, Jennings speaker concludes, answers on the horizon. They’re going to reach her eventually and demand that she confront her life head-on.

Early Life

Elizabeth Jennings was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, England, in July 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 because she attended several lectures given by remarkable figures such as C.S. Lewis. It was also here that she was first exposed to classic literature and philosophy.

Literary Career

After graduating from St Anne’s College, Jennings went on to work as a librarian at the Oxford City Library and in the publishing industry. During this time period, her work was 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 Jennings’ 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 to literary criticism in journals such as the Dublin Review and London Magazine. Among all of her successes, Jennings suffered from bouts of severe mental illness and nervous breakdowns.

It is said that Jennings’ later work during the period after her nervous breakdown can be considered some of her best due to a switch to more of a confessional tone

Examples of these poems include:

  • Recoveries
  • The Mind Has Mountains
  • The Animals’ Arrival
  • Lucidities
  • Relationships
  • Extending the Territory
  • Familiar Spirits


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.

Influence from other Poets

Elizabeth Jennings was notably influenced by writers such as W.H. AudenRobert Graves, Edwin Muir, and the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins.


What was Elizabeth Jennings known for?

Elizabeth Jennings is a prolific 20th-century poet who is known for her quantity of quality poetic works, publishing an astonishing twenty-six books of poetry during her career. Jennings was also celebrated for being the only woman to be included in the Movement, a group of English poets who based their work around an anti-romantic aesthetic. She lived from 1926 until her death in 2001.

What was Elizabeth Jennings’ writing style?

Elizabeth Jennings’ poetic style has been considered more traditional than some of her modernist, innovative peers. She has been compared with the likes of Kingsley Amis, Thom Gunn, and Philip Larkin due to her simplistic style, a style which ran through the literary group the Movement, which she was a part of.

What are the major works of Elizabeth Jennings?

Elizabeth Jennings was responsible for a number of masterpieces that have lasted the test of time. However, she is most known for the following poems; Admonition,’Recoveries,’ ‘The Mind Has Mountains,’ ‘Answers,’The Animals’ Arrival,’ ‘Lucidities,’ ‘Relationships,’ ‘Extending the Territory,’ and ‘Familiar Spirits.’

What happened to Elizabeth Jennings?

After a successful and prolific career, Elizabeth Jennings, unfortunately, passed away in October of 2001. This came shortly after she was awarded the Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Durham University. Following her death, she was buried in Oxford at Wolvercote Cemetery.

What was Elizabeth Jennings’ personality?

Although not much is known of Elizabeth Jennings’ personality on a day-to-day level, we can assume some aspects of her character through her poetry. For example, her unassuming writing, sincerity, and emotional sensitivity might tell us something about the way she conducted herself. Also, we know that she was poor for the majority of her life, which would have likely made her far more grounded.

William Green Poetry Expert
Will created Poem Analysis back in 2015 and has a team of the best poetry experts helping him analyze poems from the past and present. Although he has a background in Automotive Engineering, having worked for McLaren testing supercars, Will has a keen eye for poetry and literature.
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