Anne Ridler was one of England’s finest 20th century poets who was heavily influenced, and indeed mentored by, T S Eliot. She had a number of collections of poetry published along with several verse dramas which were performed across the south of England around the period of the Second World War. It was hard to find stage plays being performed at that time. In later life she turned her hand to translations of librettos and one, Così fan tutte, was televised on Channel Four in 1988. Probably in keeping with the style of programming often found on that channel in its early days, the production was described as “slightly risqué”. Tragically it took until the 89th and last year of her life to receive the OBE for services to literature but she was pleasantly surprised to receive the honour.
She was born Anne Barbara Bradby on the 30th July 1912 at Rugby public school, where her father was a housemaster. She had a fairly sickly childhood and missed much of her study time at Downe House in Berkshire. Perhaps this shaped her future career though, because she spent as much time as possible devouring literature, in particular the work of Walter Scott. There is no mention of a traditional university education in her story but, at the age of 20, she studied for a journalism diploma at Kings College, London.
Early acquaintances included such literary luminaries as Dylan Thomas, W H Auden and Lawrence Durrell but the greatest influence on her work was T S Eliot. She worked for the famous publishing house of Faber and Faber while assisting Eliot with his publication The Criterion. She was married to Vivian Ridler in 1938 who was, at the time the manager of the Bunhill Press in London but went on to be the Printer to Oxford University between 1958 and 1978. She bore him four children.
Her first collection of poetry, called Poems, was published a year after her marriage and was printed by her new husband at Bunhill.
Ridler’s poetry seemed to make an appearance in most anthologies during the 1940s and her second collection appeared in 1941. Her style was often described as overly religious while, at other times, it
Ridler had a tender side to her writing though, as evidenced in a love poem written for her husband about to go to war with the RAF. The poem, At Parting, is reproduced here:
Anne Ridler was certainly a fashionable poet until Eliot died in 1965 when she, inexplicably, fell out of favour. It was not until much later, in 1994, when her Collected Poems was published that she came back to the attention of the poetry reading public. She diversified in the 1970s, translating a number of libretto operas and making quite a success of that.
She was a lifelong Christian and she said that, despite this, she did not find the prospect of death easy to face. She was fortunate though that she lived a long life which just tipped over into the 21st century. She had a sharp mind right up to the end though and seemed to know that her days were numbered.
Anne Barbara Ridler died on the 15th October 2001, aged 89.