Born in 1897 in the Essex town of Ilford, Ruth Pitter was an English poet who for most of the 20th Century contributed to the literary landscape of the United Kingdom. Her life brought her into contact with such literary greats as C. S. Lewis, George Orwell and even Hilaire Belloc, who helped her to publish her first book of poetry.
Pitter came from working class roots, not rising to a college education as many of her poetic compatriots did, and worked in a small company that painted and restored furniture for much of her life. She realized early on that her love of poetry was not going to provide her with much of a living and eventually bought the furniture painting business with a friend of hers.
When the business was closed down during the Second World War she worked in a munitions factory but started it up again at the end of hostilities. Pitter began writing poetry at an early age, always encouraged by her parents who were school teachers in Ilford. She would try to spend at least a couple of hours a day writing, despite working long hours in the furniture business.
Her collection First Poems was published in 1920 after she found support from writer and satirist Hilaire Belloc. She would write 18 collections over the next seventy years, covering a wide range of subjects from religion and love to her beloved cats and human nature, many of which achieved critical acclaim if not selling enough to make her financially wealthy.
Pitter largely wrote in traditional forms more in the style of Yeats and Larkin than Eliot or Pound. Her collection A Trophy of Arms received the Hawthornden Prize in 1937 and it would not be the last time she would receive an accolade for her literary efforts, though in recent years her poetry seems to have dropped into obscurity.
She became a good friend to writer C S Lewis and there has often been rumor that they could have been married had Lewis been so inclined. Even so they critiqued and edited each others work and Pitter is thought to have had a considerable influence on Lewis’ writing in the forties and fifties. Her relationship with the author also led to the development of her own Christianity at the end of the Second World War and she admitted that much of his work, such as The Screwtape Letters, influenced her beliefs.
Pitter was the first female poet to be awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal in 1955, became a Companion of Literature in 1974 and in 1979 was given a CBE. In her sixties and seventies, Pitter continued to write, publishing collections such as Still by Choice and The End of the Drought. Whilst her poetry became more religious when she discovered Christianity, her ability to write on normal every day subjects made her a public favorite at the time.
Her last original collection was A Heaven to Find which was published in 1987. Pitter died in 1992 at the age of 89 in the Long Crendon home she had lived in since the mid-1950s.