One of the 20th century’s great English poets, A.S.J. Tessimond’s work was rediscovered in the 1970s and has since received great acclaim.
Arthur Seymour John Tessimond was born in Claughton Village, Birkenhead (across the Mersey from Liverpool) in 1902. He went to school in Birkenhead until he was sent to Charterhouse in Surrey. Unhappy at boarding school, at the age of 16 he ran away to London, with the aim of pursuing a career as a free-lance journalist.
By the age of 20, he was at Liverpool University, reading literature and philosophy. He graduated in 1924 but had already begun writing poetry, with some being published in literary magazines of the time.
Tessimond had a reputation for being a little eccentric. When World War II broke out, he was called up but went into hiding without realizing he was not fit for duty. He spent most of his life in obscurity and it was only after his death that he began to become more widely recognized.
Tessimond published three collections of poetry during his lifetime. In 1934 came Walls of Glass, followed 10 years later by Voices in a Giant City. In 1958, his final published work Selection came out.
As the journalist and poet Hubert Nicholson wrote in the introduction to The collected poems (Whiteknights Press, 1985):
“In the two decades since the death of A.S.J. Tessimond, the conviction has grown stronger that his was not only a rich individual talent but one of the authentic and significant voices of his time”, whose poems are “beautiful, shapely, well wrought and elegant, whether in public or private mode.”
Tessimond’s brilliant and entirely accurate portrait of “Cats” comes from The Walls of Glass.
“Cats, no less liquid than their shadows,
Offer no angles to the wind.
They slip, diminished, neat through loopholes
Less than themselves; will not be pinned
To rules or routes for journeys; counter
Attack with non-resistance; twist
Enticing through the curving fingers
And leave an angered, empty fist.
They wait, obsequious as darkness –
Quick to retire, quick to return;
Admit no aim or ethics; flatter
With reservations; will not learn
To answer to their names; are seldom
Truly owned till shot or skinned.
Cats, no less liquid than their shadows,
Offer no angles to the wind.”