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Roy Campbell
(1901 - 1957) South Africa

Roy Campbell

Poet

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Roy Campbell was born in Durban and educated at Durban High School. Passionate about literature as a child, he was also passionate about the outdoor life - he was a keen horseman, fisherman, hunter, and swimmer, and partook of all these activities in Durban and along the north coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal. In 1919 he left South Africa for Europe, where, as poet, cowboy, fisherman, Spanish Civil War partisan, raconteur, and translator, he became a legend in his own time.

After being educated at Oxford University he published his first collection of poems, The Flaming Terrapin (1924), which established his reputation. He also published, to give some idea of his considerable output as a writer, two quirky autobiographies, books on Provence and Portugal, numerous reviews, some remarkable translations of romance language poets, and a small book on Federico Garcia Lorca.

He returned home where he established the magazine, Voorslag. Disillusioned with South African cultural life he published the satirical poem, The Wayzgoose (1928). In 1928 Campbell moved to France where he published Adamastor (1930), Poems (1930), The Georgiad (1931) and the autobiographical Broken Record (1934). He then moved on to Spain and during the Spanish Civil War he supported General Francisco Franco and the Nationalist Army.

His reputation suffered considerably as he sided with Franco during the Spanish Civil War, at a time when most Western artists and intellectuals sided with the republicans. His reasons were complex, and had to do with his new found Catholic faith, his belief in traditional values, his anti-communism, his anti-Bloomsbury stance, and his equestrian/ aristocratic ideal.

During the Second World War Campbell served in the British Army in Africa. Even though he was fighting against the fascists as a sergeant, his reputation never recovered. This is a great pity because, while much of his polemical writing is mere bluster, being boring and repetitive in nature, Campbell has a true lyric gift and is a skilled craftsman of traditional verse.

After being invalided out in 1944 he worked for the BBC. In 1952 Campbell moved to Portugal where he published his second volume of autobiography, Light on a Dark Horse (1951). He died in 1957 in a car accident in Portugal, his home country at the time.

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