Obituaries : George Granville Barker; Prize-Winning British Poet

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

George Granville Barker, the often inconsistent, prize-winning British poet whose Bohemian lifestyle brought him additional notoriety as “the last decadent,” has died at age 78.

Barker, also known as the “ruffian romantic” died Sunday of emphysema at his home in the village of Itteringham, northeast of London.

A drinking companion of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, Barker grew up poor in an area of West London. After leaving school, he had various jobs, including that of garage hand.


Encouraged by the poet T.S. Eliot, author John Middleton Murry and other literary figures, Barker had his first verse, “Thirty Preliminary Poems,” published in 1933.

His “Calamiterror” appeared two years later, but he did not attract wide attention until “Lament” and “Triumph” appeared in 1939. “Eros in Dogma” in 1944 won him wider recognition.

Barker once said that he thought “the only subjects for poetry are death and sex and since we know nothing about death, I write about sex.”

Barker had many love affairs, four marriages and numerous children. His daughter Georgina, when asked in recent years how many children her father had, said she guessed about 17.

“The True Confessions of George Barker,” which literary critics regard as Barker’s most important work, was published in part in 1950. Drawing much of its inspiration from Lord Byron’s 19th Century masterpiece, “Don Juan,” it won widespread attention when played on radio by the British Broadcasting Corp. in 1958.

Peers in the House of Lords denounced it as pornography, and the BBC, which at that time was strongly influenced by criticism from Parliament, apologized for the broadcast.


Barker was awarded the Guinness Prize for poetry in 1962 and the Levinson Prize in 1965.

Among the few regular jobs he held was that of professor of English Literature at the Imperial Tohuku University, Sendai, Japan, from 1939 to 1941. He also had taught at universities in New York and Wisconsin.