Francis Webb


'Sunset hails a rising'


Francis Webb is buried in the catholic section of the Macquarie Park Cemetery in Sydney Australia. His epitaph is taken from his poem The Stations.

Francis Webb's Grave

Webb was born in Sydney and was brought up by his paternal grandparents. His mother died when he was 2 years old and his father was hospitalised a year later. As a child he developed an early interest in poetry and, while at secondary school, he had work published in the Bulletin magazine.

His plans for university were interupted by the Second World War and in 1944 he joined the Royal Australian Airforce and was posted to Canada - where he served as wireless air gunner. After the war he travelled to England where he suffered the first of a series of mental breakdowns which would confine him to mental institutions for the rest of his life.

In the late 1950s he was moved to the David Rice Hospital at Drayton near Norwich in Norfolk. This was a very productive time for him where he wrote many poems that were inspired by the Norfolk landscape and, in particular, a long sequence entitled Around Costessey.

As a practising catholic, Webb was allowed to walk from the David Rice Hospital to the nearby catholic church at Costessey. Costessey Hall had once been the home of a recusant family the Jerninghams and this may have fired Webb's interest. Webb was also inspired by fellow catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Webb's collections of poetry include A Drum for Ben Boyd (1948), Leichhardt in Theatre (1952), Birthday (1953), Socrates and Other Poems (1961), The Ghost of the Cock (1964).

In 1958 Webb was awarded a Commonwealth Literary Fund Fellowship (arranged for him by Douglas Stewart and other Australian poets) and he was given his passport back and returned to his homeland. However, he once again entered the mental health system.

Today, Webb is regarded as one of Australia's finest poets and there is a new version of his collected poems published by Macquarie University and edited by Dr Toby Davidson.

Beneath me the sad frescos of the clouds:
Towerings and defiles through intense grey valleys,
Huge faces of kings, queens, castles - travelling cinders,
And monuments, and shrouds.

(From Airliner)





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