Harry Guest obituary

Tony Lopez
·2-min read

My friend and long-time walking companion Harry Guest, who has died aged 88, was a prolific and talented poet who produced 14 collections of his work. Harry created dazzling evocations of varied landscapes, woven through with multiple braided narratives. Some of his best work may be found in the Elegies (2018); a favourite poem of mine is On Golden Cap, a celebration of Dorset’s natural beauty, shaded by childhood memories of warfare and by the Aids epidemic.

He also undertook translations from French, German, Spanish and Japanese; a collection of his translated poems, Otherlands, was published in 2017. He translated a volume of Post-War Japanese Poetry, with Lynn Guest and Kajima Shôzô; selected poems by Victor Hugo; and sonnets by Jean Cassou: From a Condemned Cell. He published four novels and a literary guide to Japan.

Harry was born in Penarth, Glamorgan, the son of Walter, a tax inspector, and Elsie (nee Bayly-Matthews), a homemaker. He was educated as a boarder at Malvern college, Worcestershire. He studied modern languages at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, graduating in 1954, and went on to postgraduate study at the Sorbonne, where he wrote a thesis on Mallarmé.

He taught English at Felsted school, Essex, from 1955 to 1961 and then for five years at Lancing college, West Sussex, before moving to Japan in 1966 to become a lecturer in English at Yokohama National University. He returned to Britain in 1972 and was head of French at Exeter school until his retirement in 1991.

I first met Harry in 1979, when I was at Essex University and I booked him for a poetry reading series. It was 10 years later that I moved near to Exeter to work for Plymouth University and began to see Harry regularly and walk with him mostly on Dartmoor but sometimes in the Quantocks or on the coast.

Harry was a kind and patient man with great emotional intelligence and old-fashioned good manners. I edited a festschrift for his 80th birthday, which included tributes from a wide range of friends and ex-students, including Joan Bakewell, David Hare, Tim Rice and Christopher Hampton.

In his retirement he wrote full-time, poetry, translation, fiction, articles, from his home in Exeter. Walking, especially on Dartmoor, was his main recreation.

He was awarded an honorary LittD from Plymouth University in 1998 and was an honorary research fellow at Exeter University, where he also taught Japanese. In 2001 he was elected to the Welsh Academy.

An anthology, A Puzzling Harvest: Collected Poems 1955-2000, was published by Anvil in 2002.

He is survived by his wife, the historical novelist Lynn Guest (nee Dunbar), whom he married in 1963, and their two children, Tasha and Nick.