He was born on 5 November 1884 in Lewisham, London, and baptised Herman Elroy Flecker, later choosing to use the first name "James", either because he disliked the name "Herman" or to avoid confusion with his father. "Roy", as he was known to his family, was educated at Dean Close School, Cheltenham, where his father was headmaster, and Uppingham School. He studied at Trinity College, Oxford, and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. While at Oxford he was greatly influenced by the last flowering of the Aesthetic movement there under John Addington Symonds, and became a close friend of classicalist and art historian John Beazley.
From 1910 Flecker was in the consular service, in the Eastern Mediterranean. On a ship to Athens he met Helle Skiadaressi, and in 1911 he married her.
One of his better-known poems is "To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence". An enduring testimony to his work is the excerpt from the verse drama Hassan ... The Golden Journey to Samarkand inscribed on the clock tower of the barracks of the British Army's 22 Special Air Service regiment in Hereford:
We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go
Always a little further; it may be
Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
Across that angry or that glimmering sea.
The same inscription also appears on the NZSAS monument at Rennie Lines in the Papakura Military Camp.
Flecker died on 3 January 1915, of tuberculosis, in Davos, Switzerland. His death at the age of thirty was described at the time as "unquestionably the greatest premature loss that English literature has suffered since the death of Keats".
His poem The Bridge of Fire is featured in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, in the volume The Wake. Agatha Christie quotes him several times especially in her final novel, Postern of Fate. A quatrain from his poem To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence is quoted by Jorge Luis Borges in his essay, Note on Walt Whitman (in the collection, Other Inquisitions, 1937-1952):
O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.
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