Edmunds was born August 5, 1899, in Halifax County. The son of John Richard and Willie Thurman Murrell Edmunds, he was the younger brother of, who also was a writer of note. After graduating from Lynchburg High School, later E. C. Glass High School, he earned a bachelor of arts degree from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He earned a master of arts degree in English from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1926. His ambitious thesis, “Christopher Marlowe’s Influence on Blank Verse and on William Shakespeare and John Milton,” indicated the career that Edmunds would follow—that of poet. He eventually returned to Halifax County, where he built the log cabin that became his home until his death. His life of solitude in his Southside Virginia Walden gave Edmunds the time he needed to devote to his poetry.
While many of his works were short poems written in blank verse, his longer works gained him greater notice and modest critical acclaim. In 1932 he published The Renaissance, a poem in four parts that covered events in Italy from 1480 until 1554. Edmunds spoke with many voices, from Machiavelli to Cellini, but the dominant figure in the poem is Michelangelo, whom Edmunds obviously admired not only for his talent, but also for his humanity. His second long poem, Five Men (1933), was devoted to Edmunds’s thoughts on the carnage of World War I. The focus of the work was the Battle of Rheims and the effect it had on the men caught up in it. It received critical acclaim—in 1940, the New York Times called it “the most important poem that Mr. Edmunds has written” and urged that “it should be read by every one [sic] today”—and it enjoyed a modicum of popularity at a time when writers on both sides of the recent conflict stridently condemned the war and armed conflict in general. Edmunds’s later poems dealt with more traditional themes; he was particularly moved by nature and the change of seasons that he observed from his Halifax County retreat.
Like many writers of his generation, Edmunds was fascinated with the Arthurian legends, and he composed six poems dealing with the main figures of Camelot. Many of his verses were reprinted in the various anthologies that he compiled during his lifetime, and he often underwrote the cost of these limited editions. He did not revise his work, but he did revisit favorite themes.
While he treasured his rural solitude, Edmunds was not a recluse; he maintained close ties with his family and friends, particularly those in Lynchburg. Edmunds died unexpectedly at his home on November 6, 1959, shortly after the publication of his last poem. He was buried with other members of his family in Lynchburg’s Presbyterian Cemetery. While the body of his work is all but forgotten, he was highly regarded by the citizens of his adopted hometown, who took great pride in their “famed poet.” Before his death he donated the bulk of his private papers to the University of Virginia for the Craddock Edmunds Collection.
- Ulysses, and Other Poems (1923)
- Mass, and Other Poems (1927)
- Geese Are Swans (1929)
- Poems (1931)
- The Renaissance: A Poem (1932)
- Five Men (at the Battle of Rheims): A Poem (1933)
- Twenty-Nine Poems (1940)
- Thirty-Five Poems (1951)
- Thirty-Four New Poems (1956)
- Framed by a Cabin Window: A Poem (1959)