Born on 5 November 1884 in Lewisham, London, and baptised Herman Elroy Flecker, Flecker later chose to use the first name "James", either because he disliked the name "Herman" or to avoid confusion with his father. "Roy", as his family called him, was educated at Dean Close School, Cheltenham, where his father was the headmaster, and later at Uppingham School. He studied at Trinity College, Oxford, and at 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 the classicist and art historian John Beazley.
From 1910 Flecker worked in the consular service in the Eastern Mediterranean. On a ship to Athens he met Helle Skiadaressi, and in 1911 he married her.
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".
The excerpt from Flecker's 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 provides an enduring testimony to Flecker's work:
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 in New Zealand.
A character in the second volume of Anthony Powell's novel sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time, is said to be "fond of intoning" the lines For lust of knowing what we should not know / We take the Golden Road to Samarkand, without an attribution to Flecker.
Saki's short story "A Defensive Diamond" (in Beasts and Super-Beasts, 1914) references "The Golden Journey to Samarkand".
Agatha Christie quotes Flecker several times, especially in her final novel, Postern of Fate.
Jorge Luis Borges quotes a quatrain from Flecker's poem "To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence" in his essay "Note on Walt Whitman" (available 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.
Flecker's poem "The Bridge of Fire" features in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, in the volume The Wake.
Nevil Shute quotes from Hassan in the headings of many of the chapters in his 1951 novel Round the Bend.
Diana Rigg quotes a stanza from Hassan in the 1969 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service as she looks out of the window of Piz Gloria at the sun rising over the Swiss alps:
Thy dawn, O Master of the World, thy dawn;The Bridge of Fire (1907)
Thirty-Six Poems (1910)
Forty-Two Poems (1911) (e-book)
The Golden Journey to Samarkand (1913)
The Old Ships (1915)
Collected Poems (1916)
The Last Generation: A Story of the Future (1908)
The King of Alsander (1914)
Hassan (1922; full title Hassan: The Story of Hassan of Baghdad and How he Came to Make the Golden Journey to Samarkand)
Incidental music to the play was written by Frederick Delius in 1920, before the play's publication, and first performed in September 1923.
Don Juan (1925)
The Grecians (1910)
The Scholars' Italian Book (1911)
Collected Prose (1920)
The Letters of J.E. Flecker to Frank Savery (1926)
Some Letters from Abroad of James Elroy Flecker (1930)
For thee the sunlight creeps across the lawn,
For thee the ships are drawn down to the waves,
For thee the markets throng with myriad slaves,
For thee the hammer on the anvil rings,
For thee the poet of beguilement sings.