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Sunday 18 January 2015

Ivor Gurney: Possessions


#CoopersHill #Brockworth overlooking #Witcombe #Gloucestershire: image via Ed Buxton @EdBuxton, 14 January 2015 South West, England

Sand has the ants, clay ferny weeds for play
But what shall please the wind now the trees are away
War took on Witcombe steep?
It breathes there, and wonders at old night roarings;
October time at all lights, and the new clearings
For memory are like to weep.
It was right for the beeches to stand over Witcombe reaches,
Until the wind roared and softened and died to sleep.

Ivor Gurney (b. Gloucester 28 August 1890 d. London 26 December 1937): Possessions, written 1922, first published 1934, as appearing in Collected Poems, 1982

Beautiful #whitethursday #snowday - one of many benefits working in a #countrypark - lovely #sitka & #beech: image via Beechbrae @BeechBraeWood, 11 December 2014

Carpet of leaves beneath the #beech trees on the hillside near #Stubbing Pond #Wingerworth: image via Alan Heardman @DelepChimney, 2 December 2014


Barry Taylor said...

Thanks for guiding our attention towards Gurney, Tom. Surely the most unsettling and under-rated of the WW1 poets, and his 'To His Love' among the most devastating of English poems, post-traumatic horror held by an unshaking Hardyesque formal beauty and tonal restraint. Unforgettable.

TC said...

Barry, thank you very much for joining me in my deep admiration for Ivor Gurney's work.

This poem about the visible effects of the Great War on the endeared landscape of his native Gloucestershire is also an excellent example of Gurney's unique skills in the art of making words in such a way as to appeal to the ear, to be sung.

"Gurney was that rare being: both poet and composer, the first Englishman to be dually-gifted in these two arts since Thomas Campion in the reign of Elizabeth I, and his output was prodigious. He left us around two hundred songs, several chamber and instrumental works, and over three hundred poems and verse-pieces, the best of which mark Gurney out as a creative spirit touched by genius..."

"Ivor Gurney [spent] ...the last fifteen years of his life... incarcerated in a mental hospital. His story was to end in sadness -– but Gurney was very much a 'child of joy'..."


The poet's life story is a tale of periods of great elation isolated within a narrative of increasingly terrible pathos, after the terrific upheaval of the War.

Ivor Gurney: A Biographical Outline: Anthony Boden, 2007


And, maybe relevant here, a bit from an early Ivor Gurney essay on music which reveals something of the poet's extraordinary sensibility (his mention of "the Severn Valley which lies hushed and dark, infinitely full of meaning" recalls the moving lyric Barry cites, To His Love):

"Since the springs of music are identical with those of the springs of all beauty remembered by the heart, an essay with this title can be little more than a personal record of visions of natural fairness remembered, it may be, long after the bodily seeing.

"It is the fact that these visions were more clearly seen after the excessive bodily fatigue experienced on a route march, or in some hard fatigue in France or Flanders – a compensation for so much strain. One found them serviceable in the accomplishment of the task, and in after-relaxation. There it was one learnt that the brighter visions brought music; the fainter verse, or mere pleasurable emotion.

"Of all significant things the most striking, poignant, passioning, is the sight of a great valley at the end of the day – such as the Severn Valley which lies hushed and dark, infinitely full of meaning, while yet the far Welsh hills are touched with living and ecstatic gold. The first breakings of the air of night, the remembrance of the glory not all yet faded; the meeting of the two pageants of day and night so powerfully stir the heart that music alone may assuage its thirst, or satisfy that longing told by Wordsworth in the 'Prelude'; but that telling and outpouring of his is but the shadow and faint far-off indication of what Music might do – the chief use of Poetry seeming to be, to one, perhaps mistaken, musician, to stir his spirit to the height of music, the maker to create, the listener worthily to receive or remember.

"The quietest and most comforting thing that is yet strongly suggestive – the sight which seems more than any to provoke the making of music to be performed on strings, is that of a hedge mounting over, rolling beyond the skyline of a little gracious hill. A hedge unclipped, untamed; covered with hawthorn perhaps, showing the fragile rose of June, or sombre with the bareness of Winter; the season makes no difference. so that the hedge be of some age and the hill friendly enough of aspect, smooth, strokable, as it were, there is no end to he quiet suggestion, the subdued yet still quick power of the sight..."

-- Ivor Gurney, from The Springs of Music in Musical Quarterly, July 1922


On the encouragement of a single responsive reader of Gurney's poems, I've now taken heart to post another:

Ivor Gurney: First Time In ["After the dread tales..."]