Sunday, 18 January 2015

An Ivor Gurney poem - I Saw England (July Night)

NOT England in this photo, but I wanted some sunshine!  This is Valerian growing at New Quay, Cardiganshire, back in the summer.


She was a village
Of lovely knowledge
The high roads left her aside, she was forlorn, a maid -
Water ran there, dusk hid her, she climbed four-wayed,
Brown-gold windows showed last folk not yet asleep;
Water ran, was a centre of silence deep,
Fathomless deeps of pricked sky, almost fathomless
Hallowed an upward gaze in pale satin of blue,
And I was happy indeed, of mind, soul, body even
Having not given
A sign undoubtful of a dear England few
Doubt, not many have seen,
That Will Squele he knew and was so shriven,
Home of Twelth Night - Edward Thomas by Arras fallen,
Borrow and Hardy, Sussex tales out of Roman heights callen,
No madrigals or field-songs to my all reverent whim;
Till I got back I was dumb.

Although contemporaries, in poetry and as soldiers in WWI, I don't believe that Ivor Gurney and Edward Thomas ever met, yet Gurney had read ET's poetry, and in a short piece I have found in an article on the PN Review Online (which you have to be a member to access fully), thee is a quote about Thomas's poems from a letter Gurney wrote in November of 1917:

"Very curious they are, very interesting; nebulously intangibly beautiful.  But he had the same sickness of mind I have - the impossibility of serenity for any but the shortest space.  Such a mind produces little."

Gurney is suggesting that ET had the same mental instablility as Gurney - which saw him spent the latter half of his life in a mental asylum - he had self-diagnosed himself with neurasthenia.  I have read that Thomas WAS diagnosed with the same complaint at some point, but it is perhaps best not to jump to the obvious conclusions.  Thomas's poetry never really showed any imbalance in the way that Gurney's later poetry did.  Perhaps his writing about "the other man" or other subliminal approaches in his poetry or prose suggested this to Gurney - who would recognize it, being a fellow sufferer?

I know that Edward Thomas's widow Helen went to visit Gurney from 1932 onwards when he was in the asylum and once took him a map of Gloucestershire (how thoughtful of her) which brought him alive in a way few other things could, apart from music, which was his first love and real talent.  She kept up the meetings until his death from TB in 1937.

 She wrote of their first meeting:

‘we were met by a tall gaunt dishevelled man clad in pyjamas and dressing gown, to whom Miss Scott introduced me. He gazed with an intense stare into my face and took me silently by the hand. Then I gave him the flowers which he took with the same deeply moving intensity and silence. He then said, ‘You are Helen, Edward’s wife and Edward is dead.’ And I said, ‘Yes, let us talk of him.’ (H. Thomas, Time and Again: Memoirs and Letters, ed. M. Thomas, 1978, pp. 11-112.)  (This was copied from The Ivor Gurney Collection page - HERE.)


  1. Fascinating, never read Ivor Gurney, does madness reside with poets, don't think so, John Clare ended up in a mental asylum as well though, perhaps it is the intensity of feeling they experienced.

  2. It's hard to say - perhaps depression causes emotions to be examined more closely, or just writing poetry helps the spirits.