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For Ivor Gurney

Donald Davie, 3 March 1983

... or Avon – what Administrative fiction Shall God be praised for? School Poets to sane depiction. Gurney, whose burning need And uninstructed eye Were partisan for Gloucester, Yet at St Albans too Endowed mere masonry With meanings out of true. Of cloud and tower, he cried, Of tower and cloud! ... and pointed Towards Tewkesbury. The use of Dilapidated ...

How the sanity of poets can be edited away

Arnold Rattenbury: The Sanity of Ivor Gurney, 14 October 1999

‘Severn and Somme’ and ‘War’s Embers’ 
by Ivor Gurney, edited by R.K.R. Thornton.
Carcanet, 152 pp., £7.95, September 1997, 1 85754 348 3
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80 Poems or So 
by Ivor Gurney, edited by George Walter and R.K.R. Thornton.
Carcanet, 148 pp., £9.95, January 1997, 1 85754 344 0
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... Most loyal and protective of Gurney’s many friends, Marion Scott wrote after one of her regular visits to the asylum: ‘Ivor is so heart-breakingly sane in his insanity.’ Letters, reported conversation, music, poems all attest to the fact. He was trained and already admired as a composer before enlistment; in the trenches poetry had occupied him more and more and, when he returned afterwards to music, the poetry continued ...

Elegy for Gurney

Sarah Howe: Robert Edric, 4 December 2008

In Zodiac Light 
by Robert Edric.
Doubleday, 368 pp., £16.99, July 2008, 978 0 385 61258 6
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... terrain. Set in the City of London Mental Hospital, Dartford, its protagonist is the poet-composer Ivor Gurney, who was a patient there from December 1922 until his death from tuberculosis 15 years later. Edric’s fascination with lives on the margins makes Gurney a logical choice. As a poet, his star has spent decades ...

Gurney’s Flood

Donald Davie, 3 February 1983

Geoffrey Grigson: Collected Poems 1963-1980 
Allison and Busby, 256 pp., £9.95, November 1982, 0 85031 419 4Show More
The Cornish Dancer 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Secker, 64 pp., £4.95, June 1982, 0 436 18805 8
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The Private Art: A Poetry Notebook 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Allison and Busby, 231 pp., £9.95, November 1982, 0 85031 420 8
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Blessings, Kicks and Curses: A Critical Collection 
by Geoffrey Grigson.
Allison and Busby, £9.95, November 1982, 0 85031 437 2
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Collected Poems of Ivor Gurney 
edited by P.J. Kavanagh.
Oxford, 284 pp., £12, September 1982, 0 19 211940 0
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War Letters 
by Ivor Gurney, edited by R.K.R. Thornton.
Mid-Northumberland Arts Group/Carcanet, 271 pp., £12, February 1983, 0 85635 408 2
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... Histoire’, and (an unusual exertion of sympathy) ‘Dulled Son of Man’. In a poem to Ivor Gurney, Grigson, who can sometimes be magnanimous to the dead, hails Gurney as a poet of ecstasy. In his own case, it is his hatreds that are ecstatic, and one wonders how he would get along if Larkin and Alvarez and ...

Short Cuts

Jeremy Harding: David Jones’s War, 19 March 2015

... the officer class – that are perhaps more stirring and certainly more accessible. Jones, like Ivor Gurney and Isaac Rosenberg, was not an officer, even though he was offered the chance in the spring of 1916. He said he didn’t think he was ‘that sort of person’, and then, when his commanding officer pressed him: ‘I’m totally ...

Swift radiant morning

D.J. Enright, 21 February 1991

The Collected Letters of Charles Hamilton Sorley 
edited by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Cecil Woolf, 310 pp., £25, November 1990, 9780900821547
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Ivor GurneyCollected Letters 
edited by R.K.R Thornton.
Mid-Northumberland Arts Group/Carcanet, 579 pp., £25, February 1991, 0 85635 941 6
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... one, that might have kept the best of the old world and changed the rest of it, or some of it. Ivor Gurney’s fate was worse and also better. ‘May 1925 see us both happy and revered by the few who count and know the good when they see it,’ he wrote to F.W. Harvey in February 1915. ‘Meanwhile there is a most bloody and damnable war to go ...

Other Poems and Other Poets

Donald Davie, 20 September 1984

Notes from New York, and Other Poems 
by Charles Tomlinson.
Oxford, 64 pp., £4.50, March 1984, 0 19 211959 1
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The Cargo 
by Neil Rennie.
TNR Productions, 27 pp., January 1984
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Collected Poems 1943-1983 
by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 383 pp., £14.95, April 1984, 0 85635 498 8
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... moves into another register, altogether more plangent and dense. For instance, a short poem ‘To Ivor Gurney’ is deeply sorrowful, and yet it rests on no judgment overtly passed, nor even with any certainty implied, about what has happened to the Cotswold and Malvern hills since Gurney walked on them. Change, or ...

Short Cuts

Jeremy Harding: Shot At Dawn, 30 November 2006

... a Home Guard veteran in a motorised buggy suppressed a cough and I found myself dreaming about Ivor Gurney, how he’d chosen to sleep out on the Embankment a few months after he’d been discharged. When the second round broke the silence, it set off a car alarm, moments before the ‘Last Post’. The dignitaries laid their wreaths. Then we were ...
... break the enchanted spell and show their people what the face of war was really like. Some, like Ivor Gurney and Edmund Blunden and Edward Thomas, quietly described their experiences without bitterness or emphasis, with much the same detachment and penetration with which they described the peaceful scenes that had first evoked their poetic gifts. Their ...

Condy’s Fluid

P.N. Furbank, 25 October 1990

A War Imagined: The First World War and English Culture 
by Samuel Hynes.
Bodley Head, 514 pp., £20, October 1990, 0 370 30451 9
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Killing in Verse and Prose, and Other Essays 
by Paul Fussell.
Bellew, 294 pp., £9.95, October 1990, 0 947792 55 4
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... inspiring motive for two of the other finest combatant poets of the Great War, Edward Thomas and Ivor Gurney, was patriotism. One could, if one wished, even make Edward Thomas out to be a jingoist, for did he not write: But with the best and meanest Englishmen I am one in crying, God save England, lest We lose what never slaves and cattle blessed. The ...


Denis Donoghue: Karlin’s collection of Victorian verse, 4 June 1998

The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse 
edited by Danny Karlin.
Allen Lane, 851 pp., £25, October 1997, 9780713990492
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... are confined to the regional and local past: back to John Clare or back to Edward Thomas, back to Ivor Gurney: to some inch or other that is for ever England. Karlin is not a Little Englander. His working principle seems rather to be: I’m sure you’ll find many poems here to enjoy, especially if you don’t demand that each of them take part in some ...

Playing Fields, Flanders Fields

Paul Delany, 21 January 1982

War Diary 1913-1917: Chronicle of Youth 
by Vera Brittain, edited by Alan Bishop.
Gollancz, 382 pp., £8.50, September 1981, 0 575 02888 2
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The English Poets of the First World War 
by John Lehmann.
Thames and Hudson, 144 pp., £6.95, August 1981, 0 500 01256 3
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Voices from the Great War 
by Peter Vansittart.
Cape, 303 pp., £7.95, November 1981, 0 224 01915 5
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The Little Field-Marshal: Sir John French 
by Richard Holmes.
Cape, 427 pp., £12.50, November 1981, 0 224 01575 3
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... 1966 anthology Men who march away; the only one whose reputation has shifted much since then is Ivor Gurney, now admired as a kind of wartime reincarnation of Christopher Smart. Gurney trained as a musician, David Jones and Isaac Rosenberg as artists; they all served in the ranks and were excluded from the mainstream ...


Denis Arnold, 19 September 1985

Interpreting Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’: A Performer’s Discourse of Method 
by Ralph Kirkpatrick.
Yale, 132 pp., £14.95, January 1985, 0 300 03058 4
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Bach, Handel, Scarlatti: Tercentenary Essays 
edited by Peter Williams.
Cambridge, 363 pp., £27.50, April 1985, 0 521 25217 2
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Handel: The Man and his Music 
by Jonathan Keates.
Gollancz, 346 pp., £12.95, February 1985, 0 575 03573 0
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Sensibility and English Song: Critical Studies of the Early 20th Century: Vols I and II 
by Stephen Banfield.
Cambridge, 619 pp., £27.50, April 1985, 0 521 23085 3
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... composers mainly in the first half of the 20th century. There are one or two bright spots, notably Ivor Gurney, but it makes dismal reading. Here is a country with a splendid tradition of lyric poetry at a time when such poetry was flourishing, a wealthy country where there are publishing houses and a decent bourgeois audience – and its songs are on the ...

Newfangled Inner Worlds

Adam Phillips: Malingering, 3 March 2005

Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War 
by Peter Barham.
Yale, 451 pp., £19.99, August 2004, 0 300 10379 4
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... inclinations (many of his epigraphs are from Ulysses, and he writes with particular clarity about Ivor Gurney) and his wish to speak plainly for the plain man, Forgotten Lunatics never lets us forget that in many ways we would rather not know what it wants to tell us, and so how the telling is done matters. Barham’s forgotten lunatics were forgotten ...

Come and Stay

Arnold Rattenbury, 27 November 1997

England and the Octopus 
by Clough Williams-Ellis.
CPRE, 220 pp., £10.95, December 1996, 0 946044 50 3
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Clough Williams-Ellis: RIBA Drawings Monograph No 2 
by Richard Haslam.
Academy, 112 pp., £24.95, March 1996, 1 85490 430 2
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Clough Williams-Ellis: The Architect of Portmeirion 
by Jonah Jones.
Seren, 204 pp., £9.95, December 1996, 1 85411 166 3
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... keep men’s spirits within bounds, Where too dull duties keep in monotonous rounds. That is Ivor Gurney in about 1922, and lest there be any mistaking the near-desperation to build with whatever is to hand, the lines come from the heart of a group of poems terrible with the mutilations and death-chambering of the Somme, where as it happens both ...

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