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For Ivor GurneyDonald Davie
Vol. 5 No. 4 · 3 March 1983

For Ivor Gurney

Donald Davie

302 words


Poor thing, perfection; you
Came down to it though, at last.

Your lot were done for: not
On account of the War, which you
Knew made a poet of Ledwidge;

But because you would not,
Any of you, settle
For less than ecstasy.

Jacked up to that, its rough
And windy contours, nothing
But neurasthenia could

Cut you down to what
The Ancients settled for:
Krater and Patera.

Ecstatic enough, the cup
Of red clay that
Sparkled with argent water,

We are glad to think. But you,
Unreconciled to that,
Committed yourself to madness.


‘God be praised that made
Gloucestershire ... ’ The fool!
Gloucester 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 altars?
Unhinged the text, disjointed.
‘Lo Gloucestershire,’ he falters.


Whether Howells was
To die or not develop,
Beethoven wouldn’t tell.
Bach was there but does not
Care for Gurney; Schumann
Also but Gurney’s love
For him is less.
Oh out of balance, oh
Too highly strung, poor Gurney,
What’s to be done with you?
A ticket to the asylum?

Only a sufficient
Black surge of pain, he says,
Upon the fair thing standing
(Red block of power, St Albans,
Or Tewkesbury by Severn),
Mask above meadows in
Light that promised rain.

A promising composer
Stares at the stony mask
And cannot pierce it. What
Service is there like
The making of a great
Thing in stone? he asks,
And aches with promise of
Mask after mask, and veil
On drifting veil of rain,

And no reward for service.

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