AE Housman A Shropshire Lad

A E Housman A Shropshire Lad

Housman 1859- 1936
Oh no he wasn’t, you hear me say.  I thought he was from Shropshire, in my ignorance, but no, he was born on the outskirts of Bromsgrove, Worcestershire but lived for some time in sight of Wenlock Hills.  The title comes from a poem within the book.
Self-published in 1896 and apparently a slow-seller.  However, the content touched the heart-strings of families in England as the Boer Wars proceeded and again, strongly, with the duration of the First World War and the years of aftermath.

Housman, a classical scholar, specifically in correction and interpretation of classical text had two other collections published (posthumously) though this volume is the one mostly remembered and regarded.  Housman was himself surprised by this success and we see the perchance of a publication being noticed and chiming with the sentiment of the times.

He has been variously reviewed as writing with clarity, simplicity and brevity through which shines a surprising depth of emotion.  His classical knowledge and expertise comes to the fore in the poetry and the shades are there for us to follow.

The poems vary in some ways but mostly relate to separation, loss, death and a form of reunion.  Interestingly the state of reunion is not as a form of merging but often in the form of companionship, being side-by- side.  His was an atheist’s approach to death and disintegration of the body.  Acceptance of a state that cannot be changed but despite that  statement, of the expectation of  love enduring, whatever the circumstance, of one for another.  Connections with nature, images and scenery that merit the attention they have received from composers for music and song.  Some have allusions to or are directed by Classical themes.  The mystery of flowers, Nature and mythology run throughout, a sense of thwarted love, held at arms length that nonetheless stays strong.  Bottled emotion, if you like, crystallised in time.

Auden called the poems ‘adolescent’, maybe simply the writing but perhaps he was also  suggesting the author was stuck too.  Looking back I understand Auden’s comments. (I have not read fully so context not known).  Does it undermine or is it statement?  Housman does appear to have been a rather distant, tightly buttoned character with no obvious humour anywhere in this poetry.  Challenging this idea is the fact that he did write a parody, ‘ Fragment of a Greek Tragedy’ and humorous poems under the title: Unkind to Unicorns.  An edition was published twenty years ago, I have not checked availability.  So buttoned-up maybe ought to read compartmentalised, like his homosexuality.
One of the few times he spoke about poetry he said that he believed poetry should appeal to the emotions rather than the intellect(Wikipedia) . I certainly have to agree with this. Clearly, his emotions were laid bare in this collection.

Note: The Victorian Web is a site well worth visiting.

For me, this collection was a little disappointing. I have to say I expected something more, never having read other than anthologised poems.

I fully understand how the collection struck the nerves of the population suffering the huge losses of wars in the early Twentieth Century.  The writing style is a step away from much Victorian poetry but not dramatically, would have been quite fresh to the Late Victorian and Edwardian readers.

Of course I have to follow with a but: but for me there was no poem that set itself apart, no pyramid to build on.  Yes, some poems I like more than others, certain descriptions and usages scattered throughout.  Lines to quote and appreciate for their succinct description, some offering additional thought for the reader.  Plenty to like but no true satisfaction.  It may not have been Housman’s intentional result with this collection but he seems to have located his personal feelings well and truly into it.

Yes, I will dip into this book again, surprisingly, for its elegant sadness and expectation of a sort of peace plus the confidence that life flows on.

some poems from  A Shropshire Lad

field & sky photo by Wordparc

field & sky
photo by Wordparc


“Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?”

Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.

“Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?”

Ay, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.

“Is my girl happy,
That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
As she lies down at eve?”

Ay, she lies down lightly,
She lies not down to weep:
Your girl is well contented.
Be still, my lad, and sleep.

“Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine?”

Yes, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart,
Never ask me whose.



High the vanes of Shrewsbury gleam
Islanded in Severn stream;
The bridges from the steepled crest
Cross the water east and west.

The flag of morn in conqueror’s state
Enters at the English gate:
The vanquished eve, as night prevails,
Bleeds upon the road to Wales.

Ages since the vanquished bled
Round my mother’s marriage-bed;
There the ravens feasted far
About the open house of war:

When Severn down to Buildwas ran
Coloured with the death of man,
Couched upon her brother’s grave
The Saxon got me on the slave.

The sound of fight is silent long
That began the ancient wrong;
Long the voice of tears is still
That wept of old the endless ill.

In my heart it has not died,
The war that sleeps on Severn side;
They cease not fighting, east and west,
On the marches of my breast.

Here the truceless armies yet
Trample, rolled in blood and sweat;
They kill and kill and never die;
And I think that each is I.

None will part us, none undo
The knot that makes one flesh of two,
Sick with hatred, sick with pain,
Strangling-When shall we be slain?

When shall I be dead and rid
Of the wrong my father did?
How long, how long, till spade and hearse
Put to sleep my mother’s curse?


On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

‘Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
When Uricon the city stood:
‘Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.

Then, ’twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare:
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, ’twill soon be gone:
To-day the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.


Loitering with a vacant eye
Along the Grecian gallery,
And brooding on my heavy ill,
I met a statue standing still.
Still in marble stone stood he,
And stedfastly he looked at me.
“Well met,” I thought the look would say,
“We both were fashioned far away;
We neither knew, when we were young,
These Londoners we live among.”

Still he stood and eyed me hard,
An earnest and a grave regard:
“What, lad, drooping with your lot?
I too would be where I am not.
I too survey that endless line
Of men whose thoughts are not as mine.
Years, ere you stood up from rest,
On my neck the collar prest;
Years, when you lay down your ill,
I shall stand and bear it still.
Courage, lad, ’tis not for long:
Stand, quit you like stone, be strong.”
So I thought his look would say;
And light on me my trouble lay,
And I slept out in flesh and bone
Manful like the man of stone.


“Oh, sick I am to see you, will you never let me be?
You may be good for something, but you are not good for me.
Oh, go where you are wanted, for you are not wanted here.”
And that was all the farewell when I parted from my dear.

“I will go where I am wanted, to a lady born and bred
Who will dress me free for nothing in a uniform of red;
She will not be sick to see me if I only keep it clean:
I will go where I am wanted for a soldier of the Queen.”

“I will go where I am wanted, for the sergeant does not mind;
He may be sick to see me but he treats me very kind:
He gives me beer and breakfast and a ribbon for my cap,
And I never knew a sweetheart spend her money on a chap.”

“I will go where I am wanted, where there’s room for one or two,
And the men are none too many for the work there is to do;
Where the standing line wears thinner and the dropping dead lie thick;
And the enemies of England they shall see me and be sick.”



The vane on Hughley steeple
Veers bright, a far-known sign,
And there lie Hughley people,
And there lie friends of mine.
Tall in their midst the tower
Divides the shade and sun,
And the clock strikes the hour
And tells the time to none.

To south the headstones cluster,
The sunny mounds lie thick;
The dead are more in muster
At Hughley than the quick.
North, for a soon-told number,
Chill graves the sexton delves,
And steeple-shadowed slumber
The slayers of themselves.

To north, to south, lie parted,
With Hughley tower above,
The kind, the single-hearted,
The lads I used to love.
And, south or north, ’tis only
A choice of friends one knows,
And I shall ne’er be lonely
Asleep with these or those.


Three Poems by John Milton

Three Poems by John Milton,  okay it is four, again.  I could not resist the last one.


On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.  His state
Is kingly;  thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”


On His Dead Wife   (following the death of his wife after childbirth)

Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,
Who Jove’s great Son to her glad Husband gave,
Rescu’d from death by force, though pale and faint.
Mine, as whom washt from spot of childbed taint
Purification in the old Law did save,
And such as yet once more I trust to have
Full sight of her in heav’n without restraint,
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind.
Her face was veil’d, yet to my fancied sight
Love, sweetness, goodness in her person shined
So clear as in no face with more delight.
But O as to embrace me she enclined,
I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night.


Sonnet to the Nightingale
O nightingale that on yon blooming spray
Warblest at eve, when all the woods are still,
Thou with fresh hopes the lover’s heart dost fill,
While the jolly Hours lead on propitious May.
Thy liquid notes that close the eye of day,
First heard before the shallow cuckoo’s bill,
Portend success in love. O if Jove’s will
Have linked that amorous power to thy soft lay,
Now timely sing, ere the rude bird of hate
Foretell my hopeless doom, in some grove nigh;
As thou from year to year hast sung too late
For my relief, yet had’st no reason why.
Whether the muse or love call thee his mate,
Both them I serve, and of their train am I.


On The University Carrier Who Sickn’d In The Time Of His Vacancy, Being Forbid To Go To London, By Reason Of The Plague
Here lies old Hobson, Death hath broke his girt,
And here alas, hath laid him in the dirt,
Or els the ways being foul, twenty to one,
He’s here stuck in a slough, and overthrown.
‘Twas such a shifter, that if truth were known,
Death was half glad when he had got him down;
For he had any time this ten yeers full,
Dodg’d with him, betwixt Cambridge and the Bull.
And surely, Death could never have prevail’d,
Had not his weekly cours of carriage fail’d;
But lately finding him so long at home,
And thinking now his journeys end was come,
And that he had tane up his latest Inne,
In the kind office of a Chamberlin
Shew’d him his room where he must lodge that night,
Pull’d off his Boots, and took away the light:
If any ask for him, it shall be sed,
Hobson has supt, and ‘s newly gon to bed.


I could not resist this last, the demise of Hobson.  Do I spot humour and simple ‘fondness’ for a character?  Anyway, I used to know Slough ( a town threatened by Betjeman’s ‘bombs’ but then recanted) and understand how he might have felt…..but then so did Milton, though it was a few miles away.  Actually it is doubtful if ‘Slough’ existed in his day and a few miles could seem a long way!   And of course, I deliberately misinterpret Milton’s slough for the town…. apologies to Slough.
slough: definition: ‘A place of deep mud or mire’; ‘a state of dejection’: as noted by Longman Concise English Dictionary :

slough (Saxon word): ‘A deep miry place;  a hole full of dirt’: as defined by Dr Samuel Johnson’s first edition: A Dictionary of the English Language

Some places near Slough:   Eton (College), Windsor (Castle), Dorney Wick and Upton (both ‘Royal’ or connected residences in historic times). Stoke Poges(re Gray’s Elegy)

Odd facts:  William Herschel built wooden astronomical telescopes in his garden in Slough.  I read somewhere that much of his significant data was collected and minutely recorded by his sister so she should be accorded a similar respect.   (Perhaps, in the astronomical world, she is, I do hope so).   He/they should be more highly and widely regarded: for further information see the link: William Herschel or Contact Slough Museum.
What is left of ‘Montem mound’ was once used as a place for Eton College boys to beg (but only one day a year, apparently) from travellers along the A4 (Main London to Bristol road for millennia), which is also not many yards from the site of a highway-man’s operating area.  Or at least where he was hanged for said robberies of people and horse and coaches…. Ledger was his name.    Also:        Charles Dickens rented a cottage for Nelly Ternan in Slough High Street for a few years.     I have read these facts but have failed to give bibliographic detail, for which I apologise.

I diverge:

See other Milton Poems on sites in Useful links, or books:  Longman Annotated English Poets, Oxford Book of English Verse, etc etc.

Wordsworth: Three Poems

There are too many known poems and half-recalled lines from Wordworth to surprise anyone easily.   A Sketch  maybe least known though W’s style and sentiment shines through.  Of the two ‘Lines’ poems, the first is no doubt highly regarded and studied; the second also but maybe not to recall.  There are so many more, this is but a taste.

(Wordsworth: 1770-1850)

From: Wordsworth Poems, two vols published 1800


The little hedge-row birds
That peck along the road, regard him not.
He travels on, and in his face, his step,
His gait, is one expression; every limb,
His look and bending figure, all bespeak
A man who does not move with pain, but moves
With thought—He is insensibly subdued
To settled quiet: he is one by whom
All effort seems forgotten, one to whom
Long patience has such mild composure given,
That patience now doth seem a thing, of which
He hath no need. He is by nature led
To peace so perfect, that the young behold
With envy, what the old man hardly feels.
—I asked him whither he was bound, and what
The object of his journey; he replied
That he was going many miles to take
A last leave of his son, a mariner,
Who from a sea-fight had been brought to Falmouth,
And there was lying in an hospital.

LINES                                                 Written in early Spring.
I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
To her fair works did nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it griev’d my heart to think
What man has made of man.
Through primrose tufts, in that sweet bower,
The periwinkle trail’d its wreathes;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
The birds around me hopp’d and play’d:
Their thoughts I cannot measure,
But the least motion which they made,
It seem’d a thrill of pleasure.
The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.
If I these thoughts may not prevent,
If such be of my creed the plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
LINES                             Written near Richmond upon the Thames.
Glide gently, thus for ever glide,
O Thames! that other bards may see,
As lovely visions by thy side
As now, fair river! come to me.
Oh glide, fair stream! for ever so;
Thy quiet soul on all bestowing,
‘Till all our minds for ever flow,
As thy deep waters now are flowing.
Vain thought! yet be as now thou art,
That in thy waters may be seen
The image of a poet’s heart,
How bright, how solemn, how serene!
Such as did once the poet bless,
Who, pouring here a later ditty,
Could find no refuge from distress,
But in the milder grief of pity.
Remembrance! as we float along,
For him suspend the dashing oar,
And pray that never child of Song
May know his freezing sorrows more.
How calm! how still! the only sound,
The dripping of the oar suspended!
—The evening darkness gathers round
By virtue’s holiest powers attended.

Tell it Like it Might Be, A Graph Review

A Graph Review,   55 with highpoints 68

Tell it Like it Might Be
By Michael Bartholomew-Biggs

Published 2008. By Smoke Stack Books. £7.95 ppr. 9780955402845

47 poems. Plus very brief notes on 6 poems

tell it covTruth, realism, provocation, neat imaging and surrealism run throughout Tell it like it Might Be.  Outline stories filled with keen observation of the possibilities of self.  Many written as if the author in situation, others rigorously imagined with a poetical view and sometimes deviously written.  Subjects covered vary from religion to war, sickness, variations on love and deception.  Questions regarding faith, in self as much as religion.  Strong imagery slipping between the story line and the insistence of nature and bouts of surrealism siding with bare description.  Not in every poem, not by repetition but often writ quite large between the lines is the question “Why are we as we are?”

I do think a few, like ‘Identity Crisis‘ and ‘Curtain Call‘ fit into well-covered themes that have been dipped into so many times by so many poets.  But why not, a good story, well told is always worth reading in any tongue.  Anyway, over time and poets the stories never really change, only some words and maybe a few facts plus the influence of layers of voices from the past.

Fool’s-errand Boys‘ and ‘Troubadours‘, the last entry and ‘Loss Adjusters’ are the three poems that stand out as having most obvious rhyme schemes.  These and the free verse narratives vary in subject and tenor with language that is clear and precise though imagery might cloud the immediate meaning and the sub-plot on initial readings.  Overall I am left with an impression of good poetry, technically well constructed, all of personal import on private or wider world subjects.  Perhaps lacking in gentler, softer language but this is well -countered by the clarity and at times simplicity of what is said.

An Essex man, now living in London, Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is a mathematician ( part-retired) and poet (poetry editor for Poetry p f).   Website link for   Poetry p f .  His predilection for maths no doubt enables his spirit of enquiry and directness of language, which in turn may (often) be enveloping other meanings and possibilities.  Poems written with heart and mind.

Aviary in Dulwich Park; a brief narrative on parental worry and helplessness.

Dream Catching; an unusual and elegant poem that offers pictures and poses questions.

Tell it Like it Might Have Been; a descriptive poem, memory, nostalgia but still a lingering doubt.

1st verse from: Close Enough for Jazz.   This is an example of one stanza, simple structure, yet highly descriptive when your mind is in gear:

the music starts
with just a walking bass
and rhythm struts like melody
till melody swings in;

Above is sample of the softer aspects of this collection.  Other poems, often on events, show points of view or an attitude that are harder, especially when the events are harder, harsher.  And here the still questioning why? but with words that do not say but imply an uncomprehending, anger-tinged question.

All are thought provoking poems, clearly written and many layered.   A good counter blast in style to some of the older poets I have recently been reading.   A step behind Jo Shapcott but the poems of Michael Bartholomew-Biggs are still very acutely written.

Three Poems More: j.Johnson Smith


photo by wordparc

I know the last synes that will drift through my mind
Like a kind and sighing breeze or a last ripple
That remains from a sunken skimming-stone
Cast with hope but gone with only a memory visible.

I see a shade on the dimpled wave
As it glitters to the shore and rocks the sedimental clay
To hide thin fins seeking shelter in the last light of day.

I hear the heart-beat plash of secrets dashed
As fish, or vole, or that flat, cooled stone
Curved beneath my memories of youth.

I feel that taut line as it slackens, loosens,
And anticipation lessons while I peer through the glooming
At the feather-float as it ceases to dance
And lies defeated, lost to chance.

I will look to the lowering sun and trees
For final dreams and will take that breeze
I remember more as a gentle kiss than as a butterfly
That caught me in its long embrace, for a lifetime,
That skims in dappled memories and lies
Discarded by my own unknowing hand, adrift.


I Wait and Watch

The air was damp, gnats were beginning to rise,
The sun was dying and the moon was pale
Like a corpse, when it turned towards the house.
I saw a lady dressed in white
With a cloak held round her shoulders tight.
Her hair was hid by a curving bonnet
And toes by shadows of grass.
I stood quite still when I saw her,
Kept quite still and watched.
Her hands held the cloak edged in fur
And her feet touched the moistened earth.
She walked to the wall, by the climbing rose,
Seeking a glimpse of the love she had,
For the man who held her heart.

Anxiety oppressed her pretty face
As she glanced from right to left.
Then worry changed to a happy glow
As towards her love she raced.
Her face grew tight, it creased with fear
While I watched her lips voice “No!”
My body was cold and my fingers numb
As she melted into night.

She comes here now, each day at dusk,
With her grey-trimmed cloak and scent of musk
But I cannot rush to her arms again
For I fear the touch and rush of pain
As my fingers reach to her throat.
For ever I wait and watch, quite still,
To see her love of me.
For ever I think of my jealous act,
“I killed for love of thee”.
1982?                    (after reading big chunk of Tennyson’s  ‘Maud’)

You can see the purple whales out there,
Those long hump-back ridges
With tops of foam
That are scallops of green and mauve.
The sea rolls up,
Wave on wave
Broaching the walls of angular ships,
Threatening to wash away
The flimsy hulks that dot on the wide,
Round Downs.
Slopes of waves, rolling and writhing;
Lip-tossed like a golden lake of corn
Edged by tufted hats of distant trees.
Birds are massing,
Rising to the cause of the flock
As the call goes up that it’s time to go.
Their shadows are sown over the earth,
Casting a gloom in the air
At the rise of life
Leaving a ship that heads for a stormy sea.
The wings curl in the sky,
Wheeling and turning,
Listening for the cry of the owl
At the night that creeps and bogs the sea.
And the whales sleep in the eye.
The foam of trees is black against the sky
But the corn whispers its love-song to the day.

Pub. Breakthrough (66)

Jo Shapcott, Of Mutability; A Graph Review

  A Graph Review
60 with many highpoints 70

Of Mutability
Author  Jo Shapcott

Published  by  faber & faber                2010.                       Paper                 9780571254712
Costa Book of the Year 2010

In reading this book I feel I am creeping out of the past and entering the present (well, recent past, anyway).  I have spent too much time dipping and delving into the last 100 years or more.  Admittedly I have surfaced twice (Claire Trevien and Daniel Healey) and am now perhaps reading more current poets but I have still  to fully surface from the past.

So, no surprise or apologies for bringing attention to Jo Shapcott’s fourth book published 2010: Of Mutability .  When published it was her first new collection for 12 years.

45 poems in this collection

Mutable…..definition: Capable of or liable to change or alteration  (Longman Concise E.D.)

Free verse throughout.  No skinny lines here, no average length of poem or designer rhymes.  Yes, some are short and brief, others run through, lines bleeding over the page like straight text.  Subjects vary from ill health to recovery, on survival, from decline to love.  All look at the different natures of change via image and emotion.  What I feel from this poet’s collection is an understanding, an inevitability that life is change;  without change, for good or ill, there is nothing and from that comes the sense that change is a form of creation to be accepted and in a loose fashion, angry or ecstatic sense, celebrated. The poetry is confrontational, observational and joyful.  Of Mutability is the title, a named poem, and the whole collection runs with that theme, very satisfying.

Emotional images, many surreal, buffer with the more ordinary in these poems.  Often several poems linked by subject and style.  We have imagist poems, The Gherkin in its stylised layout, another short, brief and full of depth; a set of trees, poems in response to:; loss, love and fact  Surrealism abounds and for some reason this collection gives me a mash, picture-echoes, of Dali, Gauguin and Hockney, a heady and bizarre mix.  Lastly we have a superb poem that draws on another image, from an elemental act the sheer power and joy of the creative mind.  For me an ending of double echoes, of double echoes.

A deserving winner of the Costa Book Award, not just the Costa Poetry Award, beating all-comers that year.  Deserving to stand the test of time as a collection and a poet.

As a collection it merits reading from start to finish.  I might get a kicking if I hesitate over Border Cartography with its six little scenic, short verses that feel like an unexpected eddy within the book.  Maybe that’s the point.  These poems can/should be read in clumps as they fit together but as per usual I pick out just a few, below, that tick my boxes………


photo by Lin Smith

Scorpion;          The Black Page;         Somewhat Unravelled;          Alternative;
Night Flight from Muncaster;              Piss Flower

Ivor Gurney: Severn & Somme and War’s Embers

Ivor Gurney: Severn & Somme and War’s Embers

Two titles re-issued in a single volume,   Edited by R K R Thornton

Published by MidNAG and Carcanet Press.

1987    hardback    (original price clipped off)

Ivor Gurney  1890-1937

This particular publication is probably unavailable except by lucky finds in secondhand bookshops.  Various reprints and collections are also around and in progress is a complete OUP volume.

As with many known poets there are innumerable websites offering biography, bibliography, assorted poetry and societies for Ivor Gurney.  I will mention this link:  The Friends of the Dymock poets website too as it is related in countryside and poets and writings. i.e. Gloucestershire, W.W1 , scenic poetry, Edward Thomas and so on.

Once you have read the poems, of any poet, then is the time to search out details of their life and re-read……. if you like what they have to say.
Ivor Gurney was not purely a War Poet, probably still known as much for his music and settings of music for his poetry and that of others.  These days he is ranked with other War Poets, quite rightly, and this collection alone would place him there.  The First World War saw his two poetry collections published but much more followed.  Born in Gloucester, a chorister, a seriously promising start at London School of Music.  His favourite composer was Bach and he had a love of all Elizabethan poetry and song.  Writing during the war he admitted that his poetry may be getting published but his greatest love and concern for the future was his music.  He composed songs for his and others’ poetry/words even while in the trenches.  His life was blotted by depression and heavily so from 1922 when he went into an asylum and then to London Mental Hospital in Dartford, Kent.  He stayed there until his death of TB in 1937.

He continued writing poetry throughout this last period but music tailed off in 1926.

T of London Poppies  7Oct2014

Oct. 2014: Tower of London ‘moat’ will be filled with 888,246 ceramic poppies by 11th November 2014 to commemorate British military loss in WWI.

This book is a single volume of his two collections published in WW1.  It Includes the original introductions but also includes information on the composition of each book and notes from Gurney’s annotation of Marion Scott’s own copies, now in Gloucester library.  These notes of when and where the poems were written and details of alterations are so useful if you wish to delve deeper.

His poetry has risen in profile over the last ten, twenty years and especially his later poetry appearing in new editions and anthologies.  This collection was primarily written during the war, from camps to second line and front-line trenches,  also whilst in hospital during recuperation from wounds and illness. (Bullet wound in right arm).

The Ivor Gurney Society  have an image of a manuscript covered in trench mud suggesting writing music and poetry was a way of distracting himself and keeping off the tremors of warfare and no doubt depression too.

His subjects here are limited to variations on war and reminiscence of his native Gloucestershire and area, key subjects throughout his life.   Pictures that vary from resting in a town in France to the act of killing a man; the open spaces, views and hills of Gloucestershire, Severn and Cotswolds and Gloucester, his place of birth.

There is a poem dedicated to Edward Thomas in this collection and his widow, Helen, visited Gurney at some time when in the mental hospital.   It may just be reciprocation/appreciation of the poet’s work but I like to think that as they walked the same area they must have met.

Gurney’s love of Elizabethan verse and song comes through in many of his poems but his variation in rhyme schemes and length push through too.  In line with more modern style and rhythms (of the day) his poetry is usually descriptive but at times with a knock that can change the tone in a phrase part-way or at the last.  Modernism creeps into his work, end-rhyming and metre is important and often regular but use of length and language ensures variety.  An intriguing writer, nearer Edward Thomas in part but still following his own paths and language.

But then all his poetry whether of calmer time off-duty (in the Estaminet, (small cafe)), sitting and waiting while shells burst all around or of nurses in Hospital, is descriptive and of the moment.  The nostalgia, the vision, of his love and memory for the people and especially the scenery of his beloved countryside shines through.  His use of language may sometimes trip less easily on first reading where the Elizabethan shades are used but the content and emotion of the poet ring true.  His writing and skill may well move on from these war years but take note of  To His Love and wonder if it could be bettered.

Poems I have picked out from this collection as today’s favourites are: Strafe, The Estaminet, Sonnets 1917 (2, Pain), The Farm, Hospital Pictures (2, Dust), On Rest.

And the last two as below. The Lock keeper and To His Love

From Severn & Somme :

To His Love

He’s gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswold
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.

His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn river
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.

You would not know him now…
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.

Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.

From: War’s Embers:

The Lock-keeper
(To the Memory of Edward Thomas)

A tall man he was, proud of his gun,
Of his garden, and small fruit trees every one
Knowing all weather signs, the flight of birds,
Farther than I could hear the falling thirds
Of the first cuckoo. Able at digging, he
Smoked his pipe ever, furiously, contentedly.
Full of old country tales his memory was;
Yarns of both sea and land, full of wise saws
In rough fine speech; sayings his father had,
That worked a twelve-hour day when but a lad.
Handy with timber, nothing came amiss
To his quick skill; and all the mysteries
Of sail-making, net making, boat-building were his.
That dark face lit with bright bird-eyes, his stride
Manner most friendly courteous, stubborn pride,
I shall not forget, not yet his patience
With me, unapt, though many a far league hence
I’ll travel for many a year, nor ever find
A winter-night companion more to my mind,
Nor one more wise in ways of Severn river,
Though her villages I search for ever and ever.