On the Wings of the Morning by Jeffrey Day

Jeffrey Day.
Born. 1896 Died 1918. Wrote very little, more considered poetry written from 1917 to 18.
Flying a Sopwith Camel, shot down off coast of DUNKIRK, landed on sea, seen surviving but lost, presumed drowned.   I would hesitate to place him as a War Poet, having said that the war did change his style of writing and the poems link in to his experiences so perhaps there is room for another.

Included in J C Squires  Selection of Modern Poets (single colume) dated 1927.  This selections contains many poets, still respected and often read but also several, such as Jeffrey Day, Kenneth Ashley, Gwen Clear and WJ Turner (10 poems included here) I have previously missed.  And the word ‘Modern’ relates to the selection period rather than a  box as label of styles.  Style, as always, was moving on and here is a good mix of those styles, out of the old and towards the new……

I was pleased to see D H Lawrence (5) included but DH apart saw little sign of the more ‘imagist’ poetry included….. small progress may be present in language but good old rhyme still much the norm.
I am currently reading F S Flint who may well have been (one of ) the first poet to redefine poetic style into a format that is closer to our currency.  It offers the freedom of no (or minor) rhyme but the stricture of brevity and use of cadence to produce the ‘image’, depth of the poem.  I don’t really like labelling such as ‘Georgian’,‘Imagist’, ‘Modern’, ‘Romantic’ etc but it is a useful measure as long as I remember that poets are always looking for the best means of exposing their thoughts, whether as stark bones or hidden in undergrowth, for the reader to understand emotionally as well as intellectually.

This poem I present as a reflection on the simple joy and freedom of flying an early aeroplane. Written 1917/18

high flying geese
high flying geese

‘On the wings of the Morning’.          By Jeffrey Day
A sudden roar, a mighty rushing sound,
A jolt or two, a smoothly sliding rise,
A tumbled blur of disappearing ground,
And then all sense of motion slowly dies.
Quiet and calm, the earth slips past below,
As underneath a bridge still waters flow.

My turning wing inclines towards the ground;
The ground itself glides up with graceful swing
And at the plane’s far tip twirls slowly round,
Then drops from sight again beneath the wing
To slip away serenely as before,
A cubist-patterned carpet on the floor.

Hills gently sink and valleys gently fill.
The flattened files grow ludicrously small;
Slowly they pass beneath and slower still
Until they hardly seem to move at all.
Then suddenly they disappear from sight,
Hidden by fleeting wisp of faded white.

The wing-tips, faint and dripping, dimly show,
Blurred by the wreaths of mist that intervene.
Weird, half-seen shadows flicker to and fro
Across the pallid fog-bank’s blinding screen.
At last the choking mists release their hold,
And all the world is silver, blue and gold.

The air is clear, more clear than sparkling wine;
Compared with this wine is a turgid brew.
The far horizon makes a clean-cut line
Between the silver and depthless blue.
Out of the snow-White level reared on high
Glittering hills surge up to meet the sky.

Outside the wind-screen’s shelter gales may race;
But in the seat a cool and gentle breeze
Blows steadily upon my grateful face,
As I sit motionless and at my ease,
Contented just to loiter in the sun
And gaze around me till the day is done.

And so I sit, half-sleeping, half awake,
Dreaming a happy dream of golden days,
Until at last, with a reluctant shake
I rouse myself, and with a lingering gaze
At all the splendour of the shining plain
Make ready to come down to earth again.

The engine stops: a pleasant silence reigns –
Silence, not broken, but intensified
By the soft, sleepy wires’ insistent strains,
That rise and fall, as with a sweeping glide
I slither down the well-oiled sides of space,
Towards a lower, less enchanted place.

The clouds draw nearer, changing as they come,
Now, like a flash, fog grips me by the throat.
Down goes the nose: at once the wires, low hum
Begins to rise in volume and in note,
Till, as I hurtle from the choking cloud
It swells into a scream, high-pitched and loud.

The scattered hues and shades of green and brown
Fashion themselves into the land I know,
Turning and twisting, as I spiral down
Towards the landing ground; till, skimming low,
I glide with slackening speed across the ground,
And come to rest with a slightly grating sound.

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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.