Saturday, 26 April 2008

Yet more typescripts

It must be three, if not four weeks now that I have been wading through the innumerable pages of typescripts in the Gurney archive, discovering their groupings and provenance, but the end is now in sight! There is a small bundle of pages left to be sorted, but nearly all of the TSS are sorted, filed and, increasingly, a temporary catalogue of the new locations has been produced (the collection is still open to public access during cataloguing, so paper trails have to be maintained where it has been necessary to reorganise materials).

The Blunden typescript has been a wonderful find, allowing, for instance, the identification of the missing poem in the set of poems from January 1925, 'To Hawthornden' - now therefore complete.

One small matter to be resolved as yet surrounds a little blue notebook used by Gurney during a walking tour with John Haines in August 1919 (although Leonard Clark dates it more broadly 1919-22). The notebook is not in the archive (nor is it in the Haines archive, which is being catalogued at the Gloucestershire Archives at the moment) and there is some conflicting evidence amongst the typescript transcriptions of the volume. Joy Finzi later (1950s) noted on some of the typescripts which manuscript source they came from. This is sometimes confusing as she has written this on typescripts that are transcriptions of variants of the poem from a different source to the one she annotates. In the case of the Haines book, there is also an index to a typescript of the volume, probably made by Joy, which doesn't include some of the poems she has annotated as being from the volume. Some of these are on quite different papers and one questions whether they were in fact from the source. There are two gaps in the extant 'Blue book' typescript, and hopefully the coming week will see a resolution of this, and the final identification of the remaining TSS. Some of Joy Finzi's annotations and approximations in the archive prove accurate; others can be misleading. Some poems she has noted as being 'written at Dartford' (viz. after December 1922). However, a number of these are found to belong to the black notebook sent to Edward Marsh (founder/editor of the Georgian Poetry volumes (Poetry Bookshop, 1911-22)) earlier in that year.

During the latter part of this week I have begun to read through the poems written in 1926. This was Gurney's fourth year in the mental hospital, and he was nearing the end of his creative career, ceasing to write music in 1927 (or at least, this is the last extant music ms) and poetry apparently a few years later. I have found myself to be startled by this poetry: Gurney's early work came during the war, and these works formed the only two volumes of poetry published in his lifetime. '80 Poems or So' and, in particular, 'Rewards of Wonder', mark his true maturity as a poet, but these still evoke a rather parochial frame of reference (dare one say), with Gloucestershire, London and the war featuring heavily. His prolific output of 1925 is full of memory and contains much homage-making/paeans to the Americas and American poets (quite obsessively so when one considers some of the unpublished collections such as 'Poems in Praise of Poets' and 'Poems to the States'). However, 1926 seems to bring a marked change in his poetry: he leaves his parochial reference points and obsessions in the background and writes poetry that is timeless and universal - perhaps influenced by his interest at that time in northern European epics, such as the 'Kalevala'. One can't help thinking that, for this reason, these c.200 poems are some of Gurney's most important work. He has become overarchingly relevant, and achieved his ideal of producing art worthy of, and perhaps as enduring as that of the Elizabethans.

Some will probably argue differently.


Humfrey said...

Hey, I just discovered your Ivor Gurney blog. It's really interesting, I had no idea anyone was doing research like this. In fact I only just found out about you from the Stainer and Bell songs catalogue where you are described as 'the leading Gurney scholar'!. I am in my last year at the King's School, Gloucester and have just started to learn 'Ludlow and Teme' (I only have the voice and piano edition though) and I have also got the 20 favourite Gurney songs book which is absolutely fantastic though it has some gaps like 'I will go with my father a-ploughing'. I am really interested in Gurney and I will follow all your posts here.

Jude Folly said...

am pleased to find your blog. might you recommend a collected works edition that features is war poetry?

Humfrey said...

Hmm.. I personally love his origional publications 'Severn and Somme' and 'Wars Embers', there is a volume of his collected works, 'Collected Poems of Ivor Gurney' but to be honest I don't know the publications of Gurney very well. I am generally most interested in Gurney's music, rather than his poetry, What is your interest in Gurney?