Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Armistice Day

As the 91st Armistice Day passes - the first without any surviving First World War veterans in attendance at the UK commemorations, and on a day in which I was rehousing some of Gurney's war correspondence, the war has been on my mind. The scenes from Edwin Lutyens's Cenotaph and from the grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey make me think of an article I have yet to complete on Gurney's work at the time of the unveiling of the Cenotaph and the return of the Unknown Warrior (the above picture is of the Unknown Warrior's cortege passing the newly unveiled memorial), at which time Gurney was composing the War Elegy for orchestra - a work that cannot but have been influenced by the great attention that was being paid to the acts of commemoration of November 1920. The fact that Gurney's conception of the work gradually altered during its writing, from its original title of 'Funeral March', through consideration of 'March Elegy' to the more pertinent 'War Elegy', is perhaps testament to this.

There are a couple of unpublished poems by Gurney entitled 'Armistice Day', written in 1923, although as I write this I cannot lay my hands on my transcription (which of the numerous poetry transcription documents I have on my computer is it in?!). The poem to which I return when thinking of the reaction to the Armistice is Gurney's as yet unpublished 'The Bugle', written in late 1918/early 1919.

This poem tells of the feeling of victory that hangs over London, with sounds of the bugle 'embronz[ing] the air', repeating its cry of triumph. Gurney tells the thoughts of the soldiers who have returned and are hearing these victory calls, soldiers who do not share the same sense of rejoicing: as they pass through the streets the former soldiers see that business goes on, bartering, chattering, with 'Men los[ing] their souls in care of business' as though 'men had not been mown / Like corn swathes East of Ypres or the Somme'. They are apparently heedless of what has passed, Gurney expecting some more reverential, subdued atmosphere perhaps, honouring and respecting the lives given in order to maintain that freedom to barter and chatter. Finally, Gurney voices the fear of all returning soldiers:
'O Town, O Town
In soldiers[’] faces one might see the fear
That once again they should be called to bear
Arms, and to save England from her own.'

The below film is the 1920 Pathe News footage of the Armistice Day commemorations, with the transport and arrival of the Unknown Warrior and the unveiling of the Cenotaph. The flowers heaped around the Cenotaph, and the public scenes - thousands of people standing in total silence - demonstrate the importance of that 1920 commemoration, particularly with the return of the warrior - a symbol of 'Everyman', having been selected at random from a selection of unidentified soldiers from all of the main battlefields of France and Belgium. It could be any mother's son who had been lost without trace, and hence all could claim it as theirs - an important gesture following the decision not to repatriate the dead.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Gurney broadcast

As part of the lead up to Remembrance Day, Monday saw the broadcast of the interviews recorded a couple of weeks ago by Sebastian Field, Andrew Fox and myself, prompted by the unveiling of the new plaque to Gurney in Gloucester city centre.

The feature on Gurney was broadcast in two parts on BBC Radio Gloucestershire's John Rockley show. You can listen again at The two parts of the Gurney feature are located respectively at 18'20"-24'25" and 1hr16'35"-1hr23'0".

Friday, 23 October 2009

Recording radio programmes

Yesterday morning Sebastian Field, Andrew Fox (Heritage and Museums manager for Gloucester) and I were receiving curious glances from bemused passers-by as we were interviewed by a lady from BBC Radio Gloucestershire at the site of the recently unveiled memorial plaque to Ivor Gurney, outside Boots on Eastgate street.

Prompted by the recent re-siting/installation of the plaque commemorating the site of Gurney's birthplace, Radio Gloucestershire wanted to do a feature on him. We discussed his Gloucestershire background, his association with Gloucester, his poetry and music, and also flagged up what is effectively a mini Gurney festival during next year's Three Choirs Festival (see my previous blog about this and the plaque unveiling)

As and when we know when the programme is to be broadcast, Sebastian and I shall post the details on our blogs.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

In the Cathedral Archives

The excitement of today, in Gurney terms, was a visit to Gloucester Cathedral library and Archives to meet the recently appointed Archivist, Christopher Jeens. Chris has been in post a few months now and has a lot on his plate in the archive, which, due to the illness of his predecessor, has been mostly untended for some time. The archive has seen little in the way of cataloguing since the late 1960s. There are piles of things about the place, and the temptation to riffle through the piles must be suppressed for the fear of spreading mould spores, which are infesting parts of the library, now being painstakingly removed by the Archivist and his volunteers.

Sebastian Field and I ventured up to the library in the hope of gleaning what is in the archive - certainly as far as can be seen at present, before much organisation has been undertaken and the contents of the library learned by the archivist.

A few documents were known about and readily locatable; some others were as yet unsighted but were located during my visit; other things that may be of interest will have to wait for another day.

The first item I saw was the school admissions register. 1900 saw 8 pupils admitted to the Kings School, four of whom were admitted as choristers. This volume is all in Latin, but Gurney's was the only name not Latinised: perhaps Ivor is to Celtic to bear it. Gurney's entry, like that of the others who were admitted as probationary choristers, was appended with the phrase 'ch[oro] Eccl[esiasticus]: Cath: G[loucester]'. The most interesting entry in the admission list for that year is one Eric Harvey: the brother of F.W. Harvey, Gurney's close boyhood friend and fellow poet. It makes one wonder whether it was through Eric that Will and Ivor met. Eric was to fight alongside Gurney in the 2/5 Gloucester Battalion, until he was invalided home in April 1918, five months before Gurney was sent home following his being gassed. By the September in which Gurney was sent home, Harvey had returned to the front, where he earned a Military Cross shortly before he was killed by machine gun fire.

One of the objectives of my visit to the Cathedral archives was to discover more about Gurney's time as a chorister, and the Chapter minute book yielded a little information about this:

The probationary period for a chorister was a long one, for despite joining the school in 1900 Gurney was not admitted as a full chorister until the beginning of 1903. The choir generally consisted of ten boys, four of whom were solo boys, who were paid more than the other boys. Gurney was admitted as fourth solo boy, receiving a sum of £9 per year (as reported in the cathedral salary register), being £2 a year more than the next three choristers and £5 more than the lower three. This was paid in installments at Lady Day, Midsummer, Michaelmas and Christmas. In 1904 - the year of his Three Choirs Festival success as the youth in Elijah, alongside Madame Albani - Gurney was 3rd chorister. At the beginning of 1905 he was second chorister, and from Michaelmas of that year until the end of his chorister career in the summer of 1906, was made 1st chorister.

The chapter minutes also include the specification of chorister regulations and also some talk of the school curriculum, with the regular inspections often reporting the poor knowledge of scripture and church Catechism when examined - something concerning for a church school.

Another objective of my visit was to glean some information about Gurney's role as articled pupil and organist in the cathedral: he claims to have been 'assistant organist' at the cathedral for a time. However, if he was so it was an entirely honorary role since there is no salary drawn for such a post, nor any mention of such appointments in the minutes (there is talk of Herbert Brewer's terms of service, as Organist and Master of Choristers, and much talk of the Lay Clerks, but no assistant organist is mentioned.) One piece of information is interesting though: In 1906-7 the Cathedral was undergoing electrification, and by December 1907 the organ was in receipt of a new electric blower. In the Chapter meeting of 7 December 1907 Herbert Brewer put forward a proposal that his pupils be allowed to use the organ for practice. This was agreed, for a period of one year, provided that 'Dr Brewer is responsible for its proper use and that proper payment is made for the amount of Electric current consumed.' As Articled Pupil to Brewer, alongside Herbert Howells and Ivor Novello, Gurney now had the freedom to do as Howells reported in his 1938 recollection in Music and Letters, of Gurney composing 'organ works which he tried out in the midst of Gloucester’s imperturbable Norman pillars.'

I hope that in time photographs may emerge of the choir, or perhaps other documents may be found - music lists, choir administration documents and all. At present we just have to be patient while Christopher Jeens undertakes his painstaking and in some ways enviable task in the voyage of discovery that will be the restoration and cataloguing of the cathedral library.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Cirencester tonight

If you happen to be passing through Cirencester later on today, pop into the public library where I shall be giving a short introductory talk on Gurney at 7.30pm as part of the celebrations to mark the first birthday of the refurbishment of the library. See you there!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Exoneration of a cinema organist

Today I had a visit in the archive from Gurney's great-nephew: the grandson and grand-daughter-in-law of Gurney's sister, Dorothy. They were over in England on holiday from Australia, to where Dorothy emigrated following her marriage.

In readiness for their visit, I got out the photographs held in the archive, some examples of his music and poetry, and also some of the correspondence between Don Ray and the visitors' other great-uncle and great-aunt, Gurney's brother Ronald and sister Winifred. I haven't yet got to these in my cataloguing, and had a browse through some of those items I hadn't yet been through. In this part of the collection - the Don Ray gathering of recollections during 1950-51 - two letters grabbed my attention. The handwriting was so poor that I thought it to be that of Ralph Vaughan Williams. However, on inspection it turned out to be John Haines who, by the time of writing in 1951, was almost blind and his handwriting had deteriorated with this loss of sight.

One of these letters from Haines had been partially transcribed - perhaps by Don Ray - but there were numerous gaps where words were indistinguishable, and the transcriber obviously gave up two thirds of the way through the letter. Where the transcriber stopped, I endeavoured to continue, and was rewarded with an interesting nugget of information I thought I'd share here. It arose from what must have been a question from Ray to determine whether, in his capacity as solicitor, Haines had ever acted for Gurney. Haines's letter cites just one instance relating to the period of 1921-22, during which Gurney moved from job to job, unable to keep any for a great length of time.

One of the posts Gurney sought was that of cinema organist. He wrote to Edward Marsh that such posts were 'hard to get, fearful to retain, easy to lose.' (December 1921, Collected Letters p.523). He was successful in obtaining two such posts, one in Plumstead, London, and one in Bude, Cornwall, neither of which he retained for long; only a matter of days. In the brief words of Michael Hurd on the subject in The Ordeal of Ivor Gurney, these jobs 'eluded his grasp'. He elaborates no further, and one is left to presume that either Gurney's erratic tendencies at this time or perhaps the unsuitability of his music were to blame. However, Haines's letter perhaps refutes this in some way: he writes that he was successful in obtaining the then not insubstantial sum of '£10 for him out of a cinema company for wrongful dismissal.' He doesn't note which cinema it was, although earlier in the letter he states that he was employed as a cinema organist in Cornwall. Perhaps it was therefore the Bude cinema that had terminated his contract on weak or insubstantiable grounds. In Haines's action against the cinema Gurney found absolution, a little money; but he may rather have continued in post, working and making music to earn his living.

Monday, 5 October 2009

'New' musical works

Today I have been mopping up the last of the asylum correspondence and writings, scattered around the archive, completing the chronologisation of this very extensive section of the archive (it fills several large box files) prior to the final cataloguing. A very large proportion of these date from one of Gurney's anni mirabilis, 1925; the writings after this time can be held in just one of the files. The letters and poems are often undated, sometimes difficult to read, and, in the case of the letters of appeal, rather pointeliste in their content. I am therefore relying on the paper types, handwriting, and anything that can be gleaned from the content.

When I compiled the catalogue of musical works, 3 or 4 years ago, I spent a lot of time trawling through all of Gurney's letters endeavouring to locate all references to his music. This yielded information about a number of works for which manuscript material is no longer extant, some of which were verified by Gerald Finzi's catalogue of works collated in 1937, more than thirty works in which are missing presumed destroyed.

However, in my reading through the correspondence at that time I obviously missed a few letters/references, for I can now add some further works to that catalogue:

There is new song setting of Longfellow, being one of the sections from The Saga of King Olaf, 'Einar Tamberskelver', written at around the same time as the Longfellow/Heine setting, 'The sea hath its pearls', of 21 April 1925, which this letter also mentions, alongside the Frederic Mistral setting from this time, 'A la Raco Latino'.

In my original catalogue, a reference in a(n unposted) letter to Edward Elgar yielded the fact that there were further settings of Walt Whitman were made for what was one of Gurney's preferred vocal/instrumental combinations, baritone, string quartett and piano, over and above the two I knew about: 'Ethiopia Saluting the Colours' and 'In Cabin'd Ships at Sea'. To this can now be added what Gurney titles 'By the Bivouac's Fire', which must be his misremembering of 'By the Bivouac's Fitful Flame'.

A letter of 3 April [1926] notes that he has just completed two movements of an Organ Sonata in F# minor. Finzi lists a sonata slow movement in this key for 1925. This could be one and the same work, Finzi perhaps approximating the date, but it could be that this is a new work. It would also correlate with a page of sketches from around March 1926 in F# minor which I had hitherto suggested might be related to other known but missing organ works from this time: an 'Heroic Elegy' for organ and an 'Easter Rhapsody'. This letter also makes reference to the second of Gurney's symphonies: the 1925 Symphony in E major. Here, in April 1926, he writes that, 'Ivor Gurney, whose Symphony in E major would make Brahms gasp, is in Hell, and where that MS is (and how) he knows not.' The work is already out of his hands, a work of which, in September 1925, he had noted the completion of the first and second movements, with the scherzo being in progress. Finzi's catalogue notes the existence of a piano score of this work, but this is now missing.

The final addition to the catalogue is a curious reference to a 'MS Anthem (E. Dolber) of war truly, written 1920 (with New College Oxford).' No title is given; just the fact that it is a manuscript anthem. I am sure the letter reads 'Dolber', although I haven't yet found a poet of this name. The date would correspond with a time when he was making other musical works embodying, if not commemorating the war, such as the War Elegy for orchestra of November 1920. It would be nice if this work did indeed find its way into the hands of New College, who might perhaps have forgotten about it in some dusty corner of the music department...

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Gurney war poetry manuscripts online

July this year saw the launch of a major new resource which brings to public access some 1200 pages of Gurney manuscript, which can be viewed on the internet, free of charge. The First World War Digital Poetry Archive has been developed over the last few years by Oxford University Computing Services, and was initially launched at the Imperial War Museum in November 2008, making available manuscripts by poets including Edward Thomas, Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg. Other poets are being added to the site, and July saw Gurney's turn, becoming one of the most represented poets on the site, with the manuscript pages that we at the archive had digitised in the latter part of 2008.

The online collection includes letters, many of which included poems, being sent home to Blighty, to Marion Scott, notebooks containing drafts of poems, typescripts, typescript and handwritten transcriptions by Scott, as well as Gurney's own copies of the two volumes published during his lifetime, Severn & Somme (1917) and War's Embers (1919), annotated with amendments made some years after they were published, when Gurney was having his extraordinary last flurry of creativity in the asylum before he turned to silence, musically and poetically speaking.

To explore this fantastic new web resource, go to

Friday, 25 September 2009

Rhapsodising Gurney's Home-coming

Followers will have noticed that I haven't been on the blog for a while. There are a number of things to catch up on, which I shall so do in posts during the next week. To begin with, this home-coming is best marked by some Gurney home-comings: recognition of Gurney in his native Gloucester.

Firstly, for many years there has been a plaque stuck down a side alley, next to Boots on Eastgate Street, which marked the approximate location of the address, 3 Queen St (long demolished) where Gurney was born. This was in such a dingy corner that it would only be seen by those seeking it out, and hardly a fitting memorial to draw attention to one of Gloucester's most notable sons. Thanks to the efforts of city councillor and fellow First World War literary researcher, Sebastian Field, the council were persuaded to cast a new plaque which could be mounted in a more prominent position, on a pillar in front of Boots, next to the Roman remains that are on view there. The readiness with which this can now be seen by the casual passer-by can only e a good thing. Read Sebastian's report of the unveiling of the plaque here.

The second thing to report is the announcement of the Three Choirs Festival programme for next year, 7-15 August 2010, which features what almost amounts to a mini Gurney festival in the latter part of the week! The most exciting item in the programme is the first performance of Gurney's Gloucestershire Rhapsody for orchestra. Ian Venables and I have recently met to begin the process of editing the work for this premiere, which is to take place at Cheltenham Town Hall, conducted by Martyn Brabbins. Composed between 1919 and 1921, this is a remarkable work that portrays Gurney's view of Gloucestershire. Rather than wallowing in a perhaps cliched rhapsodic lyricism, Gurney's c.20 minute work is a great sweeping landscape which portrays the nobility of his Gloucestershire - echoed in lines from his poetry such as 'Crickley cliffs blared a trumpet ever', and also something of its heritage and Gurney's recognition of Gloucestershire being as much within him as around him, recalling musics of former ages in a curious section which seems to smack of a musical mediaevalism, what may be harking back to an almost Virgilian pastoral idyll. Although completed in 1921, it was never performed, although it was listed in contemporary biographical summaries as being one of his most important works. In some of his later letters he asked that it may be performed under the auspices of a Patron's Fund concert at the Royal College of Music - such concerts as saw the first performance of the War Elegy in 1921 - but it was never to be.

As well as this important premiere, there will be a rare opportunity to hear a Gurney string quartet movement, and a recital featuring his songs. However, Gurney will also feature for the first time in one of the main cathedral concerts; his music will be performed on the stage upon which he himself had such success as a boy treble when he appeared alongside Madame Albani as the Youth in Mendelssohn's Elijah. This is for a performance of a choral work I recently revived and orchestrated: The Trumpet; a setting of a poem by Edward Thomas dating from around 1921. This will be a rousing opening to a concert which features Elgar's Sea Pictures and Finzi's Intimations of Immortality. For full details of the programme visit the Three Choirs Festival website.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Gurney and Edward Thomas

This coming Saturday, 16 May, Churchdown, on the slopes of Chosen Hill, plays host to an event jointly hosted by the Ivor Gurney Society and the Edward Thomas Fellowship. The marriage of the two societies in this event is a natural one: Gurney, having been introduced to Thomas's poetry by John Haines (who knew Thomas personally) in autumn 1917, took the poetry to heart, making numerous musical settings of Thomas as well as becoming a major influence upon his own verse. In fact, when Gurney left hospital in 1918 and began to rejuvenate his creativity, Haines acknowledged the beginning of a new phase in Gurney's poetry, albeit with the influence of Thomas's poetry being a little too present. Thomas also puts in a named appearance in a few of Gurney's poems - notably in 'The Mangel-Bury', which was the subject of much discussion a couple of weeks ago when it was featured as 'Poem of the Week' in The Guardian - see the Guardian site and extensive blog commentary at

Thomas had, by the time of Gurney's introduction to his work, and as described in 'The Mangel-Bury', 'fallen at Arras'. However, in 1932 Thomas's widow, Helen, visited Gurney in the asylum, at (if I remember rightly) the behest of the Finzis. She took with her some of Edward's maps and, tracing the map with his finger, relived the routes that Thomas had marked on them, Thomas and Gurney almost walking side by side in his reliving of those routes both he and Thomas knew.

With some 90 people booked to attend the event already, tickets may no longer be available, but it could be worth getting in touch to see if you could be squeezed in. If you can, you will be treated to three short talks - one on Thomas, one on Gurney and one on Gurney's musical settings of Thomas. There is also a recital given by soprano April Frederick featuring some of these settings.

For those who might be interested, there were 19 solo song settings of Thomas:

The Penny Whistle (1918)
Sowing (1918)
Lights Out (1919)
To-day I think [aka 'Scents'] (1919)
Bright Clouds (1920)
Snow (1921)
The cherry trees bend over (1921)
*The Bridge (1921)
*The Gallows (1921)
Cock-crow (1921)
*Adlestrop (1921)
*The Owl (1921)
*The Mill-Pond (1921)
*In Memoriam (1921)
*Out in the Dark (1921 rev. 1925)
*It Rains (c.1921-2)
Will you come? (1922)
*Words (1925)
The Trumpet (1925)

Those songs marked with an asterisk remain unpublished. 'Adlestrop', however, is probably going to be performed on 15 July at Minstrel Music's summer music festival near Ipswich, Suffolk. (Details will no doubt be published on their website in due course.) 'The Penny Whistle', 'Lights Out', 'Scents', 'Bright Clouds', 'Will you come?' and 'The Trumpet' were published by Stainer & Bell in 1926 as the song cycle, Lights Out.

There is also a choral setting of 'The Trumpet', composed in around 1921. First performed at Paul Spicer's English Choral Experience in 2007, it was given its first performance in my orchestration as part of the Cumbria Choral Initiative's Vaughan Williams Festival in Kendal in July 2008. Vocal scores of this work are available from Chosen Press.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

St. George's Day

St. George is perhaps a curious choice to be England's patron saint: a Turkish knight who never set foot in England, but whose cult was introduced into this country in around the eleventh century, and whose banner, by the 13th century, had been adopted by the king of England, under which he fought in the crusades.

Gurney obviously thought it rather an anomaly also, for in his poetry St. George is not mentioned, in spite of the fact that there are poems specifically about this date, 23 April. The date would have held more significance in the fact that we celebrate St. George's day on the Turkish festival marking their first day of Spring.

However, today was for Gurney all about Shakespeare: our prized poet and playwright who, reputedly, both was born and died upon this day in 1564 and 1616 respectively. 80 Poems or So contains two poems titled 'April 23 1922', the first beginning 'Now on this famed day, Shakespeare's day...' and the second being a paean to England and (although unnamed) Shakespeare, briefly recalling some of the playwright's escapades.

Where there is a mention of St. George in Gurney's work it is with obvious reference to Shakespeare. It comes not in his poetry but in his completed play, The Tewkesbury Trial (April 1926). This play runs partly in parallel with Shakespeare's Henry VI part I, Gurney's second scene announcing the death of Henry of Monmouth (viz. Henry V - albeit an announcement premature by six days in historical fact), the funeral procession of whom opens Henry VI; their are some common protagonists: the Duke of Bedford, John of Lancaster; Sir John Fastolfe; The Duke of Gloucester; John Talbot also is mentioned. These figures make only a cursory appearances, since the play takes place principally in the Gloucestershire; in the meadows, taverns and houses around Tewkesbury and Fairford, and mostly consists of the everyday people of these provinces making a commentary upon the place, upon music, and sometimes on the distant action. The spirit of Shakespeare's Henry V is invoked, scenes taking place upon St. Crispin's Day, the Agincourt song being heard at one point, and also in the scenes of battle at Verneuil, France (a battle of the Hundred Years War that, again, Gurney gives prematurely, happening in the play 14 months before it did in actuality). During this part of the play there is a communal call to arms in which the soldiers all shout,

'Forward! Forward!
St George for England! St George!'

St George finally makes his way into Gurney's work, but only secondarily, through the eyes of Shakespeare.

Gurney and Shakespeare is a small part of Sebastian Field's remit in his PhD on Shakespeare and the Great War (visit his blog here!). Inspired by John Lee's essay in Tim Kendall's Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry, Sebastian's work is looking at the influence of Shakespeare upon poets in the Great War, at the heart of which, in 1916, fell the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. From my conversations with Sebastian it is remarkable to hear how much influence one can find, not only upon poets (Edward Thomas, Wilfred Owen, Gurney et al) but in wider circles.

The matter of Gurney and Shakespeare is probably a PhD entire in itself. I have today completed the initial transcription of Gurney's 1926 poetry - a remarkable collection of 300 poems (some 40,000 words) - as many poems from that one year as the Collected Poems (1982/2004) contains in entirety. For me, this is a remarkable benchmark as it means that my transcription of Gurney's complete poems is nearing completion - a benchmark in my PhD. However, the poetry of this year contains a number of poems that take Shakespeare as their starting point. These poems bear references to the play from which they stem, including references to specific acts, scenes, and sometimes line numbers. There is one set of poems, for instance, inspired by King Lear - Gurney's favourite Shakespeare play. These poems are not merely a rewriting of the passages in question (Gurney isn't attempting to improve Shakespeare, although some extensive rewritings of Shakespeare's plays do exist elsewhere in the archive, dating from around this time or slightly later) but are a point of departure. One may find a common line with Shakespeare's original, but the emerging ideas are Gurney's, sometimes an expansion of something Shakespeare writes; sometimes a quasi-commentary thereon. There are also a number of songs written by Gurney presumably for insertion into the plays where there are no songs. It would be a significant undertaking to examine this work in detail, endeavouring to unravel Gurney's responses, but a little of it might fall under Sebastian's brief, and in writing up of my PhD there will be some cursory examination of this work.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Tea with the Kavanaghs

When one is working so closely with the primary source material, as I am in the reorganisation, cataloguing and transcriptions of the Gurney archive, one can sometimes lose sight of published sources. There have been occasions on which I have come across a poem that I am sure is published, only to find that, when cross referenced with various sources, it is a poem that I have come to recognise solely through my acquaintance with it in the manuscripts and typescripts of the collection. More to the point, in working with the original source materials one can become so wrapped up in one's own emerging ideas about Gurney and his work, one's reading focussing on contextual rather than direct commentary, that one forgets about the work of other commentators on Gurney's work.

Yesterday I went with one of my archive colleagues, Rebecca Shorter, to collect a box of papers relating to P.J. Kavanagh's work on Gurney, which he had decided to give to the archive. Kavanagh, with the help of his wife, Kate, edited the 1982 'Collected Poems', reissued in a revised edition by Carcanet/Fyfield Books in 2004, and a number of the papers in the newly donated accession relate to the production of this volume (correspondence, proofs etc). The collection also contains scripts to radio talks and correspondence with researchers working on dissertations on Gurney.

We collected the papers from the Kavanaghs' home in Gloucestershire, and whilst there we talked for a while over our respective cups of coffee or tea, speaking in the main (rather predictably) of Gurney: the poetry, the archive, reception of his work, their work on the edition et al. Numerous points emerged that were particularly interesting, such as the fact that the misnomer that is the original 'Collected Poems' was given at the insistence of the publisher, who argued that they weren't misleading the public in that title, since, in lacking the definite article it didn't purport to being THE Collected Poems. Also, both Kate and P.J. Kavanagh mentioned their particular interest in the late poetry of 1926, echoing my own interest in that work, which, as I've said before on this blog (26 April 2008), seems to lose sight of his more parochial/personal interests and achieve a timeless universality. The other thing that struck home in our conversation was P.J. Kavanagh's statement that 'nobody reads the editorial commentary'. Rather embarrassedly this brought home the realisation that I hadn't read his introduction to the Collected Poems since beginning work on the poetry.

Over a late brunch this morning at Doveston's (the best cafe in Lichfield city centre!) I read Kavanagh's introduction and found that much of that of which we had spoken of was there. However, the enthusiasm for the 1926 poetry is given a bit of a dampener in the introduction, it being noted as a remarkable oeuvre, but essentially 'bloodless' in content. I can see where this is coming from, but think it rather depends upon the context of his work. Certainly, when compared with some of Gurney's earlier work it could appear to be bloodless, because, I believe, Gurney's poetry (in part) can be so bloodSOME; so very full of body and of striking imagery and language, particularly in comparison with many of his contemporaries and forebears. There is perhaps a little less 'blood' in some of the 1926 poetry, but it is still very present; still so very full of life and colour, and, in parts, of drama. Its allusions turn from the more immediate drama of the First World War and his the predicament of his own incarceration to more classical ideas, no less dramatic in essence but perhaps more discreet in statement.

The other point upon which we agreed - and one first pointed out to me by Anthony Boden - is, for me, the true tragedy of Gurney: the fact that his work has been overshadowed by his labeling as a 'Mad' poet and composer. This is by far the most journalistically 'newsworthy' part of Gurney's life, but, although significant in the tragedy of his final isolation from the world, should not be dwelt upon. This is another point I found to be well made in Kavanagh's introduction to the Collected Poems. Gurney's asylum work shows a remarkable lucidity, much of the time - in fact Gurney should be seen as all the stronger an artist for the fact that he was at Dartford producing some of his best poetry, in spite of his predicament. One can't ignore this aspect of his life, but it should not become the principal facet of his reception. What must it be like to come afresh to Gurney's work without knowing anything of his life? I have, with Gurney, been increasingly of the opinion that his work should be considered away from the minutiae of his life. The opinion of Ruskin that knowledge of the person behind a work of art and the circumstance and intention of their creation is irrelevant - the Intentional Fallacy - is a matter in which I have often thought him to be wrong. However, in Gurney's case there is a lot to be said for it. Let his work be judged neutrally, on its own terms.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

John Haines Archive and more on 'The Roman'

Those who read Tim Kendall's War Poetry blog will have seen his recent post made following a visit to the Gloucestershire Archives last week during which, as well as showing him some items of interest from the Gurney collection with which I am working, I also showed him a few items from the collection of the Gloucester solicitor, botanist and poet, John (Jack) Haines. As Tim points out, Haines was an important 'hub' figure, connecting numerous writers and composers from the time: Gurney, the Dymock poets, Walter de la Mare, Herbert Howells, Gerald Finzi et al.

The Haines collection was presented to the Gloucestershire Archives a few years ago by Penny Ely - a former Trustee of the Gurney Estate who had acquired these papers from Haines's son, Robin - and last year they were catalogued by an archive colleague, Helen Bartlett. (Incidentally, this coming Saturday, 28th March, Penny Ely will be giving a talk on Haines at an event on May Hill run by the Friends of the Dymock Poets - further details available on their website.)

During the last couple of weeks I have begun to take a closer look at parts of the collection, drawing upon Helen's catalogue to locate any specific Gurney references. One of these was a map of Flanders upon which was roughly inscribed in pencil what appears to be the movements of the 2/5 Gloucester Battalion, up to the point where Gurney was gassed at St. Julien, near Passchendale, in September 1917.

Tim alludes to a couple of further findings within the collection: the fact that Haines was asked to compile a small volume of Gurney's poetry, a volume which Blunden advised him to make a small but significant collection; and also that Gurney 'turned against' Haines in 1928, for an unknown reason. This latter was gleaned from a letter to Haines from Dymock Poet Lascelles Abercrombie (the other speaker at Saturday's Dymock event is Abercrombie's grandson, Jeff Cooper), who notes that he was sorry to hear that Gurney had turned against him.

Also in the Abercrombie correspondence is a letter dated February 12 1928, responding to a couple of poems that Haines had sent for Abercrombie's perusal, 'The Roman' - the poem discussed in my 'Britons and Romans' blog - and probably including another, written in 1926, titled 'The Organ Sounds':
My Dear Jack,
This is amazingly interesting stuff, & it certainly ought to be preserved & published - at any rate The Roman: there's a strange magic about it, hardly describable. [...] My best thanks for letting me see it. I shan't easily forget The Roman.
L[ascelles]. A.[bercrombie]

With this early recognition of the poem's worth, it is strange that it has yet to make it into print.

Saturday, 14 March 2009


Issue three of Clutag Press's ARCHIPELAGO has just appeared, featuring the first publication of Gurney's poems, 'Praise of Britons' (1922/24), 'Crickley Height' (1922/24), 'Crickley Cliffs' (1925) and 'First Framilode' (June 1925), as well as a wonderful, previously unpublished essay 'On Sailing a Boat on Severn', accompanied by an essay by yours truly. Visit to order your copy and to find out more about this remarkable publication; a publication the brief for which is described as follows:
'Extraordinary will be its preoccupations with landscape, with documentary and remembrance, with wilderness and wet, with natural and cultural histories, with language and languages, with the littoral and vestigial, the geological, and topographical, with climates, in terms of both meteorology, ecology and environment; and all these things as metaphor, liminal and subliminal, at the margins, in the unnameable constellation of islands on the Eastern Atlantic coast, known variously in other millennia as Britain, Great Britain, Britain and Ireland etc; even, too, too readily, the United Kingdom (including the North of partitioned Ireland), though no such thing ever existed, other than in extremis during wartime, but in the letter. But while the unnameable archipelago is its subject, its vision is by implication global, and its concerns with the state of the planet could not be more of the hour.'

Friday, 6 March 2009

Making an impression

Just occasionally one stumbles across a remarkable accident. Today was one such occasion, when, seated at my desk, some light fell at an angle across the Barnwood House manuscripts I have been working with of late. These are thin, unwatermarked pages torn off a writing pad - one of those with a lightly glued band at the top edge so that pages can be removed easily.

As the light fell across one of these pages, an imprint became visible: the outline of whatever it was that was written on the previous page. This may seem obvious, but it came as a flash of lightning to me! On first inspection it was very difficult to determine what was written in the imprint, and aside to the identification of the occasional 'Barnwood House, Gloucester' in the top right hand corner - happily further confirming their provenance - I began to resign myself to the fact that it would be impossible to determine any more, even after trying various ways of digitally enhancing a photograph of a page in Photoshop.

However, returning to the manuscripts I began making comparisons between the pages immediately to hand. Despite my initial scepticism, I discovered that in comparing the manuscripts directly one could identify blemishes (crossings out), the positioning of the imprint, and identify the occasional character, firmly placing the manuscript before that on which the imprints occur. This is, of course, helped by the fact that Gurney only seems to have torn away the page upon which he was working after the poem or letter was completed.

Here is an unusually clear sample of an imprinted page. Most of the imprints on other pages are overwritten in pencil with that page's own poem, destroying much of the evidence of the previous page's content.

Now, where I would not have known in which order within the bundles of manuscripts, the poems were written, more than likely having to bundle them together as a disordered block, perhaps hazarding some sort of order given common ideas within certain poems, I can for some of these manuscripts accurately determine which poem followed which!

Of course, some pages contain no impressions, either because they are the first in the notepad or because intervening pages were removed without being written upon; and others will contain imprints of pages that are no longer extant, but one can determine pockets of chronology within the poems with 100% accuracy (unless, of course, he interspersed use of this pad with other pads/papers). Whilst we know that the papers in the archive were moved around to a great extent by Joy Finzi and others, prior to the fixed order brought about by the first cataloguing of the papers, I can now see how much items have been moved even within seemingly coherent batches within the archive.

It may take a little time and careful observation in the right light, but when next I return to the archive I shall gather the rest of the poems and letters consistent with this paper type and determine as much of the chronology as is possible. This technique will be useable in some other parts of the archive, but it is reliant upon the type of paper being used. The paper in question here is so thin that it is practicable. A heavier paper will not yield so readily to the pressure of a pencil, transferring less of an imprint onto the sheet(s) below.

It's a good thing that I'm a very patient man!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Romans vs Britons: the beginnings of a dramatic poem

My current occupation in the archive is the identification and sorting, as far as is possible, of those papers - correspondence and poetry - written in the first year of Gurney's incarceration, from September 1922. There are some 200 poems from this year, mostly written on thin sheets from a writing pad. Some are certainly from Barnwood House - notably a set of writings on 'Newton Bank' watermarked paper, whilst another common paper type is found both at Barnwood and Stone House, Dartford, to where he was moved a few days before Christmas, 1922.

Many of the poems deal with his predicament - notably poems such as 'To God', published in Gurney's Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2004, ed. P.J. Kavanagh). London features heavily, with memories of night walking in London, encounters with police constables on the beat, and recollections of the river Thames at night. A few of the poems I have transcribed (so far about a quarter of those written during this time) have dealt with the Romans and their occupation of Britain. This was something that fascinated Gurney following the war, born out of the scars of that Roman occupation found in the Gloucestershire landscape, and which continued to interest Gurney until the end. In one poem which is to be published shortly in the pages of Clutag Press's Archipelago, 'In Praise of Britons' (written earlier in 1922, revised 1924), Gurney states his belief that without the assistance of the Britons, and their knowledge of the land and its cultivation, the Romans could never have occupied the country. One poem I have just transcribed is interesting in its bringing together of Roman and Briton once again, but in a dramatic narrative - something rare in Gurney's work.

'Roman', an unfinished extended poem written during Gurney's three months at Barnwood House, begins by telling of a Roman, Caius, who prefers the 'pastoral simpleness' and 'homely things' of the rural life of the Briton to the presumed life of a conqueror and subjugator, albeit in what is now a peaceful Britain. He joins the Britons in discussing their schemes of 'tillage or tending', talking with them - as Gurney would have so enjoyed doing - late into the night. After a break in the talk, during which is heard 'Outside leafage moving, drowsy lowing of herds / In darkened huts', the Roman asks to stay. This is readily agreed to, and we see 'Nations growing together in one, / Through love and daily use of the same common / Usage.' The following morning, the Roman helps the Britons with their work, following which he asks whether he could borrow a horse to to enjoy the freedom and 'the turning / Of blood to bright life in the veins, and across fresh green / The hoofs turning up the moist turf in hollows seen / For a flash; and gone.'

Within a woodland he is suddenly brought down from his horse and by some Britons bent on retribution upon their occupiers. Caius is bound, knocked unconscious, and taken away. He wakes later.

'Night passed, the day came, a dark form there filled
The doorway. Spoke “Roman! Awake? your slaves call.”
Mocked him, and he knew no longer the purple
Of Rome covered him – the subject race had
Trapped one of the lord-race. No help and there half-clad
Britons came in round him. Staring curiously
At this large man they had captured.'

'Signal of smoke
Brought others in one by one to share, and as men under yoke,
To rejoice in seeing that Roman bound. And that camp loud
With talking made merry over that captive of proud
Race. And much laughter, but no rudeness shown.
Glad was the heart of Briton over that sight. The known
Conquerors cheated; in this one sight of a bound

Although only Ransom is spoken of by his captors, the Roman wonders what hope there is of rescue, there not being help 'within twenty miles'; there is seemingly little hope of seeing his friends, and returning to the tending of cattle in the community of Britons into which he has now been accepted.

The poem ends here, alas, but it is of interest for more than just the fact that it is a rare instance of Gurney exploring a dramatic narrative - this being four years before Gurney's two plays, the unfinished Gloucester play and The Tewkesbury Trial.

'Roman' is analogous to, and, I believe, even allegorical of, Gurney's own predicament: one who is making honest labour who, at a moment of freedom and a moment of keenest energy, when blood is coursing through his veins at the height of life and activity, is taken by his friends, bound and held captive. Its descriptions of captivity show deepest sympathy with Caius, noting the brutality of being constrained, the passage of time, the last observations of freedom, its memories and his hopes thereof, daring to consider how friends might come and relieve his suffering by bringing release - an apparently hopeless thought. The language of the poem is clipped; assertive and urgent, adding to the drama of the poem, but also perhaps echoing Gurney's sense of despair and his urgent desire for freedom.

At the 107th line of the poem Gurney suddenly breaks off, adding a note below the last line, 'Unfinished poem'. Gurney, unable to see hope for the end of his own captivity, couldn't find a way in which the release of Caius might be brought about, and dared not hope for it in the continuing of the poem.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Gurney on Radio 4

This afternoon a programme was broadcast on Radio 4 about Gurney's medical condition and how it affected his creativity.

The programme - the fourth and final part of the series Robert Winston's Musical Analysis - is to be repeated on Saturday at 3.30pm and is available to 'listen again' on the Radio 4 website:

Thursday, 19 February 2009

First War Poet?

At present, in my reordering of the Gurney collection, I am bringing together and sorting the writings from September 1922 into 1923 - a collection of letters/appeals and a large number of poems, many of which are at present unpublished.

Following the comments on my previous blog post I was drawn to look more closely at those poetry manuscripts titled 'Armistice Day', of which there are three from this period, being two copies of one short, ten line poem, and one manuscript containing a poem of c.58 lines. Both poems contain the phrase 'One of Five', and looking around papers of this period there is occasional mention of this, being a claim that he be amongst the 'First five war poets' doing/giving 'honour' to England; in another manuscript he writes 'Claiming place in First Five Writers of Western Front (left alive - perhaps of dead)' (GA44.112).

A corner of another manuscript from this period is titled 'War poets at a guess.', under which Gurney lists himself, Robert Graves, S.Sassoon, R.Nichols, F.W. Harvey, Brett Young, 'Owen/Wilfred', Julian Grenfell, R.Sorley [sic], and 'Peter Quennell?'. Rupert Brooke was added to one side, but only in brackets.

Peter Quennell was a young poet whose first book (Masques and Poems) was published in 1922, the year before that in which Gurney made this list. Gurney's question mark was perhaps justified: Quennell, born in 1905, would not have seen action in the war. It is perhaps a subject portrayed within his book (I have not yet seen a copy) for Gurney to have noted it, although is most likely that Gurney saw a review of the volume in the press and might have presumed, with its timing, that Quennell was a young poet who had experienced life at the Front. One wonders whether Gurney's seemingly grudging addition of Brooke in parentheses is a comment on his value as a war poet. Gurney certainly wasn't very sympathetic of Brooke, writing his 1917 set of Sonnetts, published at the end of Severn & Somme as a 'counterblast against [Brooke's] "Sonnetts 1914", which were written before the grind of war and by an officer' - the latter being a damning indictment (Collected Letters, p.210).

In this manuscript list of War Poets, three have been appended by a number, perhaps a grading of the poet: (1) Robert Nichols, (2) Brett Young and (3) Gurney's friend F.W. Harvey.

Whether it is through the further examination of his fellow War Poets' work, through the way in which he sees his own work taking direction over the next couple of years, or just through a more forthright/positive view of his work in relation to that of the others, it is interesting that by 1925 he is seen in his letters and poems he is being assertive in his claim to be the 'First War Poet of England'. This is a view that some critics are coming round to believing to be true, but it is one that is not able to argued fully until the many unpublished poems are available to be assessed by the various critics. Only four years to wait!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Despair & Joy: the bitterness of work, 1918

The necessity of sorting through the mass of papers is exemplified by two sides of paper that I have just come across whilst working in the archive.

Amongst numerous letters, appeals, essays and poems, dating variously from 1922 to 1927, is a rare section of diary, seemingly discovered amongst Ivor's things by his mother or sister, following his death. It dates from the end of November 1918 - a time when Haines began to recognise in Gurney's poetry a new departure, under the influence of Edward Thomas, and a time when Gurney was endeavouring to piece his life back together following the end of the war and his breakdown earlier that year. I believe the Cornish holiday of December 1918 (see earlier blog, Cornish Influences) to be the beginning of a turning point for Gurney, when he began to look forward and return to his work with some vigour in early 1919. The short diary extract of November 1918 - on two pages torn from an exercise book - finds Gurney trying to rediscover his drive and love of the music and poetry he wrote. It tells us that the act of creativity was for Gurney - as with many artists - a necessary part of him, and more importantly it was an act of hope, of seeking and of giving; a selfless act, as Gurney himself puts it in the diary entry, wanting to 'give others joy' where he has none:

Friday Last F[riday, 29th] of November 1918

It is better to work than despair; better to use than to be used. Better to force than to drift. Better to leave work accomplished than a memory of empty hours in despair, though that work causes bitterness. For having no Joy, I may as well make and give others Joy - at worst this is. And all the bitterness may pass, to leave a love of work whence all the other love may come.
Being what I am I must do every morning something I can show, without reference as to what difference it will make in the future; but it must make some.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Other Gloucester Archives

Although the major part of my brief whilst in Gloucester is to organise and catalogue the major collection in the Gloucestershire Archives (what was formerly the Record Office), I have been adventuring abroad in Gloucester, beginning to search out Gurney related items in other locations.

Before I began my archival work two photographs of Gurney were found in the Soldiers of Gloucester Museum, where, at some point in the near future, I hope to be making fuller investigations. Initial enquiries reveal that they hold Gurney's war medals, pictured above.

There are two further archives of interest. Firstly, the King's School, where Gurney was educated. The staff of the small museum there have been wonderfully helpful, and within their small collection from that period is a photograph of Gurney as part of the King's School Football XI, taken in front of the building that adjoins the cathedral's north transept - what was once 'Big School' but is now the school gymnasium. The photograph is slightly mislabelled (J.B. Gurney) but it is certainly Ivor (front row, second from the right):

The other archive of interest is that of the Cathedral. It is hoped that this may be accessible some time soon as they are seeking to appoint a librarian, at which point who knows what will be found! Hopefully records of Gurney's choristership will be there; record of his being articled as pupil to Brewer; or perhaps even confirmation of whether he was, as later claimed, at any point officially 'Assistant organist' of the Cathedral - not a common post at the time, cathedral organists being at the organ console, leaving the gentlemen of the choir to direct themselves.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Cornish influences

As part of my work in the archive I am transcribing all of Gurney's notebooks. I recently transcribed the contents of a small green notebook, the first part of which contains a diary of a holiday in Cornwall, from 22-29 December 1918. Gurney had been invited down to Cornwall by the novelist and musician Ethel Voynich - a friend of Marion Scott noted for her novel The Gadfly. Voynich also invited two other men of a similar age to Ivor: her nephew, Geoffrey Taylor, and a friend of his from Trinity College Cambridge, Edgar Adrian. It was a remarkable group: Taylor went on to be knighted and given the Order of Merit for his contribution to physics, and in 1932 Adrian was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine, for his work on the human nervous system. I have made brief enquiries at Trinity Cambridge regarding the papers of these two alumni, hoping that there might be their own diary for this time or perhaps some correspondence that might mention Gurney. Adrian's papers aren't currently accessible, but amongst those relating to Geoffrey Taylor there is a manuscript of the first poem of Severn & Somme: 'To Certain Comrades'. Written - and indeed published - well before this holiday, it could be that Voynich sent it to her nephew to acquaint him with Ivor's work prior to the holiday.

The Cornish holiday is a notable occasion in Gurney anecdotage, for, as Taylor reports in a letter to Marion Scott, quoted by Scott in her essay on 'Gurney: The Man' in the January 1938 Music and Letters tribute to Gurney:

'We went a walk one day out on to the end of Gurnard Head, which is a rocky peninsula on the north coast of Cornwall. On the way Ivor was rather abstracted and whenever we stopped, he lay on the grass, usually face down, pulled out a little long note book ruled with music lines and began to write. When we got to Gurnard Head, 'A' found a little chimney (i.e. a crack between two rocks) which led on to a little place which was otherwise inaccessible. We took I. G. up this, showing him where to put his hands and feet. Then we went back down the chimney and climbed round the rocks back to the grass neck which connects Gurnard Head with Cornwall. We were talking and did not notice that I. G. was not following till we got to the neck. It was then getting dusk. 'A' and I went back to look for I. G. and finally found him at the top of the little chimney writing in the dark. He had gone back and climbed up by himself, but I very much doubt if he could have got down by himself even if it had been light. We climbed up and brought him back in the dark!'

The music he was writing was a setting of Francis Ledwidge's 'Desire in Spring'; also titled by Gurney 'Twilight Song'.

The diary in the green notebook makes no mention of the escapade, nor is a visit to 'St. Gurnard's Head' [sic] mentioned, the landmark only been seen from afar. This walk over Gurnard's Head must therefore have taken place on the Friday, 27 December, for that is the one day that Gurney didn't diarise, leaving one and a half pages for it to be filled in later.

Aside to a few small notes, this account of the holiday is the most extensive piece of diary we have in Gurney's papers, and it makes interesting reading. He notes the places they visited but with some wonderful observations that show how his poets' eye was an integral part of his being. There are comments on sunlight and clouds - once noted as 'Armada clouds black against the skies' - an idea used later in his poetry; at Cambourne an incident is captured in pointeliste notes: 'Stars. Lifeboat launching. Flares, moving crowd. The coloured boat. Orion. Moving water. Lighted streets.'; granite is not merely present, but a scene is 'crowned with granite rocks'. At Zennor 'great rocks stood up and great cliffs fell. The sea got up gradually and threw the best clouds of spray I had seen yet. One could hear the thunder of unprisoned air.'

He endeavoured to turn some of his observations into an unfinished poem 'On Zennor Head', drafted later in the notebook. However, this poem appears not to be alone: One observation could be at the root of a (rather better!) poem drafted in the notebook, and which was collated in 80 Poems or So - an intended collection that only saw publication in 1997: 'The Companions'. The poem is dated by Marion Scott 9 January 1919, but the diary entry suggests that he had been mulling over the idea for twelve days.

At the very end of the holiday, Sunday 29 December, Gurney writes, ‘. . . Returned to the house at Zennor, got our package. Returned through half light to first bright star-light to St Ives over the stone stiles – bridges saw hills against the last clear light under black clouds, and Orion over the sea Jupiter (presumably) a king above all.’ Orion and Jupiter are those companions named in the poem, with the addition of '[Jupiter's] courtiers Mars ad Regulus'. They accompanied Gurney 'On uplands bleak and bare to wind... Past dusky rut and pool alight', until 'My door reached, gladly had I paid with stammered thanks his courtesy and theirs'.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Fictional poetry?

Last year saw the publication of a novel by Robert Edric in which Ivor Gurney featured as one of the central characters, In Zodiac Light. This is not the first work of fiction based around Gurney's life (c.f. Jon Silkin's play, Gurney), but it is the first novelised commentary (as such), which seems, in its focus on a war poet in a mental hospital, to be following in the footsteps of Pat Barker's acclaimed Regeneration.

Whilst Edric's novel features a number of historical inaccuracies in its pages - intentionally or otherwise - the book is prefaced by an intriguing poem from which the volume takes its name:

'I walked midsummer in Flaxley Wood,
And waited through the daylong night;
Attendant of a world not come,
And cast by dark in zodiac light.'

It is attributed to Gurney, titled 'In Flaxley Wood', and is cited as having been published in the London Mercury, 17 June 1921.

Whilst preparing the Ivor Gurney Society newsletter recently, I endeavoured to find this poem, it not being one that I recognised, and, not finding it in any of the published volumes of poetry nor in the archive catalogue, noted that I would be seeking the poem in the cited source to confirm its existence.

Before I could get to the British Library to look up the relevant issue of LM one of the members, Jeff Cooper, kindly sought the poem in the location cited, only to find that it was not in the June edition (it being published monthly, not more regularly as the '17 June' citation might have one believe. Nor could he find it in any other volume of LM, confirming that it was not an omission on the part of Kelsey Thornton and George Walter in their remarkably thorough Gurney Bibliography.

This poses the question, where does this poem come from? And is it truly Gurney? The location of Flaxley Wood, near Newnham, Gloucestershire, is plausible for Gurney, but is this prefatory verse as fictionalised as the remainder of the book?

If Robert Edric reads this, we would be very glad if you could please enlighten us as to the source of this poem. Thank you!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Blogger's return

It has been rather too long since last I updated my blog! It has, however, been an interesting few months. The main project being undertaken at the end of 2008 was the preparation of over 1200 digitised images of Gurney manuscript material in preparation for Gurney to be added to Oxford University Computing Services' First World War Poetry Digital Archive, launched at the Imperial War Museum on 11 November. This extraordinary project is making manuscripts of the work of several 'war poets' freely available online. We hope that the addition of Gurney to the serried ranks available on the site, hopefully available by Easter this year, will help more people to realise Gurney's importance and instill in them a wish to explore his work further, beyond his poetry of war.

Whilst there has been a major development in the 'Gurney world', with the publication of Pamela Blevins's biography of Gurney and Marion Scott in November, there have also been exciting times in the archive. Gloucestershire Archives applied for a grant for materials to repackage a large portion of the Gurney collection which isn't yet packaged to archival standards. This grant application was successful and so my office is now filling up with the necessary materials to carry this out, as the cataloguing process continues. This may be a good point to note that, since the end of November access to the archive has been closed temporarily in order to allow the reorganisation of parts of the collection during the cataloguing. It is hoped that access to the collection will reopen at Easter. In the meantime, visit this blog again soon to read reports of the archive work, which I will be posting at more regular intervals from hereon!