To His Love

November 11 2012

“He’s gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswolds
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.”


Ivor Gurney, January 1917. Gurney was a Gloucestershire poet. Edward Thomas wrote poems about Gloucestershire. Gurney lived in asylums from 1922 until his death in 1937.

“Our” in the first line includes the addressee of the poem, who is apparently FW Harvey (an exhibition about him is about to open). There are three people in this poem. The identity of the dead man isn’t clear. Is the love therefore Harvey? That doesn’t quite work.

Neither Gurney nor Harvey was gay, as far as I know, and that is not a helpful word. A typescript image at the Ivor Gurney Society website shows that the title On a Dead Soldier was deleted and this substituted.

There is, as somebody has said, a rising tide of hysteria at the end.

Gurney is better remembered as a composer, though that may be changing. He published two collections of poems in his lifetime: Severn and Somme in 1917, War’s Embers in 1919. This is not in the first. I haven’t looked at the second. It may be posthumous. Many of his 1,500 poems are still unpublished. OUP is preparing a complete edition.

2 Responses to “To His Love”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    I don’t like the way the way the Remembrance ceremonies in Whitehall are broadcast now. What made them moving in the past was the BBC’s restraint. They were overwhelming because of what was not said.

    Ie they were a state occasion, not one for exploitative interviews with families of recently-fallen soldiers and emotional speculation by journalists. This is the wrong time for reality television.

    If emoting in front of cameras (de rigueur now) is unavoidable (as it probably is), cameras should stay away. Even the military choreography is starting to look bombastic compared to before.

    But I am talking mainly about how the thing is broadcast. We don’t need to be told about the powerful feelings of people there.

    The mediafest has extended to the supposed discovery, after 70 years, of a major new WW2 poet.

    “For years, the poems lay undiscovered until they were read by University of London lecturer Tim Crook.

    “Now, Mr Crook has hailed the work as ‘astonishing’ and said it should be ranked alongside the texts of World War I poets like Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon.”

    Judging by the example we are shown, they do not belong in that company. But perhaps we need to see more. Story:

  2. davidderrick Says:

    De la Mare

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