Some Desperate Glory

Some Desperate Glory by Max Egremont Read Free Book Online

Book: Some Desperate Glory by Max Egremont Read Free Book Online
Authors: Max Egremont
he was helped by the influence of others; unlike Rosenberg (but like Blunden), his best work came after the war.
    Gurney’s musical gifts were encouraged at Gloucester Cathedral’s choir school. The cathedral organist Dr Herbert Brewer gave him a good grounding but may have sensed the contempt the boy felt for Brewer’s own dull compositions as the organist never mentions Gurney, by then a published poet and composer, in his memoirs. After 1911, when he arrived at the Royal College of Music, Gurney quickly gained a reputation. Marion Scott, a fellow student, noticed ‘the look of latent force in him’, particularly the eyes, bright behind spectacles, ‘of mixed colouring’, which ‘Erasmus once said was regarded by the English as denoting genius’. She thought this boy ‘must be the new composition scholar from Gloucester whom they call Schubert’.
    Already suffering from mental illness, perhaps inherited from his mother’s unstable family, and brought near to a complete breakdown in 1913, Ivor Gurney found London a trial – but Gloucestershire could heal. A letter describes a spot where the Forest of Dean, the Severn, the Malvern Hills and the Cotswolds could be seen together. ‘London is worse than ever to bear after that.’ The best hope seemed to be the suffragettes: ‘let us hope that the Militants will blow it up soon’.
    In July and August 1914, Gurney was probably on holiday in the place that he loved, the country near the medieval city of Gloucester. Dymock was not far away and the poets there fascinated Gurney when a friend spoke of them. He may have gone to readings at the Poetry Bookshop in London, but was too shy to introduce himself to anyone, certainly not to Edward Marsh, who helped him later.
    Like Sassoon and Thomas, Gurney fashioned a country of his own that could make even the trenches bearable.
    God, that I might see
    Framilode once again!
    Redmarley, all renewed,
    Clear shining after rain …
    In 1913 came the mental collapse and, a year later, a whimsical poem in the style of Hilaire Belloc, before the war, and memories of war, released true poetry. Gurney tried to enlist early on – as Brooke, Graves and Sassoon did – but was turned down because of bad eyesight. He wished to do what he thought of as his duty, to Gloucestershire rather than to England. Ivor Gurney hoped also that the army might restore the balance of his mind.
    Isaac Rosenberg and Ivor Gurney were free of the English public-school world, whereas Edmund Blunden stayed loyal to it all his life.
    The son of schoolteachers, Blunden grew up in a village in Kent that perpetually glowed in his memory. He can seem a typical Georgian, with his love of cricket, rural life and villages – and he featured in Marsh’s later anthologies. But Siegfried Sassoon was right when he told him, ‘Your best poems have a spontaneity which is priceless,’ reaching beyond the Georgian movement’s more genteel side. Blunden did, however, write often about his childhood, prompting doubts as to whether the sun had really been so golden or the convolvulus so white and miraculous before 1914. He had a passion for country lore, for Kent and Sussex dialect words learned originally during the ‘golden security’ of King Edward’s reign. Leaving this village world to board at Christ’s Hospital school was painful; ‘farewell the bread-and-butter pudding and toasted cheese round Cleave’s fume-emitting stove, farewell the hours as volunteer teacher in my mother’s school, farewell the solos in St Peter and St Paul, and those midnights on the frozen ponds in naked hop-gardens under bobbetty-topped pollards and tingling stars!’ Edmund Blunden used such memories constantly, sometimes as a contrast with what came later, as in the post-war poem ‘The Midnight Skaters’ where ponds become possible graves as potential victims dance on

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