three : I. Gurney – To His Love

B –  While the first two poems – Heaney’s and Thomas’s – have a clear connection, this next choice of Gurney requires a little more explanation. I recently re-read a Geoff Dyer essay on the death of his uncle,  in response to my own Grandfathers death (Dyer was one of my Grandfather’s favourites in the genre). The essay is an exposition on the works of Ivor Gurney as well as a meditation on funerals, families and coming home – it ends with some lines from this poem. Home for Dyer, as it was for Gurney, is Gloucestershire and it is here that the link the Thomas can be made. Thomas was a member of what became known as the Dymock Poets, based around Dymock in Gloucestershire. It was here that Thomas met his great friend and mentor Robert Frost who, as mentioned below, encouraged him to write poetry. Thomas and Frost used to go out on what Frost called “talks-walking“, long, map-free rambles during which time topics such as “marriage and friendship, wildlife, poetry and the war” were digested. Given this primacy of the countryside, it is with Gloucestershire and the war in mind that we move on to Gurney.

I. Gurney – To His Love (1917)

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.


using words “as poets do”

Fitzgerald, P (1996), ‘Obstacles‘ , The London Review of Books, 4 July


"He began to write poetry in December 1914, and all his poems were written by December 1916. Credit for this is usually given to Frost, certainly by Thomas himself, although Frost declared that ‘all he ever got was an admiration for the poet in him before he had written a line.’ Certainly they were agreed at once on the relationship between traditional metre and the tones and half-tones of the spoken voice, a kind of counterpoint. But Frost’s practical advice to his friend in 1914 was to look at certain passages in his latest book, The Pursuit of Spring, and to write them again in verse form, but with exactly the same cadence. It seems unusual advice, not quite using words ‘as poets do’, and Thomas sometimes tried it the other way round, turning poems back into prose, though he did describe this as ‘unprofitable’.”