Requiem & Prelude LO29995

Date: 03/13/03

 - I went to his funeral, a sad little affair at Tigworth and HH played
(his compositions), 'Sleep' and 'Severn Meadows' on a wheezy little organ
whilst his brother stood by. Poor MS, in tears at the end, but remarkably
brave and calm considering....

"...Evil flowers black like
a tide
Of darkness over me."

Dartford Asylum

We arrived at the asylum which looked like - as indeed it was - a prison. A
warder let us in after unlocking the door, and doors were opened and locked
behind us as we were ushered into the building. We were walking along a bare
corridor when we were met by a tall gaunt dishevelled man clad in pyjamas and
dressing gown, to whom Miss Scott introduced me. He gazed with an intense
stare into my face and took me silently by the hand. Then I gave him the
flowers which he took with the same deeply moving intensity and silence. He
then said: " You are Helen, Edward's wife and Edward is dead." I said, " Yes,
let us talk of him..."
We spoke of country that he knew and Edward knew too and he evidently
identified Edward with the English countryside, especially that of
Gloucestershire. I learned from the warder that Ivor Gurney refused to go
into the grounds of the asylum, it was not his idea of countryside at all -
the fields and woods and footpaths he loved so well - and he would have
nothing to do with this travesty of something that was sacred to him ...
The next time I went I took with me some of Edward's own well used Ordnance
maps of Gloucester where he had often walked. This proved to be a sort of
inspiration, for Ivor Gurney at once spread it out on his bed and he and I
spent the whole time I was there tracing with our fingers the lanes and
byways and villages of which he knew every step and over which Edward had
walked. He spent that hour in revisiting his beloved home, in spotting a
village or track, or a hill or a wood and seeing it all in his mind's eye, a
mental vision sharper and more actual for his heightened intensity. He trod,
in a way we who were sane could not emulate, the lanes and fields he knew and
loved so well, his guide being his finger tracing the way on the map. It was
most deeply moving, and I knew I had hit on an idea that gave him more
pleasure than anything else I could have thought of. For he had Edward as his
companion in this strange perambulation [....]
 -- This was the last glimpse of the poet Gurney from the Dartford Asylum in
1937 after fifteen years in the asylum.

Bach and the Sentry

Watching the dark my spirit rose in flood
On that most dearest Prelude of my delight.
The low-lying mist lifted its hood,
The October stars showed nobly in the clear night.

When I return, and to real music-making,
And play that Prelude, how will it happen then?
Shall I feel as I felt, a sentry hardly waking,
With a dull sense of No Man's Land again?


(All from Anthem for Doomed Youth - Twelve Soldier Poets of the First World
War by John Stallworthy , Senior Research Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford)


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