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Posts Tagged ‘Byron’

Ivor Gurney’s “To His Love”

November 11, 2013 | by

Ivor Gurney in 1920.

In honor of Veterans Day, we are re-running this favorite post.

In the last century, a few years of sodden slaughter in France and Flanders turned British poetry from Keatsian lyricism to raw, aghast reportage. Isaac Rosenberg’s poems, for instance, moved from prewar patriotic exultation—“Flash, mailed seraphim, / Your burning spears”—to, three years later, this numb, bone-dry mutter from the trenches: “Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew / Your cosmopolitan sympathies.”

In Ivor Gurney’s “To His Love” you see the thing happening not in mid-career but in mid-poem—between lines, in a line break, specifically the last one. It’s the most astonishing line break I’ve ever encountered. It’s the sound of a culture’s poetic history cracking in half.

“To His Love” begins as an almost doggedly traditional elegy, with the Byronic echo of “We’ll walk no more on Cotswold.” It meanders through rivers, beasts, flowers, and the old tropes—nobility, “pride,” “memoried.” We are lulled into thinking that the urgency of “Cover him, cover him soon!” arises from intense soldierly love, rather than the desperate need to hide a shredded corpse, that “red, wet / Thing.” The euphemistic Latinate décor is stripped away; the haplessly tall T does it’s pitiful duty by the form, like a Tommy too shell-shocked to hide, a standing target.

The fragile Gurney was gassed and traumatized by the war, and he lived out his days in asylums. Read More »

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The Beauty of the Heroine: Julia Margaret Cameron and the Poetic Portrait

August 27, 2013 | by

The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere 1874 Albumen silver print from glass negative David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1952, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere, 1874, albumen silver print from glass negative, David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1952, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“The beauty of the heroine is evident to every one,” Julia Margaret Cameron wrote as the postscript of a letter accompanying the first copy of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which she illustrated with photographs. She was speaking specifically of her image Vivien and Merlin, but, as evidenced in a show of her photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of Cameron’s greatest talents lay in animating many heroines of poetry through her unconventionally dreamy photographs. Read More »

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The Epigraph

February 1, 2012 | by

Milton wasn’t working.

The aspiring novelist had already written the perfect dedication (“For my friends”), and he’d long had a list of possible titles, yet he still had no epigraph, the mysterious but meaningful quotation he’d seen at the beginning of every great book. He’d been holding John Milton in reserve for this very situation.

When contemplating the epigraph for his debut novel, the writer had always been confident that if all else failed, he could find inspiration in Shakespeare or Milton. For his part, the Bard hadn’t cooperated.

A line like “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” might work for a paperback legal thriller, but nothing Shakespeare wrote seemed appropriate for the “Borges meets Zola, if Zola had somehow been influenced by Nabokov” collection of loosely related vignettes set in a fictional megalopolis in an indeterminate near-future the writer hoped to get published by next fall. Read More »

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