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Lament for Ivor

July 23, 2013

As promised, here is my poem about Ivor Gurney

Beside the son of his dearest friend,
Their names linked still in death,
A Celtic cross and an inscription to
Ivor Gurney: a lover and maker of beauty.
In low land between Cotswold and Malvern,
A place he might have chosen,
He knows the silence after song.

In an act of pietas I knelt
To spread the flowers on Ivor’s grave –
Humped up like a well-made bed,
With more blankets than in the asylum –
Like sitting by the side of a sleeper,
Leaving grapes and magazines against
The pain of waking to the day.

Day brings a stooping shadow
Shuffling in hospital pyjamas;
He thinks himself Beethoven,
Talks with dead composers
Till moments of hopeless lucidity
When he knows himself Gurney
The poet, born with shell-shock.

Time out of mind he walked
The streets of Gloucester
Where in flood-time water
Like a sheet lay on her fields,
And floating in the Severn air
The softly etched Cathedral,
“Ages’ friend of Cotswold and the sun” –

Here in the golden afternoons
He drank the psalms at Evensong –
“Oh my soul, why art thou so disquieted within me?” –
Where pillars are dappled
With blue and purple light
“Do not forget me quite,
O Severn meadows”.


The wordless wind blows
Yesterday, today and forever,
While the hills sink slowly to earth;
Pebbles and footprints scrape the ridges
Which bleed raw and aching,
Caked jigsaws of mud;
Sombre, dark and austere
Yet sternly embracing,
Slowly they are rubbed to dust.

In the desolate churchyard
Opposite a layby and a grey hotel
The wind no longer stirs the sleeper,
Though rain seeps through
To the long and long-dead skeleton
And rots the roof of the crumbling church
Where in his boyhood an energetic Ivor
Would run to meet his friend and teacher:


The time for book-talk being long past,
Death, whom once you sought so hard,
Has fretted the flesh from your bones
And cradles you, in endless sleep.

[Previously published in Ironing the Hankies: A Selection of 20 Poems (Pikestaff pamphlets)]

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