Central to the work of the Trust is the promotion and appreciation of Ivor Gurney’s music through its support and encouragement of further publications, recordings, broadcasts and performances. Although the bulk of Ivor Gurney’s music is no longer in Copyright (2007) all the posthumous works held in the Gloucestershire Archives are owned by the Trust and subject to the provisions of the 1988 Patent’s and Copyright Act. (Click here for Copyright information).
The use of all of Gurney’s ‘unpublished’ works are subject to the Trust’s ‘Terms and Conditions’
Ivor Gurney wrote some 1,500 poems between 1913 and 1929 of which less than half has been published.
Tim Kendall and Philip Lancaster are currently creating for the Oxford English Texts series a complete three-volume edition, which will also incorporate the short essays which are worthy of publication. The first volume, including poetry up to September 1922, will be published in 2014.
Gurney seems not to have started writing verse in earnest until the War. Enlisting in 1915, he found that it was easier to produce poetry than music at the Front; and during the War he wrote the only two volumes of poetry to appear during his lifetime (Severn & Somme, 1917; War’s Embers, 1919). Having been gassed, he was discharged from the army just before the armistice in 1918. The rest of Gurney’s life saw a decline into mental illness. He was committed to an asylum in 1922 after several attempts at suicide, and spent the next fifteen years in institutions before dying of TB in 1937.
Those circumstances explain Gurney’s unusual publication history and the slow growth of his reputation. On his death, hardly any of his best poetry had been published. It is only thanks to a few friends that his papers — handwritten, messy, sometimes incoherent — survive at all. But the second half of the twentieth century saw a gradual recognition of his achievement. Today, Ivor Gurney’s reputation stands higher than ever. His music is frequently performed, and is increasingly being recorded; his verse has broken out of war poetry anthologies and entered the mainstream (Christopher Ricks’s Oxford Book of English Verse, for example, selects more poems by Gurney than by Heaney or Hughes); an active Ivor Gurney Society promotes his work via a website, journal and annual gathering; and a conference held in Cambridge in 2007 was the first in a series of biennial meetings dedicated to the scholarly study of his poetry and music. Critics as significant as Geoffrey Hill, Arnold Rattenbury, Desmond Graham and Jon Silkin have written admiring essays. John Lucas has called him ‘one of the most original, extraordinary, and essential of twentieth-century poets’.
Gurney’s poetry is most commonly viewed in the context of the Great War. He is, as he called himself, ‘First War Poet’, whose achievement ranks alongside any of his soldier-contemporaries’. But (even as he exceeds them) he also belongs among the Georgian poets, and his affinity to Edward Thomas marks an important and still neglected tradition in English poetry. He is one of the earliest and most profound inheritors of nineteenth-century American verse, writing about Whitman as well as showing that poet’s influence. His biographical circumstances encourage connections with predecessors like Smart, Cowper and Clare. And his fragmented syntax both partakes of, and resists, the Modernist poetics which are contemporary with his best work. A number of vital traditions, not normally considered together, converge and are reconciled in Gurney’s achievement. He is central to any adequate understanding of modern English poetry.
For many decades, selections of Gurney’s verse have been available through the dedication of his editors. Blunden (1954) and Clark (1973) produced useful taster editions, but it was not until P. J. Kavanagh’s misleadingly-titled Collected Poems (OUP, 1982; reissued by Carcanet, 2004) that a substantial volume was published. This was supplemented by the work of Thornton and Walter. Thornton reissued the two volumes published during Gurney’s lifetime as Severn and Somme and War’s Embers (1987); there followed Best Poems and the Book of Five Makings (1995), 80 Poems or So (1997), and Rewards of Wonder (2000). These were individual volumes prepared by Gurney but unpublished in his lifetime. There are at least another eight volumes, as well as hundreds of stray or orphaned poems which have not yet been published. It ought not to be assumed that unpublished Gurney is inferior Gurney; many of those poems belong among his best.
The Scope of the Edition
The two volumes published in Gurney’s lifetime require very little editorial intervention, and the meticulous approach of Thornton and Walter has ensured that three further volumes have been convincingly arranged. We intend, as far as possible, to reproduce these texts in their chronological order, interspersed with the other (currently unpublished) volumes and stray poems. Gurney’s papers provide many challenges because, although he listed over a dozen volumes which he claimed to have written, it has not yet been possible to reconstruct the contents of each. Joy Finzi, who sorted Gurney’s papers after his death, is known to have discarded some of his poems; and it is likely that volumes have been broken up as a consequence. However, a great deal has been done to restore the chronology of Gurney’s poetry and to present definitive texts in all their variorum richness.
The smaller question of Gurney’s prose arises. There have been two selective editions of his letters, but a play remains unpublished and only a small handful of his essays have appeared in print. We will include any prose worthy of publication, some of which commemorates the Gloucestershire countryside from which Gurney has been forcibly exiled, while other pieces address the achievements of certain favourite poets, or touch on the relationship between Gurney’s poetry and his music.