Ivor Gurney Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Besides being a poet, Ivor Gurney (GUR-nee) is recognized as a gifted songwriter and composer of instrumental music. Of special interest are fine settings of poems by William Shakespeare, William Butler Yeats, Sir Walter Raleigh, Ben Jonson, John Clare, A. E. Housman, Wilfred Owen, John Masefield, and Edward Thomas. Gurney’s musical work often exhibits the same erratic genius that distinguishes his poems, but this promising career was cut too short by the debilitating effects of military service and mental illness.

Ivor Gurney Achievements

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Ivor Gurney considered himself unjustly neglected and “one of Five War Poets.” Both judgments are gradually being accepted by students of early twentieth century literature. His reputation is benefiting from the general recovery in critical esteem and cultural interest of the World War I poets. His work is associated with that of Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Nichols, Isaac Rosenberg, and others, as part of a significant chapter in modern literary history: the terrible interlude in which a conventional Georgian quietism was being replaced by new virtuosities of shock and disillusionment born in the trenches of war-ravaged Europe. Gurney’s own poetry shares in that transformation of thought and technique. In many ways the most enigmatic and inconsistent of those soldier-poets and still the least known, he forged out of his own waywardness innovations in diction, rhythm, and tone that often surpass the others in interest and effect. None evokes more intricately the modernist pathos of “two ditches of heart-sick men;/ the times scientific, as evil as ever, again.”

Gurney is also important as the first twentieth century writer to exhibit strongly the influence of Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose vigorous and technically daring verse appeared posthumously in 1916 and 1918. Specific resemblances of theme, language, and style suggest that Gurney responded immediately to the qualities in Hopkins now acknowledged as that Victorian poet’s most energizing contribution to the voice of modern literature.

Since Edmund Blunden’s 1954 edition of the poems, including many previously unpublished pieces of great merit, Gurney has been discussed in several studies of the war poets and represented in anthologies of modern verse. What more Gurney might have achieved were it not for his rapid psychological disintegration is not certain. There is justice, however, in William Curtis-Hayward’s estimate that in Ivor Gurney “what we have is the ruins of a major poet.”

Ivor Gurney Bibliography

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Blevins, Pamel. Ivor Gurney and Marion Scott: Song of Pain and Beauty. Rochester, N.Y.: Boydell Press, 2008. This double biography looks at the life of the poet Gurney, who met Marion Scott while studying music and formed a partnership with her. Describes their lives separately and intertwined.

Gray, Piers. Marginal Men: Edward Thomas, Ivor Gurney, J. R. Ackerley. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1991. An examination of Gurney, along with Edward Thomas, and J. R. Ackerley, that looks at his marginalized life and poetry.

Gurney, Ivor. Collected Letters. Edited by R. K. R. Thornton. Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1991. Invaluable source of biographical details of Gurney’s life and friendships.

Hill, Geoffrey. “Gurney’s ’Hobby.’” Essays in Criticism 34 (April, 1984): 97-128. Hill explores Gurney’s poetry and music, oddly enough finding his poetry to be his self-proclaimed “hobby.” Examines Gurney’s irony as evidenced in his poetry, the same irony that Gurney claimed he detested, much like Walt Whitman, the poet Gurney considered to be his mentor.

Hipp, Daniel. The Poetry of Shell Shock: Wartime Trauma and Healing in Wilfred Owen, Ivor Gurney, and Siegfried Sassoon. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2005. This examination of three poets of...

(The entire section is 444 words.)