Among the World War I poets, Ivor Gurney’s life was especially sad. He enlisted in the military in 1915, sustained wounds, was gassed, and then was discharged from the service. However, the war never left him. He was tormented with the thought that it was still going on until his death. After the war, Gurney spent the rest of his life in asylums.
Gurney’s poem “To His Love” starts as a traditional elegy lamenting the death of a fallen comrade and apparent friend. It takes the form of a monologue.
The poet speaks to the fiancé or girlfriend of a dead soldier. He mourns his loss and regrets that neither he nor the girl will ever have the pleasure of the dead soldier’s company again.
The poem takes the form of four stanzas with five lines each. Each stanza ends with rhyming couplet. His language is modern and colloquial.
The poet begins with a blunt, sad statement of loss. He explains that a man has died who was loved. The plans that they [the dead, the lover, and the speaker] made are now worthless. They will no longer meander through the hills of England where the sheep graze quietly and pay no attention to anything. Nature and the countryside provide consoling memories and inspiration, when contrasted to the horrors of war.
He’s gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We’ll walk no more on Cotswolds
His body was once so agile, fast, and full of life. Now he is not the same as he was when they were sailing in the boat on an English river, The poet makes a contrast between the peaceful beautiful scene and the horror of what has happened to the soldier.
The lover would not know him now. He died a hero’s death with nobility. Cover him with purple violets to show the pride that his love ones will feel for him. The speaker seems not to want to continue the description of the body when he is talking to the lover.
The readers are lulled into thinking that “Cover him, cover him soon” indicates the honorable burial of a fallen soldier. Instead, the body is hardly recognizable. In fact, the poet describes it as “red, wet thing.” The narrator hopes that he will someday be able to forget the vision of the shredded, bloody body. Repression of the memory is the hope of the narrator when he states “…I must somehow forget.”