Discuss the poem "To his Love" by Ivor Gurney.
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.”
Ivor Gurney's "To His Love" is an example of the brutal honesty about war that prevailed among the most prolific poets of World War I. It approaches the subject of death very honestly and foreshadows the psychological damage that the poet himself would later suffer as a result of his war trauma.
The poem is a monologue written by the comrade of a fallen soldier to the dead man's girlfriend, and its references to past events suggest that the poet and the girlfriend were also friendly with one another. Gurney was from Gloucestershire, England, and his yearning for home makes an appearance in the poem as he references "Cotswolds/Where the sheep feed"—a world away from war-torn France. There is a tone of collaboration and commiseration with the girlfriend: the poet declares that "our plans" are useless now that the third party is dead. The choice of words suggests a group of three young people who had once made plans together, which now have been wrecked by war.
The images Gurney paints of pre-war days are vivid and brief: "on Severn River / Under the blue / Driving our small boat through." In those days, the dead man was "quick": the word is here used in its archaic sense of "alive" (as in "the quick and the dead").
It is evident that the fallen soldier is no longer anything pretty to look at. At first, the poet approaches this gently—"He died / Nobly, so cover him over / With violets of pride / Purple from Severn side." It soon becomes clear, however, that this illusion of beauty from home will never be enough to banish from the poet's mind the image of his friend as he now is: "Cover him, cover him soon!" he exhorts, "that red wet / Thing I must somehow forget."
One of the most interesting elements in this poem is the sense of camaraderie between the poet and the woman he addresses. Some war poetry, particularly Sassoon's (see "Glory of Women"), creates a dividing line between the women at home and the men who have fought, wherein the women are protected from the truth and not a part of what is happening. Here, the speaker is candid with this woman, his friend, about what has become of their mutual friend, the fallen soldier. Meanwhile, the growing sense of urgency in the poem from its "Cotswold" beginnings to the frantic final stanza is a telling indication of the speaker-soldier's fragile mental state.