Ivor Gurney Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

The two pressing facts of Ivor Bertie Gurney’s life and poetry were his grisly experiences as a signalman and gunner in the trenches during World War I and his subsequent (though not necessarily consequent) decline into insanity. He was already suffering “beastly nervousness” before the war and actually hoped that the rigors of military life might stabilize his mind. The conditions he endured in the battlefields of Europe would have shaken the steadiest constitution, yet Gurney’s vivid poems and letters of this period are remarkably poised and ironic. There was even a kind of jauntiness about his amused image of himself as a “neurasthenic musician” in soldier’s garb. He resorted seriously to poetry at this time as a substitute for music and as a therapeutic outlet for troubled feelings and observations. Some of these verses appeared in English magazines, and two small volumes, Severn and Somme and War’s Embers, were published. After being gassed in 1917, however, Gurney went home disabled and soon began to be sporadically afflicted by the melancholic derangement that would haunt the rest of his life. Following several generally shiftless years of unhappiness and encroaching mental disorder, he was sent permanently to the asylum in Dartford, Kent. There he continued to compose poems and verse fragments of eccentric brilliance, mostly expressing baffled resentment and spiritual anguish or intensely reliving grim wartime experiences....

(The entire section is 518 words.)