Ivor Gurney, considered to be one of the greatest British poets from the World War I era, was born in Gloucester, on August 28th, 1890 (John Lucas, 2001). Gurney loved the countryside and often took long walks enjoying its beauty. …
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Gurney loved the countryside and often took long walks enjoying its beauty. He started composing music in 1904 at the age of 14. His scholarship enabled him to enroll himself at the Royal College of Music in 1911, but his mood swings made it difficult for him to focus on academic work. He suffered from bipolar, manic depression, poor health, and had his first breakdown in 1913. After convalescing, he returned to college (Pamela Blevins, 2008, p77) World War I had an adverse effect on Gurney’s college education and that is the time when he chose to enlist as a private. He was deployed at the Western Front where he seriously took to writing poetry. (Michael Hurd, 2011) It was rather unfortunate that he was badly wounded in April 1917, when he was in the middle of writing poems. After recovering, he went back to the front. Another very unfortunate mishap that took place was that Gurney was senselessly gassed four months later, and had to be hospitalized. However, once again he took to writing poetry once he was discharged from hospital. But as fate would have it, once again he suffered a serious breakdown in March 1918 and yet once more, spent his time composing and writing poetry during his stint in hospital. After gradually regaining his emotional stability, he was discharged honorably from Lamia Benmoussa 3 the army in October 1918. He returned to the Royal College of Music, but sadly his mental stability continued to worsen and he was finally forced to drop out. He had suffered so much in life and by 1922, his family declared him to be insane. The following fifteen years of his life was spent in different asylums but still continued his writing during those bitter years. He contacted tuberculosis, became very sick and breathed his last on December 26th 1937 at the age of 47, in the City of London Mental Hospital. (Stuart Lee, The Ivor Gurney Collection). Gurney wrote his first elegiac World War I poem “To His Love” from the deep trenches at Seaton Delaval, Northumberland in 1917. His poetic technique was simplistic yet captivated the reader to focus upon the goodness of common things. His poems highlight conflicting memories that reflected the pain and trauma in his life. Gurney’s poetry is one that seeks simple honesty in the middle of contemporary ideas and other commonplace expressions. In his poems, he expresses the after-effects of gas and the trauma he faced while at the front, and about his experiences following his discharge from the Army. (Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec, p.38) In the poem, “To His Love”, Gurney begins on a sober note with a traditional sort of elegy, reminiscing about the happy days spent in the past, with his friend, but sadly now he lies dead. He is unable to even glance at his friend’s lacerated body and filled with grief, expresses himself through a note of rising hysteria as Lamia Benmoussa 4 he feels helpless in trying to erase the grotesque memory of his beloved friend. (Glynn Maxwell, 2011). There is mention of the River Severn and Gloucestershire, where, together in the company of his dear friend, are associated with two themes in the poem. The poem is a soliloquy and an elegy in which one of the soldiers is found talking to the fiance’ or the girlfriend about the death of a soldier. He mourns with grief at this loss and regrets that he has lost the company of this soldier forever and will never be able to redeem that pleasure again. Gurney’s inspiration for this poem was drawn from the supposed death of Willy Harvey who was his dearest friend, in August 1916. When his friend was alive they had spent such wonderful days together, but now the poem describes the harsh reality of his friend’s death which is described in this poem. In fact, Harvey was taken as
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