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This article is taken from PN Review 264, Volume 48 Number 4, March - April 2022.

After the War Is Over Robyn Marsack
Kate Kennedy, Dweller in Shadows: A Life of Ivor Gurney (Princeton University Press, 2021)

The poetry of Ivor Gurney (1890–1937) is striking in its freshness and intimacy, in its conversational tone, its musicality; written out of deep shadows, seeking small contents and unchanging joys, it ranges from Severn to Somme, cabbages to Roman remains, as eclectic as its maker’s mind. Here he is, remembering what it was like to carry all he thought requisite along with his soldier’s gear:

(Yes, but when you have parcels, and there’s half a 
cake
In your haversack, and Cobbett, Borrow and William
Shake-
speare in your left pack, in your right Walt Whitman;
[…]
A chess set hidden somewhere, and the Everyman
Century

Of Essays stuffed in your tunic out of harm’s way.


Who else sounds like this, of the First World War poets? In ‘The Bohemians’, his sympathies lie with those who ‘would not clean their buttons, / Nor polish buckles after latest fashions’ (whether deliberately or not, Gurney never quite reached required army standards himself):
These were those ones who jested in the trench,
While others argued of army ways, and wrenched
What little soul they had still further from shape,
And died off one by one, or became officers. […]
Surprised as ever to find the army capable
Of sounding ‘Lights out’ to break a game of Bridge;
As to fear candles would set a barn ...


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