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This article is taken from PN Review 106, Volume 22 Number 2, November - December 1995.

Ivor Gurney and Edward Thomas: A Distinction Mark William Brown

In a letter of November 1917 (Collected Letters, ed. R.K.R. Thornton [MidNAG/Carcanet, 1991]) Ivor Gurney has this to say about the recently published Poems of Edward Thomas:

Very curious they are, very interesting; nebulously intangibly beautiful. But he had the same sickness of mind I have - the impossibility of serenity for any but the shortest space. Such a mind produces little.


Whatever Thomas's 'sickness of mind' may have been, whether the chronic depression so amply documented by his biographers or the so-called neurasthenia Gurney had diagnosed in himself prior to his own enlistment in 1915, it was by no means 'the same sickness' that confined Gurney to a mental hospital in 1922, that by 1925 had robbed his music of all coherency, and that from 1926 onwards severely deranged his poetry. But however we may distinguish between the neurotic and the psychotic, and regardless of whether we think 'serenity' makes for great poetry, few of us would deny that Thomas's poems exhibit the 'sickness' of which Gurney speaks, any more than we would deny their nebulous, intangible beauty, one of the chief symptoms of that sickness.

The question then becomes whether or not such symptoms likewise manifest themselves in the poetry of Ivor Gurney, whose initial response to Thomas indeed suggests a kind of spiritual affinity, and whose own poems are often said to have been heavily influenced by Thomas. I believe that the answer to this question is no: that although ...


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