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This article is taken from PN Review 17, Volume 7 Number 3, January - February 1981.

Honouring Ivor Gurney Jeremy Hooker

FROM December 1922 until his death in 1937 Ivor Gurney was incarcerated in the City of London Mental Hospital at Dartford, in Kent. The story of his life and madness has been told by Michael Hurd with sympathy and understanding in The Ordeal of Ivor Gurney. It is neither my intention to rehearse the details or even to sketch the outline of that story here, nor to play the amateur psychologist with Gurney's mental state. I want instead to show why I regard Gurney as one of the finest and most significant English poets of this century. I cannot do this, however, without considering his 'world': the world whose composition and eventual breakdown are expressed in his poetry. Madness is always terrible, of course; but in the case of a man greatly gifted as both musician and poet, who is therefore essentially a maker and instrument of order, and a voice of the language which composes and confirms our human world, there is an additionally tragic irony in his descent into the chaos and isolation of insanity. By the same token his personal breakdown, however uniquely individual some of its causes were, must reveal processes of general disintegration in the culture and society to which he belonged.

In 'To the Poet Before Battle' Ivor Gurney adjures the poet in the fray to

Remember thy great craft's honour, that they may say
Nothing in shame of poets.


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