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Book Reviews Literature Poetry St Ives

Histories of War as seen by two indispensible Poets-Part Two

The St Ives September Festival had a range of controversial poets come to visit. I remember there being a huge stir when D.M.Thomas came to read and the proctor’s of moral rectitude in the unlikely form of delegates from the Town Council were said to have occupied the back row to ensure that an unseemly did not take place. Then Gavin Ewart arrived one evening to give a reading in the decorative surroundings of the Penwith Gallery. I am most vague as to when I heard him -around the mid eighties I think. I remember how he was said to have been influenced by Auden and spending a very entertaining evening listening to the poet reading in an amusing and cultured voice that sounded very English some edgy and clever poems. I have been reading Martial at the moment and I have an inkling that Ewart might well have been entranced by that Latin satirist.

Gavin Ewart : London Remembers, Aiming to capture all memorials in London

Consider the poem which is entitled “The Death of W.S.Gilbert at Harrow Weald” which may be found on the net. It tells of the demise of the famous lyricist of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas:-

Imagine that flat glassy lake in 1911,

a very Victorian part of the prosperous house,

(architect: Norman Shaw),

a beautiful hot summer’s day in 1911.

It proceeds to describe how two Victorian ladies in “decorous bathing garments” enter the lake where the younger gets into difficulties and Gilbert plunges to the rescue:-

He swims to her, shouts advice: ‘Put your hands on my shoulders!’

She feels him sink under her. He doesn’t come up.

She struggles to the bank, he is dead of heart failure.

and finishes with a typical Ewart touch in the next stanza with sweet advice to older men not to fool about with ladies –

But all the same it is good to die brave 

on a beautiful hot summer’s day in 1911.

Returning to the theme of my previous posting I think this a great poem-

This sanitisation of what war means and how it can falsely be portrayed parallels my previous posting of the poem by Tom Paulin.