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Ivor Gurney

"The slopes of Chosen Hill were frequented by Gurney, either alone or in the company of two fellow Gloucestershire lads, poet F.W. Harvey and composer Herbert Howells, with whom he would discuss poetry and music. Howells dedicated his 1916 Piano Quartet 'To Chosen Hill and Ivor Gurney who knows it...'"

The landscape of the West Country, and in particular that of his native Gloucestershire, lies at the heart of Gurney's creativity, whether as inspiration for his numerous musical works or in his poetic depictions of the hills, woods and waterways he came to know so well during his inveterate walking across the county. The landscape of the region became the focus of his expressions of homesickness when separated from the West Country whilst fighting in the front lines of France during the First World War, studying in London, or during his final, enforced exile through his incarceration in the City of London Mental Hospital.

Gurney is now regarded highly as a War Poet – frequently anthologised – and as a composer of songs. Despite the publication of a biography in 1978 and the subsequent issue of several of his poetry collections and his Collected Poems, much of his work is as yet unknown, including some hundreds of poems yet to be brought to print.

The Centre for South West Writing is currently leading a major research project, funded jointly by the Great Western Research, the University of Exeter and Gloucestershire County Council, which is seeking to increase the knowledge of Gurney's work. The first stage of the project, undertaken by Philip Lancaster – holder of the Centre's first PhD Studentship – is the detailed examination, reorganisation and cataloguing of the extensive Gurney archive, held at Gloucestershire Archives.

The major outcome of this research will be the publication of a critical edition of Gurney's complete poetry as part of Oxford University Press's prestigious Oxford English Texts series, co-edited by the Centre's Director, Tim Kendall, and Philip Lancaster. It is hoped that the Centre might also host a conference and exhibition devoted to Gurney's life and work.

Philip Lancaster

Select Bibliography

Ivor Gurney, Collected Letters (MidNag/Carcanet, 1993)

Ivor Gurney, Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2004)

Michael Hurd, The Ordeal of Ivor Gurney (Oxford University Press, 1978)

Tim Kendall, 'Ivor Gurney's Memory', Modern English War Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 83-105.

R.K.R. Thornton (ed.), The Journal of the Ivor Gurney Society (The Ivor Gurney Society, 1995-2007)


Philip Lancaster's blog, journaling the progress of his work in the Gurney archive