27 March 2014

Poetry Thursday - Winter Garden by David Gascoyne

Gascoyne in 1951 (via)

Winter Garden

The season’s anguish, crashing whirlwind, ice,
Have passed, and cleansed the trodden paths,
That silent gardeners have strewn with ash.

The iron circles of the sky,
Are worn away by tempest;
Yet in this garden there is no more strife:
The Winter’s knife is buried in the earth.
Pure music is the cry that tears
The birdless branches in the wind.
No blossom is reborn. The blue
Stare of the pond is blind.

And no one sees
A restless stranger through the morning stray
Across the sodden lawn, whose eyes
Are tired of weeping, in whose breast
A savage sun consumes its hidden day.

– David Gascoyne  (published in Selected Poems, 1994, Enitharon Press)

David Gascoyne (1916-2001) was a Surrealist poet, translator, writer who lived in Paris in the heyday of the movement. “In writing a Surrealist poem you have to clear the mind, start with a blank sheet and let your imagination take over,” he said (quoted here). In the 1936 Surrealist exhibition he had to rescue Dali from the deep-sea diving suit, in which he had given his lecture, by using a spanner.

Changing direction after 1937, Gascoyne's inspiration "was a torrent stifled initially by the Second World War and then by the poet’s use of amphetamines." And depression.

1950 brought a commission from the BBC which resulted in his radiophonic poem Night Thoughts, broadcast in 1955. “It was an experiment in sound, of voices and a choir, the sound of an underground railway and the music specially written by Humphrey Searle... an opus ... speaking to a post-war generation cocooned each night by their firesides listening to the voice of the BBC on the radio. It was his last great work before he descended into two decades of suffering and institutionalisation. Two people rekindled his spirit - Judy Lewis, who became his wife in 1975, and bookseller Alan Clodd. In the next decade he continued writing and "was feted wherever he roamed", in his later years living quietly on the Isle of Wight.
With illustrations by Graham Sutherland
Night Thoughts is also the title of the biography by Robert Fraser.

(The recording of "Winter Garden" here, made in 2000, is " a moving testament to Gascoyne's physical and mental endurance.")

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