Arnold Rattenbury

Arnold Rattenbury began as an editor (Our Time and Theatre Today), became an exhibition designer and is the author of seven volumes of poetry.

Flytings: Hamish Henderson

Arnold Rattenbury, 23 January 2003

Old men can be buggers at hanging on. Hamish Henderson, who died last March at the age of 82, hung on firmly through three books, edited by others: his writings on ‘Song, Folk and Literature’, collected as Alias MacAlias (1992), a selected letters, The Armstrong Nose (1996) – both edited by Alec Finlay – and Collected Poems and Songs, edited by Raymond Ross. All three...

Even now most discussion of Second World War poetry cannot do without reference back to that of the First; and it’s true that Keith Douglas was always conscious of Isaac Rosenberg behind his shoulder, Alun Lewis of Edward Thomas. But the idea of modern warfare as one thing and of poetic response to it as another seems, in retrospect, almost Churchillian in its fixedness. Back then,...


Whose Shelley?

21 September 2000

The editorial note printed after Judith Chernaik’s letter (Letters, 19 October) seems churlish. No doubt Longman, publishers of the Everest/Matthews edition of Shelley, are poor salesmen and should not have left the LRB in darkness about their second volume, published this June. Nonetheless their Volume I – the relevant one, since it more than covers the period of the Reiman/Fraistat under review...

Awed but Silly

14 October 1999

I much regret that two misdatings appeared in my piece on Ivor Gurney (LRB, 14 October). First, Gurney’s work on ‘Rewards of Wonder’ began in 1921, not 1919; second, his radically changing ‘sense of war’ is notable from 1923, not 1925, onwards. Neither misdating, I think, affected my awed view of the man but both are silly.

Most loyal and protective of Gurney’s many friends, Marion Scott wrote after one of her regular visits to the asylum: ‘Ivor is so heart-breakingly sane in his insanity.’ Letters, reported conversation, music, poems all attest to the fact. He was trained and already admired as a composer before enlistment; in the trenches poetry had occupied him more and more and, when he returned afterwards to music, the poetry continued. The asylum cut him off, therefore, from what had been a life of continuous intellectual companionship – in music, poetry and trench-life. In the end, all reasoning had to be here, inside. Outside became for him one vastly simplified establishment of Church and Metropolitan Police, to which he would write long and, if you choose to see them so, quite dotty pleas, sometimes in verse, against his continuing incarceration. The world inside became increasingly the source of all creativity. Here he could chat happily with such companions as Beethoven about the music of Herbert Howells, his schoolboy friend and fellow music student; or could by turns become Schubert, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Traherne, Whitman, even Gurney – anyone, musician or author, whose work he understood to the point of loving. ‘The idea that he had written everything and composed everything persisted … But there were moments of real conversation and he spoke of real grievances,’ Adeline Vaughan Williams wrote after one of many visits with her husband, Gurney’s one-time teacher of composition, admirer and longstanding advocate. My own hunch is that other Gurney personae usually written off as lunatic fictions – Michael Flood, Frederick Saxby, Valentine Fane, Griffiths Davies and so on: there were many – may yet turn out to be comrades from the trenches, those other persons he so loved. Although writing of place-names rather than people, P.J. Kavanagh puts the matter exactly in the introduction to his wonderful Collected Poems of Ivor Gurney (1982): ‘Like most poets, he is dependent on the particular, and on being able to name it.’’‘

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