You can read the first part of the article on this blog, in this second part I look at the four poems which I have set, Song, Requiem, To his love and Song and Pain.
After being gassed in 1917, Ivor Gurney was sent to the Edinburgh War Hospital where he met and fell in love with the nurse Annie Drummond and though there is a suggestion that they became engaged, the relationship failed for reasons which are not known for certain. Ivor Gurney wrote Song, 'My heart makes songs on lonely roads /to comfort me while you are away' for Annie at the height of his relationship with her.
In July 1917, Gurney had had his first book of poems accepted for publication, this was Severn and Somme. Requiem comes from this collection, and here we are firmly in the realm of Somme:
Pour out your light, O stars, and do not hold
Your loveliest shining from earth's outworn shell -
Pure and cold your radiance, pure and cold
My dead friend's face as well.
With To his love we continue in the realm of the Somme with Gurney re-creating the shock of the death of a comrade, interleaving references to the war with remembrances of happier times in Gloucestershire:
He's gone and all our plans
are useless indeed.
We'll walk no more on Cotswold
where the sheep feed
quietly and take no heed.
The final song in the group Song and Pain returns to poems from Severn and Somme, with the final verse achieving a measure of transcendence:
Some day, I trust, God's purpose of pain for me
shall be complete,
And then to enter in the house of joy...
Prepare, my feet.
Quickening: Songs to Texts by English and Welsh Poets comes out on the Navona Records label in the Autumn and features my settings of poems by Ivor Gurney, AE Housman, Christina Rossetti and Rowan Williams. Please do support our crowd-funding.