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Gascoyne, David (Emery)

GASCOYNE, David (Emery)


Nationality: British. Born: Harrow, Middlesex, 10 October 1916. Education: Salisbury Cathedral Choir School; Regent Street Polytechnic, London. Family: Married Judy Tyler Lewis in 1975. Career: Lived in France, 1937–39, 1947–48, 1953–64. Awards: Rockefeller-Atlantic award, 1949; Biella European Poetry prize, 1983. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1951; Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres, 1996. Agent: Stephen Stuart-Smith, Enitharmon Press, 35 St. George's Avenue, London N7 0HD. Address: 48 Oxford Street, Northwood, Cowes, Isle of Wight PO31 8PT, England.

Publications

Poetry

Roman Balcony and Other Poems. London, Lincoln Williams, 1932.

Man's Life Is This Meat. London, Parton Press, 1936.

Hölderlin's Madness. London, Dent, 1938.

Poems 1937–1942. London, Editions Poetry London, 1943.

A Vagrant and Other Poems. London, Lehmann, 1950.

Night Thoughts. London, Deutsch, and New York, Grove Press, 1956.

Collected Poems, edited by Robin Skelton. London, Oxford University Press-Deutsch, 1965.

Penguin Modern Poets 17, with Kathleen Raine and W.S. Graham. London, Penguin, 1970.

The Sun at Midnight: Poems and Aphorisms. London, Enitharmon Press, 1970.

Collected Verse Translations, edited by Robin Skelton and Alan Clodd. London, Oxford University Press-Deutsch, 1970.

Three Poems. London, Enitharmon Press, 1976.

Early Poems. Warwick, Greville Press, 1980.

La Mano del Poeta, edited by Francesca Romani Paci. Genoa, Edizione S. Marco dei Giustiniani, 1982.

Five Early Uncollected Poems. Leamington Spa, Other Branch Readings, 1984.

Collected Poems 1988. Oxford, Oxford University Press. 1988.

Miserere: Poemes 1937–1942. Paris, Granit, 1989.

Selected Poems. London, Enitharmon Press, 1994.

Three Remanences. London, privately printed, 1994.

Selected Verse Translations, edited by Robin Skelton and Alan Clodd. London, Enitharmon Press, 1996.

Encounter with Silence: Poems, 1950. London, Enitharmon Press, 1998.

Play

The Hole in the Fourth Wall; or, Talk, Talk, Talk (produced London, 1950).

Novels

Opening Day. London, Cobden Sanderson, 1933.

April. London, Enitharmon Press, 2000.

Other

A Short Survey of Surrealism. London, Cobden Sanderson, 1935; San Francisco, City Lights, 1982.

Thomas Carlyle. London, Longman, 1952.

Paris Journal 1937–1939. London, Enitharmon Press, 1978.

Journal 1936–37. London, Enitharmon Press, 1980.

Journal de paris et d'ailleurs, 1936–1942. Paris, Flammarion, 1984.

Novalis: Hymns to the Night. Petersfield, Enitharmon Press, 1989.

The Collected Journals, 1936–1942. London, Skoob, 1991.

Lawrence Durrell. London, privately printed, 1993.

The Fire of Vision: David Gascoyne and George Barker, edited by Roger Scott. London, privately printed, 1996.

Selected Prose 1934–1996, edited by Roger Scott with an introduction by Kathleen Raine. London, Enitharmon Press, 1998.

A Short Survey of Surrealism. London, Enitharmon Press, 2000.

Editor, Outlaw of the Lowest Planet, by Kenneth Patchen. London, Grey Walls Press, 1946.

Translator, Conquest of the Irrational, by Salvador Dali. New York, Levy, 1935.

Translator, with Humphrey Jennings, A Bunch of Carrots: Twenty Poems, by Benjamin Peret. London, Roger Roughton, 1936; revised edition, as Remove Your Hat, 1936.

Translator, What is Surrealism?, by André Breton. London, Faber, 1936.

Translator, The Magnetic Fields, by André Breton and Philippe Soupault. London, Atlas, 1985.

Translator, with Martin Sorrell, Remove Your Hat and Other Works, by Benjamin Péret. London, Atlas, 1985.

Translator, The Unconscious, Spirituality, Catastrophe, by Pierre Jean Jouve. Child Okeford, Dorset, Words Press, 1988.

Translator, Three Translations. Child Okeford, Dorset, Words Press, 1988.

Translator, Poems of Milosz. London, Enitharmon, 1993.

Translator, The Present Greatness of Mozart, by Pierre Jean Jouve. Birmingham, Delos Press, 1996.

*

Bibliography: "David Gascoyne: A Checklist" by A. Atkinson, in Twentieth-Century Literature 6 (Los Angeles), 1961; David Gascoyne: A Bibliography of His Works (1929–1985) by Colin Benford, n.p., Heritage, 1986.

Manuscript Collections: British Library, London; University of Tulsa, Oklahoma; State University of New York, Buffalo; New York Public Library; Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds.

Critical Studies: By Edwin Muir, in The Observer (London), December 1950; "Poetry and Ideas II: David Gascoyne" by Anthony Cronin, in London Magazine, July 1957; "The Restoration of Symbols," in Every Changing Shape by Elizabeth Jennings, London, Deutsch, 1961; "A Voice from the Darkness" by Gavin Ewart, in London Magazine, November 1965; "David Gascoyne and the Prophetic Role," in Defending Ancient Springs by Kathleen Raine, London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1967, and "England's Last Great Poet" by Raine, in Tenemos 10 (London), 1989; The Ironic Harvest by Geoffrey Thurley, London, Arnold, 1974; An Introduction to Fifty Modern British Poets by Michael Schmidt, London, Pan, 1979, as A Reader's Guide to Fifty Modern British Poets, London, Heinemann, 1979, New York, Barnes and Noble, 1982; David Gascoyne, ou l'urgence de l'inexprimé by Michel Rémy, Nancy, France, Presses Universitaires de Nancy, 1984; by Healther Buck, in Agenda (London), 26(4), Winter 1988; "David Gascoyne: Confessional Novelist" by Peter Christensen, in Deus Loci (Bronx, New York), 1, 1992; "Emblems of Friendship: Lawrence Durrell and David Gascoyne" by Ian S. MacNiven, in Deus Loci (Bronx, New York), 2, 1993.

*  *  *

In the introduction to his Collected Poems 1988 David Gascoyne suggests that in most of his mature work there is a constant theme: "the intolerable nature of human reality when devoid of all spiritual, metaphysical dimension." This sense underlies the best of Gascoyne's early surrealist poems, giving a significance to the otherwise factitious excitement of their imagery. It was in the years immediately before World War II that Gascoyne's poetry reached maturity, attaining the fusion of personal and universal that is one of the hallmarks of poetic achievement. The progress through surrealism was a necessary liberation for Gascoyne; it was the path by which he came to realize the hollowness of reason's claim to an all-embracing superiority and the insufficiency of a materialist view of the universe. His early adventures in surrealism—and no English poet was more thorough and intimate in his knowledge of that movement, no Englishman a better translator of the French surrealists—were deepened by a growing familiarity with the German romantic movement and its philosophical-theological background, with the works of such writers as Hölderlin and Novalis, Swedenborg and Böhme. This steeping in both French and German traditions, without a loss of his native Englishness, gave to Gascoyne a voice unique in modern English poetry.

Gascoyne is a poet of night and music. Night Thoughts, "Noctambules" or the magnificent "The Sacred Hearth" (addressed to George Barker) are eloquent testimony to one dimension of his sensibility:

   I wandered out across the briar-bound garden, spell-
      bound. Most
   Mysterious and unrecapturable moment, when I stood
   There staring back at the dark white nocturnal house,
   And saw gleam through the lattices a light more pure
     than gold
   Made sanguine with crushed roses, from the fire-
     light that all
    night
   Stayed flickering about the sacred hearth …
               George, in the wood
   Of wandering among wood-hiding trees, where poets' art
   Is how to whistle in the dark, where pockets all have holes,
   All roofs for refugees have rents, we ought to know
   That there can be for us no place quite alien and unknown,
   No situation wholly hostile, if somewhere there burn
   The faithful fire of vision still awaiting our return.

Musical imagery permeates poem after poem. Several poems are structured on musical models, and in "Mozart: Sursum Corda" Gascoyne has written one of the best of modern poems on a musical subject, celebrating that moment when

   Supernal voices flood the ear of clay
   And transpierce the dense skull: Reveal
   The immaterial world concealed
   By mortal deafness and the screen of sense,
   World of transparency and last release
   And world within the world. Beyond our speech
   To tell what equinoxes of the infinite
   The spirit ranges in its rare utmost flight.

The clay-like nature of the human body and the astronomical infinities of the spirit's range are recurrent symbols in Gascoyne's poetic language as it mediates between mud and stars.

The very finest of Gascoyne's work was probably written in the years on either side of 1940. A series of "metaphysical poems" contains religious poetry of the highest order, though of a thoroughly individual, noninstitutional kind. In "The Gravel-Pit Field" Gascoyne has written a glorious poem in which a ravaged wartime landscape is transformed by the redemptive power of an imagination fed by spiritual awareness:

   Beside the stolid opaque flow
   Of rain-gorged Thames; beneath a thin
   Layer of early evening light
   Which seems to drift, a ragged veil,
   Upon the chilly March air's tide:
   Upwards in shallow shapeless tiers
   A stretch of scurfy pock-marked waste
   Sprawls laggardly its acres till
   They touch a raw brick-villa'd rim.
 
 
   Amidst this nondescript terrain
   Haphazardly the gravel-pits'
   Rough-hewn rust-coloured hollows yawn,
   Their steep declivities away
   From the field-surface dropping down
   Towards the depths below where rain-
   Water in turbid pools stagnates
   Like scraps of sky decaying in
   The sockets of a dead man's stare …
   As I stand musing, overhead
   The zenith's stark light thrusts a ray
   Down through dusk's rolling vapours, casts
   A last lucidity of day
 
 
   Across the scene: and in a flash
   Of insight I behold the field's
   Apotheosis: No-man's-land
   Between this world and the beyond,
   Remote from men and yet more real
   Than any human dwelling-place:
   A tabernacle where one stands
   As though within the empty space
   Round which revolves the Sage's Wheel.

It is a poem that ought to be in every anthology of modern verse.

Gascoyne was largely silent as a poet during the 1950s. The work he has written since is of considerable interest and deserves attention, but it lacks the intensity of the best of the earlier poems. Ideas previously made incarnate in the symbolic language of poetry are presented in later works in an idiom a little closer to intellectual statement. It continues to be apt, however, to apply to Gascoyne himself some words he once wrote about Carlyle, when he said that Carlyle was always aware of the need "to bear witness to the Divine nature of the true man." It is Gascoyne's conviction of that divine nature, and his simultaneously pained awareness of human weakness, that gives his best work access to a genuine sense of the tragic. The seriousness of purpose governing Gascoyne's poetic intelligence puts to shame the trivialities too common in contemporary poetry.

—Glyn Pursglove

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