During the last few days I have been finalising the catalogue for the poetry and appeals written between September 22 1922 and the end of 1923, double checking the rationale for the dating of those manuscripts and making sure the catalogue entries are complete. Just occasionally one gets thoroughly diverted in the act of cataloguing and starts reading something more fully than intended. The poem that grabbed me as I was reading it through yesterday was written in (possibly late-) February 1923 and is titled 'On a memory'.
I have been totally engrossed by the poem, which, putting it into biographical context, is all about Margaret Hunt - a woman about relatively little is known (although Pam Blevins is currently on her trail, notably hoping to find a photograph of her), but who was a great inspiration to Gurney, encouraging, with her sister Emily (both private music teachers in Gloucester, playing violin and piano), his music making, and introducing Gurney to the Cotswolds.
It is known that Gurney fell in love with Margaret, and is said that Gurney wanted to marry her, but we have no correspondence with her, and Gurney only occasionally mentions her in his correspondence. However, Margaret is the dedicatee of numerous works by Gurney - works for violin and piano, as well as the song 'Lights Out' and the cycle Ludlow & Teme.
However, Margaret's place in Gurney's life is described in this long poem. He describes all she meant to him, inspirationally ('it was she who ruled my Making'), the pain of their being apart once he went to London ('But love can carry across a hundred miles'), her many letters - writer of many letters both whilst in London and at the front - 'bright patches of love', (how very sad that we have none!) and then her end in 1919, when, having been ill for some time, she died on 3 March:
'She was iller now, but dear, but dear, and her name
Thrilled still on lips. My work was meant for her.
I turned to work, and returned to playing there
The piano as of old - then her ending came.
I stood by her coffin, and smoked, there was no shame.
Now after four years, I look back and see that she
Has been best inspiration, or that beauty she loved [...]'
'I did not go visit her cemetery grave,
But walked in quiet places that she loved,
Or on hill roads far from crowds or noise removed.
The spirit of green wood, the heart of music was she.'
It is remarkable to know how very much she meant to him; a love and inspiration which is otherwise unspoken except obliquely in those several dedications. It leaves one wondering how the nurse to whom Gurney was engaged in late 1917, Annie Drummond, fitted into all of this. Was she just a passing thing, or did Gurney seek solace elsewhere, his love being unrequited by Margaret Hunt? Perhaps we shall never know, but we can now put Margaret in her rightful place as Gurney's muse.