“Occasionally tortured and incomprehensible.” The Spectator, December, 1921

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W.J. Turner [1889-1946] is the poet described. Perhaps, to a poet of earnest endeavor, that is not the worst description one could receive. Perhaps it even thrilled him to the core.

Turner was, as they used to say back in the day, a ‘man of letters’. (not exactly alphabet, but a ‘man of alphabet’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.)

Articulate, intellectual, well-respected, and an able writer, Turner’s poetry was praised by W. B. Yeats, who wrote that it left him “lost in admiration and astonishment”.

It’s a romantic poetry, strongly rooted in ideas of classicism, and of the kind that slowly wafted away in popularity with the coming of…what? Maybe the atomic age? Something blasted romance, at any rate.

Ah, well. W.J. Turner can boast a respectable presence on Wiki:

‘…He met and befriended a number of literary intellectual figures, including Siegfried Sassoon, Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, and Lady Ottoline Morrell (the caricature of her in his book The Aesthetes ended their friendship). During the period from the First World War until the mid-1930s, he was known primarily as a poet. His 1916 Romance (“Chimborazo, Cotopaxi….”) is probably the best remembered of his poems.’

I found a book of his poems, as you see pictured here…obviously well worn. Publishing date 1928. It is badly ‘foxed’ as the booksellers would describe it. Yet, despite my mold sensitive misgivings, it came home with me…and there inside, was another poem. Horse of Jade. Written, or copied, on paper now browned with age, tucked between ‘A Love Song’ and ‘Fritillary’.

Someone loved this man’s poems. Or someone loved the person they gave this book to. And someone included a bonus poem inside.

My excitement grew when I realized that Horse of Jade is one of the poems published within the book of New Poems. Was this paper handwritten by W.J. Turner, himself? The poem is quite altered from the published version in the book. The title, too, went from Horse of Jade to The Horse of Jade. Lines such as:

‘And dost the moving earth disdain’

changed to

‘And dost the green movement of the earth disdain’. (as you see, ‘dost’ made the cut…)

Does this paper represent a rough draft? Or does it represent some second thoughts of poet W.J. Turner?

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Inside there is also evidence of flowers having been pressed between the pages. One such relic, rather homespun in aspect, is pictured here. I have left it just as found; fascinated by the shadowed imprint on the other page.

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Oh, to know the history of this little book, to know something of the story behind the hands that turned its pages with such care, and placed once sweet mementos within.

Some of Turner’s poetry certainly fits the above description of ‘tortured and incomprehensible’, but there is a strange loveliness about it, too. The wordsmith in me was delighted with an almost childlike glee when I saw such gems in Horse of Jade as gambade, amuscade, and threnody…(these words, by the way, also made the cut, and are in both versions of the poem).

‘O threnody of lovers twain…’

Threnody is a very sad little word. It’s just hard to think of it as sad when it is followed, in the next line, by this:

‘Four hooféd speed that feeds on grass’….

(Note the change from hoovéd to hooféd; and ‘speed’ capitalized in one but not the other.)

W.J. Turner was obviously a man of deep feeling. He enjoyed some fame for a time for his poetry, and still is highly regarded as a man of letters, but now—his own words, extracted from Hymn to Her Unknown echo some of his poetic legacy:

‘What is the use of being a poet?
Is it not a farce to call an artist a creator,
Who can create nothing, not even re-present what his eyes have seen?’

I look forward to delving more into this little book, with all its air of swans and coffeespoons and Circean afternoons….


Notes:

A very surreal experience awaits you if you click here; this is actually quite a beautiful film clip on YouTube of W.J. Turner reading his own work—a poem more famous than any from New Poems.

My reason for hunting down this poet is that he was a favorite of Margery Sharp. MargeryAvatarMy other blog being Margery Sharp: The Wit and Style. I’ll be writing more about W.J. Turner over there, with a few more specifics, for she employed some of his poetic imagery in her novels.

7 thoughts on “The Lost Poet

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this. To be praised by Yeats is praise indeed, and speaks volumes for the quality of the verse you explore so beautifully. If you have both an original and published version of a poem, that is something wonderful indeed. Have a lovely weekend 🙂

  2. How exciting for you!!! Finding treasures in a book, perhaps, from the writer, oh my, so glad you shared. And yes, finding old books, must and all. One of my sweet memories is with my sister in Maine, an old barn of books, and I still carry around with me those sweet finds to me.📚 Thank you for sharing and I am glad you included why this poet is of interest to you.

    • Jennifer–so glad you enjoyed reading the post. It was a fun discovery–a mystery that may or may not ever get solved–and that is one of the charms of being a book lover; thrills abound! 🙂

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