Friday, 22 July 2011

David Gasgoyne - Surreal Imaginings.

" Greetings to the solitary. Friends, fellow beings you are not strangers to us. We are closer to one another than we realixe. Let us remember one another at night, even though we do not know each other's names." ( from Night Thoughts, 1956 )

 David Gasgoyne established his reputation at an early age, gaining recognition as one of the most original voices of his age. Born in Harrow, on the 10th of October 1916,  his father was a Bank Clerk, he was one of the earliest champions of Surrealism. Educated at Salisbury Cathedral Choir School and Regent Street Polytechnic.
His talent arrived early,his first book of poems  Roman Balcony was published  in 1932, and the following year his only novel,  Opening Day appeared, signalling his remarkabe precocity.
 In 1935 his A short Survey of Surrealism  was published, and in 1936 he helped organise the London International Surrealist Exhibition. For a time he lived in France, living there on and off until the mid 1960s. Among his circle of friends were Dali, Max Ernst, Andre Breton, Paul Eluard . He became well regarded as a translator, notably of many of the leading French Surrealists.Between the 1930s and the 1950s he also exhibited his abstract drawings.
For a time in the 1930s he flirted with the Communist Party  a time when both poetry and radical politics went hand in hand, but he  became dissillisioned finding his natural bed among the surrealists. He did however spend time fighting Mosley's fascist thugs in Londons East End and also went to Spain at the time of the civil war, and in Barcelona translated the news bulletin during the day, and then broadcasting them in English each evening for the propoganda bureau of the republican side.
However he had a tendecy to depression exasberated by  a serious encroaching addiction to amphetimines,whilst struggling with his homosexuality.  He subsequently suffered from a severe nervous breakdown. I think if you look at his poetry , their are signs that he was on something, his poems like vast canvasses, dazzling  in form and subject.. He returned to live with his parents and spend the rest of his life on the Isle of Wight, generally  spending two decades in suffering .After his fathers'  death , acute depression dogged him for years. He began to explore the depths of existentionalist philosophy.
 Before his breakdown he had been  prolific, however his output then slowed down. He said of himself once that  he was " a poet wrote himself out when young, and then went mad."
 But it was whilst recuperating in hospital on the Isle of Wight that he met his wife, Judy,  she was reading poems to the inmates of the hospital ( Whitecroft), and after reading  one of her favourite poems, September Sun, one of the patient's told her afterwards : " I wrote that". It was David Gasgoyne  who she  married in 1975,  and who he was to spend the rest of his days with. His spirit was rekindled and in this revitalised state he travelled widely over the next decade giving many poetry readings at home and abroad.

September Sun

Magnificent strong sun! In these last days
So prodigally generous of pristine light
That's wasted only men's sight who will not see
And by self-darkened spirits from whose night
Can rise no longer orison or praise
Let us consume in fire unfed like yours
And may the quickened gold within me come
To mintage in due season, and not be
Transmitted to no better, end than dumb
And self sufficient usyry. These days and years
May bring the sudden call to harvesting,
When in the fields man's labours only yield
Glitter and husks, then with an angrier sun may He
Who first with His gold seed the sightless field
of Chaos planted, all our trash to cinders bring.

Later his poetry moved away from the surreal  towards a more metaphysical and religious poetry.
I like his work a lot, mysterious and full of wonder. Magical, mesmeric, wide awake, charged with elemental force. Mixing darkness and light, different shades cast  from his magnificent poetic pulse.  I think because he did not do to University, he maintained his originality, and what he wrote was not dictated to by schools of learning,  largely self-taught which made him spontaneous and free.
He was an influence and friend to the beat iconclast Allen Ginsberg, and a huge influence on another poet I admire  Jeremy Reed, Kathleen Raine the mercurial English writer was a long term friend, and the psychogeographer Iain Sinclair weas also an acquaintance.
Other poetical works of his are Poems 1937-42 , The Vagrant and Other Poems (1950), and Night Thoughts (1956). His  "collected poems " were published in 1965 by the Oxford University Press to be reprinted 6 times. His "selected poems" coming out in 1994.
He died on the 25th of November 2001 aged 85.
Long may his influence grow.

And the Seventh Dream is the Dream of Isis


white curtains of infinite fatigue
dominating the starborn heritage of the colonies of St
white curtains of tortured destinies
inheriting the calamities of the plagues of the desert
encourage the waistlines of women to expand
and the eyes of men to enlarge like pocket-cameras
teach children to sin at the age of five
to cut out the eyes of their sisters with nail-scissors
to run into the streets and offer themselves to unfrocked
teach insects to invade the deathbeds of rich spinsters
and to engage the foreheads of their footmen with purple
for the year is open the year is complete
and the time of earthquakes is at hand
today is the day when the streets are full of hearses
and when women cover their ring fingers with pieces of silk
when the doors fall of their hinges in ruined cathedrals
when hosts of white birds fly across the ocean from america
and make their nests in the trees of punlic gardens
the pavements of cities are covered with needles
the resevoirs are full of human hair
fumes of sulphur envelop the houses of ill-fame
out of which bloodred lilies appear.

across the square where crowds are dying in thousands
a man is walking a tightrope covered in moths

there is an explosion of geraniums in the ballroom of the
there is an extremely unpleasant odour of decaying meat
arising from the depetalled flower growing out of her ear
her arms are like pieces of sandpaper
or wings of leprous birds in taxis
and when she sings her hair stands on end
and lights itself with a millon little lamps like glowworms
you must always write the last two letters of her christian 
upside down with a blue pencil

she was standing at the window clothed only in a ribbon
she was burning the eyes of snails in a candle
she was writing a letter to the president of france


the edges of leaves must be examined through microscopes
in order to see the stains made by dying flies
at the other end of the tube is a woman bathing her husband
and a box of newspapers covered with handwriting
when an angel writes the word TOBACCO across the sky
the sea becomes covered with patchees of dandruff
the trunk of trees burst open to release streams of milk
little girls stick photographs of genitals to the windows of
   their homes
prayerbooks in churches open themselves at the death service
and virgins cover their parents' bed with tealeaves
there is an extraordinary epidemic of tuberculosis in york-
where medical dictionaries are banned from the public
and salt turns a pale violet colour every day at seven o'clock
when the hearts of troubadours unfold like soaked mat-
when the leaven of the gruesome slum-visitors
and the wings of private airplanes look like shoeleather
shoeleather on which pentagrams have been drawn
shoeleather covered with vomitings of hedgehogs
shoeleather used for decorating wedding- cakes
and the gums of queens like glass marbles
queens whose wrists are chained to the walls of houses
and whose fingernails are covered with little drawings of
we rejoice to recieve the blessings of criminals
and we illuminate the roofs of convents when they are hung
we look through a telescope on which the lord's prayer has
  been written
and we see an old woman making a scarecrow
on a mountain near a village in the middle of spain
we see an elephant killing a stag-beetle
by letting hot tears fall onto the small of its back
we see a large cocoa-tin full of shapeless lumps of wax
there is a horrible dentist walking out of a ship's funnel
and leaving behind him footsteps which makes noises
on account of his accent he was discharged from the sana-
and sent to examine the methods of cannibals
so that wreaths of passion-flowers were floating in the dark-
giving terrible illnesses to the possessors of pistols
so that large quantities of rats disguised as pigeons
were sold to various customers from neighbouring towns
who were adepts at painting gothic letters on screens
and at tying up parcels with pieces of grass
we told them to cut off the buttons on their trousers
but they swore in our faces and took off their shoes
whereupon the whole place was stifled with vast clouds of
and with theatres and eggshells and droppings of eagles
and the drums of the hospitals were broken like glass
and glass were the faces in the last looking glass.

                                                       imagebelow by Paul Nash

Figure in a Landscape

The verdant valley full of rivers
Sang a fresh song to the thirsty hills.
The rivers sang:
'Our mother is the Night, into the Day we flow. The mills
Which toil our waters have no thirst. We flow
Like Light.'
                 And the great birds
Which dwell among the rocks, flew down
Into the dales to drink, and their dark wings
Threw flying shades across the pastures green.

At dawn the rivers flowed into the sea.
The mountain birds
Rose out of sleep like a winged cloud, a single fleet,
And flew into a newly-risen sun.

- Anger of the sun: the deadly blood-red rays which strike
Through olive branches on the slopes and kill the kine
- Tears of the sun: the summer evening rains which hang
   grey veils
Between the earth and sky, and soak the corn, and brim the
- Dream of the sun: the mists which swim down from the
icy heights
And hide the gods who wander on the mountain-sides at

The sun was anquished, and the sea
Threw up its crested arms and cried aloud out of the depths;
And the white horses of the waves raced the black horses of
  the clouds;
The rocky peaks clawed in the sky like gnarled imploding
And the black cypresses strained upwards like the sex of a
hanged man.


Across the agonising land there fled
Among the landscape's limbs (the limbs
Of a vast denuded body torn and vanquished from within)
The chaste white road,
Prolonged into the distance like a plaint.

Between the oppossition of the night and day
Between the opposition of the earth and sky
Between the opposition of the sea and land
Between the opposition of the landscape and the road
A traveller came
                         Whose only nudity his armour was
Against the whirlwind and the weapon, the undoing wound

And met himself half-way.

Spectre as white as salt in the crude light of the sky
Spectre confronted by flesh, the present and past
Meet timelessly upon the endless road,
Merge timelessly in time and pass awy,
Dreamed face away from stricken face into the bourn
Of the unborn, and the real face of age into the fastness of

Infinitely small among the infinite huge
Drunk with the rising fluids of his breast, his boiling heart,
Exposed and naked as the skeleton - upon his knees
Like some tormented desert saint -he flung
The last curse of regret against Omnipotence
And the lightning struck his face.

After the blow, the bruised earth blooms again,
The storm-wrack, wrack of the cloudy sea
Dissolve, the rocks relax,
As the pallid phallus sinks in the clear dawn
Of a new day, and the wild eyes melt and close,
And the eye of the sun is no more blind-

Clear milk of love, O lave the devastated vale,
And peace of high-noon, soothe the traveller's pain
Whose hands still grope and clutch, whose head
Thrown back entreats the guerison
And music of your light!

The valley rivers irrigate the land, the mills
Revolve, the hills are fecund with the cypresses and the vine,
And the great eagles guard the mountain heights.

Above the peaks in mystery thre sit
The Presences, the Unseen in the sky,
Inscrutable, whose influence like rays
Descend upon him, pass through and again
Like golden bees the hive of his lost head.


The  cold renuciatory beauty

The cold renunciatory beauty of those who would die
to hide their love from scornful fingers of the drab
is not that which gistens like wings or leaf in eyes
of erotic statues standing breast to chest
on high and open mountainside.

Complex draws tighter like a steel wire mesh
about the awkward bodies of those born under shame,
striping the tender flesh with blood like tears
flowing; their love they dare not name;
Each is divided by desire and fear.

The young songs of the hopeless blind shall strike
matches in the marble corridor and find
their bodies cool and white as the stone walls,
and shall embrace, emerging like mingled springs
onto the height to face the fearless sun.

Variations on a phrase by David Gascoyne
read by David Gasgoyne 

Persueus & Andromeda (1935)
-David Gasgoyne


Heavy with rain and dense stagnating green
Of old trees guarding tombs these gardens
Sink in the dark and drown. The wet fields run
Together in the middle of the plain. And there are heard
Stampeding herds of horses and a cry,
More long and lametable as the rains increase,
From out of the beyond.
                                     O dionysian
Desire breaking that voice, released
By fear and torment, out of our lowland rear
A lofty, savage and enduring monument!

Charity Week

To Max Ernst

Have presented the lion with medals of mud
One for each day of the week
One for each beast in this sombre menagerie
Shipwrecked among the clouds
Shattered by the violently closed eyelids

Garments of the seminary
Worn by the bocturnal expedition
By all the chimeras
Climbing in the window
With lice in their hair
Noughts in their crosses
Ice in their eyes

Hysteria upon the staircase
Hair torn out by the roots
Lace handkerchiefs torn to shreds
And stained by tears of blood
Their fragment strewn upon the waters

These are the phenomenem of zero
Invisible men on the pavement
Spittle in the yellow grass
The distant roar of disaster
And the great byrsting womb of desire.

The Fortress

The socket-free lone visionary eye,
Soaring reflectively
Through regions sealed from macrocosmic light
By inner sky's impenetrable shell,
Often is able to descry:

Beyond the abdominal range's hairless hills
And lunar chasms of the porphyry
Mines; and beyond the forest whose each branch
Bears a lit candle, and the nine
Zigzagging paths which lead into the mind's
Most dangerous far reach; beyond
The calm lymphatic sea
Laving the wound of birth, and the
Red dunes of rot upon its farther shore:

A heaving fortess built up ike a breast
Exposed like a huge breast high on its rock.
Streaming wth milky brightness, the domed top
Wreathed in irradiant rainbow cloud.
                                                 The shock
Of visions stuns the hovering eye, which cannot see
What cvernsof deep blood those white walls hide,
Concealing ever rampant underneath
The dark chimera Death-in-life
Defending life from death.


Words  spoken leave no time for regret
Yet regret
The unviolated silence and
Wite sanctuses of sleep
Under the heaped veils
The inexorably prolonged vigils
Speech flowing away like water
With its undertow of violence and darkness
Carrying with it forever
All tose formless vessels
Abandoned palaces
Tottering under the strain of being
Full-blossoming hysterias
Lavishly scattering their stained veined petals

In sleep there are places places
Places overlap
Yellow sleep in the afternoon sunlight
Coming invisibly in through the pinewood door
White sleep wrapped warm in the midwinter
Inhaling the tepid snow
And sleeping in April at night in sleeping in
Shadow as shallow as water and articulate with pain

Rercurrent words
Slipping between the cracks
With the face of memory and the sound of its voice
More intimate than sweat at the roots of the hair
Frozen stiff in a moment and then melted
Swifter than air between the lips
Swifter to vanish than enormous buildings
Seen for a moment from the corners of the eyes

Travelling through man's enormous continent
No two roads he same
Nor ever the same name to places
Migrating towns and fliuid boundaries
Thre are no settlers here there are
No solid stones

Travelling through man's unspoken continent
Among the unspeaking mountains
The dumblakes and the deafened valleys
Illuninied by paraoxysms of vision
Clear waves of soundless sight
Lapping out the heart of darkness
Flowing endless over buried speech
Drowning the words and words

And here I am caught up among the glistenings of
Bodies proud with the opulence of flesh
The silent limbs of beings lying across the light
Silken at the hips and pinched between two fingers
Their thirsty faces turned upwards towards breaking
Their long legs shifting slanting turning
In a parade of unknown virtues
Beginning again and beginning

Till unspoken is unseen
Until unknown
Descending from knowledge to knowledge
A dim word uttering a voiceless cry
Spinning helpless between sleep and waking
A blossom scattered by a motionless wind
A wheel of fortune turning in the fog

Predicting the lucid moment
Cating the bodiless body from its hub
Back into the cycle of return and change
Breathing the mottled petals
Out across the circling seas
And foamimg oceans of disintegration
Where navigate our daylight vessels
Following certain routes to uncertain lands

Poems reprinted from:-

Selected Poems - David Gasgoyne, enitharmon, 1994.

Collected Poems - David Gasgoyne , Oxford  University Press, 1979

Penguin Modern Poets 17 / David Gasgoyne,  W.S Graham, Kathleen Raine  (1970)

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