Imagination embodied - David Gascoyne
Of all the people I have met, the poet, David Gascoyne, resonates deeply. Like Cecil Collins' Fool, David was a spirit vulnerable to the everyday world, a spirit too pure for a world of compromise and violence. He suffered deeply, often beyond the verge of breakdown. His later years were sustained by the loving care of his wife, Judy, who if she did not fully enter the complexities of his thought and imagination, provided a safe, sustaining space, fiercely guarded.
Kathleen Raine called him, after Yeats, the most imaginatively gifted poet in English of the twentieth century, and, I think, I concur. It is a gift only partially realised, silenced in the second half of his life by multiple difficulties, most especially his depression (and addiction, finally overcome, to amphetamines). With Kathleen herself, he was T.S. Eliot's publishing regret - the poet he failed to project through the formidable list that he built up at Faber.
I remember sitting in the White Hart bar at Dartington Hall (at the first Temenos Conference) listening to David explore the urgent thinking of key religious existentialists: Berdaeyev, Buber and Shestov - and how it played on his life and his quiet eliciting of contribution of a nervy shy twenty-three year old to this most intellectual and yet deeply felt conversation.
The following poem is exemplary. Written on the nerve endings of his state in 1940, when the world, as he told Kathleen, leaked into his consciousness. But the sad, broken world of men, the ravaging tragedy of war, is not the final word: Spring springs its greenness, the natural world is imperatively restorative, even as its restoration is unrecognised. It is a reality that abides with us yet - we do not see that the world is 'dunged with dead' - our despoliation lies under the radar of our awareness, creeping upon us insidiously, the world unwoven by our rapacity, but it is there, as is nature, waiting on rebirth and on whether it includes us, chastened, or excludes us in our persistent ignorance.
London Bridge is falling down, Rome's burnt and Babylon
The Great is now but dust; yet still Spring must
Swing back through Time's continual arc to earth.
Though every land become as a black field
Dunged with the dead, drenched by the dying's blood,
Still must a punctual goddess waken and ascend
The rocky stairs, up into earth's chilled air,
And pass upon her mission through those carrion ranks,
Picking her way among a maze of broken brick
To quicken with her footsteps the short sooty grass between;
While now once more their futile matchwood empires flare and blaze
And through the smoke men gaze with bloodshot eyes
At the translucent apparition, clad in trembling nascent green
Of one they still can recognise, though scarcely understand.