Sunday, December 20, 2015

Beyond words, music, images

A little 7-minute film produced in 2006 at Saint-Lukas, Brussels, school of arts, as part of the graphic design course, animating  "Of Death", a poem by Ivor Gurney, English composer and war poet who spent the last 15 years of his life in mental hospitals.  He died in 1937 at the age of 47, of tuberculosis.

Ivor Gurney, of Gloucestershire, wrote over 100 poems and 300 songs.  Some of his letters and poems were written in the trenches of World War I.

Gurney expressed, in verse, his experience of war, of those things he observed and reflected on during his long walks, alone; his sadness, his yearning for death.  A number of years ago artist Tom Denny created eight magnificent stinglass panels in his honor in a chapel in Gloucester Cathedral, each depicting moments from Ivor Gurney's life and writings.

I was particularly drawn to the 7th one ("To God").   The person who took the above photo remarked that the people standing and gazing at these windows"were moved to tears by what Gurney had seen and suffered."[1]

Poetry, music, and art that move us.  An odd verb--"move"--usually meaning 'to go to a different place', 'change direction', or in this case, 'cause us to react emotionally'.  You don't have to have experienced "war" to understand what its victims feel; you can see it in their eyes, hear it in their voice, identify with its expression in poetry, music, and art.  Not perhaps the specifics, but we all recognize pain, loss, suffering, despair.

Why would one want to continue staring at something that moves one to tears, re-read a poem, or listen to a piece of music, again and again, that haunts by its sadness?  Perhaps for the same reason one reads uplifting verse, is moved by exquisite beauty, or senses the presence of overwhelming love.  Sometimes it's just to make yourself remember, both the joyful and the sad.  One minute you're standing there, and the next minute you're suddenly taken to a whole other  place, and you don't resist.  It's like a magnet, pulling you in.

These moments make a mark; you remember them.  It's how we connect with our shared universe, and by extension, to one another, to people or events that occurred before we were born, to those ongoing.  Such moments will continue to draw others long after we're gone.  Even more so, when we know the story behind the story, as in this case, of Ivor Gurney.

Gurney actually thought of himself more as a composer than a poet.

You can listen to his Sonata for Violin and Piano in E flat major here,
and his song "Sleep" here.