IN ‘A Fortunate Man’, a story of a St Briavels Doctor, the landscape was so important that Jean Mohr, the photographer who recorded the bleakness and remoteness of the story, was credited with co-authoring the book with writer John Berger.
Landscape is also an important feature in the works of the golden generation of Gloucestershire poets and musicians of the early and mid-20th century.
They were based around Gloucester and the Forest, including Ivor Gurney of Gloucester, Herbert Howells of Lydney and Will Harvey of Minsterworth, who knew each other well.
Harvey was the poet, Howells the musician, and Gurney was poet and composer. Howells’ fragile health prevented him from serving in 1st World War, but the other two did.
Poet Will Harvey used his time as a prisoner of war to write poems, including perhaps most widely known poem ‘Ducks’.
Ivor Gurney was invalided out of the war, but his deteriorating mental health caused him to be brutally committed to an asylum in Kent in which he was confined for 15 years until his death in 1937.
There he wrote the sad lines ‘Memory is poor enough consolation for the soul hopeless gone’.
Gurney’s reputation is increasing, and there are celebrations of his life in recent literary and musical works, including Kate Kennedy ‘Dweller in Shadows – A Life of Ivor Gurney’, Eleanor Rawling’s biography ‘Ivor Gurney’s Gloucestershire – Exploring Poetry and Place’ and folk singer Johnny Coppin’s work ‘Songs on Lonely Roads’ celebrating Gurney’s music.
There is an evocative reference to his local walks in ‘Severn Bore’, a poem in Catherine Fisher’s anthology ‘Immrama’, where she describes the mighty tide surging by the ‘Minsterworth meadows where Ivor Gurney’s walks in sunlight, unforgotten’.
Herbert Howell’s works include ‘Missa Sabreniensis’, an ode to the River Severn, and he wrote the mass ‘Behold O God our Defender’ for the coronation Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Will Harvey is known as the Gloucestershire laureate. His poetry is atmospheric and slightly self-deprecating, celebrating Minsterworth, Pillowell Woods, adding chickens to his menagerie of quirky literary birds, while showing a religious belief that was strong but never solemn.
More recently, the television dramatist Dennis Potter of Berry Hill borrowed the title ‘Blue Remembered Hills’ Hill for his drama about Forest life in the second world war from A.E. Houseman, a Shropshire Lad.
He wrote the classic poem of that name lamenting his lost youth of innocence, and Potter relocated the Blue Remembered Hills from Shropshire to the Forest of Dean.
It also became a stage play presented with great distinction by a Forest drama group appropriately at the Berry Hill High School theatre, at a time when that now sadly abandoned venue had the best stage and the highest capacity auditorium in west Gloucestershire.
There is a rare opportunity to hear three songs by Gurney performed at the next concert of Wye Valley Music at St Briavels Church at 3.00pm on Sunday 18th June, also with works by Sullivan, Britten and Gershwin, and songs by Madelaine Dring, who was a student of Herbert Howells, and Ralph Vaughan Williams (another Gloucestershire musical personality).