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Silenced Great War poet finds his voice again

Does great art come out of suffering? In 1922, one of the greatest poets and composers of his generation smashed a window and ran from a hospital wearing only his pyjamas. He did not make it far before being caught by the police - but he tried again. It was decided then that he would need to be moved to a more secure institution. Ivor Gurney spent the rest of his life in the City of London Mental Hospital in Dartford. For 15 years he was confined, often refusing even to walk on its grounds. The unremarkable gardens seemed to him an insult to the Gloucestershire countryside that he had loved so much. He lived instead in a landscape of the mind, continuing to write about the two places that shaped his life: the Cotswolds and the trenches of the Western FrontA 400-plus mile stretch of land weaving through France and Belgium, from the Swiss border to the North Sea.. While living in the asylum, as well as attempting to escape three times, he wrote more than 650 poems, 200 musical compositions and a handful of plays. But because of his diagnosis, most were not deemed worthy of publication and have lain in a library archive for nearly 100 years. But yesterday, a new biography was published. Its author, Kate Kennedy, makes the case that even in the asylum Gurney continued to work near the peak of his powers. Kennedy, a fellow at the University of Oxford, was granted rare access to the unpublished manuscripts and is one of only a handful of people ever to have read them. "In two genres, he's telling us what it feels like to be forgotten, to be isolated, to be fighting for your own mental survival." Gurney has always had admirers. His song, Sleep, has been a fixture in concert halls, and some of his poems, such as To his Love are often anthologised. But he has always been remembered as much for what he might have done as for what he did. It was in the trenches of France that Gurney began writing his major poems. Mingling the shocking reality of war with his fond memories of Gloucestershire, he created a new vision in verse, which he found easier than music to write while being shelled. His odd, innovative rhythms and natural descriptions won him praise. Not sinc Thomas Campion had anyone in Britain been regarded as so gifted in both poetry and music. But when the war was over, and after being wounded, Gurney's struggles with his mental health began in earnest. He suffered delusions of voices being broadcast into his mind by electricity. His family had him declared insane in 1922. The doctor who came to diagnose him sat and observed. He was ready to leave, thinking that nothing was wrong until Gurney came over and asked, calmly and politely, for a revolver in order to kill himself. He never published any poetry again. He died in the City of London Mental Hospital in 1937. While he was there, his music remained popular and was even performed on the radio. But hospital inmates were sent to bed too early for anyone to hear the broadcasts. Does great art come out of suffering? Pain and Gain Yes it does, say some. Consider the poet Sylvia Plath. Her short life was marked out by suffering. From an early age, she experienced severe mental illness and it was this experience that made her writing so alive. It is suffering that makes artists more sensitive to the world around them. No, say others. The poet Wallace Stevens lived a life that was almost entirely uneventful. He was an insurance executive who commuted to work and wrote his poems in the evening. His poems were about landscapes that he never visited. He did not have to experience things to imagine them. KeywordsWestern Front - A 400-plus mile stretch of land weaving through France and Belgium, from the Swiss border to the North Sea.

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