! Missing Player !
To listen to the Archive's recordings, software called Adobe Flash Player (version 10) needs to be installed on your computer and you need to enable JavaScript in your browser settings.

Adobe Flash Player can be downloaded, free of charge, here.

We're sorry but, for copyright reasons, you cannot print poem texts from this site.
Full track listing for the special recording made for the Poetry Archive

Share this page

Share this page Bookmark and Share
About the Poet David Gascoyne (1916-2001) was born in Harrow, the son of a bank manager, and educated at Salisbury Cathedral School. However, it didn't take the young Gascoyne long to leave this conservative background behind, publishing his first poetry collection at the precocious age of sixteen. An early trip to France in 1933 brought him into contact with the Surrealist movement which became a vital influence on his work. Friendships with Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, André Breton and Pierre Jean Jouve date from this period and Gascoyne became an important conduit for their ideas in Britain. However, publication of his third collection, Poems 1937-42, marked a shift in Gascoyne's work towards a more explicitly religious sensibility which led Breton to "excommunicate" him from the group. The post-war period proved difficult for Gascoyne, as his tendency to depression was exacerbated by amphetamine abuse resulting in periods of hospitalisation. However, his marriage in 1975 to Judy Lewis brought about a remarkable renaissance: he began writing poetry again and new editions of his earlier work brought him back to public attention. It's entirely fitting for a poet whose outlook was always international that, before he died, he was appointed Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French government.

This recording is a moving testament to Gascoyne's physical and mental endurance. He came of age in a period when poetry and radical politics went hand in hand and his anguish at the fate of the world's "Bombed and abandoned cities" ('Ecce Homo') remained undimmed. In his late poem, 'Prelude to a New Fin-de-Siècle', this takes the form of a litany of the century's wars. In the face of atrocity Gascoyne wonders aloud what poetry can do: "- If this is a poem, where are the images?/- What images suffice?". Gascoyne's imagination was always stalked by despair but his strength in not yielding to it gives his poems their iron-like durability. He believed in "The faithful fire of vision" ('The Sacred Hearth') even though it abandoned him for long periods of his life. It's appropriate that this recording ends with his fragile yet powerful voice reaffirming his belief in creation with an image that harks back to his surrealist heyday: "Then as the day approaches the bird flies without wings;/It vomits forth the rainbow".

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 20 July 2000 at the poet's home on the Isle of Wight, UK and was produced by Richard Carrington.
Which books contain this poem?
  • Selected Poems - David Gascoyne, 1994
Search for a poem or a poet:

My Archive

Create lists of your favourite poems and poets and share them with friends.

Browse all poets by name

View all poets

Browse all poems by title

View all poems

Glossary of poetic terms

View full glossary
Support The Poetry Archive The Poetry Archive depends on donations from public bodies and private individuals. Find out how you can contribute to the work of the Archive.