The Georgian Poets in Dymock

By Whittington-Egan, Richard | Contemporary Review, March 2001 | Go to article overview
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The Georgian Poets in Dymock

Whittington-Egan, Richard, Contemporary Review

IN the cool stone nave of St. Mary's Church in the remote north-west Gloucestershire village of Dymock, there hang, as banners do in other churches up and down the land, a series of large, hinged, glass frames, projecting in a bunch from the wall. They house a former vicar's gathering of nine-decades'-old relics of what he, the Reverend J. E. Gethyn-Jones, christened 'The Muse Colony'.

It was in the high summer of that year which has since been declared by some to have been the last of British civilisation, 1914, that there was briefly established in this then far-flung rural corner, hugging the Glucestershire-Herefordshire border, a modest nest of English poets, and one migrant American songbird.

Georgians to a man, they eschewed the old Tennysonian order and its sustained Edwardian echoes, but were held together by no craftsman's bond, such as the disciples of William Morris. Neither were they a deliberate community, like to the Ruskinian agrarian Guild of St. George or Eric Gill's religious brotherhood at Ditchling.

Dymock is in reality no more than a convenient geographical label, for the poets lived in a string of roughly adjacent locations -- Ryton, Ledington and Greenway Cross. Strong walkers, they trod the boundaries of Gloucestershire, quartered the Cotswolds and the always mystic Forest of Dean, climbed the thousand-foot May Hill, and directed their steps into Worcestershire. They made their way through fields buttered with daffodils, and, in season, passed beneath boughs lightly frothed with blossom and, later, heavily burdened with red harvests of plums and cider apples. Grey Liverpool and London's stone forest, with its occasional dappling of unsettling sunshine, seemed a grateful eternity's distance away.

The pioneer, the toe-pointing poet, the first to set adventurous foot in the Leadon Valley, was Lascelles Abercrombie, thirty years old, married to Catherine, with two toddler sons, David and Michael, and baby Ralph. He, grown weary of the clatter of urban Liverpool, where he had worked successively as clerk in a quantity surveyor's office, and, more congenially as journalist on the Liverpool Courier, arrived in Ryton in 1911.

The Abercrombies came to Dymock from Monks Walk Cottage, Much Marcle -- four miles away to the north -- where they had settled in April 1910, and took over a cottage at Ryton known as The Gallows. This rather eerie name derived from its having been built upon the site of where, centuries before, Jock of Dymock had been caught poaching the king's deer, and was hanged on the spot. Here, Lascelles Abercrombie established the apex of the poetic 'Dymock Triangle'.

It was not until a couple of years later that the second arm of the triangle moved into place. This was Wilfrid Wilson Gibson and his wife, Geraldine.

Gibson had left his native Northumberland for London in the summer of 1912. There he had managed to find himself a job as the assistant editor of a short-lived poetry magazine, Rhythm, which was being produced by John Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield. In the September of that year Gibson was introduced to Rupert Brooke by Edward Marsh, private secretary to Winston Churchill, and that very influential patron of the arts who inspired the five volumes (1912-1922) of Georgian Poetry, the contributors to which were dubbed the Georgian poets.

In the November, Gibson moved into a small attic room above Harold Monro's Poetry Bookshop, at 35 Devonshire Street, off Theobalds Road, in Bloomsbury. The rent was only three shillings and sixpence a week, and a further three shillings and sixpence for a week's breakfasts. Such terms were Monro's contribution to the preservation of the impoverished and misfortune-beset, hopefully temporarily embarrassed man of letters. Both Lascelles Abercrombie and Robert Frost were among those who took advantage of this generous arrangement for needy poets.

It was, moreover, at the Poetry Bookshop that Gibson met Edward Thomas.

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