Monday, March 30, 2015

David Gascoyne

David Gascoyne (1916—2001) is an English poet often associated with the surrealist movement. His first poetry collection appeared when he was just sixteen. He became a friend and collaborator with Salvador Dali, and wrote the influential 1935 book, A Short Survey of Surrealism.

Gascoyne's life has been described as a long search for meaning. At nineteen he became a member of the Communist Party, but became disillusioned when he saw how communists behaved; he also later found surrealism dissatisfying. He suffered from mental illness and was addicted to amphetamines for years, but he managed to break the habit. His 1956 book Night Thoughts evidences his turn from surrealism, toward metaphysical and religious poetry.

When he was a patient in Whitecroft Hospital on the Isle of Wight, he met his wife Judy who was a volunteer. She said:
---------"One of my favourite poems was called 'September
---------"Sun'. I read it one afternoon and one of the
---------patients came up to me afterwards and said 'I
---------wrote that', I put my hand on his shoulder and
---------said 'Of course you did, dear'. Then of course
---------when I got to know him I realised he had."

David Gascoyne once said, "The poet's job is to go on holding on to something like faith, through the darkness of total lack of faith...the eclipse of God."

Ecce Homo

Whose is this horrifying face,
This putrid flesh, discoloured, flayed,
Fed on by flies, scorched by the sun?
Whose are these hollow red-filmed eyes
And thorn-spiked head and spear-stuck side?
Behold the Man: He is Man’s Son.

Forget the legend, tear the decent veil
That cowardice or interest devised
To make their mortal enemy a friend,
To hide the bitter truth all His wounds tell,
Lest the great scandal be no more disguised:
He is in agony till the world’s end,

And we must never sleep during that time!
He is suspended on the cross-tree now
And we are onlookers at the crime,
Callous contemporaries of the slow
Torture of God. Here is the hill
Made ghastly by His spattered blood

Whereon He hangs and suffers still:
See, the centurions wear riding-boots,
Black shirts and badges and peaked caps,
Greet one another with raised-arm salutes;
They have cold eyes, unsmiling lips;
Yet these His brothers know not what they do.

And on his either side hang dead
A labourer and a factory hand,
Or one is maybe a lynched Jew
And one a Negro or a Red,
Coolie or Ethiopian, Irishman,
Spaniard or German democrat.

Behind his lolling head the sky
Glares like a fiery cataract
Red with the murders of two thousand years
Committed in His name and by
Crusaders, Christian warriors
Defending faith and property.

Amid the plain beneath His transfixed hands,
Exuding darkness as indelible
As guilty stains, fanned by funereal
And lurid airs, besieged by drifting sands
And clefted landslides our about-to-be
Bombed and abandoned cities stand.

He who wept for Jersualem
Now sees His prophecy extend
Across the greatest cities of the world,
A guilty panic reason cannot stem
Rising to raze them all as He foretold;
And He must watch this drama to the end.

Though often named, He is unknown
To the dark kingdoms at His feet
Where everything disparages His words,
And each man bears the common guilt alone
And goes blindfolded to his fate,
And fear and greed are sovereign lords.

The turning point of history
Must come. Yet the complacent and the proud
And who exploit and kill, may be denied—
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry—
The resurrection and the life
Wrought by your spirit’s blood.

Involved in their own sophistry
The black priest and the upright man
Faced by subversive truth shall be struck dumb,
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry,
While the rejected and condemned become
Agents of the divine.

Not from a monstrance silver-wrought
But from the tree of human pain
Redeem our sterile misery,
Christ of Revolution and of Poetry,
That man’s long journey
May not have been in vain.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.