Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: A Draft of Poetry


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 157 × 95 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXI 189

Catalogue entry

The whole page, inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation, is taken up with the following lines of verse:
Oer Thomson tomb the soft Pitys tears distill
Shed in remembrance sad for Pope’s lost fane
To Worth and Verse – retains kind Memory still
Scorning to wear capricious fashions chain
In silence go fair Thames for all is laid
His pastoral harp [‘lute’ inserted above] and reeds unstrung
Lost is all [‘their’ inserted above] harmony in Twickenham glade
While flows thy stream unheeded and unsung
Then place amidst thy upland Shade [‘...’ inserted above]
His Harp Eolian, to Thomsons hon[...]ed fame
From Putneys Heights he Naturs hues surveyd
[?Mellifluous greeting] every air that roves
And caught her beauties as each Season came
From Thames [?lovd] bosom or his verdant plain
Spring, with gentle breath will greet the string
That [blank] balmy kiss greet the Spring
While ever and anon the dulcet air
Shall sigh in sweet air
Resplendent Season check oblivions haste
Whose liberal hands bade Thomson name arise
From Putney heights he Natures charm surveys
and caught each beauty with [?enamourd] Eyes
Summer will shed [‘bring’ inserted above] her many blossom fair
To shield thy [?trembling] string in noon tide ray
Shall shield thy trmblg string in noon tide ray
While ever and anon each dulcet air
Will rapturous thrill or sigh in sweets away1
The poem continues for the whole of folio 277 verso opposite (D09479; Turner Bequest CXXXI 188a), while there is a variant of the penultimate verse on folio 277 recto (D09478; Turner Bequest CXXXI 188).The sketchbook is watermarked ‘1812’ yet these lines relate to the painting Thomson’s Aeolian Harp (Manchester Art Gallery),2 which Turner has exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1809 accompanied by the following lines in the catalogue:
To a gentleman in Putney, requesting him to place one on his grounds.
On Thomson’s tomb the dewy drops distil,
Soft tears of Pity shed for Pope’s lost fame [sic, for ‘fane’, i.e. temple],
To worth and verse adheres sad memory still,
Scorning to wear ensnaring fashion’s chain.
In silence go, fair Thames, for all is laid;
His pastoral reeds untied, and reeds unstrung,
Sunk in their harmony in Twickenham’s glade,
While flows thy stream, unheeded and unsung
Resplendent Seasons! chase oblivion’s shade,
Where liberal hands bid Thomson’s lyre arise;
From Putney’s height he nature’s hues survey’d,
And mark’d each beauty with enraptur’d eyes.
The kindly place amid thy upland groves
Th’ Æolian harp, attun’d to nature’s strains,
Melliferous greeting every air that roves
From Thames’ broad bosom or her verdant plains,
Inspiring Spring! with renovating fire,
Well pleas’d, rebind those reeds Alexis play’d,
And breathing balmy kisses to the Lyre.
Give one soft note to lost Alexis’ shade.
Let Summer shed her many blossoms fair,
To shield the trembling strings in noon-tide ray;
While ever and anon the dulcet air
Shall rapturous thrill, or sigh in sweets away.
Bind not the Poppy in the golden hair,
Autumn! kind giver of the full ear’d sheaf;
Those notes have often echo’d to thy care
Check not their sweetness with thy falling leaf.
Winter! thy sharp cold winds bespeak decay;
Thy snow-fraught robe with let pity ’zone entwine,
That gen’rous care shall memory repay,
Bending with her o’er Thomson’s hallow’d shrine3

Matthew Imms
April 2014

See Wilton and Turner 1990, p.178 (transcription, followed here with slight variations); see also p.134.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, p.64–5 no.86, pl.96; see also Wilton and Turner 1990, p.134 no.44; and Evelyn Joll, ‘Thomson’s Æolian Harp’ in Joll, Martin Butlin and Luke Herrmann (eds.), The Oxford Companion to J.M.W. Turner, Oxford 2001, p.337.
As quoted in ibid., p.64.
Transcribed in Wilton and Turner 1990, pp.150–3; see also ‘The “Verse Book”’, pp.30–45, and pp.124–5 no.27.
Butlin and Joll 1984, p.64.
See ‘Pope, Turner and Thomson’ in Wilton and Turner 1990, pp.47–61; and Jan Piggott, ‘Thomson, James (1700–48)’ in Joll, Butlin and Herrmann 2001, pp.336–7.
Butlin and Joll 1984, pp.55–6 no.72, pl.82 (colour).

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