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: 113 × 88 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXXV 27 a

Catalogue entry

The page comprises lines of apparently original poetry, grouped in two rhyming verses of six lines with a further four lines below, very tentatively transcribed here (many words being open to more than one reading):
Oh Love thou bane of [?‘humble’ or ‘human’] joys
Thou gives the ecstacy of hope1
[...] to please [...] bliss
Take from the lips the kisses Coy
But how [...] can cope
The [?beautifully soft Anna] Kiss
The heart that tho life [...] sound
Look back, alas a [?toilsome dreamd]
Forward with pleasure hopes anew2
Gay the the [sic] Downward Sun [?doth] gleam
Tawny path [?truth ...] true
Look back [a word inserted above] to the [...ound]
[...] where [...] the [?timid] mind
Gaity no more the chequered Light
Nor find their form .. give
[?Dost] the [...] with his kind
The poem continues for a final, fragmentary word – ‘Chr’ – on folio 28 recto opposite (D09931).
Thornbury rather dismissively transcribed fragments of this passage as ‘indistinct verses, something about “Anna’s kiss,” “a look back – a toilsome dream,” and “human joy, ecstasy, and hope,” &c., for Turner’s verses did not come into shape at all spontaneously, and even at the anvil he was not quick at shaping them’.3 Jack Lindsay quoted two separate couplets (lines 1–2 and 7–8) in his 1966 biography of Turner, noting their comparatively optimistic (for Turner) character,4 but did not attempt the whole poem in the selection from Turner’s verse which he compiled in the same year, presumably on account of its only intermittent legibility.5 Nor did Rosalind Turner include it among her more comprehensive transcriptions.6

Matthew Imms
April 2014

First two lines as transcribed in Lindsay 1966, p.128.
‘Look ... anew’ as transcribed ibid. (followed here with slight variations).
Thornbury 1862, I, p.359; see also close variation in Thornbury 1897, p.475.
Lindsay 1966, p.128.
Jack Lindsay, The Sunset Ship: The Poems of J.M.W. Turner, Lowestoft 1966.
See Andrew Wilton and Rosalind Mallord Turner, Painting and Poetry: Turner’s ‘Verse Book’ and his Work of 1804–1812, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990.

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