Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 115 × 88 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CVIII 13

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with lines of poetry:
Thanks dearest Vale thou alone
Has broke dire Apathy sad throne
Where thought had [Lindsay: was] drown’d and lost
Like shipwrecked mariners are tost
Lost to all <hope> [‘joy’ inserted above] unknown their way
But hope with them [Lindsay: thine] yet hold her day
Amid the blackness of the unknown coast [‘land’ inserted above]
Still glimmers still enervates the hands
To brave the dire misfortune sternest day
And through contending evils work their way
Long lost in thy entangling toils
My mind sank deep within the coils
Each pleasure that my former powers
Had given to fishing [‘anxious hours’ inserted above] grew even sour
Below the Summer Hours they pass
The water gliding clear as Glass
The finny race escapes my line
No float or slender [Lindsay: slim(m)er] thread entwine1
This is the penultimate passage of a poem (‘O apathy unfriendly power’) which runs over five pages between folio 8 recto (D07368) and folio 14 recto (D07379); the previous section is on folio 11 recto (D07374). For a concordance of the extensive passages of poetry in this book, see the sketchbook Introduction.
Jack Lindsay has seen this and the final page of the poem as showing that ‘nature is a healing presence’, and the artist can relieve his anxiety by ‘feeling afresh his place in a great chain of natural process’.2 He suggests that Turner’s ‘enervates’ is used without a clear sense of meaning: ‘here it seems to mean “in-nervate”, give nervous energy’.3
In transcribing the last four lines, James Hamilton supposes (as had Lindsay) that Turner ‘was sitting on a river bank as he wrote’.4 Barry Venning has quoted the third and fourth lines and compared them to nautical metaphors elsewhere in Turner’s writings.5
See Wilton and Turner 1990, p.163 (transcription, followed here with slight variations); previously transcribed with slight variations in Lindsay 1966, pp.123–4.
Lindsay 1966, p.123.
Ibid., p.237 note 1.
Hamilton 1997, p.117; see also Hamilton 2001, p.110.
Venning 1983, p.43 note 7.

Matthew Imms
June 2008

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