Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Pen and ink on paper
Support: 75 × 117 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXXIII 29

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
Oft changes on the moon [‘...’ inserted above] the gleam of joy
So fair so gay assumes a gloom [?of] woe
And prince and peasant feel alike the blow
But distant rising through the darkning skies
The bleak expanse of Sarum plain arise
Where mouldring tumuli sepulchral steep
Gives but a niggard shelter een to sheep
The stunted thorn and holly barely live
And Nature asks of Heaven a short reprive
The scudding clouds distill a constant dew
And by the high exposure life renews1
Interspersed with drawings and the printed pages of Coltman’s British Itinerary, sixty-nine pages of this sketchbook are given over wholly or partly to these verses which Turner intended as a commentary for publication with the Picturesque Views on the Southern Coast of England which he sketched on the 1811 West Country tour (see the introduction to the sketchbook). The first lines are on folio 18 verso (D08396), and the last on folio 207 verso (D08736; CXXIII 204a).
The first, fatalistic lines conclude a passage begun on folio 28 verso opposite (D08414), apparently inspired by the royal connections of the Windsor area. Next on the route to the West Country is Salisbury, under its old name of Sarum, applied here to the vast area of Salisbury Plain, with its prehistoric earthworks, monuments and tombs. On his return journey, Turner drew at Stonehenge, roughly ten miles north of Salisbury, on folios 214 verso, 215 recto and verso and 216 recto (D08749–D08752; Turner Bequest CXXIII 211a, 212, 212a, 213) and in the Stonehenge sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest CXXV b), and associated sheep with it in subsequent compositions (see the introduction to the latter book). The abandoned medieval settlement of Old Sarum, addressed on folio 33 verso (D08424), lies on a hill-fort site south of the plain, just north of modern Salisbury, a major stopping point on journeys to the West, no doubt including Turner’s (see the introduction to the 1811 tour, and the list of banknotes inside the back cover of the present book, D40906). The next passage, on folio 30 verso, considers the Roman roads near Salisbury (D08418).

Matthew Imms
June 2011

See transcriptions (followed here with slight variations) in Lindsay 1966, p.109, as part of ‘Barrows and Roman Road’, section (d) of poem no.50, ‘On the Western Itinerary 1811’, and Wilton and Turner 1990, p.170; previously transcribed with variations in Thornbury 1862, II, p.18 and 1897, p.207; see also Grigson 1975, p.22 (transcribing lines four to seven only).
Grigson 1975, p.22.

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