Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry

1811

Not on display

Artist
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Medium
Pen and ink on paper
Dimensions
Support: 75 × 117 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Reference
D08610
Turner Bequest CXXIII 127 a

Catalogue entry

The whole page is taken up with the following lines of verse:
Upon its gall’d withers. and the heavy Sand
Upheld by pegs within the panniers stand
Relieved from its load the other flies
like Satan scals [i.e. ‘scales’] aloft in nether skies
or sulfrous cloud at open east fortells
Where atmospheric [?‘contraries’ or ‘contraction’] doth dwell
And the warm vapour condensing from the main
Oer the wide welkin darksome clouds remain
Till borne by various currents dimly spread
The sickness rays of the wan sun [?begin shed]
A gloomy lurid intervall succeeds
As from the high [?reard] noon the orb recedes
Spotty as partial quenching the evening sky1
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 previous passage is on folio 125 verso (D08600; CXXIII 122a), where the imagery of the pack animal continued here is introduced. There is no specific topography in the preceding few pages, here or in the next lines on folio 133 verso (D08616; CXXIII 130a), but rather an evocation of the difficulties of life in the face of the landscape and the elements including the gathering storm described here. A poetic word for the sky, ‘welkin’ is also used on folio 138 verso (D08624; CXXIII 135a), where the sun is again described as ‘wan’, as it would be in Turner’s verse caption to his painting Snow Storm, Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1812 (Tate N00490).2 ‘Welkin’ appears once more on folio 159 verso (D08661; Turner Bequest CXXIII 156a).

Matthew Imms
June 2011

1
See Wilton and Turner 1990, p.173 (transcription, followed here with slight variations); previously transcribed with variations in Thornbury 1862, II, p.28 and 1897, p.216.
2
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.88–90 no.126, pl.131 (colour).

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