Joseph Mallord William Turner

Inscription by Turner: Poetry


Not on display

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Support: 150 × 121 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Catalogue entry

Turner has inscribed the following in pen and brown ink, inverted relative to the sketchbook’s foliation:
Love is like the [?raging Ocean]
[?Wind] that sway. its troubled motion
Womans temper ever bubbling
Man the early bark which sailing
in the unblest treacherous Sea
When Cares like Waves in fell [?succession
Frown destruction oer his days
Orwelming [sic] . . [?crews] in [?traitrous]
Thus [?thru] life we surely tread
[?Recrant] poor or [?vainly] wise.
[?Unheed] bears [‘seeks’ inserted above the bubble Pleasure
which. Bursts in his [?Grasp] or flies.
Many of the early jottings of verse, in this book, the Swans sketchbook (Tate; Turner Bequest XLII) and elsewhere, are concerned with aspects of the sea and the life of those who live by or on it. This parallels a dominant theme of the oil paintings that Turner showed at the Royal Academy in the years around 1800. The present author has pointed out that at this time, too, his involvement with the family of the composer and organist John Danby was at its height and that he may have intended lines like these to be set to music by Danby and sung by his family. Songs by Samuel Arnold and Charles Dibdin, both organists, are transcribed in the Swans book.
The theme of the search for pleasure, and the ‘Vanitas’ imagery of bubbles which burst, foreshadows later preoccupations with the illusory nature of hope; see in particular his late painting Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory) – the morning after the Deluge, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1843 (Tate N00532),1 for which he composed some lines attributed to the Fallacies of Hope that refer to ‘earth’s humid bubbles’ as
Hope’s harbinger, ephemeral as the summer fly
Which rises, flits, expands, and dies.2

Andrew Wilton
March 2013

Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.253–4 no.405, pl.407 (colour).
Quoted in full ibid., p.253.

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