Joseph Mallord William Turner

Verses (Inscriptions by Turner)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 110 × 88 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CXI 66 a

Catalogue entry

Rosalind Mallord Turner’s reading of Turner’s inscription for the 1990 Tate exhibition is largely followed here:
World I have know the[e] long & now the hour
When I must part from thee is now at hand
I bore thee much goodwill & many a time
In thy fair promises repos’d more trust
Than wiser heads & colder hearts w’d risk
Some tokens of a life, not wholly passed
In Selfish strivings or ignoble sloth
Haply there shall be found when I am gone
What may dispose thy candour to discover
Some merit in my zeal & let my words
Out live the Maker who bequeaths them to thee
For well I know where our possessions End
Thy praise begins & few there be who weave
Wreaths for the Poet brow, till he is laid
Low in his narrow dwelling with the worm
This passage might belong to the longer poem on fancy and imagination drafted in this sketchbook, but seems different in tone. It is a valediction, wistful and resigned. James Hamilton attributes its theme of death or suicide to an overdose of stramonium (see folio 2 verso, D07597, for instructions on how to smoke this drug). Anthony Bailey however considers it a ‘well-organised chunk of blank verse’, too good to be Turner’s; ‘whom is he echoing ([George] Herbert? [William] Cowper?)’.

David Blayney Brown
May 2011

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