J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry c.1809

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 21 Recto:
Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry circa 1809
Turner Bequest CVIII 21
Pencil and ink on white wove paper, 115 x 88 mm
Inscribed by Turner in pencil and ink (see main catalogue entry)
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘21’ bottom left, descending vertically
Stamped in black ‘CVIII – 21’ bottom left, descending vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
The whole page is taken up with lines of poetry:
Like its foundation stretched from day to day
While grew the timber once so gayly spread
That foilaged covering of their stately heads
By rapid Rhone Precipitous and bare
Stood like a tower in the nether air
Bared by the tempest or the rage of war
That marked thy beaties [i.e. ‘beauties’] with an iron scar
Down fell thy leafy honors to the main
And more art cherishd in the Muses strain
From rugged Norway waves worn coast
The fir the glory and [‘of’ overwritten] the Baltics boast
And harshly sounding to the workman stroke
Rings firmly subborn [i.e. ‘stubborn’] British Oak
Squared ready beams and winter [Lindsay: timber] lies
And only wait the great designers eyes
The eager workmen for this great design
Tumultous ... [sic; ellipsis followed by blank space] to chalk the line
That must delimit [Lindsay: determine] all, whose mark
With that of old, was told in Noah’ ark
Made out its length and [two words smudged or partly deleted: ‘?width breath’]
Made out its utmost breadth and length
On which the workman must exert his strength
Or in vain trifles but his ardent mind
Clar copious interlects = defined1
The verse as far as ‘British Oak’ was first set down in pencil and then carefully overwritten in heavy ink. The rest was written directly in lighter ink, possibly on a later occasion.
This is the second passage of a poem (‘Must toiling Man for ever meet disgrace’) which runs over seven pages from folio 20 recto (D07388) up to folio 26 recto (D07394); it continues on folio 22 recto (D07390). For a concordance of the extensive passages of poetry in this book, see the sketchbook Introduction.
In a passage on Turner’s ‘Approach to Shipbuilding’, Mordechai Omer has compared the mood of Turner’s phrase ‘stubborn British Oak’ with his patriotic vignette of about 1832 showing a warship under construction, for Samuel Rogers’s poem To an Old Oak2 (see Tate D27692; Turner Bequest CCLXXX 175). Jack Lindsay has seen the reference to Noah as ‘reviving and extending the archetypal idea (Argo or Ark)’.3
See Wilton and Turner 1990, pp.163–4 (transcription, followed here with slight variations); see also Lindsay 1966, pp.65–6 (transcription, with minor variations); and Omer 1975, p.697, following Lindsay’s reading.
Omer 1975, p.701.
Lindsay 1985, p.10.

Matthew Imms
June 2008

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry c.1809 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, June 2008, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-inscription-by-turner-draft-of-poetry-r1136585, accessed 15 October 2021.