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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry 1811

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 29 Recto:
Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry 1811
Turner Bequest CXXIII 29
Inscribed by Turner in ink (see main catalogue entry) on white wove writing paper, 75 x 117 mm
Inscribed by John Ruskin in red ink ‘29’ bottom right, descending vertically
Stamped in black ‘CXXIII – 29’ bottom left, descending vertically
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
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).
Describing the immediate lines as ‘an awkward scrap’, the poet Geoffrey Grigson reads the second word of line five as ‘blear’,2 although ‘bleak’ appears to be correct.

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.

How to cite

Matthew Imms, ‘Inscription by Turner: Draft of Poetry 1811 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, June 2011, 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-r1136892, accessed 17 May 2022.