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

ISBN 978-1-84976-386-8

Joseph Mallord William Turner Verses (Inscription by Turner) c.1808

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Folio 1 Verso:
Verses (Inscription by Turner) circa 1808
Turner Bequest CII 1a
Inscribed by Turner in pencil and ink (see main catalogue entry) on white wove paper, 115 x 76 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Finberg read only the first eight lines of these verses, which are the beginning of a longer poem on British exploration, trade and patriotism drafted on the following leaves, probably as far as folio 10 of the sketchbook (D06739). In them, Turner reaches out from the Thames, the entrance to the capital of a trading empire, to a global and historical view embracing pioneers like Hugh Willoughby, mentioned on this leaf and in a different version of these lines on folio 6 verso (D06732). On Willoughby and his death trapped in ice on the coast near Murmansk while trying to find a North-East Passage for the Company of Merchant Adventurers in 1553, see the Introduction to the sketchbook for further comment and possibly related work. The reading of Turner’s verses given here and for other pages of the sketchbook was first made by Rosalind Mallord Turner for the 1990 Tate exhibition:
O Gold thou parent of Ambitions ardent blush
Thou urge the brave to utmost danger rush
The rugged terrors of the northern Main
Where frost with untold rage does wid[e]ly reign
The long lost Sun below the horizon drawn
Tis twylight dim no crimson blush of morn
The deepning air in frozen fetters bound
Gives up to cheerless night the Expanses round
Contending Elements in cong[r]egated clo[uds]
Th[r]o the drear void contending horrors roll
and jarring elements [worlds inserted] in uproar Heaps the pole
Packs mass on mass with [white inserted] cong[r]egated clouds
In awfull darkness the dire Geni – shrouds
Slumbers for ages till Britain daring grown
Sent valour tried, in search of climes unknown
Thy keel O Willoughby with solitary sound
First broke the limits of the vast profound
Fiercer than [the inserted] savage war-hoops yell
More fierce than Medea’s charms or Runic spell
rouzed the ... at his s[l]umbers broke
The Au [northern inserted] light ignited as he spoke
As noted by Wilton,1 the reference to Medea anticipates Turner’s later picture of an incantation scene, The Vision of Medea, 1820 (Tate N00513).2

David Blayney Brown
March 2007

Wilton in Wilton and Mallord Turner 1990, p.131.
Martin Butlin and Evelyn Joll, The Paintings of J.M.W. Turner, revised ed., New Haven and London 1984, pp.171–2 no.293 (pl.295).

How to cite

David Blayney Brown, ‘Verses (Inscription by Turner) c.1808 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, March 2007, 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-verses-inscription-by-turner-r1130815, accessed 21 June 2024.