Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Eric Ravilious

One thing that drew me towards the writing workshop at Cuckmere Haven  (previous blog) was the thought of seeing the landscape that had so inspired my favourite artist, Eric Ravilious. 1903-1942.

These are two of his paintings of the area:

Ravilious has crept into at least 6 of my poems, not always by name. In 'All the Invisibles' he is the character who falls in love 'with the whiteness of chalk' and strides off single mindedly on a mission of his own. He said of his painting 'Chalk Paths'  that 'The long white roads are a temptation. What quests they propose! They take us away to the thin air of the future or to the underworld of the past.'

Ravilious was employed by the government as a War Artist but it was the art he was following more than the war. There came a time when even the whiteness of chalk and the ever changing light over the sea and cliffs at Cuckmere Haven was not enough. It was while he was in search of  the radiance of northern skies that the plane he was in vanished over Iceland leaving no trace.

A long poem of mine called 'Later, all at once' has just been published by the journal SAND. In one part of it I mentioned the two fever vans from the Boer War that Ravilious  and his wife had come across, discarded in undergrowth,  at Ascham, and had cleaned and decorated to use as accommodation and as an artist's studio. Later in the poem, based on his own diary,  I wrote a further passage about him.

August 1942  Iceland
Enamoured with the still-life of buoys and anchors, chains and wrecks, he sketches a propeller that reminds him, he says, of a daffodil bloom. Later he dreams of a gibbous moon and a sun together, side by side, in a parched and coppery sky.
On his last but one mission he flies above mountains that stretch on for miles: a lunar landscape pillowed with craters, pale as salt with shadows like fronds in a pool.  A barrage of dust is thickening light; he is smitten by longing for rain.


  1. 'Later, all at once' A superb poem Mandy that demands many readings. Love the Ravilious paintings as well.