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Hommage à Judy Gascoyne, par Roger Scott, Anthony Rudolf et Michèle Duclos

22 avril 2011

par Michèle Duclos

I.M. JUDY GASCOYNE (1922-2010)

From the very beginning of their marriage in 1975 (not long after their famous and well-documented meeting), Judy showed herself to be a wonderful facilitator, lovingly providing the conditions for David’s renaissance as a writer and cultural commentator. In a very real sense it was through Judy’s vital – and revitalizing – influence and devotion that he began to write and to travel again both here and abroad, giving readings and interviews, attending poetry festivals, following a loss of confidence and self-esteem ; it seemed as if he had sadly accepted what he saw as his failure, after such early promise, to produce a larger body of verse, having suffered long periods of writer’s block and three serious breakdowns.
That situation changed very quickly, thanks to a number of publications issued by the Enitharmon Press under the late Alan Clodd, and then by his successor Stephen Stuart-Smith. During the last twenty-six years of his life he was remarkably productive, and the significance of his work both in poetry and prose became more widely appreciated. If his Selected Prose 1934-1996 demonstrated the extraordinary range, vitality, and quality of his essays, memoirs, reviews and obituaries, the boxes of papers in Gascoyne’s bedroom, lovingly preserved and carefully organized by Judy since his death in 2001, provide the most complete evidence of his late flowering, and the full extent of his creative activity in so many different areas. There is a wealth of uncollected, unpublished material : drafts of poems, translations, a vast correspondence, notebooks, reviews, obituaries, cuttings, scrapbooks, etc., its existence unsuspected, – and now a valuable and irreplaceable archive, recently compiled by Stephen Stuart-Smith at the request of the family. We have so much to thank Judy for, and we celebrate her life : she gave so much to others.
Judy was a wonderful friend, so warm, generous, understanding and supportive, providing hospitality to all of David’s admirers who came from far and wide to 48 Oxford Street, Cowes, on the Isle of Wight.

Roger Scott


And may the quickened gold within me come

To mintage in due season, and not be

Transmuted to no better end than dumb

And self-sufficient usury. These days and years

May bring the sudden call to harvesting


David Gascoyne (from `September Sun’)

The extraordinary and very beautiful story of how Judy Lewis, the wife of a veterinary surgeon on the Isle of White, met her second husband, belongs among my case studies of the importance of poetry in extreme situations, although in this instance the person who recognised the poem in question when it was recited might well have been expected to do so, given that he wrote it himself. This account is derived from a telephone conversation with Judy Gascoyne, glossing her privately published memoir and a letter she sent me.

“At the time, spring 1973, I was Chairman of the MIND Campaign on the Isle of White. I asked Whitecroft Psychiatric Hospital outside Newport if there was any way I could help the severely depressed patients. The hospital suggested I might like to lead a weekly class in occupational therapy. I readily agreed, on condition I could talk about poetry, and the difficulty of writing it. So, one afternoon I went to the hospital and, in a gloomy room set aside for such groups, embarked on the work. I was deeply surprised and rather touched that I had an eager class, who hated it if I didn’t come. I explained that if you wanted to write poetry, you should often read the work of the best poets, and let their words and rhythms sink into your head. The class, therefore, spent quite a bit of time listening to me reading poems aloud. After I had proposed one approach to writing poetry, a tall and rather sad man said there was more to it than that and I remember thinking to myself : how does he know ?”

“A few weeks into the classes I recited ‘September Sun’ by David Gascoyne, a poem I had found in an anthology and which I loved. I explained that it needed many readings in order to approach its deepest meanings. After I had finished, the tall and rather sad man touched me on the arm and said : ‘I wrote that poem. I am David Gascoyne’. This, of course, explained the authoritative tone of his earlier comment, and yet I still wasn’t quite sure whether to believe him. But even though he was seriously depressed and heard voices in his head, there was something special about him, and I conquered my doubts while having a cup of tea with him after the class.”

“He told me this was his third severe mental breakdown ; we ended up discussing our regular weekend miseries : on account of ward closures he always had to return to an empty house, and I too was alone because my husband spent every Saturday and Sunday with his recently acquired lady friend. When I asked David if he would consider coming home with me for weekends, I was delighted and surprised that he agreed, despite or perhaps because of his depression and unhappiness. So, every Friday at four o’clock, I fetched him and the carrier bag containing his possessions. Every Monday morning I would take him back to the hospital. Slowly we fell in love, and eventually decided to marry. The divorce was quick and easy. David was too depressed to go on a honeymoon but the wedding was memorable and enjoyable.”

Anthony Rudolf

La disparition l’été 2010 de Judy (Mrs David) Gascoyne nous permet d’évoquer le rôle extraordinaire que cette femme simple a joué dans les trente dernières années de la vie du grand poète britannique, ami, traducteur et interprète des surréalistes français et surtout de Pierre Jean Jouve. Génie précoce à l’égal de Rimbaud à qui il voua un culte toute sa vie durant, Gascoyne fut victime des amphétamines (qu’utilisaient pendant la seconde guerre mondiale les aviateurs dans leurs missions de bombardement sur l’Allemagne, mais dont on ignorait alors les effets pervers), auxquelles il recourait pour combattre son « acedia » et qui le plongèrent à plusieurs reprises pendant de longs mois dans des crises de dépression qui conduisirent à son internement psychiatrique. C’est lors d’une de ses périodes de convalescence qu’il fit la connaissance de celle qui devait devenir sa femme, qui, telle une Eurydice, ramena Orphée hors de l’Enfer de l’aliénation à soi-même, et au monde des vivants. En 2002, dans son charmant petit livre, My love affair with life, elle a raconté leur rencontre :

« J’allais une fois par semaine à l’hôpital psychiatrique lire des poèmes à des patients sévèrement atteints ; j’étais touchée qu’ils fassent l’effort de venir et fassent de leur mieux pour s’intéresser aux poèmes que je leur lisais (…) Une après-midi de février 1973, je choisis de lire un poème tiré de l’anthologie de poésie publiée par Oxford University Press, intitulé « September Sun ». Je dis que c’était un poème difficile écrit par un poète du nom de David Gascoyne. Quand j’eus fini de le lire, un homme très grand, très triste, me toucha le bras et dit calmement : « C’est moi qui ai écrit ce poème, je suis David Gascoyne ». Je ne le crus vraiment qu’après avoir pris avec lui une tasse de thé et il me dit que c’était sa troisième crise grave de dépression. » (1)

De 1975 jusqu’à sa mort en novembre 2001, elle le rendit à la communauté internationale des poètes qui sut reconnaître et fêter en lui un prince. Pour se faire rare, sa poésie n’en avait pas moins retrouvé une fraîcheur, justifiant le jugement de sa grande amie Kathleen Raine dans son Introduction au volume de Selected Prose 1934-1996 de Gascoyne, publié par les soins du Professeur Roger Scott, son biographe et exégète, aux éditions Enitharmon en 1998 : « David a le sentiment d’avoir échoué à communiquer son message prophétique, et il faut peut-être dire qu’il est un grand poète manqué ; mais cela ne fait pas de lui un poète mineur. Pas plus que son silence n’est celui d’un abandon de sa vocation, plutôt le silence éloquent dans lequel un grand poète est tombé en un temps et un lieu qui ‘demeurent dans l’Hadès sans le Divin’. ». David Gascoyne continua de traduire d’autres œuvres poétiques, (entre autres Les Champs Magnétiques de Breton et Soupault en 1985), et dans une prose superbement rationnelle se fit l’analyste à mainte reprise des œuvres poétiques et picturales de ses anciens amis surréalistes.

On trouvera dans plusieurs numéros de Temporel, dans l’original et en traduction, divers textes en prose de lui déjà publiés, ou inédits en Angleterre, ainsi que l’essai de Kathleen Raine, « David Gascoyne et la fonction prophétique ».

Le récit d’un de ses internements psychiatrique par le Poète, « self-discharged » (« auto-acquittement » a paru dans le numéro 9 de Temporel.

Bibliographie française :

Cahiers sur la Poésie n°2, numéro spécial consacré à David Gascoyne, Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux.
Exploration (« Mort d’un Explorateur » et « Auto-acquittement »). Bordeaux : Tandrup Dufour, 1992
Miserere, poèmes 1937-1942, Granit (épuisé).
1984 - Journal de Paris et d’Ailleurs 1936-1942, Traduction de Christine Jordis. Paris : Flammarion, 1984 - Rencontres avec Benjamin Fondane, Arcane 17.