It was his extraordinary life and manifold connections which made Welsh-born peer Evan Morgan such a fascinating figure. But when it came to articles and potted biographies there was a nagging need to fill in the space normally reserved for occupation. The title of “poet” was often commandeered to this end but Morgan’s verse was, as far as we know, barely read, and certainly little remarked upon.
Thanks to the Friends of Tredegar House website (said stately home being Morgan’s birthplace), I’ve discovered two books of his poetry online. The suspicion that Morgan travelled the path to dilettantish poetic irrelevance trod by numerous sons and daughters of privilege before and after him isn’t dispelled by the presence of the word “fragment” in each of the two titles, with its suggestion of the dashed-off and half-hearted. On opening the 1916 volume merely entitled Fragments, it is a stalwart heart that remains unsunk after reading Morgan’s prefatory remarks:
Reader! here is the curtain rung up on each passing mood, on each fleeting fancy, and every scene is set wrought from the play of Life.
The heart stands prompter. The Pen and Paper actors. Here is Love, Joy, Sorrow, Reflection, a cosmopolitan piece, ill-shapen, sincere.
I am, I admit, a poor audience for this kind of verse, so self-consciously concerned with the poetic that the poetry is smothered at birth. And so lines like “And many a bark with red sienna sail” just make me cranky (“many”? Like how many? Three barks? Ten barks? A thousand barks? Or some number as ill-defined as the image it quantifies?). Anyway, have a read of ‘To Sleep’ and see if you think I’m being unfair:
I watched the pale evening cast her olive veil
Over the fields and woodlands of the sea,
And many a bark with red sienna sail
Unto the horizon sped away from me.
Vapours and perfume from the tired earth
Hung, a light raiment o’er the dreaming flowers.
Whilst the cool air to myriad sounds gave birth
From harbour, village, pastures, and the hours
From the grey tower tolled the death of day.
Dappled cows from meadows drowsy amble home,
Each workman to his cottage wends his way,
Unto the dove-cots sleepy pigeons come ;
While ‘neath the dark pinions of the sable night
The infant sleep appeared unto my sight.
And could you tell of gentler things than sleep ?
Of sweeter moments in the life of man
Than when his limbs soft slumbers sweetly keep
And from his sleeping soul all evils ban ?
Could aught be lovelier than the flowering field
From whence the nettles have been plucked away,
Where brambles to the cowslips gladly yield
And where the bee and butterfly hold sway ?
Like to this field then is the soul that sleeps
Freed and untrammelled of the arms of dreams,
Unconscious, where the furtive shadow peeps
A fugitive from Luna’s ivory beams.
Sweet enemy of pain and trouble’s withering hand,
Mayest thou for ever by my bedside stand.
And feel free to browse the rest of Morgan’s digitally accessible verse for yourself: Fragments is here, and Psyche: An Unfinished Fragment (a reworking of the Cupid and Psyche myth, published in 1920) is here. As for Morgan himself, his remarkable story will be told in a book by Paul Busby, due out next year. Follow its progress here or on Facebook.