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Sussex Life August 2014 Poetry + solution

PUBLISHED: 15:12 27 August 2014 | UPDATED: 11:42 20 March 2015

Solution for the Chalk Paths poem on page 82 of Sussex LIfe August 2014

Footsteps tracing brushstrokes,

leading us along chalk paths.

No longer held back,

no longer just a scene on a gallery wall.

The bite of the wind in our nostrils,

the song of the larks in our ears

brought life,

dancing, whistling,

driving ghosts from that ageless scene.

Lighthouses, lifeboats, bathing machines, beds, beaches, greenhouses –

a world of light, of pleasure.

Tea at Furlongs.

But a scene set on the eve of a darkening storm.

From white chalk of the South to white ice of the North,

from pale light on pale land to midnight sun on ink-black sea,

steaming North, wakes cleaving new paths.

Ice giants usurp chalk giants.

White horses, once glimpsed from chattering trains,

now chase the silenced ships.

Artist at war.

Farm implements no more.

Searchlights, aircraft, barrage balloons, ships’ screws, submarines –

a world apart, excitement,

new sounds, sensations.

The rescue mission,

the final scene set on the dawn of the breaking storm.

A fruitless search for a missing plane.

Return to base -

three counted out,

two counted back.

Contact lost.

We are now the observers.

We are walking his chalk paths, dancing, whistling,

driving ghosts from that ageless scene.

And after the storm,

the table still set for Tea at Furlongs.

***

Solution - Eric Ravilious - Artist

Eric Ravilious (1903 – 1942) was among a group of artists, also including Edward Bawden and John Nash who gained prominence between the two World Wars. He was killed on 2nd September 1942, aged 39, while working as an Official War Artist in Iceland. The plane he was in was lost on an air/sea rescue mission.

In his short life he produced a wide-ranging body of work, wood engravings, murals, lithographs, designs for furniture, glass and ceramics (Wedgewood), and watercolours.

In recent years the latter, his distinctive watercolours, particularly his pre-war landscapes of the South Downs, quiet lanes, farmhouse interiors, ports and farm implements and then his wartime paintings, have gained particular recognition.

The son of an Eastbourne antique shop owner, following his time at the local Grammar School, he won a scholarship to the Eastbourne School of Art (1919 – 1922) followed by another scholarship to the Design School of the Royal College of Art (1922 – 1925), where his tutor was Paul Nash and his contemporaries included Edward Bawden, a great friend, Edward Burra and Henry Moore. According to his fellow students, he “had a temperament made of sunshine”. His temperament informed his work. He was always cheerful, constantly whistling. He loved dancing, tennis and pub games. His style has been described as “friendly art ... timeless, radiating light and pleasure”.

In 1930 Ravilious married Tirzah Garwood (‘Tush’), who was a student at Eastbourne School of Art, where he had been teaching part-time. They first set up home in Earl’s Court, then a riverside flat in Hammersmith, before moving to the Essex countryside with their great friends, Edward Bawden and his wife. However, Ravilious was always drawn back to the South Downs, staying at ‘Furlongs’, Peggy Angus’s cottage, a gathering place for many artists and the subject of a number of his paintings. ‘Tea at Furlongs’ (August 1939) was painted on the eve of the outbreak of the Second World War.

‘Chalk Paths’ (1935) was one of a group of watercolours including ‘Downs in Winter’ (1934), ‘Waterwheel’ (1934), and ‘Beachy Head’ (undated) which particularly captured the quiet beauty of the South Downs. A later group, ‘The Vale of the White Horse’ (1939), ‘The Westbury Horse’ (1939) and ‘The Wilmington Giant’ (1939) revealed his fascination with chalk figures carved into the hillsides.

In 1940 he was appointed an Official War Artist. In the next two years he captured a wide variety of wartime scenes, spending time first with the Royal Navy, on the surface, in submarines and with the Fleet Air Arm, and subsequently with the Royal Air Force.

Since boyhood, Ravilious had longed to travel to the polar regions, reading books of Arctic explorations, collecting maps and images. In May 1940 his dream was realised, he was to sail North with the destroyer HMS Highlander to Norway and across the Arctic Circle to support the Allied assault on Narvick. After 7,500 miles and four weeks at sea he returned home, safe but unsettled. In late August 1942 he jumped at the opportunity of another trip North, this time flying, to Iceland.

He had been there less than two days when, at dawn on 2nd September 1942, he joined a search for a missing plane, a Hudson Mark III, which had disappeared the previous day while engaging a U-boat. Ravilious was an observer in one of three more Hudson’s, setting off in a breaking storm to sweep the area. The search was fruitless. Two of the Hudson’s returned safely, but radio contact was lost with that carrying Ravilious. It failed to return.

Acknowledge of sources:

‘The England of Eric Ravilious’ by Freda Constable with Sue Simon, Scolar Press PB 1983.

‘The Old Ways’ by Robert MacFarlane, Penguin PB 2013 (pages 299 – 302).

‘Ups and Downs’ by Paul Laity, Article in Saturday Guardian Review 30 April 2011.

The series ‘Ravilious in Pictures’ by Mainstone Press: particularly ‘Sussex and the Downs’ (2009) and ‘The War Paintings’. Each of the 22 watercolours reproduced per volume is accompanied by a short essay by James Russell.

Another authority on Ravilious’s life and work is Alan Powers, ‘Eric Ravilious: Imagined Realities’, Imperial War Museum and Philip Wilson, 2003.

Towner gallery, Eastbourne, holds the most comprehensive collection of Ravilious’s watercolours (Collection Store tours are held alternate weekends).

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