Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Humphrey Jennings

Humphrey Jennings (1907 – 1951), was a bibliophile, a set designer, a writer of verse, a painter an intellectual and an anthropologist. He is also recognised (by me at least) as one of Britain's greatest film-makers. His studies of national English life made for the GPO Film Unit, the Crown Film Unit and the Ministry of Information before and during the Second World War include Listen to Britain (1941), Fires Were Started (1943) and Diary for Timothy (1945), but it’s as a poet that I find him most interesting. In 1936, Humph helped to stage the first Surrealist exhibition in Britain along with such luminarys Henry Moore, Herbert Read, Roland Penrose, David Gascoyne, Diana Brinton Lee and the genius that is Paul Nash.

This is a poem from the exhibition called:

Prose Poem

As the sun declined the snow at our feet reflected the most delicate peach-blossom
As it sank the peaks to the right assumed more definite, darker and more gigantic form.
The hat was over the forehead, the mouth and chin buried in the brown velvet collar of the greatcoat. I looked at him wondering if my grandfather’s eyes had been like those.
While the luminary was vanishing the horizon glowed like copper from a smelting furnace.
When it had disappeared the ragged edges of the mist shone like the inequalities of a volcano.
Down goes the window and out go the old gentleman’s head and shoulders, and there they stay for I suppose nearly nine minutes.
Such a sight, such a chaos of elemental and artificial lights I never saw nor expect to see. In some pictures I have recognized similar effects. Such are The Fleeting Hues of Ice and The Fire which we fear to touch.

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