Gavin Ewart was born in London in 1916, of Scottish descent. He was educated at Wellington College, Berkshire, and Christ’s College, Cambridge. While at Cambridge, Ewart was literary editor of Granta.
In 1933, at the age of seventeen, Ewart’s first ‘adult’ poem, ‘Phallus in Wonderland’, was published in New Verse – the highly regarded literary magazine well known for publishing Auden and his circle. Heavily influenced by the poems of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, Ewart continued to contribute accomplished and for the period rather shocking pieces to the magazine. Ewart’s first book was published in February 1939, just before his 23rd birthday, and between 1940 and 1946 he served as a captain in the Royal Artillery, fighting in North Africa and in Italy; from then up until the early 1960s he published hardly any poetry. On demobilisation, he served as a functionary for Editions Poetry London and worked for the British Council from 1946 to1952, afterwards working as a copywriter in various advertising agencies.
It was partly through the inspiration of meeting some younger fellow poets – most notably Peter Porter – during his time as a copywriter that Ewart returned to poetry with renewed vigour. He rejoined the literary circuit in 1964, with the publication of Londoners. Pleasures of the Flesh (whose brand of irreverent eroticism saw it banned by W.H. Smith’s) followed in 1966. Ewart published well over a dozen substantial books of poetry over the next twenty-five years, and was editor of a number of anthologies, including The Penguin Book of Light Verse (1986). His distinctive voice had fully emerged: witty, nimble, metrically resourceful, and able to handle the erotic and the satirical with equal verve and confidence.
I loved this poem because it’s exactly the way we felt when our Buddy got bitten badly. It was so miraculous watching him heal. We wanted to jump for joy. The line in italics is just what Buddy did. Pretty near broke my heart that he could still trust and want to be with us.
Sonnet: ‘Rarely, Rarely Comest Thou, Spirit of Delight’
So you come into the kitchen one morning
(the only room with cat-flap access)
and you find the larger cat, covered in blood, on a chair
and patches of blood on the chair and the floor.
His left foreleg is limp, he can’t move it
from the wrist, as it were. A car, a tom-cat?
A dog, or even a suburban fox?
Pathetic, when you stroke him he still gives a very faint purr.
He limps about, on drugs. Two weeks, the damaged nerve is healing.
Our Alleluias go up. Because we’re there and see it
it’s like the end of a famine in Ethiopia-
more real, for us! The genuine rejoicing
that shakes a people at the end of a war-
crowds drinking, singing, splashing in the fountains!