Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Ursula Wood

Letter No.: 
[April 1940]

From R. Vaughan Williams,
The White Gates,
Westcott Road,

My Dear

Those new stockings sound exciting - keep them intact for me!
I did not mean that I wanted frivolous verse (i.e. in sentiment) but to try something lighter in texture & metre - I don’t think you are made for “light” poetry. I think the swan  poems are lovely & you have certainly improved the last one.
It’s all true, as you have seen, about the poor Kennedys1 - I fear that the public rejoicing does little [to] mitigate the private grief. I always think that when we casually say “the casualties were slight” - that the loss of each individual is equally evil whether he is one of 10 or of 10,000 - only the 10,000 stimulates our sluggish imagination.
I daresay you saw about H. Fisher’s3 accident - we are still anxious but the report tonight does not seem worse at all events.
I’m reading the best book I’ve struck about F.U., “Federal Europe” by Mackay.3 I’m sure I didn’t understand the Rimbaud poems when I read them - I heard the music over the wireless the other day & thought it good - but of course could not hear the words.4
I like “Alms” too - but not so much as the swans - I am not sure about “metal” though I see the point - I believe I am Tennysonian in my literary taste.
Come to London soon & show me the necklace - & once more I am all agog about the new stockings!
(Do you remember what Dr Johnson said to David Garrick when he took him behind the scenes at the theatre)5
The poems for 5 M. Songs6 were
1. Lord come away (Bishop Fuller7)
2. Who is this fair one (Watts)
3. Love bad me welcome (Herbert)
4. Come Love come Lord (Crashaw)
5. Evening Hymn (R. Bridges from a hymn in the Greek Liturgy)

Love from


1. A young friend had been reported missing after a naval battle. This passage is quoted in R.V.W.: a biography, p.234.
2. Adeline VW's brother, Herbert. He did in fact die as the result of this accident.
3. Ronald William Mackay, Federal Europe. "F.U." is the proposed Federal Union in Europe.
4. Possibly a reference to Benjamin Britten's Les Illuminations, which had received its first complete performance on 30 January.
5. “Sir, a man who has a nation to admire him every night may well be expected to be somewhat elated”. See James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson (1709).
6. Although VW refers to the Five Mystical Songs (Catalogue of Works 1911/2) only one of the poems listed, no.3, occurs in that work; the remainder were in fact his Four Hymns (Catalogue of Works 1914/2).
7. VW's memory is at fault here - the text is by Bishop Jeremy Taylor.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/13, ff. 12-14
General notes: 

Date from note by UW.

R.V.W.: a biography of Ralph Vaughan Williams, p.234.
Original database number: