Vernon Scanell – The Poet


Vernon Scannell (1922 – 2007) was a British poet who served in World War II where he fought in France and North Africa. After witnessing a massacre in North Africa, he deserted and was imprisoned after which he took part in the Normandy landings and was wounded. When the war was over he once again deserted and he spent two years on the run making a living by writing and boxing until he was arrested in 1947, and sent to a mental hospital.


Scannell was an ebullient and amusing man, much of whose poetry explored every day experiences. However, in so doing he found also the dark places, the ordinary hurts of the ordinary world and many of his poems convey a powerful feeling of doubt and melancholy. In many of them, the last line leaves a chill. For example ‘A Mortal Pitch’ ends: ‘I am sentenced: I love: I murder: I sin.’


The very next poem in that collection is about the way that poets can never really be lovers, or find love: it ends with the poet's words turning: ‘dead as stone, Leaving him dungeoned, and alone.’


Yet with that feeling of chill, there often goes a sense of triumph. Moral gloom and aesthetic delight, which is itself a form of joy in life , go mysteriously together.


Two of Scanell’s favourite sayings are:

"[Poems] begin in delight and end in a clarification of life, not necessarily a great clarification … but in a momentary stay of confusion." - Robert Frost


"The business of poetry is to harmonise the sadness of the universe" - A E Housman


Vernon Scannell