Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Steep and around: Edward Thomas country -  Churches.

NB Changing blog's title and address -

Prior's Dean Church and yew tree. (From Petersfield Post - Tom Muckley)

There is a good case for putting two poems at the centre of this post.
 'The Manor Farm' was one of two poems of his own which Edward included in his anthology, 'This England', a pocket-sized book intended to be taken by soldiers to the front. The other was 'Haymaking', set in Dymock and in summer. Edna Longley writes:
'Like the anthology itself, they seem designed to suggest 'some of the echoes called up by the name of England' and to counter wartime rhetoric that took England's name in vain. Thomas's Summer and Winter scenes, set in long perspectives, aim at a deeper form of cultural resistance.'

 Here is an extract from the novel:

 On Christmas Eve he began to write about walking in the first February sunshine down towards the glowing rose-coloured old bricks of Prior’s Dean manor house. It was a modest seventeenth century house, three stories high, with diamond-paned windows. Its thatched farm buildings stood alongside. The winter sun brightened the mossy tiles and the windows sparkled; white doves perched on the roof enjoying the new warmth. The only sound was the gentle swish of tails from three carthorses leaning over a gate. As it was Sunday they were at rest.
 The church was small, smaller than a barn, but beside it stood a great ancient yew tree, its complex trunk sculpted and hollowed into deep red caverns. The harmony of house, farm, church and tree, the lives of animals in that Sunday silence – the timelessness, the renewing of it all by the thaw – .....'

 And the poem, written from notes of: 'the end of the first warm day in February Prior's Dean, where the Elizabethan house looks across at the primitive little Norman church and its aged yew.' (Whiteman). 

The Manor Farm
The rock-like mud unfroze a little and rills
Ran and sparkled down each side of the road
Under the catkins wagging in the hedge.
But earth would have her sleep out, spite of the sun;
Nor did I value that thin gilding beam
More than a pretty February thing
Till I came down to the old Manor Farm,
And church and yew-tree opposite, in age
Its equals and in size. The church and yew
And farmhouse  slept in a Sunday silentness.
The air raised not a straw. The steep farm roof,
With tiles duskily glowing, entertained
The mid-day sun; and up and down the roof
White pigeons nestled. There was no sound but one.
Three cart-horses were looking over a gate
Drowsily through their forelocks, swishing their tails
Against a fly, a solitary fly.
 The Winter's cheek flushed as if he had drained
Spring, Summer, and Autumn at a draught
And smiled quietly. But 'twas not Winter—
Rather a season of bliss unchangeable
Awakened from farm and church where it had lain
Safe under tile and thatch for ages since
This England, Old already, was called Merry.
Steep church itself  is part- Norman with a rather odd-looking Victorian belfry. Every year near to March 3rd(Thomas's birthday) the Edward Thomas Fellowship meets in Steep for a walk and ends the day with its annual meeting in the church with readings and music..


On the south wall are(or were) two small memorial windows, commissioned from Lawrence Whistler in 1978, the anniversary of Thomas's birth.

The left represents a contended Thomas, walker, gardener. The right is the depressive but perceptive Thomas on moving house, into the New House at Wick Green  where the wind and mist added to very troubled years, and the window leads down to Arras.
More sadness - that window was smashed in 2010 but may be replaced.

'A MEMORIAL window inside All Saints’ Church in Steep has been smashed by vandals.

Intruders broke into the church sometime overnight between Tuesday, September 28 and Wednesday, September 29 by hurling a piece of masonry from the churchyard through a lancet window in the south wall.
The window, designed and engraved by Laurence Whistler, commemorated the famous Steep war poet Edward Thomas.
Police are investigating the crime, but in the meantime the vicar of Steep, the Rev John Owen, and fellow members of his parochial church council are finding out if the window can be repaired.
Churchgoer David Dobson said: “It was smashed into smithereens, but the pieces have been carefully collected and the original design of the window still exists. They are deciding whether to commission a copy, or whether to consider a different window altogether. Whatever they decide, there is a clear need for greater protection for the windows.”   ' Petersfield Post

The New House

NOW first, as I shut the door,
I was alone
In the new house; and the wind
Began to moan.

Old at once was the house,
And I was old;
My ears were teased with the dread
Of what was foretold,

Nights of storm, days of mist, without end;
Sad days when the sun
Shone in vain: old griefs and griefs
Not yet begun.

All was foretold me; naught
Could I foresee;
But I learnt how the wind would sound
After these things should be.
Blog: From the 7th of February the name of the blog will change to 'Reading Edward Thomas, A Conscious Englishman.'  The address is
I will try to run the two together and identical for a while and hope the change will be smooth.

ACE publishing. A week to go before publication on 7th February

Frank Egerton and I met on Monday for updating - review questions, a launch plan,  Amazon activity,  - unexpectedly they have put the novel on sale in the Book Depository pre-publication, unusually for small press publications. It even has Look Inside - so useful it must be admitted, almost like being in a proper book-shop!
Frank mentioned entering for prizes following Linda Newbery saying that it should be entered for the Guardian First Fiction prize.
We also looked at the contract between us, left with me to study.
My one anxiety has concerned small errors I have found in the novel which I hadn't noticed before in spite of really trying to check: my neighbour and  former teacher Kate Clanchy said when I mentioned this to her,  'Yes, they only  jump out at you when it is in book form.' Frank assures me that few readers will notice, and they will be corrected in the next print, probably in late spring.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Steep, Robert Frost visits, and three local pubs


The plaque on the memorial stone, erected on Shoulder of Mutton hill, Steep, in 1935. After his name and dates is written  "And I rose up and knew I was tired and I continued my journey."

 I believe it's from 'In Pursuit of Spring' but not sure  - ( Guy, forgive me!) A comment would be welcome.

A very  important pub - or inn as Thomas would have called it - is the  Pub-with-no-name at Froxfield, a comfortable walk from Steep: it is the subject of  his first known poem, Up in the Wind.(3rd December 1914).

The Pub with no name - the inn sign frame remains blank. ( Its name is The White Horse)

In November 1914  he drafted a piece in his exercise book about the inn and the 'wild girl' who worked there, "a daughter of the house, fresh from a long absence in service in London, a bright  active wildish slattern with a cockney accent and her hair half down."  He begins:

"Tall beeches overhang the inn, dwarfing and half hiding it, for it lies back a field’s breadth from the by road. The field is divided from the road by a hedge and only a path from one corner and a cart track from the other which meet under the beeches connect the inn with the road. But for a signboard or rather the post and empty iron frame of a signboard close to the road behind the hedge a traveller could not guess at an inn. The low dirty white building looks like a farmhouse, with a lean-to, a rick and a shed of black boarding at one side . . . "

As Edna Longley writes, "Up in the Wind is Thomas's closest approximation to the Robert Frost "eclogue" in which rural speakers tell or act out their story." Her annotation to the poem adds so much to the reading of it.

Another inn that appears in the novel is at the village of Hawkley, a walk away down the 'other' side of the hill, through Oakshott with the watercress stream. This is part of the Hanger's Way walk (beech hangers are wooded slopes.)This extract concerns the imminent move of Edward from Steep - really the beginning of the end:

After a morning’s work he decided that instead of going back to Yew Tree he would go to the inn at Hawkley; it was hardly a greater distance, but in the other direction. From Old Litten Lane he followed the north-side hanger, passing the great excavations of badgers whose destruction someone had overlooked. Tiny chips of white snail shell glinted in the russet-brown earth.

Beyond the cropped flinty sheep-fields lay the lushness of Oakshott stream valley.

Its green bowl was surrounded by high hills, with Cheesecombe Farm lying comfortably at the base. Watercress grew all along the stream and under the plank bridge. It hadn’t been gathered this year. He thought that the old man, who he always thought of as Jack Noman, must be dead; ‘Jack’ had last appeared with watercress on a lovely May day more than two years before. Edward reached down and dipping his hand into a cluster of the streaming leaves, he snapped off some stalks, bringing them up to his face. The water cooled him and the tang of the cress filled him with memories.

Crossing Oakshott Rill

With bread, cheese, cress and ale he sat facing the sun outside Hawkley Inn. He was suddenly sad. At the cottage he had only been fretful at the disruption and nuisance of moving, but now, after this walk, he felt what Steep and Hampshire meant to him and what it was to leave. It was a landscape which had often made his life bearable, had helped him to find something of himself, just by walking, feeling the earth under his feet or his whole body when he lay down to rest. He had come near to wanting to root there, to do no more roaming.

The climb back up to Wheatham Hill from the valley bottom was strenuous, a steep path through the woods. Down its centre was a cleft, a miniature canyon of creamy chalk where rain formed a stream-bed in wet weather. Once at the top, he went a little lower down the Shoulder of Mutton to where the trees were thinner and he could see over six English counties at a glance. His eyes followed the long white road away towards the downs and the distant estuaries of the south coast.

He sensed that there was some knowledge that he was not quite allowing himself; that this was more, perhaps, than leaving Steep. Was it because of what they meant to him, those counties – his Hampshire, and Wiltshire, Berkshire and the rest, that he must leave them? He believed that for him, now, all roads must lead to France.

His view from the hill was blurred with tears. The thought of parting from everything he knew brought for a moment a sense of dread. It was this loss, rather than what he was going towards, that he felt and feared.

He had after all, found a home, and it was at Steep.


The third pub brings us back to Steep, or at least its outer borders, almost in the village of Sheet. It is the lovely little Harrow Inn - a tiny bar which is surely much as it was in 1915 when I have Robert visiting Edward just before he leaves with his family and Merfyn Thomas for America.

The Harrow, Steep.
From my 'Helen' memoir :
 'Robert did come to Steep after all. The Frost family had all had such a busy time, hurrying down to London to see certain officials, one concerning Merfyn, but Robert was kind: he sent a telegram and arrived from the station almost at the same time. Edwy was so pleased. With Robert’s help he could reach the old Harrow Inn. He was so keen that Robert should see it – its tiny room no bigger than our living room and Mr Coffin the landlord with his droll ways. So Edwy sat on his Humber and half scooted with his good ankle for the mile past the church, with Robert pushing on the saddle, both of them laughing like children. They stayed there most of the day until it was time for the train.

 It was all arranged – Merfyn and I would come to Dymock by train on the fifteenth, meet them there, then take a train to Liverpool. And then I would have to come home without my son.

Edwy and Robert stood at our gate in the twilight, still talking. They stopped for a moment to marvel at our blackbird, still singing his heart out. Then they embraced and Robert was gone. The talk was all of how soon Edward would be following them to America. He limped back into the cottage with his eyes shining. I turned away so that he would not see my face and be angry with me for spoiling his mood.'


From 'Up in the Wind:'

Two roads cross, and not a house in sight
Except " The White Horse " in this clump of beeches.
It hides from either road, a field's breadth back ;
And it's the trees you see, and not the house,
Both near and far, when the clump's the highest thing
And homely, too, upon a far horizon
To one that knows there is an inn within.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The novel's settings:Robert  Frost and Edward Thomas in Gloucestershire

Ryton and Dymock                                                                

Letter from Robert Frost, December 1917.

The Frosts moved  from Little Iddens to  a cottage near Ryton called The Gallows - it no longer exists. Half of it was thatched, something Elinor Frost had always wanted. Frost's moodiness was intense there, the wind in the elm trees at The Gallows troubled him and they had a difficult decision to make - whether to return to America.
 There were quarrels, reflected in the poem 'The Thatch.'  Robert said he sometimes felt the trees had more to say than he had. But the decision to go home and the restless mood led to this:

 'The Sound of Trees':

I wonder about the trees.
Why do we wish to bear
Forever the noise of these
More than another noise
So close to our dwelling place?
We suffer them by the day
Till we lose all measure of pace,
And fixity in our joys,
And acquire a listening air.
They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;                                                       
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.
I shall have less to say,
But I shall be gone.    RF.                                                 (Out of copyright-  I do like that poem.)
Edward visited in November and it was then, as they walked in Lord Beauchamp's woods, that they were accused by a belligerent gun-wielding gamekeeper of trespassing. Robert reacted angrily while Edward was for backing off and trying to calm the situation; Robert even insisted on challenging the man in his own cottage at which the gamekeeper pointed his gun at Edward. (Ruins of the cottage are still visible at the edge of the wood - again I'm so sad to say I have lost iretrievably the photos I took there as well as the Ledbury ones.)
So much has been made of the incident since, even a claim that this was the over-whelming reason why Edward, having been seen as cowardly by Robert, volunteered and was ultimately killed.

Edward did refer to the matter occasionally but it's my belief that it was a very small element in his volunteering. His real motive was sheer patriotism.

Ryton to Redmarley path

More  Dymock

The Beauchamp Arms, Dymock

In the novel, and in real life, Edward and Robert drank  local cider here - Robert was not a great drinker, but Edward liked to find an inn and drink ale or cider. It is a fascinating historic pub and that rare thing, community owned. Here in the words of the Friends of the Beauchamp Arms:

The Beauchamp Arms is what you expect of a classic, English, village pub. There is a fireplace in the bar, polished furniture, brasses, and other ornaments: all adding to the homely welcome you will receive. The pub always has a good selection of real ales and other drinks. Pub food is served in the bar and the restaurant at lunch-time and in the evening.

Dymock is famous for its wild daffodils. There are many walks in the area: one starts from St Mary's church and ends at the Beauchamp Arms ( see here for directions).

Dymock is well-kown for the Dymock Poets (Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas, Wilfred Gibson, Lascelles Abercrombie, Robert Frost, and John Drinkwater) who lived in Dymock during the First World War.

The Beauchamp Arms is said to date from the late 16th century, and was a stop on the coach road from Ledbury to Newent and Gloucester.

The Beauchamp Arms is owned by the community; it was bought by the Parish Council in 1997. The pub is at the focal point of the village being adjacent to the Parish Hall, St Mary's church, and the village green (Wintours Green). The pub is actively supported by the Friends of the Beauchamp Arms (aka FoBA).

I have Robert speculating about the Lord Beaufort of the Beauchamp Arms, and the landowning aristocracy and class divisions which displeased him so much. In the event it was the same Lord Beauchamp who got him out of trouble after the gamekeeper episode in Ryton Firs.

William Rothenstein - The artist's farmhouse, Gloucestershire.

 On their way home from Dymock an epiphany, perhaps the real cause of Edward enlisting, took place. Here is an extract:

'The road stretched pale and empty when they did start out for home in the dusk. A low pink-washed farmhouse crouching at the foot of a great elm tree gleamed palely, lamplight yellow in one window. Edward stood looking, then spoke quietly.

‘When we were here in June they’d almost finished hay-making, do you remember? The scent of it on the road. The wagon nearly fully laden, standing in the shade of that yew, and the men taking a rest, leaning on their rakes; they and the horses utterly silent and still. It was as if they’d been there since the beginning of time and would be always the same, older than everything, even older than the farmhouse. Utterly timeless. Immortal.’

‘You’re full of good memories today, Edward.’

‘ I know I’ll never forget this place, this summer. The way the sun has shone on us, on our walks and talks. It’s made some ideas clearer to me, and I believe that’s true for you too. You have a great gift for talking about poetry as well as for writing it, Robert. That’s why I think you should write that book. And as for me, you’ve given me a sense of something – of possibilities ¾ that I haven’t had before. Ambition even.’

‘That’s what I want to hear. Ambition is good – I have it aplenty myself and it beats me how a man can live without it. Only I tell you again, the place to be ambitious is in America. Progress and adventure, not always looking back. That's why I’m pretty near ready to go home and I’m damned if you’re not going to come with me!’

‘We’ll see. Robert, you know how I waver. I do want to, believe me, but the truth is I have to depend on uncertain things. But look, it’s getting late, we’d better hurry on.’

‘No hurry, it’s great to walk in the dark. All the time there is,’ Robert drawled.

This is such a human landscape, Edward thought; every quarter of a mile or so another cottage or farmhouse. And always the high elms and the Lombardy poplars, reaching up into the darkening sky and sheltering each house. They passed a cottage in the dusk, seeing a faint light from the small square window and a thin line of blue smoke against the leaves of its sheltering elms. No-one could see that cottage and not long for his own home, or dream that this cottage was his home, he thought.

The silver sliver of a new moon rose near the horizon.

 Suddenly Edward stopped. He thought of France, of the soldiers there. He wondered how many of them would be seeing the same moon – or would they be too blinded to notice it? Blinded by smoke, excitement, pain, or terror? Vividly he pictured them, their eyes briefly glancing at the same moon that he was seeing from a safe and silent lane.

His mind was flooded with a new and overwhelming emotion. He stood still, gazing at the moon, while Robert walked ahead.  Something essential was missing, he realised, in all his love and admiration for English landscapes, these cottages, farms and trees, the country life. It seemed to him that he loved England in a foolish superficial way, only in terms of charm and aesthetics. As though he were just a detached observer. It was as if he hadn’t acknowledged it as his country.

To acknowledge it, perhaps – did not that mean he should be willing to die for his country? To do something, at least.

 ‘What’s halting you, Ed?’ Robert called. Edward didn’t hear him.

Would something have to be done, he thought, before he even had the right to look again with appreciation and composure at English landscape? At the elms and poplars around the houses, at the white campion flowers in the verges each side of the lane, the verges known as ‘No Man’s Garden’.

Edward wrote about this moment in his journal article, This England, the more subjective of three  accounts of the mood of people as the war got underway. Perhaps the poem closest to it in mood is this:

The Owl

      Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

     Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry

     Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.

     And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.

Publishing ACEThere is plenty happening - corrections being done, more review copies going out and comments back.
Frank is approaching three local independant bookshops - Mostly Books in Abingdon, Woodstock Books and the rather famous Jaffe and Neale in Chipping Norton.

I have a Radio Oxford appearance early on a Sunday morning, 10th February about which I'm nervous, though Frank assures me it will be OK as they know how to put people at their ease - also I do wonder who actually listens to it.

I wrote to Poetry Wales and to the Western Mail, Cardiff, explaining why the title is as it is and telling them something about the novel, and I sent a copy of the book to Carol Ann Duffy. I know she admires Thomas and does a great deal of work in schools and I think -as does Linda Newbery- that it would be a valuable sixth-form resource.

And also, Carol Ann Duffy and I went to the same school - Stafford Girls' High School. Three hearty cheers, gels, for SGHS of fond memory, the subject of Carol Ann's ' hysterically' funny 'Laughter at Stafford Girls' High'.





Thursday, January 17, 2013

Edward Thomas, the Lakes and Coleridge.

I am reading about the Lake poets and their families a great deal at the moment and have to admit that links with Edward Thomas are quite thin, but they do exist. He had a friend, the verse-dramatist Gordon Bottomley, who lived first in Cartmel then Silverhowe, on the western edge of the Lakes. He was an invalid so didn't travel and Edward visited him, but chiefly he wrote to him. Gordon called him Edward the Confessor as he treated his friend as a therapist - less so once he had met Frost and began to write poetry.
Edward visited in June 1914, just before my novel begins, and again on his 'farewell tour' in November 1916. On the way home from that visit he wrote the poem about Gordon's house,The Sheiling and its artistic, warm ambience.

Coleridge or STC.
He was a great admirer of Wordsworth, Coleridge and the Lyrical Ballads. Surely that volume influenced the thinking, with Frost, that one or the other of them, or both, should write a book on the theory of poetry. He considered Coleridge a great critic. But in his 'A Literary Pilgrim in England ' he insists that Coleridge was a West Country man and that all his best work was written there.

The Coleridges' cottage, Nether Stowey, Somerset.
Once he had moved to the Lakes, away from what Thomas saw as his natural home: 'His notebooks reveal how much he saw, and thought to use in writing, and never did. '    Thomas sums up his decline:

But Coleridge did not get on with his wife; he took opium; he had
passed thirty, and not reached forty. He went to Malta. He lectured in London. He revisited Stowey.
' The Friend' it is true, issued from Greta Hall.[
their Lakes home
But by 1810 Coleridge had fallen back on London, whence
he could go to Bristol to lecture, or to Calne to write
' Biographia Literaria," and by chance to see his
own " Remorse " acted there by a travelling company.
From Calne he went to Highgate, to the Gillmans, in
18 1 6, and he stopped there till he was quite dead.
With Lamb for company he could still walk twelve
miles ; he even wrote ' The Garden of Boccaccio,' and
could taste the spring, but he was a man in exile, and
had been once he decided to follow Wordsworth out
of the West. 

That phrase ''did not get on with his wife" is a colossal under-statement. I have been reading this fascinating work by Kathleen Jones about the women who shared the 'tribe' of Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge. As I took notes I found myself having to express my own emotions myself, with lots of exclamation marks and 'this man is a monster' 'what a B....!' sort of comments about STC.

I had somehow seen his wife Sarah as a dull, unimaginative woman who didn't care for poetry and whose only effect was to spill boiling milk on STC's foot and ruin that  day out with his friends.
How wrong I was - she was a lively, clever, educated, resourceful and cheerful woman whom he treated abominably: the confinements alone while he disappeared without writing to her  for 8 months, 10 months, two years at a time. His not being there when her little toddler died and not coming home when she begged him in her grief. No money sent and all her pretty hair fell out.

And then after only four years of marriage while she continued to love him,  falling for another Sarah and hectoring the first about jealousy and the need to love who he loved. He even wanted the second Sara, or 'Asra'  of the poems, to look after her at her third confinement while he was off somewhere - the Med I think.

What makes it so painful is that she was so often pregnant or had just had a baby. He had been an enthusiast for the Rights of Women but entirely changed - it was a wife's duty to have 'no personality' and to devote herself without a single ' remonstrance' to her husband. She wouldn't flatter him or devote herself exclusively to him alone and that seems to have been her chief fault - he was so self-absorbed and needy that eventually the three women who cared for him - Dorothy Wordsworth, Sarah and Sara Hutchinson - all gave up on him.
And the lies! Don't let me get started on the lies! And the drugs - of course it was the selfishness that inevitably follows addiction that was behind much of it - "the primacy of the substance-seeking drive" as we called it in my drug and alcohol-counselling days.

OK I know I'm ignoring the poetry.

What has struck me very forceably is the contrast with Edward Thomas: it's widely accepted that Thomas was a poor husband, depressive, irritable, could get angry with the children and Helen. Compared with Coleridge he was a saint - he suffered  remorse about his behaviour, tried to get help to change, did not stay away from home anything like as much as we think, and worked extremely hard to support them all. Nor did he lie to Helen.  I am increasingly coming to believe that the view of their terrible marriage has been rather exaggerated.

Well - the Lakes - Thomas's writing on Wordsworth emphasises how more than any other poet he is assocated with one place.  Somehow I'm not convinced that Edward was greatly drawn to the area - I may be wrong. He said of Wordsworth: ' he wrote a guide to the Lakes and a poem[The Prelude] that is not quite so useful as a guide book but much better.' On his friend Bottomley's place he wrote just a few words about bare turf and stones, and this poem, which is about the interior of the  house in contrast to the outside.
 It may be that homelier gentler South country helped sustain a calmer state of  mind more than the 'storm coming from the Kirkstone pass to the north' could. The ordered Beautiful rather than the terrible Sublime.

The Sheiling
It stands alone
Up in a land of stone
All worn like ancient stairs,
A land of rocks and trees
Nourished on wind and stone.

And all within Long delicate has been;
By arts and kindliness
Coloured, sweetened, and warmed
For many years has been.

Safe resting there
Men hear in the travelling air
But music, pictures see
In the same daily land
Painted by the wild air.

One maker's mind
Made both, and the house is kind
To the land that gave it peace,
And the stone has taken the house
To its cold heart and is kind.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Walking in Oxfordshire, and Linda Newbery's endorsement.

Last week with the walking group from the village where we used to live, we walked by footpaths from Enstone to Woodstock. Much less muddy than our New Year's Day walk, being higher ground. It is an area of ironstone houses and cottages - Thomas quotes Matthew Arnold writing to his mother,
'the yellows and browns of that oolite stone, which you may remember about Adderbury on the road to Oxford,  make it one of the most beautiful things in the world.'

Linda Newbery. Winner of the Costa Children's Book Award
A great pleasure for me was talking to the author Linda Newbery, writer of high quality children's and teenager's books. (Set in Stone was a major winner.) She does have an adult novel in preparation too.                                               

Linda, known to be an Edward Thomas fan, had been sent a copy of A Conscious Englishman by Frank and was half-way through reading it. I was very pleased to hear that she was really enjoying it - indeed giving it high praise. She even said she was 'living in it' at that time.
She asked me very pertinent questions about using sources and commented that she couldn't imagine beginning writing a novel that way. I told her that sadly I couldn't imagine beginning from purely  imagination - I wish I could!
This week Frank received her endorsement of the book:

'I was given this book by my editor, David Fickling, as he knows of my liking for
Edward Thomas. I've very much enjoyed and admired it.

I think it must have been a difficult challenge to draw on source material while
giving the flavour of fiction, but Margaret Keeping has pulled it off very
successfully. Her writing is very assured and she has the necessary eye for
place, detail, weather and seasons to write about Edward Thomas. I especially
like the way she's shown the origins of the poems in his observations, and her
depiction of the complicated relationships between the main characters.

I hope the book will reach the wide audience it deserves and feel sure that many
others will enjoy it as much as I have.  Thank you.'

Glymton Post Office, en route

Lunch was at the Killingworth Castle, Wooton by Woodstock. Very good too. So:
'By the time we got to  Woodstock we were... ' , well, walking along the boundary of Blenheim Palace parkland. 
The Palace of course was built as a gift from Queen Anne, along with the title, for the first Duke of Marlborough. It was the  Duke who as well as winning a famous battle also named a new  apple 'Blenheim Orange.' Marlborough was the subject of Edward Thomas's last commissioned book, written in spring 1915, after which he enlisted.

Poem: Rather than Lob I am going for the Blenheim Oranges as those apples give me a link to the moving, self-exploratory poem below. The title came from words he heard Bronwen say when she was little, 'gone and gone again.'  The house is a London house he knew in childhood.

 Gone, gone again

Gone, gone again,
May, June, July,
And August gone,
Again gone by,

Not memorable
Save that I saw them go,
As past the empty quays
The rivers flow.

And now again,
In the harvest rain,
The Blenheim oranges
Fall grubby from the trees

As when I was young
And when the lost one was here
And when the war began
To turn young men to dung.

Look at the old house,
Outmoded, dignified,
Dark and untenanted,
With grass growing instead

Of the footsteps of life,
The friendliness, the strife;
In its beds have lain
Youth. love, age, and pain:

I am something like that;
Only I am not dead,
Still breathing and interested
In the house that is not dark:-

I am something like that:
Not one pane to reflect the sun,
For the schoolboys to throw at -
They have broken every one.

Linda's site      

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Presenting Helen Thomas - Who has it 'right' ?

A year ago a play on Thomas portrayed a hysterical and embarrassing Helen.

Jean Moorcroft-Wilson

The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, Almeida Theatre, London
The Dark Earth and the Light Sky

There's no doubt that the play was a box-office success, fully booked in the last weeks. What seems to have most  troubled or at least intrigued many is the portrayal of Helen. There is speculation that the author's sympathies were with Edward and that Helen needed to be disagreeable to excuse his cruelty to her.

 Jean Moorcroft-Wilson whose full biography of Thomas will be published next year considered that as a piece of theatre the play worked, and the physical resemblance of the actors to their characters was remarkable.

Very like - though he would have been wearing his tin hat.
But, Jean goes on:
"Unfortunately, what makes for good drama does not always tally with what we know of real-life characters. To someone who has read Thomas’s many letters to family and friends, his copious diaries and his wonderful poetry, his character seems very one-sided; it is impossible to imagine him cowering cravenly before a game-keeper, for instance. The rest takes on an air of caricature. This is particularly true of Thomas’s difficult relationship with his father (Ifan Huw Dafydd), which is played for laughs, and the character of Helen (Hatty Morahan).
Morahan plays Helen as a Post-Feminist, yet she and Edward met in 1895, when she was 17, he only 16. She was a ‘bohemian’, but not of the hysterical variety portrayed in the play. Anyone who has studied her hundreds of letters to Edward, as well as her fictionalized account of their marriage, cannot fail to admire her love and devotion to him, but also her intelligence. It seems to me inconceivable that she would have behaved in the way she does in this play before his friends and thus risk humiliating him. Here her monumental forbearance has been sacrificed in the interests of ‘good theatre’."                                       Camden New Review.
The play tackled Robert Frost's quarrel with Helen after she published the first of her memoirs, 'As it Was.' Again, drama needs dramatic scenes - though none of their quarrel was face to face of course. Less exciting,  but more consoling, is the fact, sometimes disputed, that they really did make it up eventually.
 It is well worth Googling both Lesley Frost (Robert's eldest child and a writer) and her daughter Lesley Lee Frost.
Both Helen and Robert suffered pain and anger from Edward's death: hardly surprising that they quarrelled as people do in thse circumstances, often claiming they knew the dead person best. And Robert was a quarrelsome man. But Lesley Lee was there when they met, both 80-odd; Robert greeted Helen and Bronwen with open arms and he and Helen chatted about their grandchildren. Only TS Eliot's intervention broke up their meeting - a piece of literary irony, that High Modernist disruption! Later a planned visit to Helen was prevented by Robert's illness- he was always ill in the English climate.
Lesley Lee Francis's review of Now All Roads Lead to France is so well worth reading for a different and an insider's view of the quarrel and in fact of the whole  Frost/Thomas friendship.

Well, I hope I have been 'both kind and true, or not unkind and not untrue', in Larkin's immortal words, about Helen.  Here is the poem that I think says what needs to be said:
And you, Helen, what should I give you?
So many things I would give you
Had I an infinite great store
Offered me and I stood before
To choose. I would give you youth,
All kinds of loveliness and truth,
A clear eye as good as mine,
Lands, waters, flowers, wine,
As many children as your heart
Might wish for, a far better art
Than mine can be, all you have lost
Upon the travelling waters tossed,
Or given to me. If I could choose
Freely in that great treasure-house
Anything from any shelf,
I would give you back yourself,
And power to discriminate
What you want and want it not too late,
Many fair days free from care
And heart to enjoy both foul and fair,
And myself, too, if I could find
Where it lay hidden and it proved kind.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Helen Thomas - using Helen's words.

Perhaps a quarter of the novel is written in the first person, telling 'Helen's version' of the last four years of Edward Thomas's life as she experienced it. I put 'Helen's version' in quotes because of course it is really my version pretending to be hers.
 I have her write a memoir, which I called 'Half a kiss, half a tear' from Thomas's poem 'Sowing.' I'd originally called it 'Like Memory's Sand', which I think a lovely phrase but deprived of meaning without the words that follow. See the poem below.
The problem with Helen is of course also the bonus - she had written her account of her life with Edward in the moving and still widely read works, As It Was and World Without End, collected as Under Storm's Wing.

 I was interested to read that the major Thomas scholar Edna Longley came to Thomas 's poetry after reading Helen's work.



Helen also wrote many hundreds of letters and if I tried to emulate her voice it is the voice of the letters, not  because they were contemporary rather than retrospective (after all 'Half a kiss, half a tear' is meant to be a memoir) but because they are less polished, more spontaneous and so more easy to contemporary ears than Helen's  prose in Under Storm's Wing. Sometimes it is rather too fulsome   and I do try to capture that from time to time.
But mostly it is sincere, vivid and moving and I know I can't attempt to  equal it . Look at this on their final parting:
Edward Thomas"I sit and stare stupidly at his luggage by the walls. He takes a book out of his pocket. 'You see, your Shakespeare's Sonnets is already where it will always be. Shall I read you some?'; He reads one or two to me. His face is grey and his mouth trembles, but his voice is quiet and steady. And soon I slip to the floor and sit between his knees, and while he reads his hand falls over my shoulder and I hold it with mine.
'Shall I undress you by this lovely fire and carry you upstairs in my khaki overcoat?' So he undoes my things, and I slip out of them; then he takes the pins out of my hair, and we laugh at ourselves for behaving as we often do, like young lovers.

Helen Thomas I hide my face on his knee and all my tears so long kept back come convulsively. I cannot stop crying My body is torn with terrible sobs. I am engulfed in this despair like a drowning man by the sea. My mind is incapable of thought. So we lay, all night, sometimes talking of our love and all that had been, and of the children, and what had been amiss and what right. We knew the best was that there had never been untruth betweeen us. We knew all of each other, and it was right. So talking and crying and loving in each other's arms we fell asleep as the cold reflected light of the snow crept through the frost-covered windows."
And here is the first part of the letter Helen wrote to Robert in March 1917:
High Beech
March z.
Late at night
Dear Robert
What a bit of luck to get your letter at all. I thought all the mails had gone down in the Laconia, but evidently not. I'm so excited & happy about your splendid news, & I've already written to the dear man & told him, & to John Freeman to find out about those 'insists'. I feel sure it will be all right. I'm not at all sure that Edward Eastaway will consent to be Edward Thomas, but I will add my 'insists' to yours & hope for the best. Also I like the idea of your preface & feel sure he will too. It's all very good news & you sound as pleased & you knew we would be.
By now you will have heard from him. He's at Arras & expecting a hot time presently. I don't suppose I can tell you much about him may I. He's at present at head quarters as adjutant to a ruddy Colonel whose one subject is horse racing & jockeys & such & with whom our man gets on so well that the he's longing to be back at his battery, he's afraid the Colonel has taken a fancy to him & will keep him. It will probably mean promotion, but Edward wants the real thing & wont be happy till he gets it & what is one to do with such a poet. In a pause in the shooting he turns his wonderful field glasses on to a hovering kestrel & sees him descend & pounce & bring up a mouse. Twice he saw that & says "I suppose the mice are travelling now". What a soldier. Oh he's just fine, full of satisfaction in his work, & his letters free from care & responsibility but keen to have a share in the great stage when it begins where he is.
At first after we'd said 'Goodbye' & we knew what suffering was, & what we meant to each other, I did not live really, but just somehow or other did my work, but with my ears strained all the time for his step or his coo-ee in case he came back. But the one can only wait & hope & not let panic take a hold of one, his happy letters & the knowledge that all is so well between us, are making life life again, & the Spring helps too & the feeling that the end is near-must come soon, & that that end will be-if it is at all-a beginning again for us with such knowledge of each other as nothing can ever obliterate, nothing can ever, that is what we know & what makes life possible now.
I must tell you that [the] last evening we were talking of people of ourselves of friends & of his work & all he'd like done. And he said "Outside you & the children & my mother, Robert Frost comes next." And I know he loves you.
I send you this photograph. Merfyn took it. People don't like it because they say he is too much a soldier here, & not at his best. But I send it thinking that you know him so well you'll be able to read him into it, if he is not there to you. We too will send to Leslie. We are all well,& Merfyn has attested and will 'join up' when he is I8. Bronwen is happy & careless & so useful & willing. Baba is well & growing long  & clever & disconcerting often with her shrewd observation& her totting up of character. And I am just the same, & despite  all the terrible anxiety & terror in me, a great calm nothing can unruffle.
I'll leave this letter open for details to be added about the book.
Edward will be 39 tomorrow March 3rd, & we are hoping our parcels of apples& cake & sweets & such like luxuries will get to him on the day. Our letters take a week to reach him. Yours not much longer I expect. '

Poem:From The Sun used to shine
on his friendship with Frost

To faintness like those rumours fades- ­
Like the brook's water glittering

Under the moonlight -­ like those walks
Now -­ like us two that took them, and
The fallen apples, all the talks
And silences -­ like memory's sand

When the tide covers it late or soon,
And other men through other flowers
In those fields under the same moon
Go talking and have easy hours.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The novel's cover - rerun with a new poem, 'Roads.'

Paul Nash, Road over Berkshire Downs.
(Not the one Hollis chose.)

Frank of StreetBooks gave me a fairly free hand in choosing an image for the cover but was clear that his designer must agree to it.
I had always envisaged a Paul Nash picture: Nash was in the Artists Rifles with Edward Thomas and they were kind-of friends. Also most recent books about ET have used Nash - notably Edna Longley's marvellous Annotated Collected Poems, 2008.
The best-laid plans - I wanted a landscape reflecting downland, but I found the only one really suitable had just been used by Matthew Hollis on his Selected Poems of Edward Thomas.

Then I began thinking about May Hill - an inspiration to Thomas and Frost, and I discovered Valerie Mclean ( of Ledbury. Valerie was lovely, very helpful, even created a new collage/painting for me, but I felt it wasn't right, far too bright and cheerful for Edward Thomas.
Frank had an open mind.
Marc my husband had painted May Hill after we'd been there for my research and he still had one of the pictures.

Marc Thompson

Frank took Marc's painting and Valerie's image to his designer, Andrew Chapman (

Andrew chose Marc's, had it professionally photographed with high definition and was ready to go ahead. Frank was unsure about the sheep but as he lived with the painting for several weeks they grew on him and stayed. Andrew cleverly extended the colour around the back cover and inserted the wording as I had envisaged. I think it looks beautiful and others who have seen the image do too.
I was in Malvern last Sunday with fliers(of that later) and the response from the locals was 'That's May Hill,' and 'Lovely picture.' So that's good.

January '13 - It was a good choice as it turns out - everyone likes the book's appearance and feel.

Poem - the great 'Roads' - it inspired the title of both Matthew Hollis's 'Now All Roads lead to France' and Robert MacFarlane's 'The Old Ways.' And how moving that he echoed the verse, penultimate below, in some of the last words he wrote in France, when Hell was all  around him.
Almost every stanza is a complete idea and reflection. Here is the first part:

I LOVE roads:
The goddesses that dwell
Far along invisible
Are my favourite gods.

Roads go on
While we forget, and are
Forgotten like a star
That shoots and is gone.

On this earth 'tis sure
We men have not made
Anything that doth fade
So soon, so long endure:

The hill road wet with rain
In the sun would not gleam
Like a winding stream
If we trod it not again.

They are lonely
While we sleep, lonelier
For lack of the traveller
Who is now a dream only.

From dawn's twilight
And all the clouds like sheep
On the mountains of sleep
They wind into the night.

The next turn may reveal
Heaven: upon the crest                                             

The close pine clump, at rest
And black, may Hell conceal.

Often footsore, never
Yet of the road I weary,
Though long and steep and dreary
As it winds on for ever.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The first blog re-run with new pictures

Yew Tree Cottage, Steep


Plaque at Yew Tree
I've been in love with Edward Thomas for years. Sometimes I think he's unbearable but I can't imagine life without him. So when I'd completed my Masters degree on his poetry I was still thinking about him, and that thinking turned into a novel. Robert Frost, Helen Thomas and others feature too, of course.

And that novel is about to be published, on  7th February. But I find I'm not sitting back doing nothing - there is so much to do working with my publisher, Frank, as a kind of partner. ( He knows what he is doing, I don't, but I'm learning fast and I thought other writers might want to read what I'm learning as I go along.
So if you are working with a small/ medium sized publisher, or self-publishing, read on.

And if you know Edward Thomas was writing for you, I will be posting some poetry and maybe prose, keeping alongside him with the seasons. Some Robert Frost too.


Melancholy  hand-in-hand with beauty. This combination occurs often in his poetry.

The green elm with the one great bough of gold
Lets leaves into the grass slip, one by one, --
The short hill grass, the mushrooms small milk-white,
Harebell and scabious and tormentil,
That blackberry and gorse, in dew and sun,
Bow down to; and the wind travels too light
To shake the fallen birch leaves from the fern;
The gossamers wander at their own will.
At heavier steps than birds' the squirrels scold.

The rich scene has grown fresh again and new
As Spring and to the touch is not more cool
Than it is warm to the gaze; and now I might
As happy be as earth is beautiful,
Were I some other or with earth could turn
In alternation of violet and rose,
Harebell and snowdrop, at their season due,
And gorse that has no time not to be gay.
But if this be not happiness, -- who knows?
Some day I shall think this a happy day,
And this mood by the name of melancholy
Shall no more blackened and obscured be.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Edward Thomas and Dorothy Wordsworth

Dove Cottage, Grasmere

I have been rereading Dorothy Wordsworth's Journals, for certain reasons, and decided to see what Edward Thomas had to say about her.

I  looked into a prose book of Thomas's that up till now I haven't read: 'Feminine Influence on the Poets'.  It's good to remember that Thomas was a major, respected  and prolific writer of literary criticism as well as travel literature.

The title has never appealed - it seems to imply that all poets are men, for one thing, and that women will only be muses to Great Men at best.  But I knew that Thomas had  likened Frost's approach to the  'people' in his poems to Dorothy's - more directly sympathetic rather than lengthy and  reflective like Wordsworth..

I was pleasantly surprised by the book - everything he says about Dorothy Wordsworth seems to be really insightful, and on other 'feminine influences ' he's surprisingly modern. The  message that men have written history and determine the literary canon is there. An interesting comment is that there can be no love poetry unless women have freedom of choice and can reject.

But my interest is in Dorothy. He has of course read the journal carefully and made links with Wordsworth's poems which were clearly borrowed from Dorothy - as  Coleridge did too, more than once.

Dorothy was appreciated by them  above all for her extraordinary receptivity. She saw clearly and vividly.  But I'll just let Edward Thomas say it all much better in one of his so-called 'hack' works.

From the chapter, the Poets and  Friendly Women

Dorothy Wordsworth in middle age
'Wordsworth responded to her affection with
a wish that each of her pleasant and painful
emotions '' should excite a similar pleasure or
a similar pain " in himself. She said that he
had no pleasure apart from her, and she dis-         
covered in him a ' violence of affection," a
'^tenderness that never sleeps," and 'a delicacy
of manner such as I have observed in few men."

Coleridge said of her that she was 'a
woman indeed — in mind, I mean, and heart ";
of various information, watchful in observa-
tion, and her taste  a perfect electrometer" ;
and as early as 1792 she had shown herself a
candid and original critic of her brother's
poetry. His " Evening Walk " of that year
was addressed to her.

The brother and sister lived together first
at Racedown in 1795. They moved together
to Alfoxden. They toured together to Tin-
tern and Chepstow in 1798, when Wordsworth
composed the *' Lines written above Tintern                                   
Abbey," and then in Germany.

Grasmere Lake

Their lives in the Lake Country were never separate and
seldom divided until her last years of decay in mind and body; when he was away a little
while she lingered out of doors late in the moonlight in the hope of hearing his tread.
She wrote little herself except her journals.....

Wordsworth refers to her again and again,
as, for example, in —

She who dwells with me, whom I have loved
With such communion that no place on earth
Can ever be a solitude for me.

They shared their books ; she read ' Para-
dise Lost " aloud to him and both were '' much
impressed, and also melted into tears." They
sat together talking till dawn. She was
always ready to put on her ' woodland dress "
to go with him. When they were not out
together he could always share her observa-
tion and experience through her journal.

The poem beginning '' She had a tall man's
height or more ' is apparently founded upon
an entry in Dorothy s journal beginning
 '' A very tall woman, tall much beyond the
measure of tall women, called at the door,"
and dated nearly a year earlier than the poem.

Her words by themselves, though brief and
unarranged notes, are here, as in so many
other places, quietly graphic and effective, and
it is quite possible to prefer them to the poem.
Even her notes of the scene which inspired
Wordsworth's '' I wandered lonely as a
cloud " may still be read for the delicacy and
simplicity and a touch of rough earthliness,
not inharmonious but not in the poem.

She had a particular curious liking for the
beggars, men out of work, gipsies, and home-
going sailors who passed her in the wild roads
or knocked at her door for help, and she re-
garded them with perhaps more charity than
the poet by himself could have commanded.
She has a most charming page on the wild
' road lass " accompanying a passing carter —
''her business seemed to be all pleasure —
pleasure in her own motions." She wrote out
some of his poems for him. She made his
fires, laid his untidy clothes by, filed his news-
papers, and then — '' got my dinner, two boiled
eggs and two apple tarts." They read over
his poems together, or he repeated them after
composition, and sometimes, no doubt, as in
"The Robin and the Butterfly" she says they
did, ' We left out some lines."
 The observations in her journals were often beautiful and often
very close, and they reappear in his poems.
Professor Knight, e.g., compares her entry:

Then we sate by the fire, and were happy, only
our tender thoughts became painful —

with Wordsworth's lines :

In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

Their minds probably worked much to-
gether and from a mutual stimulus, and even
if a thought had originally been his the record
of it in her journal was valuable. It is im-                                 (my emphasis)
possible to assign priority to any of their
common ideas and phrases.
 For example, on October ii, 1802, Dorothy says:
' We walked to the Easedale hills to hunt water-falls."
 Wordsworth's poem ''Louisa," where
the phrase, ''To hunt the waterfalls" occurs,
is attributed to either 1803 or 1805.
                                                               * * *


Thanks for your patience if this has been of no interest to you at all! It's told me quite a bit I want to know and what to follow up.

On ACE - Frank is taking a well-earned break so I have no idea of whether he has received any feed-back from those he has sent copies of the pre-publication book. I was very pleased to have a message from the marvellous Lynne Hatwell of the Dove Grey Reader blog asking for a copy. If you don't know Dove Grey Reader do look it up.

I will be more 'on-message' in future blogs,  back to poetry and probably re-issuing a few early blogs.


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