Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Oxford story rerun continued, on request.

Lincoln College, Oxford and 'going wrong.'

The 'back-story' : fiction writer's phrase for what the author knows about his or her characters but includes only obliquely.

My novel begins in August 1914, when war was declared and Edward Thomas was thirty-six. The events in this blog are part of his back-story, a very crucial part. It can take a long time to recover from events that 'go wrong' in your youth; some would say that he never recovered, others that perhaps those events gave something as well as taking from him.

I find myself thinking about this period much more than before - almost wondering whether a 'prequel' would be a good idea!

So, continuing:

In the autumn of 1898 he moved from 113 Cowley Road to Lincoln College.
He was glad to be in college, with tutors and the possibility of friendships, rather than the solitude of his lodgings.

When he writes of Lincoln he mostly stresses its quietness; on writing to Helen on his first day he liked everything including his neighbour on the stair.

I had my first delightful glimpse of the grey, main quadrangle of Lincoln, so quiet and deserted, filled with the gaudy crimson of flying creeper leaves.

In 'Oxford,' he writes of the 'quaint cottages of Little Grove' - the fifteenth century originals. And:

what sweeter and more dignified picture of quietness and study is there than at Lincoln in Wesley's time?

But the reality is that in many ways his own university career was a failure, especially his final year.
He felt friendless at times, writing to Helen,

'If I did not know you I should by this time be the most abandoned of creatures up here. As it is - did you see me as I am, I fear you would think me sadly fallen from my sentimental, well-intentioned babyhood, two years ago.'

But he did make some lasting friends, he rowed, and he had an excellent tutor who challenged and encouraged him. He was not just studying, though, but living as a semi-professional writer with deadlines and demands for deep reading on whatever he might be reviewing or depicting. This, his scholarship and allowance from his father made a reasonable income - for one.

He did find time to visit friends of his friend, law-student E.S.P Haynes, the lawyer Clarke-Hall and his very young wife Edna; Edward and Edna were attracted to each other, seeing themselves as 'the artists' as opposed to 'the lawyers.'

And then in his second year Helen found she was pregnant. Worries: the future, lack of money or prospects, the reaction of their parents, whether to marry - these anxieties show in their letters especially Edward's. Helen's mother rejected her (her much-loved father had died) but Edward's parents took her in. The couple married in May 1999. About the expected baby, Edward wrote:

'You ask, if I too feel any joy at the thought of a child. I confess I have felt it considerably, but I do not know if it is a decent joy.'

Edward stayed at Lincoln, but saw Helen often. In November - Helen seven months pregnant - he wrote:

'I crave unbearably for you, body and soul. That poor body!I can easily understand how the sight of it upsets you. I hope it is not very prodigious, also that it will not interfere with us when I return. Will it do you think? for a weight upon it might do it great harm.'

Merfyn was born in January 1900; at this time Edward's work began to suffer and his moods became gloomy. He started drinking heavily, socialising more, taking opium occasionally and despairing of getting a good degree. He was dreading leaving Oxford, having no job and no way of knowing how his family was to avoid 'bankruptcy and the gutter ahead.'

What really ruined his performance in Finals, though, was that he'd contracted gonorrhea in May during the celebrations for the relief of Mafeking - when 'all the women of the city allowed themselves to be promiscuously kissed ..,. everyone was drunk,' as he wrote to poor Helen. 'It was an absurd occasion for so unpatriotic a man'.
He felt ill and the treatment would have made him feel worse.
Poor Edward too - as far as anyone can tell this was his first and last infidelity, aged twenty-one, and he certainly paid for it.

He tried last minute revision but too late to make enough difference. He did get a second class degree - if he'd had a First he could well have become a Fellow and life would have been easier. His father, who had paid an allowance for three years, was annoyed and contemptuous.

The Poem: written when Merfyn, then fifteen, was leaving for America to be away from the war and to grow up a little. It looks back on what had been a difficult relationship.


THE Past is a strange land, most strange.
Wind blows not there, nor does rain fall:
If they do, they cannot hurt at all.
Men of all kinds as equals range

The soundless fields and streets of it.
Pleasure and pain there have no sting,
The perished self not suffering
That lacks all blood and nerve and wit,

And is in shadow-land a shade.
Remembered joy and misery
Bring joy to the joyous equally;
Both sadden the sad. So memory made

Parting to-day a double pain:
First because it was parting; next
Because the ill it ended vexed
And mocked me from the Past again,

Not as what had been remedied
Had I gone on,--not that, oh no!
But as itself no longer woe;
Sighs, angry word and look and deed

Being faded: rather a kind of bliss,
For there spiritualized it lay
In the perpetual yesterday
That naught can stir or stain like this.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Edward Thomas's Birthday, the Fellowship Walk.      


Memorial stone, Shoulder of Mutton Hill
At Steep, 1914.

Each year, on the Sunday nearest to Edward Thomas's birthday (3rd March), the E.T  Fellowship organises a walk with readings in appropriate places, in the countryside near his home at Steep, Hampshire. This event is the main annual gathering for Fellowship members.

There is time to contact the Fellowship membership secretary via the website, if you would like to be part of it. I was asked by Richard Emeney, the chairman, to bring some volumes of 'A Conscious Englishman'along  to sell over the lunch break, so I made a sheet of information to go with them.

   A Conscious Englishman, by Margaret Keeping, published February 2013, £9.99.
                              ,     07967 246482
                                            £7.99 to Edward Thomas Fellowship members.
Did anyone ever begin to be a poet at thirty-six in the shade? Edward Thomas asks.

Following the outbreak of the First World War he does begin to write poetry after a lifetime of prose, and his self-doubt and melancholy starts to lift, helped by his close friendship with the American poet, Robert Frost.

This poignant novel tells the story of the last years of the poets life. Told from the point of view of both Edward and his loyal wife Helen, it shows his wrestling with words along with marriage, children, the perpetual lack of money, and eventually with his conscience.
Inspired by Edward and Helens writings, the novel is set against the beautifully evoked landscapes of Gloucestershire and Hampshire that offer the couple only partial peace.

Reviews and readers'comments:
 '[Margaret Keeping's] writing is very assured and she has the necessary eye for place, detail, weather and seasons to write about Edward Thomas...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.' Linda Newbery, Costa prize judge, author of Set in Stone.
 'An absorbing book...This novel is very good on the influences behind the wonderful poetry.' Merryn Williams, The Oxford Times.
‘I've enjoyed reading the semi-fictional account of E.T.'s final years. I've been collecting Thomas's books since I was in the 6th form, and have almost a complete collection, and so I know a great deal about his life from the different biographies and collections of letters and memoirs.{On ‘Dark Earth/Light Sky’} Margaret Keeping's portrayal was more faithful and sensitive to the actual events. A Conscious Englishman' gains from the different narrative voices and perspectives, and includes many direct as well as oblique references to real events and to ET's writings. In particular the sections from Edward's consciousness are well-written and intelligently shaped.’ Yorkshireman.
I loved this book. As an Edward Thomas fan it is a wonderful read. I was very engrossed in the portrayal of the relationship between a wife who loves too much, and her depressive, often tormented, writer husband. How difficult for poor Helen Thomas - her narrative is in the 1st person and the wife's point of view is refreshingly - and sympathetically portrayed. Thomas' tentative steps towards becoming a poet are deftly imagined, as are his discussions with Robert Frost.
Margaret Keeping evocatively describes the landscape, people and places of the time so that you almost feel that you are there. She depicts the relentless encroachment on the lives of the characters of the First World War, which is the sinister backdrop framing the novel. Despite knowing what fate would befall Edward Thomas - as a reader I had become so involved with the characters that I found the conclusion of the novel unbearably poignant.                                        I. Sansom
I can't recommend this book highly enough to anyone who has read any of the poetry of the period and wondered about the creative process and the experience of War. Edward Thomas is dealt with sympathetically, but without diminishing the impact that his troubled soul had on those closest to him. The book is indeed interspersed with chapters narrated from his wife Helen's point of view, which works very well in conveying for example how she would have felt about the great influence that Robert Frost had on him, and his very close relationships with other women. Also, the actual process of becoming a poet is dealt with so well, perhaps the author has been able to translate her own experience of becoming a novelist into a fictional form. I certainly look forward to seeing more from her.                                                                                                 Phil Barber.

                                                  Poem:  March the Third.

   'As a birthday poem written shortly before Easter, March the Third subverts Christian celebration by making 'holy' and 'wild' interchangeable. A draft of lines 15-16 likens the birds' songs to canticles. Thomas was dissatisfied with the poem:"Perhaps I shall be able to mend March the Third. I know it must either  be mended or ended." ' Edna Longley.
There is another March poem which I'll save for March 1st.

Here again (she said) is March the third
And twelve hours singing for the bird
'Twixt dawn and dusk, from half past six
To half past six, never unheard.

'Tis Sunday, and the church-bells end
When the birds do. I think they blend
Now better than they will when passed
Is this unnamed, unmarked godsend.

Or do all mark, and none dares say,
How it may shift and long delay,
Somewhere before the first of Spring,
But never fails, this singing day?

And when it falls on Sunday, bells
Are a wild natural voice that dwells
On hillsides; but the birds' songs have
The holiness gone from the bells.

This day unpromised is more dear
Than all the named days of the year
When seasonable sweets come in,
Because we know how lucky we are.
It does fall on a Sunday this year. It's rather intriguing that the 3rd March, unnamed -  he means in the Christian calendar -  is the  big day for Edward Thomas enthusiasts, pagans, Christians, of  any or no faith at all.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Edward Thomas and Oxford

As I live in Oxford and have lived in or around the city since the mid-sixties it is important to me and I believe it was important to Edward Thomas, but he did not have a care-free time at University. He left school at just seventeen, his father insisting that he studied at home for Civil service entrance, but instead he set off to walk from London to Swindon, taking notes for the book that became A Woodland Life. He'd already had a dozen articles published in national journals and was earning money from them; this gave him courage to stand up to his father and the Civil service idea was dropped - instead he was to apply to Oxford.

He had been encouraged in his writing by James Noble, writer and critic and father of Helen. Helen and Edward fell in love, and on her twentieth birthday became lovers. Biographers agree that for young people of their class this was not usual - some query Helen's motives, I think she was a very passionate person.

In the autumn of 1897 he went up to Oxford to work for a scholarship while living in lodgings at 113 Cowley Road, as a non-collegiate student.

Graffiti shops, Cowley Road, by Jane Hope,

If you're not familiar with it, today Cowley Road qualifies for the word 'vibrant' - restaurants, bars, shops of every ethnicity, a live music venue, small independant cinema, a well-known early health-food shop, Uhuru, very trendy community market - so much I can't begin to describe it.
East Oxford overall is also becoming the creative heart of Oxford, especially though not entirely, for younger artists and writers.What it's not known for is its architecture or for more established literary connections (Gerard Manley Hopkins referred to East Oxford as Oxford's 'base and brickish skirt'.)
Not like North Oxford which is peppered with blue plaques.

 I would very much like to see the house, 113, marked in some way.  A young stone-mason, Richard Morely, happened to be living there, and we talked about the possibility of  doing something, with the help of the Edward Thomas Fellowship. (Richard remains in Oxford and can be contacted for commissions -
The wording was agreed and a design made, but it is on hold at the moment.

 Oxford 'Entrance'

The non-collegiate scheme was not unlike the set-up in which I took my B.Ed, and Edward was not going to be satisfied with it. He had to pass exams in Greek, Latin and logic with Mathematics, and failed three times to pass what was in effect the Oxford entrance exam. He went to lectures in the morning, walked in the afternoon, worked for the rest of the time.

Edward wrote very loving letters to Helen almost daily,

'I am very happy with you, very content, and very hopeful.... you alone are beautiful. I can often doubt whether what I see is beautiful; but I know....{unfinished}
  He took long walks into the country  - 'Late flights of larks were singing and darting about in the last gardens of the town and the first fields of the country.'  -,wrote 'verses' and wanted her opinion, asking if she thought them ludicrous. He treated her as an intellectual equal at that time, suggesting reading they could discuss later.
 Many letters are sexually charged, and one refers to the rights and wrong of 'preventatives' - contraception. In others Edward is distinguishing lust from love, saying that love lasts and also allows room for other things, whereas lust is obsessional and allows room for nothing else.

As always though, he worked hard and eventually won the history scholarship he needed to go to Oxford 'proper', to Lincoln College to read history.

There was of course no such thing as 'English literature' in conservative Oxford; it carried an association of dissent and belonged in Liverpool and London. But it's clear that Edward spent a good deal of his time reading literature, for pleasure and because he was still selling his articles to journals.

The Turl
From The Word, (which goes on to concern something quite different from the formal learning at its beginning):

There are so many things I have forgot,
That once were much to me, or that were not,
All lost, as is a childless woman's child
And its child's children, in the undefiled
Abyss of what can never come again.
I have forgot, too, names of mighty men
That fought and lost or won in the old wars,
Of kings and fiends and gods, and most of the stars.
Some things I have forgot that I forget.

 And here is part of a poem from Branchlines, Edward Thomas and Contemporary Poetry, edited by Guy Cuthbertson and Lucy Newlyn, in which fifty-three of today's poets respond to him in their own work.

This is Robert Crawford on a sense of his presence in Oxford still; Guy, his former student, is the man the poet met by chance, and certainly for me 'Your man, Edward Thomas,' is exactly right. That is Guy, and an ever-helpful guide and clue-dropper to me.

The second stanza is about the collection of letters between Edward and Robert Frost, 'Elected Friends', edited by Matthew Spencer.


'somehow someday I shall be here again'
 When we met by chance on the Turl, were you aware
Yon door opposite was exactly the dark door where
Your man, Edward Thomas, before he became a poet,
Nipped out of the world and into Lincoln College?
Odd we met and spoke about him there.

Odd, too, in St Louis, seeing in the Left Bank bookstore
That book of his to-and-fro with Robert Frost.
I bought it on impulse - his finest writing
So lightly right I can't get away from him,
Though all the time I know he isn't there.

Any comments about the plaque idea would be very welcome.
Publishing: A  Yorkshire reader sent a very positive message to  Frank at streetbooks,  and bought two more copies:

'I wanted to say what a fine edition of the book you've published, and I've enjoyed reading the semi-fictional account of E.T.'s final years. I've been collecting Thomas's books since I was in the 6th form, and have almost a complete collection, and so I know a great deal about his life from the different biographies and collections of letters and memoirs. My wife and I saw the play in London in January, 'The Dark Earth and the Bright Sky' and we thought Margaret Keeping's portrayal was more faithful and sensitive to the actual events. ……….

'A Conscious Englishman' gains from the different narrative voices and perspectives, and includes many direct as well as oblique references to real events and to ET's writings. In particular the sections from Edward's consciousness are well-written and intelligently shaped. I hope the book will receive some favourable reviews.'
It's pleasing for me to know that readers like this will recognise references and events from the work and life which others will miss - which doesn't matter, but, yes, it's a bonus.

Friday, February 15, 2013

 Leaving High Beech; Edward Thomas and Robert Frost on Snow.

copyright Keith Talbot

                                                            Out in The Dark.

I am citing from 'First Known When Lost', the  remarkable blog of Stephen Peltz,  a retired attorney in the States, quite the most erudite, encyclopaedic  man you could imagine. His illustrations, too, are marvels of imaginative thinking and seeking.

"Out In The Dark Over The Snow": Edward Thomas And Robert Frost

Robert Frost's "Desert Places" and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" put me in mind of a poem by Edward Thomas. Thomas's poem in turn reminds me of the affinity between Thomas and Frost. For both of them, the darkness (of a forest or of night or of interstellar space) is frightening as well as alluring: "The woods are lovely, dark and deep" (Frost); "Dark is the forest and deep, and overhead/Hang stars like seeds of light/In vain" (Thomas); "They cannot scare me with their empty spaces/Between stars" (Frost). (And consider also Frost's "Acquainted with the Night" and "An Old Man's Winter Night".)"

Thomas wrote the first draft of the following poem on Christmas Eve of 1916 while he was on leave with his family at High Beech in Essex.

Out in the Dark

Out in the dark over the snow
The fallow fawns invisible go
With the fallow doe;
And the winds blow
Fast as the stars are slow.

Stealthily the dark haunts round
And, when a lamp goes, without sound
At a swifter bound
Than the swiftest hound,
Arrives, and all else is drowned;

And star and I and wind and deer
Are in the dark together, -- near,
Yet far, -- and fear
Drums on my ear
In that sage company drear.

How weak and little is the light,
All the universe of sight,
Love and delight,
Before the might,
If you love it not, of night.

I can't print out Frost's 'Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening', but much better than that, you can hear him read it - just put the title, his name +Youtube and there it will be.

A Conscious Englishman
Here are two extracts from 'Helen's' voice in the novel:

'Still Edward liked the little house, the deer, the starlight, lamplight on the trees by the window. He liked the way darkness rushed in when the lamp was turned out. He would walk into the deepest, darkest part of the forest and come home very late. No white pebbles for him. This was habitual with him. It seemed as though he chose to lose himself whenever he found a forest that would serve. But I was afraid of what he was thinking while he walked alone so long.'
'The day passed happily. As soon as tea was over I went out and lit the coloured candles on the Christmas tree, then Edward carried it in from where Merfyn had hidden it in the woodshed. Myfanwy was entranced. She’d never seen a Christmas tree before.
After tea we sat near the fire, eating nuts and talking or reading our new books. Then Edward took Baba on his knee and sang Welsh songs and some rousing army ones.
It was just before her bedtime that I watched the two of them, Baba on a chair by the window, looking out at the snow and Edward behind her looking out too. They were hoping to see deer.
‘Shall we see any? Are they out there?’ she asked. I remember that she wondered if they were cold and frightened, out in the dark, not like her, safe in the cosy sitting room, with the lamp lit and her father’s hand on her shoulder. That was when I wept.'
I wrote the last because Edward, sending the poem to Eleanor Farjeon, commented, 'It is really Baba who speaks, not I. Something she felt put me on to it.' Myfanwy had been nervous of going into the sitting room to watch for deer because it was dark but was able to when her father stood with her. It was almost the last time she would have his protection.
(For a very weird experience, you may or may not like this: 'poetry reincarnations' on Youtube, animated 'readings by' Edward Thomas, Eleanor Farjeon and no doubt countless others - Shakespeare, Wordsworth perhaps? No, but there is Machiavelli, Jane Austen, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Emily Dickinson. Some do have the real soundtrack of the author's voice.
 I quite like the Eleanor one though I know the voice is wrong, too low. But 'Edward' reading Adlestrop and The Gallows - just too bizarre, though I suspect the voice is probably close. Comments?)
Publishing matters
Frank has been contacting librairies and bookshops. He has put the Sunday broadcast on his Streetbooks site - only a  couple of minutes relate to the book specifically.
We were both pleased to see the review in the Oxford Times - it's  attached to the previous blog.I grumbled a bit about the word 'recycled' which suggests 'cut and paste' and it most certainly was not. And I was sorry not to see the cover ...but it's no use quibbling, and I'm very pleased to see it especially as the last full-scale review was of 'The Real Jane Austen' by Paula Byrne. She was awarded 4 stars so I'm happy with my 3.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Settings: Edna Clarke-Hall's house near Upminster.

A- Hare Hall                       B- Great House, Hall Lane.
While Edward was at Hare Hall Camp near Gidea Park, East of Romford, he was three and a half miles from Edna Clark-Hall, an hour's walk at most for him. I'm sure he would have avoided the road, even then, and gone through parkland and fields.
The relationship between Edward and Edna was always something I felt very tentative about: having first heard of it, then  learned a little more from Alison Thomas's work, I based everything else on the poems, his and hers.  Matthew Hollis had access to Edna's diary, so long after I had written my novel I was able to see that I hadn't been far out in my speculations - but the account in A Conscious Englishman is fiction, more speculative than anything else in the novel.

It was clear that Edward enjoyed her company - and what a welcome change from the bare barracks hut  her house must have been!

Great House

From A.C.E:
He looked up at the tall chimneys of the fine eighteenth century house, its many sash windows set in mellowed brick walls. William, Edna’s husband, was a very successful barrister. He could imagine Edna in such a house, enjoying its venerable romance. Would he be welcome, he wondered.

He tugged the iron pull and heard the bell deep inside the house, then footsteps coming to the door. He knew suddenly how eager he was to see Edna again and to watch her surprise, and, he hoped, pleasure at seeing him. But Edna was in London that day, the servant who answered the door told him.

After a moment they recognised each other. She remembered Edward from the old days.

‘The mistress has two boys now, Mr Thomas – Justin and Denis. How is your little boy?’

‘Not so little. He’s fifteen and staying away from all this’ – he gestured at his uniform – ‘in America at the moment. But I have daughters too, one just thirteen, the other only five. Well, I’ll look forward to meeting Mr and Mrs Clarke-Hall soon. My apologies to them for arriving with no notice.’
Edna Clark Hall and her beautiful house.
No wonder Edward was drawn  to visit when he could.
Characteristically, Helen wrote to her after Edward's death that she was glad he had been able to have that respite from the spartan uncongenial camp.
There are several poems written at the right  time that I believe refer to Edna. The most obvious one is Celandine. The central stanza is framed by stanzas that emphasise, for me, Thomas knowledge of himself - Edna is a fantasy, almost.

by Edward Thomas
Thinking of her had saddened me at first,
Until I saw the sun on the celandines lie
Redoubled, and she stood up like a flame,
A living thing, not what before I nursed,
The shadow I was growing to love almost,
The phantom, not the creature with bright eye
That I had thought never to see, once lost.

She found the celandines of February
Always before us all. Her nature and name
Were like those flowers, and now immediately
For a short swift eternity back she came,
Beautiful, happy, simply as when she wore
Her brightest bloom among the winter hues
Of all the world; and I was happy too,
Seeing the blossoms and the maiden who
Had seen them with me Februarys before,
Bending to them as in and out she trod
And laughed, with locks sweeping the mossy sod.

But this was a dream; the flowers were not true,
Until I stooped to pluck from the grass there
One of five petals and I smelt the juice
Which made me sigh, remembering she was no more,
Gone like a never perfectly recalled air.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Publishing matters: I have to appear on Radio Oxford on the morning of 10th February - a first for me and very scary.

I was delighted to find two reviews on the Amazon site.

The Edward Thomas Fellowship Newsletter arrived today, with a flier about the book and an extract rather in need of proof-reading but never mind. Frank posted (from the Cherwell Boat House, lucky thing) that he was finding lots of orders suddenly arriving as a result.

I received a heart-warming message from Richard Goodman, an American author and teacher I admire and write to occasionally- author of that quietly perfect book, French Dirt, and of New York: a memoir and Bicycle Journeys: through New York after 9/11.

Richard Goodman
And from Dr Keith Green of Sheffield Hallam University, author and composer. He is setting some Thomas poems to music.
My one-time lodger 'Keef''.
It's a really enjoyable spin-off of publishing, I'm finding, how people are pleased for you.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Settings:A Soldier-Poet: Edward Thomas enlists and trains.

Artists' Rifles HQ, 17 Duke Street, Euston: The recruiting office was in Albemarle Street.
An extract:
'He travelled up to London by train and walked fast to Albemarle Street, hunting for a brass nameplate – ‘The Artists’ Rifles.’ A printed poster was pinned to a sandwich board on the pavement, announcing ‘Recruiting Office.’ The regimental symbol printed at the head showed Mars and Minerva intertwined. He looked up at the sky for a moment, then turned, breathed deeply and walked through the open door.

He was attested fit by the Medical Officer the following day. He had passed the first test that he’d set himself.'    (A Conscious Englishman.)                                             *
On the day he 'passed the doctor' he completed the important poem below, For These. Edward describes it as 'a prayer'.
He had agonised for months about whether he should follow Robert Frost to America or enlist or at least 'do something' for his country threatened and injured by war.

'All I can tell is, it seemed to me that either I had never loved England, or I had loved it foolishly, aesthetically. Something, I thought, had to be done before I could look composedly again at English landscape, at the elms and poplars about the houses, at the purple-headed wood-betony with two pairs of leaves on a stiff stem, who stood sentinel among the grasses or bracken by hedge-side or woods-edge. at he stood sentinel for I did not know, any more than what I had to do.’   E.T.

His journey through the cities of the Midlands and  the North, collecting the thoughts expressed by ordinary people during the early months of war, led to him speculating about why a man volunteered:
'On his last day he saw some recruits, lean pale young men in their dark clothes and caps, with occasionally the tanned face of a farm worker among them. Why had they enlisted – because of the posters, urging them to fight for King and country? Under pressure from employers? From girl-friends? Or to follow their friends?

He had a sense that a man joined up for inexplicable reasons, making a leap beyond rational thought. Then afterwards he would explain himself to his parents and friends in the old conventional terms about fighting for king and country – but surely that was simply too poetical and too self-conscious to be real? (A.C.E)'

 So many reasons why Edward Thomas took that first step toward his death at the Battle of Arras. Some would add an episode of cowardice/ common-sense witnessed by Robert Frost in confrontation with a game-keeper.

After initial training on Hampstead Heath where his map-reading skills were recognised he was sent first to High Beech, Epping Forest, training camp. No doubt he spent some  leisure time here in the  King's Oak.

Then he was sent to Hare Hall Camp, near Romford , Essex, where he was to stay for a year and a half.

From Liverpool Street station the train took him east through gentle, orderly countryside to Romford and on to Gidea Park halt. November trees were black and bare against the horizon.

Hare Hall camp was built in the grounds of a Georgian mansion. Tall elms and horse-chestnuts at the entrance, instead of the barren wire he expected, declared its past as a country estate. There were guard boxes certainly, but a pretty eighteenth-century lodge too. Planted all over the gracious parkland between some great oaks were new white bell tents. A line of wooden barrack huts stood at the centre of the camp.


'His first impression of a great house and park soon faded as he was drawn into the changed life of Hare Hall. Exercises, parades, routines, the new way of passing time. Much of his life was spent in lecture huts, the canteen, the reading room and the mess. Hut Number 3, a sound wooden hut sleeping twenty-five men, was home. The park became a site for compass exercises, and the great Georgian house was the remote home of the most senior officers, of whom he was in awe.' (A.C.E)

The Poem: For These
Edna Longley sees irony in the poem. I wouldn't want to quarrel with Edna Longley, goodness knows, but I think I'd call it realism.

For These
An acre of land between the shore and the hills,
Upon a ledge that shows my kingdoms three,
The lovely visible earth and sky and sea
Where what the curlew needs not, the farmer tills:

A house that shall love me as I love it,
Well-hedged, and honoured by a few ash trees
That linnets, greenfinches, and goldfinches
Shall often visit and make love in and flit:

A garden I need never go beyond,
Broken but neat, whose sunflowers every one
Are fit to be the sign of the Rising Sun:
A spring, a brook's bend, or at least a pond:

For these I ask not, but, neither too late
Nor yet too early, for what men call content,
And also that something may be sent
To be contented with, I ask of Fate.

A Conscious Englishman

7th February, Publication Day: It began with a friendly message from Frank hoping I'd enjoy the day, 'just one step on a long journey.' Then a reminder to read and sign  the contract and to meet shortly to plan a launch party. He writes in his blog, justthoughtsandstuff, about Thomas and about publishing the novel.

I thank him and StreetBooks very warmly for so much help, guidance and efficiency.
The novel is available in the States now, via Amazon. I am very curious to know how my portrayal of Robert and Elinor will be received.

Monday, February 4, 2013

In the garden at Steep: Edward Thomas's 'Old Man', 'Digging' and 'Sowing'.

(This may be the  last week of publishingmyedwardthomas  before changing to on publication day, 7th February.)

'Old Man' or Southernwood.

After Adlestrop, 'Old Man' is probably Thomas's best-known poem. It  almost existed in prose form three weeks before the poem, in  mid-November 1914,  prose which is close to poetry, the poetry 'trying to get out' as  it did on 6th December.
An extract from the novel:

'Myfanwy was watching him from the porch. She reached out to break off a sprig from the top of the grey-green shrub called Old Man or Lad’s Love growing there and sniffed at it absent-mindedly.

‘Baba – how many times must I tell you not to do that!’  Myfanwy looked gravely at him and ran off, through the gate into the Dodds’ next door. The two gardens formed the boundary of her world; he wondered what she would remember of it. He had thought so intensely in recent years about his own childhood, but he found that these thoughts would only take him so far. Some memories were too elusive for thought. This shrub, the scent of it, tantalised him with the mystery of what it was, what memory it was, that was eluding him.

The shrub was still only half the height of Myfanwy because of her habit of picking a stalk and sniffing it whenever she went in or out of the house. He’d written about it only a few weeks before in his notebook – he would look it up once the pear was pruned. The enigma of those contradictory names pleased him, but it was the elusiveness of memories that was the compelling interest of the subject for him. He had almost visionary memories of certain gardens he’d known as a child, when with your back to the house the garden path stretched on for ever. He would mould those thoughts and notes into a poem, a long poem without too clear a structure, just as the scent led him to ‘Only an avenue, dark, nameless, without end.’ '
Old Man, or Lads-Love, - in the name there's nothing
To one that knows not Lads-Love, or Old Man,
The hoar green feathery herb, almost a tree,
Growing with rosemary and lavender.
Even to one that knows it well, the names
Half decorate, half perplex, the thing it is:
At least, what that is clings not to the names
In spite of time. And yet I like the names.            

The herb itself I like not, but for certain
I love it, as someday the child will love it
Who plucks a feather from the door-side bush
Whenever she goes in or out of the house.
Often she waits there, snipping the tips and shrivelling
The shreds at last on to the path,
Thinking perhaps of nothing, till she sniffs
Her fingers and runs off. The bush is still
But half as tall as she, 'though it is as old;
So well she clips it. Not a word she says;
And I ca only wonder how much hereafter
She will remember, with that bitter scent,
Of garden rows, and ancient damson trees
Topping a hedge, a bent path to a door
A low thick bush beside the door, and me
Forbidding her to pick.
As for myself,
Where first I met the bitter scent is lost.
I, too, often shrivel the grey shreds,
Sniff them and think and sniff again and try
Once more to think what it is I am remembering,
Always in vain. I cannot like the scent,
Yet I would rather give up others more sweet,
With no meaning, than this bitter one.
I have mislaid the key. I sniff the spray
And think of nothing; I see and I hear nothing;
Yet seem, too, to be listening, lying in wait
For what I should, yet never can, remember;
No garden appears, no path, no hoar-green bush
Of Lad's-love, or Old Man, no child beside,
Neither father nor mother, nor any playmate;
Only an avenue, dark, nameless, without end.

On 'Digging-( Today I think/Only with scents') and 'Sowing' - what can I say? Poems that many readers of Thomas like best, and understandably. 'Digging' is the more complex of the two - 'thinking with scents' is surely addressing the 'mind/body division' -  while 'Sowing' delights in the day and the activity. Edna Longley says, "in this 'perfect' lyric about perfection, physical and psychic ease seem one." I love it and use the last lines as the title of Helen's memoir in the novel.
To-day I think
Only with scents, - scents dead  leaves yield,
And bracken, and wild carrot's seed,
And the square mustard field;

Odours that rise
When the spade wounds the root of tree,
Rose, currant, raspberry, or goutweed,
Rhubarb or celery;

The smoke's smell, too,
Flowing from where a bonfire burns                            
The dead, the waste, the dangerous,
And all to sweetness turns.

It is enough
To smell, to crumble the dark earth,
While the robin sings over again
Sad songs of Autumn mirth. 

 IT was a perfect day
As sweet and dry was the ground
As tobacco-dust.

I tasted deep the hour
Between the far                                                 
Owl's chuckling first soft cry
And the first star.

A long stretched hour it was;              
Nothing undone
Remained; the early seeds
All safely sown.

And now, hark at the rain,
Windless and light,
Half a kiss, half a tear,
Saying goodnight.


Last July's allotment - the point of it all.