Back to Steep, Yew Tree Cottage and the garden.
'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:
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.
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
I tasted deep the hour
Between the far Owl's chuckling first soft cry
And the first star.
A long stretched hour it was;
Remained; the early seeds
All safely sown.
And now, hark at the rain,
Windless and light,
Half a kiss, half a tear,
|Last July's allotment - the point of it all.|