Friday, August 29, 2014

School visits for trench experience, and a Sixth-form Conference   on WW1 Poetry

Haileybury's First World War trench open to school visits as part of Centenary commemorations

Published on:
As part of the College’s commemorative activities marking the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, a replica command trench will be built in the grounds of the school this summer which will be open to visiting school groups during the Autumn Term and of course will be a superb resource for our own pupils.
"We hope our trench trail will provide a unique and valuable perspective on one of the most tragic and important chapters on the history of both our school and country" Joe Davies, Master

The Haileybury Trench Trail, Autumn 2014

In late 1914 and early 1915 Haileybury pupils helped dig up land around the College’s rugby pitches to create a system of trenches for their military training and 589 Haileybury pupils and staff died in the conflict. The 2014 trench will replicate one that might have been created in the battlefields of the First World War complete with duckboards, firestep and dugout. The trench will form part of a Trench Trail using Haileybury’s archive materials, architecture, memorials and Chapel to explain what life was like during the conflict both at home and at the Front.
The Trench Trail will enable pupils to learn about the First World War through items linked to those who experienced the conflict first hand. Each school group will work their way around the trail led by a workshop leader and a learning session will give children the opportunity to see and handle artefacts, medals, letters and photographs.
The Trench Trail will be open to school group visits on selected dates from September to December 2014 and will be suitable for both Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 levels so we will welcome groups from Year 4 up to Year 8.
If your school is interested in visiting the Haileybury Trench Trail, please click here for further information, contact the Box Office, or call 01992 70635501992 706355.
Image: computer-generated visual of Haileybury's replica trench
In addition to this exciting and innovative project, the programme of commemorative events will include:
• The design and installation of two new commemorative stained glass windows in Chapel
• The installation of interactive plaques around the College, highlighting the lives of six famous Haileyburians, including Field Marshal Allenby, with an associated lecture series to enhance and enrich pupils’, parents’, OHs’ and visitors’ understanding and awareness of the rich history of the College
• A school production of Oh! What a Lovely War
• A concert featuring music from the period of the Great War
• A special version of the annual Removes WW1 Battlefields trip
• A Sixth Form Poetry of the First World War conference for schools

Poetry of the First World War: A one-day conference for Sixth Form - Friday 17 October 2014, 10 am - 4.30 pm

The aim of this conference is to involve Sixth Form pupils and their teachers in the critical discussions and revaluations of the poetry of the First World War that are taking place in this its Centenary year.
The keynote speaker is by Dr Adrian Barlow, president of the English Association. Simon Armitage, whose new film The Great War: An Elegy will be broadcast on BBC2 in the Autumn, will be giving a poetry reading followed by Q&A. In addition, the programme will include papers and presentations by teachers and pupils, and a poster competition for pupils: click here for full details. Delegates will also be able to take a tour of the First World War replica battlefield trench being constructed in Haileybury’s grounds this Summer.
If you are a teacher or pupil and would like to present a short paper, or are interested in creating a poster related to the poetry of the First World War for our competition, please contact Head of English, Dr Tom Day.
Places at the conference are free for school groups and places are limited so advance booking is essential. Book online now or call our Box Office on 01992 70635501992 706355 in school hours.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Forest Poems

Manuscript of The Dark Forest

Forest is one of the most  frequent symbols in the poetry, but he disliked obvious symbolism and the 'forest' meanings change with context.  'and our explanations tend to sound heavy and clumsy compared to the poet's touch' (Coombes)

The Green Roads, The Dark Forest, Lights Out.

Spencer Gore, The Icknield Way, 1912.                                                 creative

Edward Thomas was specific about the 'forest' in the Green Roads.
'a fragment left 6 miles from here. (Hare Hall Camp), the best of all this county. I go there every time I can.... You can't imagine a wilder, quieter place.'
It is a fairy-tale, emblematic landscape with  old man and child, goose feathers and the Hansel and Gretel -ist track.
The second line has an interesting internal rhyme structure which has a sense of wandering, but because of the dominance of forest, we seem to be getting drawn in under the forest canopy more and more.
An oak tree ages and dies, but there is memory and the present  and future repeating moment of thrush song.

The Green Roads

The green roads that end in the forest
Are strewn with white goose feathers this June,

Life marks left behind by someone gone to the forest
To show his track. But he has never come back.

Down each green road a cottage looks at the forest.
Round one the nettle towers; two are bathed in flowers.

An old man along the green road to the forest
Strays from one, from another a child alone.

In the thicket bordering the forest,
All day long a thrush twiddles his song.

It is old, but the trees are young in the forest,
All but one like a castle keep, in the middle deep.

That oak saw the ages pass in the forest:
They were a host, but their memories are lost,

For the tree is dead: all things forget the forest
Excepting perhaps me, when now I see

The old man, the child, the goose feathers at the edge of the forest,
And hear all day long the thrush repeat his song.

The Dark Forest

Dark is the forest and deep, and overhead
Hang stars like seeds of light
In vain, though not since they were sown was bred
Anything more bright.

And evermore mighty multitudes ride
About, nor enter in;
Of the other multitudes that dwell inside
Never yet was one seen.

The forest foxglove is purple, the marguerite
Outside is gold and white,
Nor can those that pluck either blossom greet
The others, day or night.
{Not even beloved and lover or child and mother,
One from within, one from
Without the forest could recognise each other,
Since they have changed their home.}
This last stanza he omitted - it was presumably too obvious. It does make it clear that the poem is elegiac and the separation of living from dead, the war dead, is absolute.
I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.

Many a road and track
That, since the dawn's first crack,
Up to the forest brink,
Deceived the travellers,
Suddenly now blurs,
And in they sink.

Here love ends,
Despair, ambition ends,
All pleasure and all trouble,
Although most sweet or bitter,
Here ends in sleep that is sweeter
Than tasks most noble.

There is not any book
Or face of dearest look
That I would not turn from now
To go into the unknown
I must enter and leave alone
I know not how.

The tall forest towers;
Its cloudy foliage lowers
Ahead, shelf above shelf;
Its silence I hear and obey
That I may lose my way
And myself.

Monday, August 4, 2014

More Thomas Trees.
The soldier's poems, after enlistment. These have trees of significance and perhaps portent. The associations seem to have more of death in them.

Aspens:  The Cherry Trees:Cock Crow: October: The Ash Grove: The Wind's Song: The Team's Headbrass: The Gallows:  and later the Forest Poems - The Green Roads:   The Dark Forest: Light's Out.

Elderly ash trees.

The Ash Grove is a poem I don't remember having read before. The long lines are unfamiliar and perhaps rather uncomfortable at first. Then I remembered  the song and it read better.  Better still after listening to Laura Wright Songs, YouTube, The Ash Grove.

Edward Thomas loved these old English and Welsh songs and sung beautifully himself - at least Helen thought so. The  Ash Grove tune is a traditional Welsh harp melody to which English and Welsh words have been set. The ash was his favourite tree.

 The Ash Grove

Half of the grove stood dead, and those that yet lived made
Little more than the dead ones made of shade.
If they led to a house, long before they had seen its fall:
But they welcomed me; I was glad without cause and delayed.

Scarce a hundred paces under the trees was the interval -
Paces each sweeter than the sweetest miles - but nothing at all,
Not even the spirits of memory and fear with restless wing,
Could climb down in to molest me over the wall

That I passed through at either end without noticing.
And now an ash grove far from those hills can bring
The same tranquillity in which I wander a ghost
With a ghostly gladness, as if I heard a girl sing

The song of the Ash Grove soft as love uncrossed,
And then in a crowd or in distance it were lost,
But the moment unveiled something unwilling to die
And I had what I most desired, without search or desert or cost.
The intervals of a hundred paces  between the trees bring tranquillity, space and rhythm, and it is as Edna Longley points out 'tranquillity recollected in tranquillity' and made poetry.

Someone could set Thomas's  'Ash Grove' to music, perhaps.

By contrast, the short, one or two beat lines of  'Bright Clouds',  (The Pond) which Longley describes as a 'metrical sorbet' after three poems 'weighted with war.' But the 'Nothing to be done' she believes, suggests his impatience for action, and the scum of may-blossom has a darkness to it.

 Most people including the Oxford University digitalisation project call the poem The Pond. Longley being a scholar says there is no justification for that except for a letter to Eleanor Farjeon asking if she'd received his 'poem about the pond?' I think she's losing that particular argument.
 'The Pond' notecard
 Original wood engraving by Yvonne Skargon.
From the Edward Thomas Fellowship notecards . Do see the edwardthomasfellowship website to order these  and eleven more lovely notecards.


4th August, the date 100 years ago of the declaration of war.

The art  of Nick Hedges, and Thomas's War Diary.

Today I choose the work of the artist Nicholas Hedges.

 Nick is concerned with our ability to  re-encounter and  to empathise with the past; he shows  artefacts  of  the 1914 - 18 war -  old postcards, maps of trench systems, the iconic splintered trees, but worked on  in a modern idiom.

- Faces from old photographs, scarred by Nick's stitching, sensitively done and very moving.
-Old maps reversed, with images of shell burst created with ashes, canvas stitched to show a vast complex of trenches
- Words cut for images - the  trees of war artists like Nash are there, but transformed:

' shattered trees are those of family trees, planted in the broken ground, grown out from a soldier now made nameless and anonymous to the world....It's often the case that we know nothing of those who died; all too often it's as if they were always victims, individuals who never experienced the 'everydayness' of life as we do today.'                                                                     NH

Reading Nick's blog, I found that visitors to the Gallery immediately thought of First World War poets and poetry when they met these works; then I read that Nick himself has recently become very interested in Thomas and had blogged about him two days before! He kindly sent me these images.
It is so good to find these circles of interest and support.
What struck me most in relation to Edward Thomas  were the series of images of bursting shells.

 No sound - I was glad that the exhibitors hadn't  added a sound-track as they might have done, for  the images were powerful enough to evoke an aural as well as a visual sense of shelling.

  Shells: exploding, passing overhead, firing  shells, the noise of shells, their effect on the air, constantly feature in Thomas's ten-week war diary:

'Some 4.2's coming over at 10. Air flapping all night as with great sails in a strong gusty wind(with artillery).....Beautiful pale hazy moonlight and the sag and flap of air.'

He had acute vision and acute hearing and had lived most of his life in rural quiet. It's hard to imagine a greater contrast but he does not complain, he simply observes, though I remember he describes that flap of air as 'grisly', that effect of the vacuum which killed him by stopping his heart.
Oh - I just noticed this for the first time:

'As I was falling asleep great blasts shook the house and windows, whether from our own firing or enemy bursts near, I could not tell in my drowse, but I did not doubt my heart thumped so that if they had come closer together it might have stopped.' 

Now I find my thoughts going towards diagnosis - atrial fibulation? - and that sense of  'couldn't something be done, can't we intervene', which is I think one aspect of empathy with the past.
 'The past is not dead. It's not even past.'  I heard that recently but forget  who said it - was it Ford Madox Ford? No, William Faulkner.

 I read the war diary in my old RG Thomas Collected Poems, 1978, now hard to find. The small leather-bound notebook was found by Thomas's grandson, another Edward, son of Merfyn, in 1970, some time  after Merfyn's death.


It was very hard for Edward to transcribe, being written in small handwriting in a pocket-sized notebook, but you can try too, as it can be seen on the First World War digitalised Archive, University of Oxford. Professor George Thomas worked from a magnified version.

The note-book was exhibited at the Imperial War Museum, in 2004 I think, all creased by the shell-blast that killed Edward Thomas.

The 1914 centenary commemoration is of course bringing  about a resurgence of interest in the war, . It is good  that as well as the familiar documentaries and exhibitions, there will be responses from  contemporary artists like that of Nicholas Hedges, and from writers too.


A war poem, Edward Thomas style:

February Afternoon

Men heard this roar of parleying starlings, saw,
A thousand years ago even as now,
Black rooks with white gulls following the plough
So that the first are last until a caw
Commands that last are first again,---a law
Which was of old when one, like me, dreamed how
A thousand years might dust lie on his brow
Yet thus would birds do between hedge and shaw.

Time swims before me, making as a day
A thousand years, while the broad ploughland oak
Roars mill-like and men strike and bear the stroke
Of war as ever, audacious or resigned,
And God still sits aloft in the array
That we have wrought him, stone-deaf and stone blind.