Friday, September 18, 2015

The White Horse, Prior's Dean, or The Pub With No Name.

 

This Saturday, 19th September 2015.


The Edward Thomas Fellowship has organised a tremendous event to celebrate the pub which was the setting for Edward Thomas's first poem.
The inn, as Thomas would have called it - is the  Pub-with-no-name near  Froxfield and Prior's Dean, but really near nowhere at all. It is  a comfortable walk from Steep and 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.

The event is open to the public, but the lunches, including the  'Edward Thomas sausage', are already booked. There is to be a strenuous walk beginning at 10 15 from the pub, lunch  and the dedication of a bench to Thomas. In the evening Pedal Folk and others are performing at Steep.

Here is the beginning of the  beginning of the poem, but not the version we know. It is an early draft from the Oxford digitalisation project, full of too much verbiage but giving an insight into the place and the process.  Don't ask me why, though on screen it is laid out with enjambments, when you copy and paste they are lost! The capital letters help you find your way and in this case I find it interesting - half note-book, half poem.

UP IN THE WIND by EDWARD THOMAS 'I could wring the old thing's neck that put it here! A public-house! it may be public for birds, Squirrels, and suchlike, ghosts of charcoal-burners And highwaymen.' The wild girl laughed. 'But I Hate it since I came back from Kennington. I gave up a good place.' Her Cockney accent Made her and the house seem wilder by calling up--- Only to be subdued at once by wildness--- The idea of London, there in that forest parlour, Low and small among the towering beeches, And the one bulging butt that's like a font. Her eyes flashed up; she shook her hair away From eyes and mouth, as if to shriek again; Then sighed back to her scrubbing. While I drank I might have mused of coaches and highwaymen, Charcoal-burners and life that loves the wild. For who now used these roads except myself, A market waggon every other Wednesday, A solitary tramp, some very fresh one Ignorant of these eleven houseless miles, A motorist from a distance slowing down To taste whatever luxury he can In having North Downs clear behind, South clear before, And being midway between two railway lines, Far out of sight or sound of them? There are Some houses---down the by-lanes; and a few Are visible---when their damsons are in bloom. But the land is wild, and there's a spirit of wildness Much older, crying when the stone-curlew yodels His sea and mountain cry, high up in Spring. He nests in fields where still the gorse is free as When all was open and common. Common 'tis named And calls itself, because the bracken and gorse Still hold the hedge where plough and scythe have chased them. Once on a time 'tis plain that the 'White Horse' Stood merely on the border of waste Where horse and cart picked its own course afresh. On all sides then, as now, paths ran to the inn; And now a farm-track takes you from a gate. 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.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Edward Thomas's first student lodgings, Cowley Road, Oxford.

On Saturday May 16th the plaque commemorating Edward Thomas's first year in Oxford was declared 'Installed'. It's a really attractive  stone plaque:

Mason - Richard Morley



We had a ceremony in the garden of 113. Richard Emeny, Chairman of the Edward Fellowship, describing how Edward came here to study before winning a scholarship to Lincoln College to read history.  I read one of the many letters written to Helen - almost daily very loving letters - and Gwilym Scourfield read the poem, The Word.
 
Appropriately we moved on to Lincoln College with Stephen Gill, Professor Emeritus, conducting us, seeing what we believe were Edward's rooms on Staircase 12- but I have my doubts. The Hall at Lincoln is charming, intimate with dark panelling and the usual portraits of  old wardens and the famous - John Wesley being prominent.
Lincoln's lack of money meant that it did not get 'restored' ie spoiled, and the Chapel's window glass is a  ? 16th Century wonder.
 
Lincoln College Chapel

Jonah and the Whale.
 
 I think the poem reflects a common experience- we forget almost all we studied formally and come to know what will last and be essential to us.
 
The Word

 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 be again.
I have forgot, too, names of the 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.
But lesser things there are, remembered yet,
Than all the others. One name that I have not--
Though 'tis an empty thingless name--forgot
Never can die because Spring after Spring
Some thrushes learn to say it as they sing.
There is always one at midday saying it clear
And tart--the name, only the name I hear.
While perhaps I am thinking of the elder scent
That is like food, or while I am content
With the wild rose scent that is like memory,
This name suddenly is cried out to me
From somewhere in the bushes by a bird
Over and over again, a pure thrush word.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

News -A new destination for Edward Thomas pilgrims.

Unveiling of the plaque at 113 Cowley Road, Oxford, Edward Thomas's first lodgings away from home, on May 16th 2015  at 2pm. All welcome. There will be some readings,  a walk into Oxford and maybe tea in the garden on our return.

Edward Thomas and Oxford -  Recognition at last -the long-awaited plaque commemorating Edward Thomas's  first lodgings in 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 able  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.

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.  It is an ordinary Victorian house, unfortunately rendered and with modern Upvc windows, though the rear garden speaks much more of the 1890's. It belongs to a housing  association which, after encouragement from local MP Andrew Smith,  co-operated
keenly with the Edward Thomas Fellowship (www.edwardthomasfellowship.org) in forwarding the project. The Fellowship would appreciate donations to help with the costs - details on the website.




Graffiti shops, Cowley Road, by Jane Hope, www.janehope.co.uk

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 have very much wanted 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 - morleymasonry@hotmail.com)
The wording was agreed and a design made. Delays happened. The design has been altered now to a portrait shape but the wording remains the same and Richard has  been given the go-ahead.


 Oxford 'Entrance'

The non-collegiate scheme was demanding.  Edward 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.


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


 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In Pursuit of Spring - 3

Further West, and birds.


The Lark Ascending, kind permission of Keith Tilley, Painting on the Edge blog.
 

So many birds in 'In Pursuit of spring' as in Thomas's poetry.

They represent  a form of language, a clear true language, and freedom. I remember Robert MacFarlane suggesting that, in contrast to, or balance with, the 'staying put' of trees, birds represent the drive to 'move on'. This was a constant tension for Thomas:  to leave home and then to long to be there again.
The movement is of course  especially true of the spring and summer visitors. It is these birds that receive special attention in 'In Pursuit...'

Still in London, rooks and blackbirds dominate. I associate Thomas with blackbirds - he mentions them often and as a Londoner they would have been very familiar in gardens, even more so than now.
British Trust for Ornithology.


The first birds he encounters are Londoners and prisoners - a parrot who 'sings sweet street songs of twenty years before', and the finches and linnets in cages, in a dismal shop. 'Battered ones a shilling, a neater one at eighteenpence.' Poor goldfinches bloodied from flinging themselves at the bars. The odd Other Man buys a finch, in a paper bag, and releases it. Is this Other Man really Thomas himself? I think he may be.


Here are four extracts from the novel in which both birds and trees feature and perhaps balance each other. There were many more.


He looked around. A trickle from a smaller stream entered Preston Brook. White chickens pecked among the roots of an ash tree; they squeezed through the hedge from a farmhouse he could just see through the elms. The hedge was blackthorn skilfully laid, the clean scars of the labourer’s hook still visible.  He listened. The only sounds were of the stream, the birds and the trees – their own pure and individual languages, never straining for effect, never false. He thought about the many languages, man’s one among many. Was it possible that a man’s words could have that kind of truthfulness?

                                                                                      *

He went for a walk in the misty stillness of evening. Something in the birds’ songs, the single spirit of their singing together, and the calm after London, was like a welcome. He had a sense that he and the birds of Steep were one, that his needs and pleasures were at one with theirs and that he was home. A labourer walked with a slow heavy tread and turned into the thatched wood-shed beside his white cottage. Soon afterward a rhythmic sound of sawing from the man’s shed and the birds had fallen silent. He was home, among country people and thrushes and chaffinches and the oaks and elms that were their homes.

                                                                                *

He worked on new verses – a poem on beauty he began in January, another on sedge warblers, and one about a cuckoo. Birds had enormous significance, a kind of holy importance for him. He felt that their place in nature was always as it should be, not like man’s place, so often destructive, or false, or discontented, and that they were users of a language too as he was.

                                                                          *

He kept a notebook-cum-diary of course, making observations about the surprises of spring, this spring that manifested itself even under fire. The birds especially seemed determined to sing, to mate, to soar in the sky, in spite of it all. For him and for many of the men, the countrymen among them, they were signs of hope and reminders of home. So too was the emerging landscape, the rounded chalk hills with small clumps of trees on their tops. It was as if he could take a sudden turn into a secret path and find himself in Steep.


In Pursuit of Spring: As he moves from suburbs into the country there are more birds - blackbirds of course, thrushes, jackdaws at Guildford castle, rooks everywhere - and so many larks. To me larks are relatively rare - I know where they can be found reliably, especially on Dorset hills near the sea, but  have to make a special effort to go to see and hear them.
 
Chiff-chaff

Edward Thomas listens for the chiff-chaff call as a marker that spring is here, and remembers an early arrival when he was nineteen - no doubt recorded in 'The Woodland Life.'  After Bentley in Hampshire, in the park of a large house:
'...here, and at eleven o'clock, I first heard the chiff-chaff saying, "Chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff, chiff!"
My guide says:'Their song is heard from early March; birdwatchers listen eagerly for it as a sign of spring.'

As he travels over Salisbury Plain he hears and sees 'pewits' (peewits, lapwings) over a river : they 'wheeled over it with creaking wings and protests against the existence of man.'
Linnets twittered, thrushes sang and larks 'rose and fell unceasingly over Dean Hill.' Then near West Grimstead :
'A thrush and and several larks were singing and through their songs I heard a thin voice that I had not heard for six months, very faint yet unmistakeable, though I could not at first see the bird - a sand-martin. On such a morning one sand-martin seems enough to make a summer, and here were six, flitting in narrow circles like butterflies with birds' voices.'
 

British Trust for Ornithology- lapwing

 

Sand-martin

The most numerous things on Salisbury plain  'next to the dead' - 'sheep, rooks, pewits and larks. Today they mingle their voices, but the lark is the most constant.'

Skylark - Telegraph picture
POEMS

For a change  Gerard Manley Hopkins' The Sea and the Skylark
ON ear and ear two noises too old to end
Trench—right, the tide that ramps against the shore;
With a flood or a fall, low lull-off or all roar,
Frequenting there while moon shall wear and wend.
Left hand, off land, I hear the lark ascend, 5
His rash-fresh re-winded new-skein├Ęd score
In crisps of curl off wild winch whirl, and pour
And pelt music, till none ’s to spill nor spend.
How these two shame this shallow and frail town!
How ring right out our sordid turbid time, 10
Being pure! We, life’s pride and cared-for crown,
Have lost that cheer and charm of earth’s past prime:
Our make and making break, are breaking, down
To man’s last dust, drain fast towards man’s first slime.
 
 A marvellous account of the bird and its song (- the last line perhaps too strong, but for depression he could outdo even Edward Thomas.)

For Thomas's poem, there are several to choose from:The Thrush, The Cuckoo, The Owl, The Unknown Bird(rare for Thomas not to be able to identify), Sedge-Warblers, and
 
 Two Pewits

Publishing matters: these are genuine reviews. I'm glad to say that people I do know personally have all, without exception, also said how much they enjoyed it. Some knew a great deal about Edward Thomas, others very little.

30 March 2013 1:07PM A marvellous review on the Guardian web-site.
Timely, Shapely.
2014 sees the 100th anniversary of the First World War; attention will be paid to the writers who remind us. Already the London stage has hosted a play about Edward Thomas, and this Easter the BBC begins readings from his book 'The Pursuit of Spring'. Margaret Keeping's 'A Conscious Englishman' is timely.
Her research is impeccable and she is scrupulous in indicating when she is quoting directly from letters, diaries, poems; where she must imagine, she convinces. Biography can be shapeless, but here the problem is solved by structuring the book around Thomas's search for an answer to the tormenting question - how should he respond to war? This sharp focus excises undigested lumps of research, much to this reader's pleasure. (It could be argued that the relationship with Edna Clarke-Hall is a diversion, but you have only to track her photograph on the internet to understand her allure.)
Helen Thomas has written devotedly of her marriage, and although to a later generation it may lack attraction, Margaret Keeping is wise and generous enough to understand that where both parties have needs which are being met, third-party censoriousness is inappropriate. Her Helen is allowed to speak, and her voice is an engaging one.
Above all, Thomas is a poet of those spots of time - in Margaret Keeping's words, those "moment[s] out of time that could contain something everlasting, a rapturous moment, always remembered." Her gift is to create in prose the landscapes and moods which Thomas captured in his poems. In showing us the genesis of 'The Manor Farm', 'Old Man', 'In Memoriam (Easter 1915)', she sends us straight back to the poetry, and for a writer who loves Thomas's work, what finer service could she render?

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Another surprise review on Amazon - I hadn't been checking:

A good read, 24 Mar 2013

This review is from: A Conscious Englishman (Paperback)
'This excellent book about the important but often overlooked Anglo-Welsh poet Edward Thomas, can be delightful. We experience the blossom of spring, the smell of apples and perry pears, him pushing his children on the swing in the orchard above the wide Gloucestershire fields. And there are some touching, not to mention passionate, moments with his wife Helen.
Margaret Keeping writes very skilfully, achieving some most economical character studies - 'Edward complained I treated everyone as if they were my children and they did not like that. It was nonsense, I was interested in people and hoped they would like me.' One can just see this bustling, fussing albeit well-meaning person driving everyone mad. But one can also see what an anchor she was to Thomas.
The book is an account of their relationship and the relationship with other literary greats of the day, particularly Robert Frost. It is also, of course, the story of Thomas's heart searching and indecision as he clambered to brief fame as a poet, and as such it deftly portrays selfishness, depression and anger.
Most of the narrative is in the third person, but some sections are given to Helen, which is effective in contrasting the down to earth practical point of view of a mother with that of an artist prepared to give up so much for his art. It points up both aspects and increases the feeling of reality in the story.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in poetry, particularly turn of the century poets, English/Welsh rural life, or just a good read. '
 
  

       




       

  

 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

In Pursuit of Spring  - the spring of 1913.


(Aries, Gemini and Taurus for the spring season.)


 Edward Thomas's bicycle journey from London to the Somerset coast, on which he based In Pursuit of Spring,( first published in 1914 by Thomas Nelson),  consists of idiosyncratic, personal responses to his journey.  
In Pursuit of Spring is the most important prose work of Thomas's, as it is nearer to the writing he wanted to do, shows a great deal of himself and was the work that Frost identified as showing that his friend could and should write poetry.
 
 
End-page of my original edition
 
 
Edward Thomas begins with a chapter about the preceding weeks, leading up to Good Friday 1913 on what was also, like ours now, a March Easter. He has a good deal to say about the weather and clearly it was much more variable than our March with its almost unremitting cold.
 
In many of his prose works he begins with a leaving of London. Thomas's relationship with London is complex. As a small boy he was drawn to the areas most resembling true country, especially Wandsworth Common.
The Long Pond.
Wandsworth Common, towards Bolingbroke Grove.
 
 It is those areas he regrets when they have been tidied up or built on - in one case made into a football pitch. He regrets the gypsies who would settle, set up a small fair on holidays (it begins on Good Friday) and perhaps stay on or move elsewhere.
 
But Thomas needed London for work and friendships. He visited editors, stayed with his parents, lunched with Eleanor and others, worked for Harold Monro's Poetry Bookshop as a reviewer and of course met Robert Frost there at one of his regular literary gatherings.
 
In the second chapter, passing through London suburbs towards Epsom,  I noticed references to  things that are gone - elms, quite prolific and important, often with rookeries. And hot-cross buns on Good Friday only. My daughter just remembers the baker delivering them to the small hamlet where we lived then - mid seventies - but we can't really remember when that changed.
 
The first day and first chapter travels from Wandsworth to Guildford.
 
Saxon/Norman Aldbury 'neglected old church ....too much like a shameless unburied corpse.' Maybe he didn't like the 19th cupola that replaced a spire.
Now listed, restored , preserved and protected from all sides.
 
The Hog's Back near Guildford
 
Here is an extract from the novel: 

'Robert read out sections concerning the Other Man who reappeared time and again during Edward’s journey from London to the Quantocks. Certainly there was something uncanny, an uneasiness, about the contingency, re-occurring over and over, which might make a poem. Robert’s own poetry, his ‘books of people’, could have accommodated such a character. But had Robert seen further, seen what the Other Man was?

No, Robert was turning on. He read a passage where Edward had almost despaired of finding a bed for the night on Easter day.

‘Listen:  “I found a bed and a place to sit and eat in, and to listen to the rain breaking over gutters and splashing on to stones, and pipes swallowing rain to the best of their ability, and signboards creaking in the wind; and to reflect on the imperfections of  inns and life¾

You see?’

Edward smiled – weather was a prevailing theme for him, like a descant accompanying his life. He remembered the rest of the chapter – his long discourse on clay pipes and the Other Man’s obsession with weather vanes. Unlikely that Robert would find much in them. No, he moved on, commenting on the passage on George Herbert at Bemington.

When he came to the chapter on Somerset he fell silent. Edward could hear the water murmuring below them under the bridge again.

‘What are you reading?’ Edward asked after a time.

‘I guess it’s everywhere, the poetry – just listen.’ He read in his leisurely way, breaking the lines as though he were reading blank verse.

‘I went out into the village at about half-past nine in the dark, quiet evening. A few stars penetrated the soft sky; a few lights shone on earth, from a distant farm seen through a gap in the cottages. Single and in groups, separated by gardens and bits of orchard, the cottages were vaguely discernible; here and there a yellow window square gave out a feeling of home, tranquillity, security. Nearly all were silent. Ordinary speech was not to be heard, but from one house came the sounds of a harmonium being played and a voice singing a hymn, both faintly. A dog barked far off. After an interval a gate fell-to lightly. Nobody was on the road.”

‘And again – these images …see:  The pollard willows fringing the green, which in the sunlight resemble mops, were now very much like a procession of men, strange primeval beings, pausing to meditate in the darkness.”

That’s great. The music and the drama in it, working together. And the way it ends:  I felt that I could walk on thus, sipping the evening silence and solitude, endlessly.” '

Edward looked down from the footbridge into the dark brook; he was both excited and impatient. If Robert would just leave him alone for a while now, he thought. It was for him to evaluate his own work. If there was a possibility of him trying poetry, well, then it was for him to find his sources, his subjects.

‘Robert, I think I have to be getting back to work. But thank you. Next time we meet, though, let’s talk about your poetry.’ '

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Edward Thomas' Beauty', another 'sprained ankle' poem.

This is my favourite Thomas poem. A miniature eighteen-line autobiography, an honest self-appraisal, a misery-memoir consciously and humorously undermined and upturned. A not-quite sonnet -currently fashionable - retaining the punch of the mood and tone change and letting it blossom. Those birds, always exact to their 'jizz'  but meaning much more:
'The birds may represent alternative ways of dealing with neurosis; a regressive resort to nostalgia, wailing for something lost; or progress towards the grounded selfhood phrased as 'home and love'.



                          W HAT does it mean? Tired, angry, and ill at ease,
No man, woman, or child alive could please
Me now. And yet I almost dare to laugh
Because I sit and frame an epitaph-
'Here lies all that no one loved of him
And that loved no one.' Then in a trice that whim
Has wearied. But, though I am like a river
At fall of evening when it seems that never
Has the sun lighted it or warmed it, while
Cross breezes cut the surface to a file,
This heart, some fraction of me, happily
Floats through a window even now to a tree
Down in the misting, dim-lit, quiet vale;
Not like a pewit that returns to wail
For something it has lost, but like a dove
That slants unswerving to its home and love.
There I find my rest, and through the dusk air
Flies what yet lives in me. Beauty is there

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

17th, 18th & 20th January1915- three significant poems.

The Unknown Bird, The Mill-Pond and Man and Dog.
All three have notebook entries as possible origins, and The Unknown Bird has a passage in The Happy-Go-Lucky Morgans, a sad passage where the bird is forlorn and seems to bring sorrow with it. Yet not so in this poem, more a transcendence,
                    'if sad
Twas only with joy too, too far off
For me to taste it. '

The note-takers /naturalists miss this transcendence - 'natural history [is in} danger of falling into the hands of mere takers of notes.'  He too was ambivalent about his own incessant note-book filling and in this poem - compared with Man and Dog- he has begun to find more of himself.

The Unknown Bird     
Three lovely notes he whistled, too soft to be heard
If others sang; but others never sang
In the great beech-wood all that May and June.
No one saw him: I alone could hear him
Though many listened. Was it but four years
Ago? or five? He never came again.
 
Oftenest when I heard him I was alone,
Nor could I ever make another hear.
La-la-la! he called, seeming far-off—
As if a cock crowed past the edge of the world,
As if the bird or I were in a dream.
Yet that he travelled through the trees and sometimes
Neared me, was plain, though somehow distant still
He sounded. All the proof is—I told men
What I had heard.
 
                                   I never knew a voice,
Man, beast, or bird, better than this. I told
The naturalists; but neither had they heard
Anything like the notes that did so haunt me,
I had them clear by heart and have them still.
Four years, or five, have made no difference. Then
As now that La-la-la! was bodiless sweet:
Sad more than joyful it was, if I must say
That it was one or other, but if sad
'Twas sad only with joy too, too far off
For me to taste it. But I cannot tell
If truly never anything but fair
The days were when he sang, as now they seem.
This surely I know, that I who listened then,
Happy sometimes, sometimes suffering
A heavy body and a heavy heart,
Now straightway, if I think of it, become
Light as that bird wandering beyond my shore.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Mill-Pond
 
 
The sun blazed while the thunder yet
Added a boom:
A wagtail flickered bright over
The mill-pond’s gloom:

Less than the cooing in the alder
Isles of the pool
Sounded the thunder through that plunge
Of waters cool.

Scared starlings on the aspen tip
Past the black mill.
Outchattered the stream and the next roar
Far on the hill.

As my feet dangling teased the foam
That slid below
A girl came out. ‘Take care!’ she said—-
Ages ago.

She startled me, standing quite close
Dressed all in white:
Ages ago I was angry till
She passed from sight.

Then the storm burst, and as I crouched
To shelter, how
Beautiful and kind, too, she seemed,
As she does now!

Edna Longley's thoughts on this are so interesting but hard to summarise: querying why the poem seems to fade and maybe sentimentalise rather than build to power, she describes it as neither a war or a love poem and speculates on why that be. She contrasts it with the waters in A Dream.

Man and Dog
A very easy-to-love poem, straight from his prose and giving a social history through an individual. It reminds me of Frost's hired worker in Death of The Hired Man but still more of a character in Wordsworth.
''Twill take some getting.' 'Sir, I think 'twill so.'
The old man stared up at the mistletoe
That hung too high in the poplar's crest for plunder
Of any climber, though not for kissing under:
Then he went on against the north-east wind--- Straight but lame, leaning on a staff new-skinned, Carrying a brolly, flag-basket, and old coat,---
Towards Alto, ten miles off. And he had not
Done less from Chilgrove where he pulled up docks. 'Twere best, if he had had 'a money-box',
To have waited there till the sheep cleared a field
For what a half-week's flint-picking would yield.
His mind was running on the work he had done
Since he left Christchurch in the New Forest, one
Spring in the 'seventies,---navvying on dock and line From Southampton to Newcastle-on-Tyne,---
In 'seventy-four a year of soldiering
With the Berkshires,---hoeing and harvesting
In half the shires where corn and couch will grow.
His sons, three sons, were fighting, but the hoe
And reap-hook he liked, or anything to do with trees.
He fell once from a poplar tall as these:
The Flying Man they called him in hospital.
'If I flew now, to another world I'd fall.'
He laughed and whistled to the small brown bitch
With spots of blue that hunted in the ditch.
Her foxy Welsh grandfather must have paired
Beneath him. He kept sheep in Wales and scared Strangers, I will warrant, with his pearl eye
And trick of shrinking off as he were shy,
Then following close in silence for---for what?
'No rabbit, never fear, she ever got,
Yet always hunts. To-day she nearly had one:
She would and she wouldn't. 'Twas like that.
The bad one!
She's not much use, but still she's company,
Though I'm not. She goes everywhere with me. So
Alton I must reach to-night somehow:
I'll get no shakedown with that bedfellow
From farmers. Many a man sleeps worse to-night
Than I shall.' 'In the trenches.' 'Yes, that's right.
But they'll be out of that---I hope they be---
This weather, marching after the enemy.'
'And so I hope. Good luck.' And there I nodded
'Good-night. You keep straight on,' Stiffly he plodded; And at his heels the crisp leaves scurried fast,
And the leaf-coloured robin watched. They passed,
The robin till next day, the man for good,
Together in the twilight of the wood.                             

Saturday, January 24, 2015

January 1915 'sprained ankle poems -
Edward Thomas wrote prolifically when confined to the house because of a serious ankle injury.
15th January - The Cuckoo,  and Swedes


The Cuckoo is the only Thomas poem with a woman narrator. It surely stemmed from a real conversation with a shepherd's widow. A passage in The Heart of England refers to the same shepherd's call. The last word is strengthened for me by the 'my' that precedes it.
The Cuckoo
That's the cuckoo, you say. I cannot hear it.
When last I heard it I cannot recall; but I know
Too well the year when first I failed to hear it -
It was drowned by my man groaning out to his sheep 'Ho! Ho!'

Ten times with an angry voice he shouted
'Ho! Ho!' but not in anger, for that was his way.
He died that Summer, and that is how I remember
The cuckoo calling, the children listening, and me saying 'Nay'.

And now, as you said, 'There it is', I was hearing
Not the cuckoo at all, but my man's 'Ho! Ho!' instead.
And I think that even if I could lose my deafness
The cuckoo's note would be drowned by the voice of my dead.

Swedes       

 They have taken the gable from the roof of clay
On the long swede pile.  They have let in the sun
To the white and gold and purple of curled fronds
Unsunned.  It is a sight more tender-gorgeous
At the wood-corner where Winter moans and drips
Than when, in the Valley of the Tombs of Kings,
A boy crawls down into a Pharaoh's tomb
And, first of Christian men, beholds the mummy,
God and monkey, chariot and throne and vase,
Blue pottery, alabaster, and gold.

But dreamless long-dead Amen-hotep lies.
This is a dream of Winter, sweet as Spring.

This is a popular poem that takes the every-day and sees in it something  remarkable. I have always noticed colour in Thomas's poems and prose, the many greens especially, but this is certainly more 'tender-gorgeous.' Of course Harold Carter had yet to open the tomb of Tutankhamen  that created such a sensation in the twenties.

         

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Edward Thomas's 'sprained ankle' poems - Over the Hills and The Lofty Sky.The titles say it all, don't they. I feel I haven't taken seriously enough just what an ordeal it must have been for Thomas being confined to the house. I myself need to get out of doors a great deal, but for him it was sometimes life-saving.
These two poems are again about remembering. The first concerns remembering remembering, but he encounters some problem, some flaw in the memory or in himself, implying that it is impossible to go back - in reality or just in full memory I don't know. Longley recommends we look carefullt at the line-breaks.                             

The Lofty Sky has a vibrant rhythm and energy - pent-up energy. Edna Longley sees it as having a strong Romantic theme.

To-day I want the sky,
The tops of the high hills,
Above the last man's house,
His hedges, and his cows,
Where, if I will, I look
Down even on sheep and rook,
And of all things that move
See buzzards only above:-
Past all trees, past furze
And thorn, where nought deters
The desire of the eye
For sky, nothing but sky.
I sicken of the woods
And all the multitudes
Of hedge-trees. They are no more
Than weeds upon this floor
Of the river of air
Leagues deep, leagues wide, where
I am like a fish that lives
In weeds and mud and gives
What's above him no thought.
I might be a tench for aught
That I can do to-day
Down on the wealden clay.
Even the tench has days
When he floats up and plays
Among the lily leaves
And sees the sky, or grieves
Not if he nothing sees:
While I, I know that trees
Under that lofty sky
Are weeds, fields mud, and I
Would arise and go far
To where the lilies are.Edward Thomas's 'sprained ankle' poems - Over the Hills and The Lofty Sky.
The titles say it all, don't they. I feel I haven't taken seriously enough just what an ordeal it must have been for Thomas being confined to the house. I myself need to get out of doors a great deal, but for him it was sometimes life-saving.
These two poems are again about remembering. The first concerns remembering remembering, but he encounters some problem, some flaw in the memory or in himself, implying that it is impossible to go back - in reality or just in full memory I don't know. Longley recommends we look carefullt at the line-breaks.                             

The Lofty Sky has a vibrant rhythm and energy - pent-up energy. Edna Longley sees it as having a strong Romantic theme.

To-day I want the sky,
The tops of the high hills,
Above the last man's house,
His hedges, and his cows,
Where, if I will, I look
Down even on sheep and rook,
And of all things that move
See buzzards only above:-
Past all trees, past furze
And thorn, where nought deters
The desire of the eye
For sky, nothing but sky.
I sicken of the woods
And all the multitudes
Of hedge-trees. They are no more
Than weeds upon this floor
Of the river of air
Leagues deep, leagues wide, where
I am like a fish that lives
In weeds and mud and gives
What's above him no thought.
I might be a tench for aught
That I can do to-day
Down on the wealden clay.
Even the tench has days
When he floats up and plays
Among the lily leaves
And sees the sky, or grieves
Not if he nothing sees:
While I, I know that trees
Under that lofty sky
Are weeds, fields mud, and I
Would arise and go far
To where the lilies are.Edward Thomas's 'sprained ankle' poems - Over the Hills and The Lofty Sky.
The titles say it all, don't they. I feel I haven't taken seriously enough just what an ordeal it must have been for Thomas being confined to the house. I myself need to get out of doors a great deal, but for him it was sometimes life-saving.
These two poems are again about remembering. The first concerns remembering remembering, but he encounters some problem, some flaw in the memory or in himself, implying that it is impossible to go back - in reality or just in full memory I don't know. Longley recommends we look carefullt at the line-breaks.                             

The Lofty Sky has a vibrant rhythm and energy - pent-up energy. Edna Longley sees it as having a strong Romantic theme.

To-day I want the sky,
The tops of the high hills,
Above the last man's house,
His hedges, and his cows,
Where, if I will, I look
Down even on sheep and rook,
And of all things that move
See buzzards only above:-
Past all trees, past furze
And thorn, where nought deters
The desire of the eye
For sky, nothing but sky.
I sicken of the woods
And all the multitudes
Of hedge-trees. They are no more
Than weeds upon this floor
Of the river of air
Leagues deep, leagues wide, where
I am like a fish that lives
In weeds and mud and gives
What's above him no thought.
I might be a tench for aught
That I can do to-day
Down on the wealden clay.
Even the tench has days
When he floats up and plays
Among the lily leaves
And sees the sky, or grieves
Not if he nothing sees:
While I, I know that trees
Under that lofty sky
Are weeds, fields mud, and I
Would arise and go far
To where the lilies are.Edward Thomas's 'sprained ankle' poems - Over the Hills and The Lofty Sky.
The titles say it all, don't they. I feel I haven't taken seriously enough just what an ordeal it must have been for Thomas being confined to the house. I myself need to get out of doors a great deal, but for him it was sometimes life-saving.
These two poems are again about remembering. The first concerns remembering remembering, but he encounters some problem, some flaw in the memory or in himself, implying that it is impossible to go back - in reality or just in full memory I don't know. Longley recommends we look carefullt at the line-breaks.                             

The Lofty Sky has a vibrant rhythm and energy - pent-up energy. Edna Longley sees it as having a strong Romantic theme.

To-day I want the sky,
The tops of the high hills,
Above the last man's house,
His hedges, and his cows,
Where, if I will, I look
Down even on sheep and rook,
And of all things that move
See buzzards only above:-
Past all trees, past furze
And thorn, where nought deters
The desire of the eye
For sky, nothing but sky.
I sicken of the woods
And all the multitudes
Of hedge-trees. They are no more
Than weeds upon this floor
Of the river of air
Leagues deep, leagues wide, where
I am like a fish that lives
In weeds and mud and gives
What's above him no thought.
I might be a tench for aught
That I can do to-day
Down on the wealden clay.
Even the tench has days
When he floats up and plays
Among the lily leaves
And sees the sky, or grieves
Not if he nothing sees:
While I, I know that trees
Under that lofty sky
Are weeds, fields mud, and I
Would arise and go far
To where the lilies are.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

'Adlestrop' and 'Tears' - more 'sprained ankle' poems.

Both written or at least begun on the 8th January!

We may think there is nothing new to say about Adlestrop, but Edna Longley's marvellous notes to her edition sees the intense juxtaposition of composition showing a development. Tears has history and ambiguity, reflecting the violence of hounds and soldiers as well as their beauty, and perhaps stirrings of conscience about the enlisting issue.

Adlestrop  - and perhaps that's why it's so easy to love - is an appreciation of England 'aesthetically' only, something about which, after the epiphany of the autumn before, Thomas was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

But how wonderful that he could use his memories and his field notebooks to create these works while sitting in a deck-chair in the living room with his leg propped up, taking up most of the room and no doubt grumbling at everything Helen was doing.
 
Tears
It seems I have no tears left.
They should have fallen---
Their ghosts, if tears have ghosts, did fall---that day
When twenty hounds streamed by me, not yet combed out
But still all equals in their rage of gladness
Upon the scent, made one, like a great dragon
In Blooming Meadow that bends towards the sun
And once bore hops: and on that other day
When I stepped out from the double-shadowed
Tower Into an April morning, stirring and sweet
And warm. Strange solitude was there and silence.
A mightier charm than any in the Tower
Possessed the courtyard. They were changing guard,
Soldiers in line, young English countrymen,
Fair-haired and ruddy, in white tunics.
Drums And fifes were playing 'The British Grenadiers'.
The men, the music piercing that solitude
And silence, told me truths I had not dreamed,
And have forgotten since their beauty passed.

 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Edward Thomas - the sprained ankle poems.

Laid low with a badly sprained ankle, Edward Thomas was writing poems at a great rate. He once said he wrote well when in pain.
A Private, written on 6th and 7th January, has the first reference, I think, to the war, and it seems he altered it from its first draft, which referred to 'an old man' and implied the Boer war. What a powerful message it gives about those thousands lost and never found, or unrecognizable.
 
Pictures by Nick Hedges
      
This ploughman dead in battle slept out of doors
Many a frosty night, and merrily
Answered staid drinkers, good bedmen, and all bores:
'At Mrs Greenland's Hawthorn Bush,' said he,
'I slept.' None knew which bush. Above the town,
Beyond 'The Drover', a hundred spot the down
In Wiltshire. And where now at last he sleeps
More sound in France—that, too, he secret keeps.
 
 
Snow

Snow
As Edna Longley comments, this is a traditional folk idea but the oxymorons of 'gloom of whiteness' and 'dusky brightness' darken the metaphor.
In the gloom of whiteness,
In the great silence of snow,
A child was sighing
And bitterly saying: "Oh,
They have killed a white bird up there on her nest,
The down is fluttering from her breast!"
And still it fell through that dusky brightness
On the child crying for the bird of the snow.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year.


A hundred years ago Edward Thomas was in full flow, writing poetry but keeping it  quiet.

After Christmas with Edward's parents in London, the family came back to Steep on the 2nd, and Edward headed for the study, surely to work on his New Year poem, written on the 1st January.  Sprinting back down the Shoulder of Mutton hill for lunch he sprained his ankle badly, an injury which was not entirely healed for four months. He was confined to bed for some time, then confined to the cottage.

Yew Tree Cottage, Steep


Here is an extract from the novel: .

So much taken from him, denied him, because of one unlucky step as he ran down the hill – his foot landed on a stone and twisted sideways. He fell headlong onto the short turf as the sheep scattered.

He was confined to bed, quite immobile. Helen had to do everything for him. A fine beginning to the New Year! A last visit to the Frosts at Ryton had to be cancelled; no one came to see him, not even Eleanor or his mother. The most he could do was crawl from his bed and sit in a deck-chair in the bedroom, where the east window looked out on the wintry garden. There he could write; he wrote about a ploughman he knew who’d been killed in France, and about the time last June when their train to Ledbury stopped at a station with an odd name – Adlestrop.

Memory must be his source – his memory and his field notebooks, which he had Helen fetch from the Cockshott Lane study. He had always kept a notebook, everywhere he went, and the detail, the thoughts he’d had, the conversations with solitary strangers on the road, fed him with ideas. Often he told himself that if he stopped using notebooks, if he only looked, allowed himself to experience what he encountered, it would be better. It might free him from that sense he often had that he was nothing but a remote observer, a ghost invisible to other people. Perhaps, too, without a notebook, he would remember only the poignant, vital aspects of what he encountered instead of losing that significance in a mass of detail. But he could not break the habit now – it was part of who he was.

He was longing to be out of the house, and further, to be over the hills, beyond the horizon. He was tired of the view from the window, tired of the cottage and his own limitation, and of Steep – he needed the sky over high hills, where he could look down on the last house, even on the last of the trees, from a plateau of gorse and furze. To be so tied to the earth, even though he loved it – it was as though he were a fish confined to living among mud and weeds.
 
The Poem:
A Wordsworthian narrative of meeting an old man in a lonely place.
 
HE was the one man I met up in the woods
That stormy New Year's morning; and at first sight,
Fifty yards off, I could not tell how much
Of the strange tripod was a man. His body,
Bowed horizontal, was supported equally
By legs at one end, by a rake at the other:
Thus he rested, far less like a man than
His wheel-barrow in profile was like a pig.
But when I saw it was an old man bent,
At the same moment came into my mind
The games at which boys bend thus, High-Cockalorum,
Or Fly-the-garter, and Leap-frog. At the sound
Of footsteps he began to straighten himself;
His head rolled under his cape like a tortoise's;
He took an unlit pipe out of his mouth
Politely ere I wished him "A Happy New Year,"
And with his head cast upward sideways Muttered--
So far as I could hear through the trees' roar--
"Happy New Year, and may it come fastish, too,"
While I strode by and he turned to raking leaves.

By contrast, here's Eleanor Farjeon New Year poem.