Edward Thomas (R15)


Back in the summer of 2018, I found myself offering some guidance to my grandson who, for his A Level studies, was then in the business of making a literary comparison between The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane and Edward Thomas’ The South Country. A lovely hard-back copy of the latter had been on my shelves for many years unread so I was pleased to be having to read it in a very focused kind of way at last; the former struck me as a modern (2013) pot-boiler which could have been usefully cut down from 433 pages to about a good 150. In an uncharacteristic bout of clearing up recently, intent on not having it taking up valuable shelf space, I tore the Macfarlane book apart for the dustbin. Though I wrote at length on both books, there was in fact no comparison!

In his own way, Macfarlane is keen on Edward Thomas and deals sensitively enough with his meaningless death in the First World War. However, one thing did stick with me! When writing about Edward Thomas I did my usual thing of concocting found poems & haiku from his splendid prose. Macfarlane points out that it was Robert Frost who encouraged…

…Thomas to make the move from prose into poetry. He is, Frost tells him, a poet behind the disguise of prose. It’s Frost who takes lines from one of [what Macfarlane ignorantly calls Thomas’s ‘travelogues’] and rearranges them as verse, so that Thomas can see what he’s been doing all along without knowing it. Frost ‘produced … the enharmonic change,’ Farjeon writes beautifully, ‘that made [Thomas] not a different man, but the same man in another key.’ Thus retuned, and with such encouragement, his poems start coming – tentatively, experimentally – his first finished on 3 December 1914.
(page 342 my emphasis…)

So it rather pleased me to have been following in Frost’s footsteps! I’m left wondering which lines Frost might have taken to illustrate Thomas’ poetic bent. Perhaps my take on Mcfarlane makes me as self-centred as he is by comparison with Edward Thomas with his consistently gentle ‘easy and straight-up, honest, no messing, style’.

I have preserved my writing about Edward Thomas; the essay on Macfarlane I did for my grandson has gone off into garbageworld. Re-reading the essay on Edward Thomas now, I can detect the frequent teacherly hints which made me feel thirty years younger when I was relishing The South Country for the first time! The frequent quotations were intended both to illustrate the points I was making and to help my grandson focus on what I considered to be important – maybe worth quoting from himself when he wrote his own essay!

Edward Thomas : The South Country 1

Graham Greene said that if there is a gun in the first chapter of a novel you can be pretty certain that it’ll be used at some stage in the action. I always remember this when I start reading something: whatever gets said early on in any book is more than likely going to be significant later on.

First, then, there’s the introduction in which John Wain tells us of the pressures Edward Thomas was under in order to make a living to support his early marriage by reviewing and writing. Not till 1914 did he become a poet; prior to that he was writing to earn money; his Richard Jefferies – not a very good book, according to John Wain (I disagree) – was padded out with quotations in order to make up a word quota to fulfil the obligation set by an advance payment from the publisher. One might be forgiven for getting the feeling that The South Country is often similarly padded out – mainly with relatively mundane descriptions of the weather and its effect on the denizens of the landscape..

However, what are we to expect from the opening pages? A number of things. On his traipse around southern counties, certainly not cartographical precision for a start:-

…what I have sought is quiet and as complete a remoteness as possible from towns, whether of manufactures, of markets or of cathedrals. I have used a good many maps in my time, largely to avoid the towns; but I confess that I prefer to do without them and to go, if I have some days before me, guided by the hills or the sun or a stream – or, if I have one day only, in a rough circle, trusting, by taking a series of turnings to the left or a series to the right, to take much beauty by surprise and to return at last to my starting-point. On a dull day or cloudy night I have often no knowledge of the points of the compass. I never go out to see anything…

This tells us, in an easy and straight-up, honest, no messing, style, what Thomas is after: we will not be acting as tourists viewing the sights.

I do not like the showmen, the smell and look of the museum, the feeling that it is admiration or nothing, and all the well-dressed and flyblown people round about. I sometimes think that religious architecture is a dead language, majestic but dead, that it never was a popular language. Have some of these buildings lived too long, been too well preserved, so as to oppress our little days with too permanent an expression of the passing things?

A cathedral is simply possessed of ‘turbulent quiet and vague antiquity’; much more interesting to Edward Thomas is the sight of ‘two boys… kicking a football in a half-walled court’ of a school. He is more concerned with human beings in a landscape, how they are shaped by it, what they do there, than dead structures; children playing, and of the green downs and windy sky, for example.

Nor will we expect to find references to the ‘News of the Day’. Thomas will, it seems, meander, mapless from place to place

…armed only with myself, an avaricious and often libertine and fickle eye and ear, in pursuit, not of knowledge, not of wisdom, but of one whom to pursue is never to capture. Politics, the drama, science, racing, reforms and preservations, divorces, book clubs – nearly everything which the average (oh! mysterious average man, always to be met but never met) and the superior and the intelligent man is thinking of, I cannot grasp; my mind refuses to deal with them…

But in traversing the landscape he will be conscious of the past, who lived where and what fights there were to establish a living.

The blood of conquered and conqueror is in our veins, and it flushes the cheek at the sight or thought of the west. Each man of us is as ancient and complicated, as lofty-spired and as deep-vaulted as cathedrals and castles old, and in those lands our crypts and dark foundations are dimly remembered.

That’s a significant metaphor! He will be ruminating on the nature of what it is to be human. We are as old and complex, high and low, mentally as old buildings; we have our dark places and our light. We might expect Thomas to be flying high over and plumbing the depths of the human spirit. ‘In some ways’, he says, the South Country

…is incomparably larger than any country that was ever mapped, since upon nothing less than the infinite can the spirit disport itself. In ways it is far smaller – as when a mountain with tracts of sky and cloud and the full moon glass [mirror] themselves in a pond, a little pond…

tracts of sky & cloud
& full moon mirrored
in a little pond

(found haiku!)

A map of the human spirit would on the one hand be ‘incomparably larger’ than a simple map with its precise conventional signs – nothing like that in the human psyche – on the other hand, we are not much more than a ‘little pond’ of worry & upset. It depends on your perspective. The likelihood is that Thomas will be intent on shifting our perspective of things. Watch constantly for the way Thomas shifts your perspectives by the word-pictures he paints.

‘…Often when the lark is high he seems to be singing in some keyless chamber of the brain…’ when all we can offer is the ‘muddy untruthful reflection of words’ which can never measure up to the song of the lark. Nevertheless the human brain can be affected by its song.

the lark on high
sings in some keyless
chamber of the brain

(another found haiku!)

…the rain increases: the sound and the mist of it make a wall about the world, except the world in the brain and except the thrushs song which, so bright and clear, has a kind of humanity in it by contrast with the huge bulk of the noises of sea and wood.

‘The world in the brain’, the image we have of the universe, has no walls; in it the song of the thrush seems like a metaphor for the human spirit.

A little kid with her dog picking violets make Thomas

…think of such a child and such a playmate that lived two thousand years ago in the sun, and once as they played each set a foot upon the soft clay of a tile that the tile maker had not yet burned hard and red. The tile fell in the ruin of a Roman city in Britain, was buried hundreds of years in ashes and flowering mould, and yesterday I saw the footprints in the dark red tile, two thousand years old…

The landscape is full of the past – an idea he returns to specially in Chapter 9 – if only we learn to shift our perspective, cease being fixed to the present and search out ‘the spirit of place’. I’m sure that here Thomas is under the influence of Richard Jefferies who ruminated on the man long buried in a tumulus in The Story of My Heart.

There are many descriptions of the natural scene which we might tend to skip through with a kind of so what attitude. What is there in them? John Wain says Thomas is ‘more poetic’ than Jefferies (something I doubt very much). Let’s take a paragraph and make it into a Found Poem.

Here’s a paragraph from Chapter 2:-

Towards the end of March there are six nights of frost giving birth to still mornings of weak sunlight, of an opaque yet not definitely misty air. The sky is of a milky, uncertain pale blue without one cloud. Eastward the hooded sun is warming the slope fields and melting the sparkling frost. In many trees the woodpeckers laugh so often that their cry is a song. A grassy ancient orchard has taken possession of the visible sunbeams, and the green and gold of the mistletoe glows on the silvered and mossy branches of apple trees. The pale stubble is yellow and tenderly lit, and gives the low hills a hollow light appearance as if they might presently dissolve. In a hundred tiers on the steep hill, the uncounted perpendicular straight stems of beech, and yet not all quite perpendicular or quite straight, are silver-grey in the midst of a haze, here brown, there rosy, of branches and swelling buds. Though but a quarter of a mile away in this faintly clouded air they are very small, aerial in substance, infinitely remote from the road on which I stand, and more like reflections in calm water than real things.

And here’s a found poem I’ve made from it:-

at the end of March

after six nights of frost
still mornings of weak sunlight
with opaque yet not definitely misty air;

the sky milky uncertain pale blue
without a cloud; eastwards the hooded sun
warms the slope of fields
and melts the sparkling frost

woodpeckers laugh in trees
so often
their cry is a song

a grassy ancient orchard takes possession
of visible sunbeams; the green & gold
of the mistletoe glows on the silvered
mossy branches of apple trees;

pale stubble yellow and tenderly lit
makes the low hills hollow & light
as if they might presently dissolve…

in a hundred tiers on the steep hill
the uncounted perpendicular straight stems of beech –
not all quite perpendicular or quite straight –
are silver-grey in the midst of a haze
of branches and swelling buds

a quarter of a mile away
from the road on which I stand
in this faintly clouded air
they are aerial in substance
infinitely remote – more like reflections
in calm water than real things

What’s the difference? Are all Thomas’ descriptions like this?

They are most impressive/memorable when they flip over into much larger ideas, when the perspective is changed for us:-

…under leaf and cloud and air a window is thrown open upon the unfathomable deep, and at the window we are sitting, watching the flight of our souls away, away to where they must be gathered into the music that is being built. Often upon the vast and silent twilight, as now, is the soul poured out as a rivulet into the sea and lost, not able even to stain the boundless crystal of the air; and the body stands empty, waiting for its return, and, poor thing, knows not what it receives back into itself when the night is dark and it moves away.

When we go out into the night air we can empty ourselves into the darkness, mere nothingnesses enabling us to become a new thing if only we could understand the process. The fact is that we already live in what’s called Eternity but we don’t realise it – how nice it would be if we could… ‘…we stand ever at the edge of Eternity and fall in many times before we die…’

But we just don’t get it…

Yet even such thoughts live not long this day. All shall be healed, says the dream. All shall be made new. The day is a fairy birth, a foundling not fathered nor mothered by any grey yesterdays. It has inherited nothing. It makes of winter and of the old springs that wrought nothing fair a stale creed, a senseless tale: they are naught: I do not wonder any longer if the larks song has grown old with the ears that hear it or if it be still unchanged.

We suffer by letting the past affect us too much; let’s shuffle it off and make every day a completely new one, with no attachment to the past unless we choose to hear the lark’s song for what it is.

This is where Edward Thomas stands and explains why he avoids ‘showmen, the smell and look of the museum’ and so on :-

How little do we know of the business of the earth, not to speak of the universe; of time, not to speak of eternity. It was not by taking thought that man survived the mastodon. The acts and thoughts that will serve the race, that will profit this commonwealth of things that live in the sun, the air, the earth, the sea, now and through all time, are not known and never will be known. The rumour of much toil and scheming and triumph may never reach the stars, and what we value not at all, are not conscious of, may break the surface of eternity with endless ripples of good. We know not by what we survive.

But we are part of ‘the pattern woven by earth that draws the gods [such as they are] to lean forward out of the heavens to watch the play [of things] and say… “They also are of our company…” ’

That is, we are infinitely god-like.

And sometimes it seems as if life will go on forever, that things can never change. There is ‘…a wide harmony of the brain and the earth and the sky’ but then ‘suddenly darker clouds are felt to have ascended out of the north-west and to have covered the world. The beeches roar with rain. Moon and Downs are lost. The road bubbles and glows underfoot… We are saved for eternity by the sound of a distant blackbird… hidden in the bosom of the rain like an enchanter hidden by his spells…’

Here for this hour we are remote from the parochialism of humanity. The bird has admitted a larger air. We breathe deeply of it and are made free citizens of eternity. We hear voices that were not dreamed of before, the voices of those spirits that live in minute forms of life, the spirits that weave the frost flower on the fallen branch, the gnomes of underground, those who care for the fungus on the beech root, the lichen on the trunk, the algae on the gravestone. This hazel lane is a palace of strange pomp in an empire of which we suddenly find ourselves guests, not wholly alien nor ill at ease, though the language is new. Drink but a little draught of this air and no need is there to fear the ways of men, their mockery, their cruelty, their foreignness.

Marvelous! That’s what I’ve got from the first two chapters of The South Country

Edward Thomas : The South Country 2

Chapter 3 begins with descriptions of weather & the new flourishing of plant-life in Spring. This is can surely only be said to be really riveting reading from time to time: for instance when Thomas relishes the local names of places somewhere in Kent:-

How goodly are the names hereabout! Dinas Dene, the coombe in which an old house stands; Balk Shaw, Cream Crox, Dicky Mays Field, Ivy Hatch, Lady Lands, Ladys Wood, Upper and Lower Robsacks, Obram Wood, Ruffats, Styants Mead, the Shode, and, of course, a Starvecrow…

or when he links the outer world with the inner, noticing meadows

…suffused in late sunshine, their trees misty and massed, under a happy sky; …the sun pours almost horizontal beams down upon the perfectly new leaves so as to give each one a yellow-green glow and to some a silver shimmer about the shadowy boles. For the moment the trees lose their anchor in the solid earth. They are floating, wavering, shimmering, more aerial and pure and wild than birds or any visible things, than aught except music and the fantasies of the brain. The mind takes flight and hovers among the leaves with whatsoever powers it has akin to dew and trembling larks song and rippling water; it is throbbed away not only above the ponderous earth but below the firmament in the middle world of footless fancies and half thoughts that drift hither and thither and know neither a heaven nor a home. It is a loss of a name and not of a belief that forbids us to say to-day that sprites flutter and tempt there among the new leaves of the beeches in the late May light.

When we abandon the labels for things they become themselves, in & for themselves. Otherwise, Thomas wonders, when we put the veil of words between us and the world out there

…how can our thoughts, the movements of our bodies, our human kindnesses, ever fit themselves with this blithe world ? Is it but vain remorse at what is lost, or is it not rather a token of what may yet be achieved, that makes these images blind us as does the sight of children dressed for a play, some solemn-thoughtful, some wholly gay, suddenly revealed to us in brilliant light after the night wind and rain?

The one-armed man from Zennor in Chapter 15 impresses Thomas in having ‘…no opinions, ideas, proposals for reform, but only the wisdom to live, happily and healthily and simply, himself… He had no words to describe his green thoughts…’ [‘…in a green shade…’ poem by Andrew Marvell]…

The deities he surmised or smelt or tasted in the air or upon the earth had neither name nor shape. Had he been able to think, he was the man to put our generation on the way to a new mythology. For all I know, he had the vision, the power of the seer, without the power of the prophet… I think he was not wholly the loser by being unable to think. The eye untroubled by thought sees things like a mirror newly burnished; at night, for example, the musing man can see nothing before him but a mist, but if he stops thinking quickly the roads, the walls, the trees become visible. So this man saw with a clearness…

It’s OK to have them provided we recognise that thoughts get in the way of a direct apprehension of things as they really are… (how can we possibly know what that is?…) Seeing things by another light without all the intellectual constructing that we go through – that would be enlightenment – at least gives us occasional opportunities to see things as they really are. When the musing man [or woman] stops thinking

…in his memory violets and roses, trees and faces were as clear as if within his brain were another sun to light them. He had but to close his eyes to see these things, an innumerable procession of days and their flowers and their birds in the sky or on the bough. And this he had at no cost. He employed only such labour as was needed to make his bread and occasionally clothes and a pipe. Nor did he merely ask alms of Nature and Civilization. He paid back countless charities to flower and bird and child and poorer men, and there was nothing against him of pain or sorrow or death inflicted. And as he was without religion so he was without patriotism. He had no country, knew nothing of men and events…

This doesn’t stop Thomas having very definite thoughts & opinions about the way footpaths are blocked by rich men with barbed wire or converted into asphalt; the way local councils prevent gypsies from camping in ‘long wayside greens, [nobody’s]… garden, measuring a few feet wide but many miles in length’. He asks why should they be used ‘either as receptacles for the dust of motor-cars or as additions to the property of the landowner who happens to be renewing his fence?’

Chapter 4 is the first vivid portrait of the effect on an individual of living in an environment fighting ‘a losing battle against London’, and its sprawl. He was an ex-farmer who converted his farmhouse into an allsorts shop and watched the decay of everything he had known and lived for.

…men felled the elms and drove away their shadows for ever, and all that dwelled or could be imagined therein. No more would the trees be enchanted by the drunken early songs of blackbirds. The heavenly beauty of earthly things went away upon the timber carriages and was stamped with mud. The butts of the trees were used to decorate the gardens of the new houses… Those elms had come unconsciously to be part of the real religion of men in that neighbourhood, and certainly of that old man. Their cool green voices as they swayed, their masses motionless against the evening or the summer storms, created a sense of pomp and awe. They gave mystic invitations that stirred his blood if not his slowly working humble brain, and helped to build and to keep firm that sanctuary of beauty to which we must be able to retire if we are to be more than eaters and drinkers and newspaper readers.

He put up with all this change for a while, retreating into his shop & garden to escape. But then…

Nobody knew why he left. In his seventieth year he ran away, bursting out of the crowd as one sheep no braver than the rest will do sometimes, inexplicably. He has brought his cats with him, and he has money enough to last until he is dead. Being considered by his niece as of unsound mind, he is free to do as he will and is happy when he is alone.

How are we to obtain satisfaction in life? Thomas says, ‘…he is fortunate who can find an ideal England of the past, the present and the future to worship, and embody it in his native fields and waters or his garden as in a graven image…’ What are we to worship without going to something outside ourselves? Something somehow capable of taking the whole of Nature inside us is enough. But once the elms are gone what is left?

On one of his tramps, Thomas meets with a man who invites him to spend the night in his place. Having expected to be taken to a house he is surprised to find that the man is content with sleeping under an old oak in the corner of a field. He offers Thomas fried bacon & broad beans for breakfast. He says he comes here every summer for haymaking.

He had worked in an office but long before that his parents had taken him from London out into the country at weekends and

…it was on one of these excursions… that there was suddenly opened before me – like a yawning pit, yet not only beneath me but on every side – infinity, endless time, endless space; it was thrust upon me, I could not grasp it, I only closed my eyes and shuddered and knew that not even my father could save me from it, then in a minute it was gone…

To him this was not, according to Thomas, a mystical trance as though ‘feeling out with infinite soul to earth and stars and sea and remote time and recognizing his oneness with them…’ but afterwards, for Thomas, the ‘occasionally recurring experience was as an intimation of the endless pale road, before and behind, which the soul has to travel: it was a terror that enrolled me as one of the helpless, superfluous ones of the earth…’ Just as Thomas felt himself to be perhaps.

It could be described as what’s called a moment of existential choice, not one that you make consciously, weighing up the pros & cons, but something that floods you so you can’t go any other way – life is forever changed. We all make existential choices, smaller or greater, in early life – they set the pattern of our being forever. [My existential choice was to cultivate experiences that set me up for appreciating Richard Jefferies’ life-pattern when I read him for the first time at Easter 1953 at the age of 16!] For Thomas’ companion, the consequence was that his office seemed like it was at ‘the bottom of a pit’ and he could no longer understand the demand for ‘the right to work’ made by people ‘too broken-spirited to think of a right to live... content only to work…’ [I call it wage-slavery!] What reinforced his feeling of dissatisfaction was going

… to the blacksmith’s to smell the singeing hoof and to the tram-stables and smell the horses, and see the men standing about in loose shirts, hanging braces, bare arms, clay pipes, with a sort of free look that I could not see elsewhere. The navvies at work in the road or on the railway line were a tremendous pleasure, and I noticed that the clerks waiting for their trains in the morning loved to watch these hulking free and easy men doing something that looked as if it mattered, not like their own ledger work and so on…

What clinched it for this man of the fields was when the ‘head of the firm used to say that we were each playing a part, however humble, in the sublime machine of modern civilization, that not one of us was unnecessary, and that we must no more complain or grow restive than does the earth because it is one of the least elements in this majestic universe.’ Whoever would want to be a cog in a machine?

When he returned to the scene of his existential moment, he was appalled to find that it had been ‘developed’ – with roads & buildings. This didn’t daunt him though; he went out further into the country, ‘read the old books and the new ones… in the same spirit’ and ‘knew his slavery’. Then a relation invited him to go to live by the sea. That did it for him: summer in the country farm-working; winter in London, wearing posh clothes and pen-pushing, a different job each time. Contentment except that there ‘…returns that old feeling of my childhood… I have felt it suddenly not only in London, but on the top of the Downs and by the sea; the immense loneliness of the world, as if the next moment I might be outside of all visible things. You know how it is, on a still summer evening, so warm that the ploughman and his wife have not sent their children to bed, and they are playing, and their loud voices startle the thought of the woods…’ His loneliness.

Thomas sees him a few years later, marching in London , head down, with others of ‘The Unemployed’, each looking like the meanest thief.

Comfortable clerks and others of the servile realized that here were the unemployed about whom the newspapers had said this and that – (‘a pressing question – a very complicated question not to be decided in a hurry’ – ‘it is receiving the attention of some of the best intellects of the time’ – ‘our special reporter is making a full investigation’ – ‘who are the genuine and who are the impostors?’ – ‘connected with Socialist intrigues’) – and they repeated the word ‘Socialism’ and smiled at the bare legs of the son of man and the yellow boots of the orator. Next day they would smile again with pride that they had seen the procession which ended in feeble, violent speeches against the Army and the Rich, in four arrests and an imprisonment.

Newspapers don’t change much; nor do political attitudes… But what a devastating backward step from contentedly sleeping under an old oak. What an awful end to the 8 year-old’s existential moment. So sad. And the way Thomas tells the story is very effective. One wonders how far this man’s disappointment mirrored his own – his being kept from doing what he really wanted to do, having to earn a living by the slavery of constant reviewing tasks.

There’s plenty of evidence of his interest (as an all too short-lived poet to be) in the sounds of words, the place names, the effect of the sound of the letter ‘m’ in ‘Mary’ & ‘mother’.

I thought of all the music to ear and mind of that sound of ‘m’. I suppose the depth of its appeal is due to its place at the beginning of the word ‘mother’, or rather to the need of the soul which gave it that place; and it is a sound as dear to the animals as to us, since the ewe hears it first from her lamb and the cow from her calf as the woman from her child. It is the main sound in music, melody, harmony, measure, metre, rhythm, minstrel, madrigal. It endears even sadness by its presence in melancholy, moan and mourn. It makes melody on the lips of friends and lovers, in the names of mistress, comrade, mate, companion. It murmurs autumnally in all mellow sounds, in the music of wind and insect and instrument. To me and mine it owes a meaning as deep as to mother.

Thomas’ set-piece stories are about sadness & disappointment, things not turning out as one might have hoped. What is there that remains certain? He comes upon a great house in Surrey and is stimulated into thinking of houses as soul containers with at least a temporary continuity in time; we project ourselves into their walls & rooms and they survive us.

…fantastic architecture. We have made them out of our spirit stuff and have set our souls to roam their corridors and look out of their casements upon the sea or the mountains or the clouds. It is because they are accessible only to the everywhere wandering irresistible and immortal part of us that they are beautiful. There is no need for them to be large or costly or antique. The poorest house can do us a like service. In a town, for example, and in a suburb, I have had the same yearning when, on a fine still morning of May or June, in streets away from the traffic, I have seen through the open windows a cool white-curtained shadowy room, and in it a table with white cloths and gleaming metal and glass laid thereon, and nobody has yet come down to open the letters. It all seems to be the work of spirit hands. It is beautiful and calm and celestial, and is a profound pleasure – tinged by melancholy – to see. It gives a sense of fitness – for what?

Thomas is thinking aloud! He can’t quite get his mind round the idea of ‘House’ as symbol for something like profound ‘otherness’, a distant perfect place that the mind represents as the ‘desirable’. He continues guessing: ‘For something undivined, imperfectly known, guessed at, or hoped for, in ourselves; for a wider and less tainted beauty, for a greater grace.’ But he’s not at all sure. What he’s after maybe is a poem. He switches direction.

Or it may not be a house at all, but a hill-top five miles off, up which winds a white road in two long loops between a wood and the turf. The grass is smooth and warm and bright at the summit in the blue noon; or in the horizontal sunbeams each stem is lit so that the hill is transmuted into a glowing and insubstantial thing; and then, at noon or evening, something in me flies at the sight and desires to tread that holy ground. It is an odd world where everything is fleeting yet the soul desires permanence even for fancies so unprofitable as this.

What’s ‘unprofitable’ is his struggling to make sense of the concept of a distant desirable image, representing some different dimension of experience that can be brought into the world of sticks & stones.

And so these thoughts at the sight of the great houses mingle with the thoughts that grow at twilight and fade gradually away in the windless night when the sky is soft-ridged all over with white clouds and in the dark vales between them are the stars… [and] high contented voices of children talking to father and mother as they go home from the market town.

This honest fumbling for accurate expression can be seen as preparation for Chapter 8 – June, midway point, philosophical climax, even, of Thomas’ year of writing. One can skim over the pages referring to weather and plant-growth – after all, things do happen during the course of the year – they give us a sense of atmosphere, poetic perhaps, but they might be padding in order to earn his advance! On the other hand, they may serve as essential background to the pedagogic metaphysics of Chapter 8; without them it would not have a context.

But before that, it’s worth noting that Thomas returns to the house-image much later on in Chapter 14. Perhaps his mind has cleared meanwhile for he able to assert boldly that

A house is a perdurable garment, giving and taking of life. If it only fit, straightway it begins to chronicle our days. It beholds our sorrows and our joys; its untalebearing walls know all our thoughts, and if it be such a house as grows after the builders are gone, our thoughts presently owe much to it; we have but to glance at a certain shadow or a curve in the wall-paper pattern to recall them, softened as by an echo, and that corner or that gable starts many a fancy that reaches beyond the stars, many a fancy gay or enriched with regrets. It is aware of birth, marriage and death; and who dares say that there is not kneaded into the stones a record more pleasing than brass ? With what meanings the vesperal beam slips through a staircase window in autumn! The moon has an expression proper to us alone, nested among our limes, or heaving an ivory shoulder above the neighbour roofs. As we enter a room in our house we are conscious of a fitness in its configuration that defies mathematics. Rightly used, such a space will inspire a stately ordering of our lives; it is, in another respect, the amplest canvas for the art of life.

This sets us up to think about the effect on us of the house where we live. [See https://wp.me/p1QjJc-Gk and https://wp.me/p1QjJc-FL ]

Thomas comes across the house that sets this rumination going somewhere in Wiltshire; the experience of it is infinitely sad. This is how he finds it..

Hanging from the wall in rags, too wet even to flap, are the remains of an auctioneers announcement of a sale at the house… Mahogany – oak chests – certain ounces of silver – two thousand books – portraits and landscapes and pictures of horses and game – of all these and how much else has the red house been disembowelled ? It is all shadowy within, behind the windows, like the eyes of a corpse, and without sound, or form, or light, and it is for no one that the creeper magnificently arrays itself in bediamonded crimson and gold that throbs and wavers in the downpour. The martins are still there, and their play up and down before the twenty windows is a senseless thing, like the play of children outside a chamber of agony or grief. They seem to be machines going on and on when their master and purpose are dead. But then, too, there is gradually a consolation, a restfulness, a deceit, a forgetting, in the continuity of their movement and their unchanged voices.

Then there’s a flashback. Thomas has been here before; the owner and his granddaughter and son are both living there now, the granddaughter to minister to the last days of the ancient man who was very fond of the little boy and of going on about the past which he remembered in great detail talking

…of nothing but his father and his grandfather, the lawyers, the captains, the scholars, whose bones were under the churchyard elms, and his sons and their sons, all of them also now dead. He had their childish ways by heart, the childish ways of men who were white-haired at his birth as well as of those who went golden-haired but yesterday into the grave; and all their names, their stately, their out-of-the-way names, and those which recorded the maiden names of their mothers; their nicknames, too, a whole book ofthem; the legends about the most conspicuous, their memorable speeches and acts, down to the names of their very dolls, and their legends also, which, of course, recurred again and again in the family fantasy. Every tree and field and gate and room was connected with some one of the dear and beauteous or brave dead, with their birth, their deeds, their ends…

But his granddaughter is twitchy, only staying in the house for the sake of her son, so she ups & offs ‘…into the blank, indifferent abyss of the multitude far away who knew not the house and the family…’ leaving her son with the doting granddad who was ‘…not only contented but glad at heart, for it was a rebel that was gone, leaving him behind…’

With a final flourish Thomas tells us why the house has been auctioned off, all its contents thrown outside.

For several years the white beard and the poor child lived together happily, turning over old memories, old books, old toys, taking the old walks through the long garden, past, but not into, the beech wood that a whim of the old mans had closed against even himself, against all save the birds and the squirrels; over the high downs and back into the deep vale which had produced that delicate physical beauty and those gracious lusty ways beyond which it seemed that men and women could hardly go in earthly life. Very happy were those two, and very placid; but within a week their tragic peace was perfected. The boy fell out of one of the apple-trees and was killed. The old man could not but stumble over that small grave into his own, and here is the end, the unnoted, the common end, and the epitaph written by the auctioneer and the rain.

Yet another cameo wrapped in sadness & disappointment. Set against this is Thomas’ profound belief that there is something that can transcend all misery just as his poetry transcends the absolute misery & waste of his own death at Arras in April 1917.

Likewise, there’s the artist whose paintings suggest that he was at one with the landscape, another way of transcending what we choose to call ‘reality’.

The beech-trees mingled with the fantasies of the brain and brought forth boles that are almost human forms, branches that are thoughts and roots that are more than wood. Often, I think, he hardly looked at Nature as he walked, except to take a careless pleasure in the thymy winds, in the drama of light and shade on the woods and hills, in the sound of leaves and birds and water. Within him these things lived a new life until they reached forms… different from their beginnings…

There are, without doubt, moments in literature, well worth collecting as I have done for around 65 years, that anchor us in absolute Truth; to back this up Thomas quotes tellingly from The Arabian Nights to offer a dire warning against human greed and wanting too much of a good thing, against the sin of hubris:-

Abd-allah went out to seek a straying camel, and chanced upon a superb and high-walled city lying silent in the desert. And when the Caliph inquired about that city, a learned man told him that it was built by Sheddad, the King. This prince was fond of ancient books, and took delight in nothing so much as in descriptions of Paradise, so that his heart enticed him to make one like it on the earth. Under him were a hundred thousand kings, and under each of them were a hundred thousand soldiers, and he furnished them with the measurements and set them to collect the materials of gold and silver and ruby and pearl and chrysolite. For twenty years they collected. Then he sought a fit place among rivers on a vast open plain. In twenty years they built the city and finished its impregnable fortifications. For twenty years he laboured in equipping himself, his viziers, his harem and his troops for the occupation of this Paradise. Then when he was rejoicing on his way, God sent down upon him and upon the obstinate infidels who accompanied him a loud cry from the heaven of his power, and it destroyed them all by the vehemence of its sound. Neither Sheddad nor any of those who were with him arrived at the city or came in sight of it, and God obliterated the traces of the road that led to it; but the city remaineth as it was in its place until the hour of the judgment…

This reminds me of Tolstoy’s brilliant short story called How Much Land Can a Man Own? A chap is told he can have as much land as he can run round in a day; he sets off full of energy thinking – I’ll just have that mountain, and all that estate, and that inland lake and those hills and all that woodland and the cliffs by the sea… He becomes very tired as evening comes and drops dead as he reaches the finishing line. Hope I haven’t spoilt the story for you!

Edward Thomas : The South Country 3

What is it about the central part of The South Country? (Chapters 8/9) How does Edward Thomas express himself in a way that’s different from elsewhere? It’s June, the middle of the year and there’s been a storm.

Thunder unloads its ponderous burden upon the resonant floor of the sky; but the sounds of myriad leaves and grass-blades drinking all but drowns the boom, the splitting roar, and the echo in the hills. When it is over it has put a final sweetness into the blackbirds voice and into the calm of the evening garden when the voice of a singer does but lay another tribute at the feet of the enormous silence.

It’s the still point of the turning world (TSEliot). Edward Thomas quotes from Thomas Traherne, 17th Century poet, clergyman & mystic here shedding all the things of adulthood to return to a state of innocence:-

All appeared new and strange at first, inexpressibly rare and delightful and beautiful. I was a little stranger which at my entrance into the world was saluted and surrounded with innumerable joys. My knowledge was Divine… My very ignorance was advantageous. I seemed as one brought into the Estate of Innocence. All things were spotless and pure and glorious; yea, and infinitely mine and joyful and precious. I knew not that there were any sins or complaints or laws. I dreamed not of poverties, contentions or vices. All tears and quarrels were hidden from mine eyes. Everything was at rest, free and immortal. I knew nothing of sickness or death or rents or exaction, either for tribute or bread… All Time was Eternity, and a perpetual Sabbath. Is it not strange, that an infant should be heir of the whole world and see those mysteries which the books of the learned never unfold?

Thomas’ commentary on this has us thinking about what it would be like to shed ‘ambition, introspection, remorse’, to return to what might be called Essence, as do several of Thomas’ characters in their own way, when the ‘vastness and splendour and gloom of a world not understood… [makes] a theatre for … happiness…’ which… ‘when seen through a mist of years… [can] become like a ridge of the far-off downs transfigured in golden light, so that we in the valley sigh at the thought that where we have often trod is heaven now…’ By bringing the far distant place into the NOW it’s possible to be totally silent inside; this is where Thomas has arrived at the mid-point of the year which seems to give him a new perspective on things.

How to return to a state of bliss? Thomas says ‘I recall green fields, one or two whom I loved in them and though no trace of such happiness as I had remains the incorruptible tranquillity of it all breeds fancies of great happiness…’ We are all the time being challenged to think about the nature of childhood and its relation to the abstraction happiness. When we are in the thick of things we probably don’t think about being either happy or unhappy – we just get on with it; if we’re engrossed in what we’re doing, we don’t stop midflow to think about ‘happiness’; experience comes without labels. On the other hand, when we think back to past times, Thomas says: ‘Something in me belongs to these things, but I hardly think that the mere naming of them will mean anything except to those – many, perhaps – who have experienced the same…’ What seems to happen when we remember things is that we project current feelings on to them: being contented now has us going back to an experience that we had in the past and imposing contentment on it even if we know that it was a bit dodgy then.

How do the words we use affect experience? They catalogue it somehow but what do they do to our recollection of it? Thomas says we code things which doesn’t necessarily reflect them as they really are but there are certain images in books which can certainly have the effect of coding things for us.

A great writer so uses the words of every day that they become a code of his own which the world is bound to learn and in the end take unto itself. But words are no longer symbols, and to say ‘hill’ or ‘beech’ is not to call up images of a hill or a beech-tree, since we have so long been in the habit of using the words for beautiful and mighty and noble things very much as a book-keeper uses figures without seeing gold and power. I can, therefore, only try to suggest what I mean by the significance of the plant in the stone-heap, the wet lilac, the misty cliff, by comparing it with that of scenes in books where we recognize some power beyond the particular and personal.

Somewhat ironically, in The South Country there are key passages which are so memorable that they help us to put our own experience into perspective, offering us ‘some power beyond the particular and personal’. Thomas links this to Thomas Traherne for whom ‘…Eternity was manifest in the light of the day, and something infinite behind everything appeared, which tallied with my expectation and moved my desire…’

We could have this kind of enlightened experience all the time except that such light gets ‘eclipsed’ by all the mundane things that attack us. Traherne describes how he felt ‘perverted by the world, by the temptation of men and worldly things’ and by ‘opinion and custom’, not by any ‘inward corruption or depravation of Nature’. Indeed ‘…he seems to see the patterns which all living things are for ever weaving. He would have men strive after [what he calls] this divine knowledge of things and of their place in the universe…’ that, given a wider perspective than the usual one, ‘every creature is indeed as it seemed in my infancy, not as it is commonly apprehended…’ The crunch is that he goes beyond the ‘divine’ (poor human label for spooky things) and feels the superiority of man’s soul to the things which it apprehends : ‘One soul in the immensity of its intelligence is greater and more excellent than the whole world’.

This is the key to Thomas view of things. It’s like Richard Jefferies, great influence on Thomas, wanting more and more soul-life so that he could come to terms with his metaphysics. Why is the soul so powerful when separated from the dross that drags us down?

The soul is greater than the whole world because it is capable of apprehending the whole world, because it is spiritual, and the spiritual nature is infinite. He could not well have thought of man except loftily… For God hath made you able to create worlds in your own mind…

Thomas takes this to mean the result of the power of the imagination, ‘by which not only poets live and have their being’ (but the rest of us too) to conceive of great, even better things.

The spirit can fill the whole world and the stars be your jewels: ‘You never enjoy the world aright, till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars, and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world…’

It’s we who do the creating; we are God.

Thomas reveres Traherne for his ‘mingling of man and nature in the celestial light of infancy…’

Not everybody has such a perception which brings Thomas to consider the big idea of how imagination ought to be stimulated through education. Three things, he suggests have made us more aware of the influence of Nature.

1. The Romantic revival & return to Nature of the 18th & 19th Centuries. A growing concept of human position in Nature
2. The growth of towns and the need to escape into the country
3. Scientific & systematic observation of the natural world

What does this mean for education? Thomas talks specifically about ‘Nature Study’, which is what it was called in my early education (1942), but what he says applies very well to all education – there are three things necessary to it…

These three things considered, Nature-study is inevitable. [1] Literature sends us to Nature principally for joy, joy of the senses, of the whole frame, of the contemplative mind, and of the soul, joy which if it is found complete in these several ways might be called religious. [2] Science sends us to Nature for knowledge. Industrialism and the great town [3] sends us to Nature for health, that we may go on manufacturing efficiently, or, if we think right and have the power, that we may escape from it. But it would be absurd to separate joy, knowledge and health, except as we separate for convenience those things which have sent us out to seek for them; and Nature-teaching, if it is good, will never overlook one of these three. Joy, through knowledge, on a foundation of health, is what we appear to seek.

It’s interesting that, without being the slightest bit aware of it, Edward Thomas here cites three things which make up the functioning of the whole person identified by Gurdjieff as the Centres of human capacity – Emotional Centre, Intellectual Centre and Moving Centre – or by modern brain research as Limbic, Neo-cortical & ‘Reptile’ brain-parts; a fully operating human-being has a balanced approach to working in all three places in the body (the brain is the whole body).

Emotional Centre Limbic part of brain = ‘Joy’
Intellectual Centre Neocortex in brain = Knowledge
Moving Centre ‘Reptile’ oldest part of brain = Action for health

In order to acquire enthusiasm (Joy) for Knowledge one needs to go to books: Thomas suggests Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne, Wordsworth’s Prelude ; he also mentions Thoreau and Richard Jefferies, of course.

Chapter 9 continues the education theme in a way by asking what is needed to enable an individual to make knowledge personal, part of oneself. It’s not much use our possessing the knowledge relevant to historical process concerned with Kings & Queens, battles & political wrangling; instead Thomas hopes that

Some day there will be a history of England written from the point of view of one parish, or town, or great house [or even a few individuals]. Not until there is such a history will all our accumulations of information be justified. [Then it will mean something to the individual in a particular context…] It will begin with a geological picture, something large, clear, architectural, not a mass of insignificant names… The peculiar combination of soil and woodland and water determines the direction and position and importance of the ancient trackways; it will determine also the position and size of the human settlements. The early marks of these – the old flint and metal implements, the tombs, the signs of agriculture, the encampments, the dwellings – will have to be clearly described and interpreted. Folk-lore, legend, place-names must be learnedly, but bravely and humanly used, so that the historian who has not the extensive sympathy and imagination of a great novelist will have no chance of success. What endless opportunities will he have for really giving life to past times in such matters as the line made by the edge of an old wood with the cultivated land, the shapes of the fields, with their borders of streams or hedge or copse or pond or wall or road, the purpose and interweaving of the roads and footpaths that suggest the great permanent thoughts and the lesser thoughts and dreams of the brain…

When the individual has a living awareness of personal locality, wider historical events will have significance; a student of the time will be able to develop ownership of a real personal sense of history.

As we’ve seen before, Thomas provides a good number of vivid examples of how what’s called ‘the spirit of place’ can make history come alive; like the contemplation of

…the old road worn deep into the chalk, among burial mound and encampment; we feel rather than see the innumerable companies of men like this, following their small cattle to the stream or the dew-pond, wearing out the hard earth with their naked feet and trailing ash staves. Going up such a road, between steep banks of chalk and the roots and projecting bases of beeches whose foliage meets overhead – a road worn twenty feet deep, and now scarce ever used as a footpath except by fox and hare – we may be half-conscious that we have climbed that way before [thats to say that our ancestors did…] during the furrowing of the road, and we move as in a dream between this age and that dim one which we vainly strive to recover.

or else

…we come to a huge, flat-bottomed, grassy coombe, smooth as a racecourse, that winds out of the cornland into the heart of the Downs. It is like the bed of a river of great depth. At its entrance beeches clothe either side; but presently they cease, and up the steep juniper slopes go the paths of hares, of the herds and flocks of earliest ages and of the men and women and children also, whose childrens childrens children have forgotten them though not perhaps their philosophy.

This kind of thinking relates ‘…not to any dim archaeologist’s world of reeking marsh and wood, of mammoth and brutish men, but to a region out of space and out of time [the far distant place] in which life and thought and physical health are in harmony with sun and earth… things …out of which beauty and joy arise, original and ancient, for ever young…’

There are several memorable accounts of little momentous events throughout the book. Here’s one that rather amusingly illustrates how we are tied to our locality:-

In all those years they had been separated but once. Until four years ago she had not been out of Cornwall except to bury her mother, who had suddenly died in London. Two hundred pounds fell to her share on that death and the money arrived one morning after the harvest thanksgiving. For a week she continued to go about her work in the old way save that she sent rather hurriedly for a daughter who had just left her place as cook in Exeter. At the end of the week, having stored the apples and shown her daughter how to use the separator, she walked in to Penzance in her best clothes but without even a handbag; her husband was out with his gun. By the next day she was at Liverpool. She sent off a picture postcard, with a little note written by the shopkeeper, saying that she would be back by Christmas, and telling her husband to sell the old bull. Then she sailed for New York. She saw Niagara; she visited her nephew, John Davy, at Cincinnati; she spent two weeks in railway travelling west and south, and saw the Indians. Four days before Christmas she was back in the rickyard, driving before her a young bull and carrying in her hand a bunch of maize.
“Well, Ann, you’re back before your time,” said her husband, after praising the beast.
“Yes, Samuel, and I feel as if I could whitewash the dairy, that I do,” said she.

This reminds me of the ploughman referred to in one of Charles Morgan’s books who, when asked what he’d do with the money from an inheritance, sucked at his pipe and said, “Ahhh… a bit o’ ploughing mebbe…”

This apophthegm might sum things up: ‘Odd it is how old use sanctifies a little thing…’

Think of something that others might consider to be a mere trifle of yours which, because you have used it it much and valued it in you own special way, has become a sort of precious rather more than a museum piece to you; it will perhaps be an anchor for great memories or particular moments or places. Perhaps it can be represented like this:-

These are the hours that seem to entice and entrap the airy inhabitants of some land beyond the cloud mountains that rise farther than the farthest of downs. Legend has it that long ago strange children were caught upon the earth, and being asked how they had come there, they said that one day as they were herding their sheep in a far country they chanced on a cave; and within they heard music as of heavenly bells, which lured them on and on through the corridors of that cave until they reached our earth; and here their eyes, used only to a twilight between a sun that had set for ever and a night that had never fallen, were dazed by the August glow, and lying bemused they were caught before they could find the earthly entrance back to their cave. Small wonder would this adventure be from a region no matter how blessed, when the earth is wearing the best white wild roses or when August is at its height.

Sometimes we have an experience that so changes us that we can’t find our way back to how things were before; our little trifles can be like that. Then we are faced with having to make choices.

The perfect road that goes without hedges under elms and through the corn says, “Leave all and follow…” How the bridges overleap the streams at one leap, or at three, in arches like those of running hounds! The far-scattered, placid sunsets pave the feet of the spirit with many a road to joy; the huge, vacant halls of dawn give a sense of godlike power. But it is hard to make anything like a truce between these two incompatible desires, the one for going on and on over the earth, the other that would settle for ever, in one place as in a grave and have nothing to do with change… The two desires will often painfully alternate. Even on these harvest days there is a temptation to take root for ever in some corner of a field or on some hill from which the world and the clouds can be seen at a distance…

Some of Thomas characters have to make these kinds of choices. Chapter 11 is about ‘An Umbrella Man’ from Sussex who had lost his youth in some lousy futile battle, in Egypt probably, when a bullet went through his knee and they had to take eighteen pieces of shattered bone from it; he’d been forty years on the road after his little girl & wife died. The evening before she died the little girl had picked a rose for her mother but it must have wilted on the way home: ‘All of a sudden she looks at it and says, “It’s gone, it’s broke, it’s gone, it’s gone, gone, gone,” and she kept on, “It’s broke, it’s gone, it’s gone,” and when she got home she ran up to her mother, crying, “The wild rose is broke, mother, broke, gone, gone,” she says, just like that…’

Then he took to tramping and selling umbrellas; he had ‘a clear brain and a wild purity…’ something Thomas much values.

He met the Umbrella Man and his equipment at a summer fair.

in the corner
a perambulator
with a cabbage in it

(Found Haiku)

In the final chapter, there’s a vivid pen-picture of a fair coming round at the end of summer, including a nice reference to the King of Beggars who turns up there:-

…he with no legs at all and seeming not to need them, so active is he on a four-wheeled plank which suspends him only a foot above the ground. Many a strong man earns less money. The children envy him as he moves along, a wheeled animal, weather-beaten, white-haired, white-bearded, with neat black hat and white slop [casual dress?], a living toy, but with a deep voice, a concertina and a tin full of pence and halfpence.

And, redolent of autumn, a lovely picture of a boy caring for a bonfire:-

All night, for a week, it rains, and at last there is a still morning of mist. A fire of weeds and hedge-clippings in a little flat field is smouldering. The ashes are crimson, and the bluish-white smoke flows in a divine cloudy garment round the boy who rakes over the ashes. The heat is great, and the boy, straight and well made, wearing close gaiters of leather that reach above the knees, is languid at his task, and often leans upon his rake to watch the smoke coiling away from him like a monster reluctantly fettered and sometimes bursting into an anger of sprinkled sparks. He adds some wet hay, and the smoke pours out of it like milky fleeces when the shearer reveals the inmost wool with his shears.

Smell it deeply!

Richard Jefferies wrote The Pageant of Summer; Edward Thomas has The Pageant of Autumn:-

…that gradual pompous dying which has no parallel in human life yet draws us to it with sure bonds. It is a dying of the flesh, and we see it pass through a kind of beauty which we can only call spiritual, of so high and inaccessible a strangeness is it. The sight of such perfection as is many times achieved before the end awakens the never more than lightly sleeping human desire of permanence. Now, now is the hour; let things be thus; thus for ever; there is nothing further to be thought of; let these remain. And yet we have a premonition that remain they must not for more than a little while. The motion of the autumn is a fall, a surrender, requiring no effort, and therefore the mind cannot long be blind to the cycle of things as in the spring it can when the effort and delight of ascension veils the goal and the decline beyond.

The last two pages of The South Country yield up a long ecstatic Found Poem:-

crumbling woods

in a haze
or under large white clouds;
amber and orange bracken
about our knees; blue recesses
among the distant golden beeches
when the sky is blue
but beginning to be laden
with loose rain-clouds;
the line of leaf-tipped poplars
bending against the twilight sky;
no scent of flowers to hide
that of dead leaves and rotting fruit

we must watch it until the end
and gain slowly the philosophy
or the memory or the forgetfulness
that fits us for accepting winter’s gift

pauses there are of course
or what seem pauses
in the declining of this pomp:
afternoons when rooks waver
and caw over their beechen town
and pigeons coo content;
dawns when the white mist
is packed like snow over the vale
and high woods take the level beams
and a hundred globes of dew
glitter on every thread
of spiders’ hammocks
or loose perpendicular nets
among the thorns

through the mist rings the anvil
a mile away with a music
as merry as that of jackdaws
that soar and dive
between the beeches
and the spun white cloud;
mornings full of the sweetness
of mushrooms and blackberries
from short turf among
the blue scabious bloom
and the gorgeous brier;
empurpled evenings before frost
when the robin sings passionate & shrill;
from garden earth float the smells
of a hundred roots with messages
of the dark world;
and hours full of
the thrush’s soft November music

the end should come in heavy
and lasting rain…
at all times I love rain:
the early momentous thunderdrops
the perpendicular cataract shining
or at night the little showers
the spongy mists
tempestuous mountain rain –
I like to see it possessing the whole earth
at evening smothering civilization
taking away from me myself everything
except the power to walk under the dark trees
and to enjoy humbly
the hissing grass
while some twinkling house-light
or song sung by a lonely man
gives a foil to the immense dark force

I like to see the rain
making the streets the railway station
a pure desert
whether bright with lamps or not;
it foams off the roofs & trees
and bubbles into the water-butts;
it gives the grey rivers a demonic majesty;
it scours the roads
sets the flints moving
and exposes the glossy chalk
in the tracks through the woods;
it does work that will last as long as the earth;
it is about eternal business;
in its noise and myriad aspect
I feel the mortal beauty of immortal things

and then after many days
the rain ceases at midnight with the wind
and in the silence of dawn and frost
the last rose of the world
is dropping her petals down
to the glistering whiteness
and there they rest blood-red
on winters desolate coast

And there you have it!

One thought on “Edward Thomas (R15)

  1. My grandson dropped Eng Lit for Chemistry and something else equally disgusting. He’s a lovely lad and I gained a great deal from all this reading & writing. He plays the violin brilliantly!


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