Tag Archives: Edward Thomas

10 May: Far from home.

daffodils
The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.
Edward Thomas wrote this poem, IN MEMORIAM (Easter, 1915), before he joined up and went to the front. If Eastertide means what we Christians claim it means, we should read and remember these lines, let them filter down into our hearts, and teach us how we can proclaim the message of the Prince of Peace. Meanwhile, we remember with gratitude those who gave their lives in battle. 
MMB.

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May 4: The Signpost

gate,broken (800x487)
THE SIGN-POST by Edward Thomas
THE dim sea glints chill. The white sun is shy.
And the skeleton weeds and the never-dry,
Rough, long grasses keep white with frost
At the hilltop by the finger-post;
The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed
Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft.
I read the sign. Which way shall I go?
A voice says: You would not have doubted so
At twenty. Another voice gentle with scorn
Says: At twenty you wished you had never been born.
One hazel lost a leaf of gold
From a tuft at the tip, when the first voice told
The other he wished to know what ‘twould be
To be sixty by this same post. “You shall see,”
He laughed—and I had to join his laughter—
“You shall see; but either before or after,
Whatever happens, it must befall,
A mouthful of earth to remedy all
Regrets and wishes shall freely be given;
And if there be a flaw in that heaven
‘Twill be freedom to wish, and your wish may be
To be here or anywhere talking to me,
No matter what the weather, on earth,
At any age between death and birth,—
To see what day or night can be,
The sun and the frost, the land and the sea,
Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring,—
With a poor man of any sort, down to a king,
Standing upright out in the air
Wondering where he shall journey, O where?
Edward Thomas was another who suffered from depression – At twenty you wished you had never been born. He would walk it off for hours.
Here he has been walking, walking, facing the mouthful of earth that awaits him in death, but now acknowledges the wish to be anywhere talking to … maybe his wife Helen? ‘And with a poor man of any sort, down to a king.’ Whatever Thomas meant by that, the words ‘down to a king’ put me in mind of Philippians which we touched on yesterday. Continuing chapter 2:6-8:
Christ Jesus who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the  form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.
And then there is the story of the walkers to Emmaus being overtaken by one they should have recognised. (Luke  24:13-35) He is there at the crossroads, knowing all too well how each of us has our own cross to bring to the hilltop. And death shall be freely given – Sister Death as Francis put it. Not to be snatched before time! Had Thomas killed himself at twenty, we would have been the poorer without his word painting: The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft. 
Sometimes it is good to stop, stand upright and look around us, even at a falling leaf. After all, Christ himself told us to consider the lilies of the field. And then walk on in his company.

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Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, Lent, poetry, winter

3 May: Edward Thomas and the swifts.

ceramic.swallow

HOW AT ONCE

How at once should I know,
When stretched in the harvest blue
I saw the swift’s black bow,
That I would not have that view
Another day
Until next May
Again it is due?

The same year after year—
But with the swift alone.
With other things I but fear
That they will be over and done
Suddenly
And I only see
Them to know them gone.

 

Dear melancholy Edward Thomas had great insight that speaks to our age – a century on from his death. The swifts, those fast-flying birds that truly earn their name, come screaming around our house over the summer, often after a couple of short spring-time visits, broken off when the weather turns too cold for their insect prey to fly.

This terracotta bird flies beside our door; it came from Pieve San Lorenzo, a Tuscan village where brown alpine swifts replaced our black ones, but the ladies who sold it assured me it was their look-alike, the swallow. Now there’s a bird we see less of than we did, and the house martin too. I fear that they will be over and done suddenly, and our children’s children will never have known them, only to know them gone.

I miss the martins that used to live in our street, but my children do not remember their nests. At least we can put up boxes for the sparrows and blue tits and leave the doves and pigeons to nest in peace in our trees. 

And we can watch and pray to discern how we can make our town and country a more welcoming place for these living pest controllers. The first thing is to acknowledge that we are all part of God’s creation, and not throw his gift back at him, but Laudato Si!

 

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April 29: Sussex Folk Through a Poet’s Eyes.

bench (800x600)

Edward Thomas, The man that loved this England well,1 wrote about The South Country before he became a poet. Wandering through Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, he recorded what he saw and felt along the way. Here he is in a Sussex village near where the poet Shelley was born; he has just been discussing the romantic poets.

Edward Thomas died this month in 1917, leaving a wife and family.

Note how he values the two villagers, Robert Page and his presumed descendant, as equally worthy of consideration as the poet.

In a churchyard behind I saw the tombstone of one Robert Page, born in the year 1792 here in Sussex, and dead in 1822 — not in the Bay of Spezia1 but in Sussex. He scared the crows, ploughed the clay, fought at Waterloo and lost an arm there, was well pleased with George the Fourth, and hoed the corn until he was dead. That is plain sense, and I wish I could write the life of this exact contemporary of Shelley.

That is quite probably his great granddaughter, black-haired, of ruddy complexion, full lips, large white teeth, black speechless eyes, dressed in a white print dress and stooping in the fresh wind to take clean white linen out of a basket, and then rising straight as a hazel wand, on tiptoe, her head held back and slightly oh one side while she pegs the clothes to the line and praises the weather to a passer-by. She is seventeen, and of such is the kingdom of earth.

And bearing in mind all those saintly women, Agnes, Agatha, Eanswythe, Tydfil, Mildred; we should perhaps affirm that ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ Despite his melancholy, Edward Thomas can lead us to the gate thereof this Eastertide.

goldenstringimage

So too could William Blake, who also lived in Sussex. Surely this little engraving shows the cliffs and downs of nearbyBeachy Head?

MMB

1 WH Davies’ description of his friend. The poet Percy Bysse Shelley was born in 1892 and died at the Bay of Spezia in 1822.

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24 December: Edward Thomas at the inn.

A change of voice, a change of pace. Edward Thomas is always worth listening to. This, like all his poetry, was written in the months before his death at the front in 1917. 

THE OWL

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.
Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry
Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.
And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.”

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9 April: Killed in action.

entering woods.jpg

Edward Thomas died in battle on this day in 1917. He came late to poetry, as did W.H. Davies, who wrote this tribute to his friend. They were great walkers through the countryside, like these friends from L’Arche Kent. May we all walk in peace!

Happy the man whose home is still
In Nature’s green and peaceful ways;
To wake and hear the birds so loud,
That scream for joy to see the sun
Is shouldering past a sullen cloud.

And we have known those days, when we
Would wait to hear the cuckoo first;
When you and I, with thoughtful mind,
Would help a bird to hide her nest,
For fear of other hands less kind.

But thou, my friend, art lying dead:
War, with its hell-born childishness,
Has claimed thy life, with many more:
The man that loved this England well,
And never left it once before.

MMB.

 

 

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8 April: Edward Thomas’ Anniversary

The Cherry Trees

The cherry trees bend over and are shedding,

On the old road where all that passed are dead,

Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding,

This early May morn when there is none to wed. 

The photograph shows an orchard of new cherry trees at Amery Court, Canterbury. They will spend their spring-times protected from ravages of wind, rain, and birds and squirrels by nets rolled out on frames overhead. Few petals will reach the old road, now part of Cycle Route 1 from Dover to Scotland. But the farmer trusts that the expense of planting these trees will be repaid with many a harvest.

Edward Thomas and so many like him trusted that they were putting their lives on the line to help save England and bring about the end of War…

Also tomorrow we remember the Prince of Peace coming into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, not a tank or armoured car. And it is still not too late to pray and strive for Peace, starting by sowing a seed of love and peace in our own hearts.

And may Edward Thomas and all who fell in War, through the mercy of God, rest in Peace. Amen.

MMB

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3 January: If I should ever grow rich.

gorse

Where the road cuts through the belt of sandy soil near Ezra’s place are clumps of gorse, filled with rabbit runs which his little terriers love to explore. The first week of the year, and the gorse is in flower. This always brings a smile to my lips, remembering Edward Thomas.

‘If  I should ever by chance grow rich’, he wrote, he would buy local beauty spots and let them all to his elder daughter for a rent of the year’s first white violets, primroses and orchids, if she should find them before he did. I don’t know what these flowers were doing a century ago, but on January 1st last year the violets by our door were blooming – look under the leaves –  primroses were out next door, and, though this is cheating, Mrs Turnstone’s Christmas orchid is flowering next to the crib.

When his poem was first published, some readers saw a touch of cruelty in Thomas’s poem, not understanding his next thought:

‘ But if she find a blossom on furze
Without rent they shall all forever be hers.’

The joke was on them, had they but realised it, for gorse, or furze, can be found in flower every day of the year. Thomas was giving his child all this beauty without condition. It is given to us too, had we but eyes to see it. Not Solomon in all his glory was clothed as one of these. (Matthew 6: 28, 29) Was Jesus perhaps cracking a joke when he preached this parable, to show us that we don’t know as much as we think we do?

If I Should Ever by Chance by Edward Thomas

If I should ever by chance grow rich
I’ll buy Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch,
Roses, Pyrgo, and Lapwater,
And let them all to my elder daughter.
The rent I shall ask of her will be only
Each year’s first violets, white and lonely,
The first primroses and orchises–
She must find them before I do, that is.
But if she finds a blossom on furze
Without rent they shall all for ever be hers,
Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch,
Roses, Pyrgo and Lapwater,–
I shall give them all to my elder daughter.

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Interruption: Dylan Day

 waiting wood

The leaves are just colouring the ends of the twigs on the trees, but the gorse is always in flower.

 We should not let Dylan day pass unacknowledged, even if we missed Shakespeare’s birthday, mea culpa. 

Dylan is a great story teller. He proclaims in the prologue to his Collected Poems: ‘Hark: I trumpet the place.’ The place is Wales, eternal Wales, God’s own Wales – with all its people’s failings. That small Principality is concentrated Under Milk Wood, between the sea and Llareggub Hill. As Mary Ann Sailors says:

‘It is Spring in Llareggub in the sun of my old age, and this is the Chosen Land.’

mercylogoUnder Milk Wood celebrates life, a ‘greenleaved sermon on the innocence of men’. Hearing the words brings sight to our inward eye, insight to our hearts. The townspeople are brought to God by the Reverend Eli Jenkins, who like his Biblical namesake praises his Creator morning and evening. For him, Llareggub is an earthly paradise that he prays he may ‘for all my life and longer … never, never leave’. Eli is not blind to the sins of his flock, but they receive Blake’s blessing of ‘mercy, pity, peace and love’ rather than condemnation. his appreciation of Polly Garter reminds me of a saintly priest in my youth, doffing his hat to an unmarried mother shunned by many. ‘Poor Ivy,’ said Fr Lea, ‘she’s had more than her share of troubles.’

Let us celebrate life, and open our inward eyes to the innocence, rather than just the faults, of those we live and work with.

MMB.

 

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On Not Taking Nothing for Granted.

raincloudsCaernarfon

Rain clouds near Caernarfon, April 2015.

Edward Thomas’s love of the natural world speaks to me, and his love of his children. Yet he was prone to depression and deep negativity. He was married and a father when he wrote:

I am alone. There is nothing else in my world but my dead heart and brain within me and the rain without.

Quoted by Robert Macfarlane in Landmarks, Hamish Hamilton, 2015, p245.

Thomas would walk his moods off, or at least try to. Walking, and observing.

Another observer is Fr James Kurzynski, an astronomer, for whom the heavens proclaim the Lord. He repeats Paul’s challenge:

Where, O death, is your victory?  

Where, O death, is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55)

ww.vofoundation.org/blog/o-death-sting-exploring-mystery-life-death/

The whole post is worth reading more than once. Kurzynski reminds us that Jesus was alone in the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed out of his loneliness. He did not take Nothing for for granted, but wrestled with it, and the angels ministered to him.

Sometimes wrestling with Nothing may mean carrying on ‘as if’ – as if all is well. We may not be able to pray as Jesus did, we may find it tempting to turn away from the Father, but our walk might well be to our own Emmaus: a friend may walk with us, angels may minister to us. We may only recognise them later. (Luke 24)

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