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.