Sunday, October 14, 2012

Malvern Hills, Edward Thomas and Robert Frost.

Malvern looking towards the Severn, early mist.
As it's Sunday I'm having a day off from publishing matters to write about where I was a week ago, in the Malvern Hills and Malvern itself.

 It was a Friends of the Dymock Poets weekend ( They are enthusiasts for the poets who lived or stayed in the Ledbury/ Dymock area before and into the First World War - Robert Frost, Wilfrid Gibson, Lascelles Abercrombie as residents, John Drinkwater , Rupert Brooke and Edward Thomas as visitors.
 Following the AGM, Richard Emeny spoke about ET's ambivalent relationship with London: he called himself 'an accidental Cockney', professed to loathe it but was bound to it by work and friendship.
I skipped the afternoon  talks because we wanted fully  to explore British Camp at the Herefordshire Beacon end of the Malverns  - it features in the novel. Approaching from where an old plaque commemorates Langland's vision of Piers Plowman we climbed up through woods to the open springy turf of the hillside, several tiers of  fortifications rising like a wedding -cake above us.
Once on the flattenedt ovoid top I was astonished to see what an enormous war machine it was - really steep dykes clear-cut after all those centuries, and extending with a great loop to form a quarter-circle. Close to, evidence of its  rabbit inhabitants and the occasional straggler harebell could be seen and surely were in 1914.

It was a positively hot day and Marc and I found that the ancient Iron-age fort, probable site of Caractacus' last stand against Roman invasion, was well-populated again with visitors, kids and dogs having a fine time rushing about the reddish paths and rolling down the slopes- well, the children at least. 

Next day we joined the organised walk with the FDP's group and walked around the lower slopes of the Camp and Beacon, with readings at appropriate places - Langland, EB Browning, as well as Frost and Thomas, Peter Carter chiefly reading.

With Peter, an early founder of Ledbury Poetry Festival, now Chairman of the John Masefield Society.

 Edward Thomas and Robert Frost had walked from Leadington, through Bromsberrow, Hollybush, up to the summit of the Camp, then back via Eastnor park to Leadington again - around twenty miles at least in one day. Robert wasn't such a keen walker as  Edward, so I have imagined him in rather an ill-humour after climbing - the license you can take when writing fiction.

 Tomorrow - what we did in the afternoon, which brings me to Linda Hart, to  Frost's grandaughter, Henry Holt the publishers and in a roundabout way to the matter of Permissions.

A Poem: The clear choice would be Frost's 'Iris at Night', about this very walk, but as it is still copyright Henry Holt, though you can easily read it on the internet I wouldn't risk using it.
Equally appropriate is this,  read so movingly by Roy Palmer on this walk  - Edward Thomas's

                                        The Sun Used To Shine
The sun used to shine while we two walked
Slowly together, paused and started
Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked
As either pleased, and cheerfully parted
Each night. We never disagreed
Which gate to rest on. The to be
And the late past we gave small heed.
We turned from men or poetry
To rumours of the war remote
Only till both stood disinclined
For aught but the yellow flavorous coat
Of an apple wasps had undermined:
Or a sentry of dark betonies,
The stateliest of small flowers on earth,
At the forest verge: or crocuses
Pale purple as if they had their birth
In sunless Hades fields. The war
Came back to mind with the moonrise
Which soldiers in the east afar
Beheld then. Nevertheless, our eyes
Could as well imagine the Crusades
Or Caesar's battles. Everything
To faintness like those rumours fades ­
Like the brook's water glittering
Under the moonlight ­ like those walks
Now ­ like us two that took them, and
The fallen apples, all the talks
And silences ­ like memory's sand
When the tide covers it late or soon,
And other men through other flowers
In those fields under the same moon
Go talking and have easy hours.


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