Monday, October 29, 2012

Edward Thomas and The Thames at Oxford

It was the 50th Anniversary of the building of Donnington Bridge last Saturday and we went along to the celebrations with visiting family. In Thomas 's time there was a ferry across the river, and in the thirties a footbridge only.

Edward Thomas was quite a keen rower and this stretch, between Folly Bridge and Iffley Lock, must have been where he rowed.  He appreciated the college barges, beautiful things, of which there is only one left I believe, moored very near Donnington Bridge and now someone's home (open during Artsweeks.)

'The River Isis

On the right is the gold-and-white barge of Magdalen College undergoing repair. The masts and barges of other Colleges line the side of the river, and Folly Bridge closes the prospect.'

Oxford, 1903

I walk from Donnington to Iffley most days even though sadly without our beloved Greg who died in January. (We are now thinking about and looking around for another dog - ideally a mongrel puppy- hard to find.)

Today I paid another visit to the bull's head sculpted by Charles Wheeler, R A in 1923, and set in the lovely old bridge before Iffley Lock. as a 'starting ring.' Not many people walking the riverside path know it's there, but those tying up their boats for the Head of The River start must know it well.  The bull of course is for Ox-ford.
Charles Wheeler was only in his early twenties when he sculpted this, but already R.A. He became its first sculptor President   - that was in 1956 when he was very Establishment - Royalty, the Bank of England.
We were watching an Arts programme recently when he was mentioned as having banned from the Royal Academy the abstract artist  John Hoyland (at least we're pretty sure it was him - please correct me if I'm wrong.

 Edward Thomas, from 'Oxford' on the culture of rowing in Oxford which does not seem to have changed a bit except - thank God - there are WOMEN.

'It is a finer lesson in eloquence to listen to the coaches shouting reprimand and advice, in sentences one or two words long, to a panting crew. One can see the secret of English success in the meek reception which a number of hard-working, conscientious, abraded men give to the abuse of an idler on the bank. On the afternoon of the races all is changed. The man who yesterday shouted "Potato sacks" or "Pleasure Boat!" now screams "Well rowed all!" Before and behind him flows all of the University that can run a mile.'The faces of all are expressive in every inch; all restraint of habit or decorum is gone for the time being. The racing boats make hardly a sound, and for the most part the rowers hear not a sound from the bank, only the click  of their own rowlocks.'


Here is a much lazier boat, and an unusually contented  poet. He associated rivers and lakes with psychic harmony and relaxation, and it seems a pity that he did not often have the chance to take a boat out.
. 'The morning was already hot... At the river I took a dinghy and sculled for nearly two hours... Hardly a though or memory stirred itself. Nevertheless I was conscious of that blest lucidity, that physical well-being of the brain, "like the head of  a mountain in blue air and sunshine", which is so rarely  achieved except in youth.'

' There is nothing like the solitude of a solitary lake in early morning, when one is in deep still water.'


Naught moves but clouds, and in the glassy lake
Their doubles and the shadow of my boat.
The boat itself stirs only when I break
This drowse of heat and solitude afloat
To prove if what I see be bird or mote,
Or learn if yet the shore woods be awake.

Long hours since dawn grew, - spread, - and passed on high
And deep below, - I have watched the cool reeds hung
Over images more cool in imaged sky:
Nothing there was worth thinking of for long;
All that the ring-doves say, far leaves among,
Brims my mind with content thus still to lie.


  1. Sorry to hear you have lost Greg! Hope you soon find a new furry friend to steal your heart!!

    1. Thanks for this and your earlier message, Kate.
      Yes, we were devastated by losing Greg to cancer - he was only 12 and such a good gentlemanly dog, it was unfair.