Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rerun of an early blog:

Lincoln College, Oxford and 'going wrong.'

The 'back-story' : fiction writer's phrase for what the author knows about his or her characters but includes only obliquely.

My novel begins in August 1914, when war was declared and Edward Thomas was thirty-six. The events in this blog are part of his back-story, a very crucial part. It can take a long time to recover from events that 'go wrong' in your youth; some would say that he never  recovered, others that perhaps those events gave something  as well as taking from him.

I find myself thinking about this period much more than  before - almost wondering whether a 'prequel' would be a good idea!

So, continuing:

In the autumn of  1898 he moved from 113 Cowley Road to Lincoln College.
He was glad to be in college, with tutors and the possibility of friendships, rather than the solitude of his lodgings.

When he writes of Lincoln  he mostly  stresses its quietness;  on writing to Helen  on his first day he liked everything including his neighbour on the stair.

I had my first delightful glimpse of the grey, main quadrangle of Lincoln, so quiet and deserted, filled with the gaudy crimson of flying creeper leaves.

In  'Oxford,' he writes of the 'quaint cottages of Little Grove' - the fifteenth century originals. And:

what sweeter and more dignified picture of quietness and study is there than at Lincoln in Wesley's time?

But the reality is that in many ways his own  university career was a failure, especially his final year.
He  felt friendless at times,  writing to Helen,

'If I did not know you I should by this time be the most abandoned of creatures up here. As it is - did you see me as I am, I fear you would think me sadly fallen from my sentimental, well-intentioned babyhood, two years ago.'

But he did make some lasting friends, he rowed, and he had an excellent tutor who challenged and encouraged him. He was not just studying, though,  but living as a semi-professional writer with deadlines and demands for deep reading on whatever he might be reviewing or  depicting. This, his scholarship and allowance from his father made a reasonable income -  for one.

He did find time to visit friends of his friend, law-student E.S.P Haynes, the lawyer Clarke-Hall and his very young wife Edna; Edward and Edna were attracted to each other, seeing themselves as 'the artists' as opposed to 'the lawyers.'

And then in his second year Helen found she was pregnant. Worries: the future, lack of money or prospects, the reaction of their parents, whether to marry - these anxieties show in their letters especially Edward's. Helen's mother rejected her (her much-loved father had died) but Edward's parents  took her in. The couple married in May 1999. About the expected baby, Edward wrote:

'You ask, if I too feel any joy at the thought of a child. I confess I have felt it considerably, but I do not know if it is a decent joy.'

Edward stayed at Lincoln, but saw Helen often. In November - Helen seven months pregnant - he wrote:

'I crave unbearably for you, body and soul. That poor body!I can easily understand how the sight of it upsets you. I hope it is not very prodigious, also that it will not interfere with us when I return. Will it do you think? for a weight upon it might do it great harm.'

Merfyn was born in January 1900; at this time Edward's work began to suffer and his moods became gloomy. He started drinking heavily, socialising more, taking opium occasionally and despairing of getting a good degree. He was dreading leaving Oxford, having no job and no way of  knowing how  his family was to avoid  'bankruptcy and the gutter ahead.'

  What really ruined his performance in Finals, though, was that he'd  contracted gonorrhea in May during the celebrations for the relief of Mafeking - when 'all the women of the city allowed themselves to be promiscuously kissed ..,. everyone was drunk,' as he wrote to poor Helen.  'It was an absurd occasion for so unpatriotic a man'.
He felt ill and the treatment would have made him feel worse.
 Poor Edward too - as far as anyone knows this was his first and last actual infidelity, aged twenty-one, and he certainly paid for it.

He tried last minute revision but too late to make enough difference. He did get a second class degree - if he'd had a First he could well have become a Fellow and  life would have been easier. His father,  who had paid an allowance for three years, was annoyed and contemptuous.

The Poem: written when Merfyn, then fifteen, was leaving for America to be away from the war and to grow up a little. It looks back on what had been a difficult relationship.


THE Past is a strange land, most strange.
Wind blows not there, nor does rain fall:
If they do, they cannot hurt at all.
Men of all kinds as equals range

The soundless fields and streets of it.
Pleasure and pain there have no sting,
The perished self not suffering
That lacks all blood and nerve and wit,

And is in shadow-land a shade.
Remembered joy and misery
Bring joy to the joyous equally;
Both sadden the sad. So memory made

Parting to-day a double pain:
First because it was parting; next
Because the ill it ended vexed
And mocked me from the Past again,

Not as what had been remedied
Had I gone on,--not that, oh no!
But as itself no longer woe;
Sighs, angry word and look and deed

Being faded: rather a kind of bliss,
For there spiritualized it lay
In the perpetual yesterday
That naught can stir or stain like this.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A rerun of earlier blog on -

Edward Thomas and Oxford

As I began  this heading I wasn't  sure what I meant. It could be about Edward Thomas's book  'Oxford', published  1903, republished recently by OUP.

Or about Edward Thomas's Oxford, his time there? Yes, today is about that, the book on another day.
 As I live in Oxford and have lived in or around the city since the mid-sixties it is important to me and I believe it was important to Edward Thomas, but -
 I did not have a straight-forward relationship with the University - as a mother of three primary-age children in my late twenties, but with all the right A levels, I could probably have applied to Harries Manchester and read for  an English degree as a mature student. But I was ignorant and lacking in confidence and connections so I spent three mind-numbing and fruitless years at Culham teacher-training college before having a fourth, much happier year at Oxford for my English  B.Ed (a degree which no longer exists at Oxford.)
Some years later I took an M.Sc in Applied social studies, belonging only nominally to Somerville as I had teenage children by then, in the throes of exams themselves. I dream of one day being a proper student.
I relate all this to bring me to Edward Thomas who really could have made almost as big a botch as me.
 He left school at just seventeen, his father insisting that he studied at home for Civil service entrance, but instead he set off to walk from London to Swindon, taking notes for the book that became A Woodland Life. He'd already  had a dozen articles published in national journals and was earning money from them; this gave him courage to stand up to his father and the Civil service idea was dropped - instead he was to apply to Oxford.
He had been encouraged in his writng by James Noble, writer and critic and father of Helen. Helen and Edward fell in love, and on her twentieth birthday became lovers. Biographers agree that for young people of their class this was not usual - some query Helen's motives, I think she was a very passionate person.
In the autumn of 1897 he went up to Oxford
to work for a scholarship while living
in lodgings at 113 Cowley Road, as a non-collegiate student. 

 Graffiti shops, Cowley Road, by  Jane Hope, 
If you're not familiar with it, today Cowley Road qualifies for the word 'vibrant' -  restaurants, bars, shops of every ethnicity, a live music venue, small independant  cinema, a well-known early health-food shop, Uhuru, very trendy community market - so much I can't begin to describe it. East Oxford overall is also becoming the creative heart of Oxford, especially though not entirely, for younger artists and writers.
What it's not known for is its architecture or for more established  literary connections  (Gerard Manley Hopkins referred to East Oxford as Oxford's  'base and brickish skirt'.) Not like North Oxford which is peppered with blue plaques. For this reason I want to do something about 113, but I'll come to that.

Oxford 'Entrance'

The non-collegiate scheme was not unlike the set-up in which I took my B.Ed, and Edward was not going to be satisfied with it. He had to pass exams in Greek, Latin and logic with Mathematics, and failed three times to pass what was in effect the Oxford entrance exam. He went to lectures in the morning, walked in the afternoon, worked for the rest of the time.
Edward  wrote very loving letters to Helen almost daily,
'I am very happy with you, very content, and very hopeful.... you alone are beautiful. I can often doubt whether what I see is beautiful; but I know....{unfinished}  He took long walks into the country, 'Late flights of larks were singing and darting about in the last gardens of the town and the first fields of the country.'
He wrote 'verses' and wanted her opinion, asking if she thought them ludicrous. He treated her as an intellectual equal at that time, suggesting reading  they could discuss later. Many letters are sexually charged, and one refers to the rights and wrong of 'preventatives' - contraception. In others Edward is distinguishing lust from love, saying that love lasts and also allows room for other things, whereas lust is obsessional and allows room for nothing else.
He worked hard and eventually won the history scholarship he needed to go to Oxford 'proper', to Lincoln College to read history.
There was of course no such thing as 'English literature' in conservative Oxford; it carried an association of dissent  and belonged in Liverpool and London. But it's clear that Edward spent a good deal of his time reading literature, for pleasure and because he was still selling his articles to journals.


A Poem.
From The word, (which goes on to concern something quite different from the formal learning at its beginning):
The Word
There are so many things I have forgot,
That once were much to me, or that were not,
All lost, as is a childless woman's child
And its child's children, in the undefiled
Abyss of what can never come again.
I have forgot, too, names of mighty men
That fought and lost or won in the old wars,
Of kings and fiends and gods, and most of the stars.
Some things I have forgot that I forget.
The Turl And  here is part of a poem from Branchlines, Edward Thomas and Contemporary Poetry, edited by Guy Cuthbertson and Lucy Newlyn, in which fifty-three of today's poets respond to him in their own work.  
This is Robert Crawford on a sense of his presence in Oxford still; Guy, his former student, is the man the poet met by chance, and certainly for me 'Your man, Edward Thomas,' is exactly right. That is Guy, and an ever-helpful guide and clue-dropper to me.

The second stanza is about the collection of letters between Edward and Robert Frost, 'Elected Friends', edited by Matthew Spencer. 
'somehow someday I shall be here again'
When we met by chance on the Turl, were you aware
Yon door opposite was exactly the dark door where
Your man, Edward Thomas, before he became a poet,           
Nipped out of the world and into Lincoln College?
 Odd we met and spoke about him there.

Odd, too, in St Louis, seeing in the Left Bank bookstore
That book of his to-and-fro with Robert Frost.
I bought it on impulse - his finest writing
So lightly right I can't get away from him,
Though all the time I know he isn't there.
Next,  Edward's student days at Lincoln and being an undergraduate father.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hollow Ways and Robert MacFarlane's new book.

I have written about the marvellous books by Robert MacFarlane, especially the Edward Thomas-inspired 'The Old Ways.' Now Robert has produced a new, very attractive slim volume.

On the forest poems again.

'I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight, Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.
Many a road and track
That, since the dawn's first crack,
Up to the forest brink,
Deceived the travellers,
Suddenly now blurs,
And in they sink....'

Edward Thomas knew  many of the deep ancient tracks that are the subject of  Holloway, produced with  Dan Richards and illustrated by Stanley Donwood.   Robert wrote about the Chideock Holloway he  had explored with Roger Deakin in 2005 in The Wild Places. It was rather a favourite chapter of mine as it seemed somewhere I could imagine myself exploring. That or somewhere like it.

On his friend Roger, who died far too young, Robert wrote:
'There is wildness everywhere if we only stop in our tracks and look around us.' To him, the present-day and the close-at-hand were as astonishing as the long-gone and the far-afield. He was an explorer of the undiscovered country of the nearby.'
This was very much Edward Thomas's way of looking at the country he was exploring, whether new or  thoroughly familiar.  The Combe is very like Robert's Chideock Holloway with its significant past and hidden nature,

The Combe
The Combe was ever dark, ancient and dark.
Its mouth is stopped with brambles, thorn, and briar;
And no one scrambles over the sliding chalk
By beech and yew and perishing juniper
Down the half precipices of its sides, with roots
And rabbit holes for steps. The sun of Winter,
The moon of Summer, and all the singing birds
Except the missel-thrush that loves juniper,
Are quite shut out. But far more ancient and dark
The Combe looks since they killed the badger there,
Dug him out and gave him to the hounds,
That most ancient Briton of English beasts.
Robert MacFarlane, along with Faber and Faber, are asking people to photo and record their deep ancient holloways across the country or even abroad. He says that such paths are at least 300 years old, and it is the passage of people over the centuries that keeps them open. Edward Thomas's   The Path is one such slight but important route:

The Path

RUNNING along a bank, a parapet
That saves from the precipitous wood below
The level road, there is a path. It serves
Children for looking down the long smooth steep,
Between the legs of beech and yew, to where
A fallen tree checks the sight: while men and women
Content themselves with the road and what they see
Over the bank, and what the children tell.
The path, winding like silver, trickles on,
Bordered and even invaded by thinnest moss
That tries to cover roots and crumbling chalk
With gold, olive, and emerald, but in vain.
The children wear it. They have flattened the bank
On top, and silvered it between the moss
With the current of their feet, year after year.
But the road is houseless, and leads not to school.
To see a child is rare there, and the eye
Has but the road, the wood that overhangs
And underyawns it, and the path that looks
As if it led on to some legendary
Or fancied place where men have wished to go
And stay; till, sudden, it ends where the wood ends.


 Faber and Faber have  set up a site where people can post their own images of holloways and sunken paths.

The site is here:  Use flickr to be able to post or send your photos to, with a note saying they're for the holloway gallery, and with any info about location, photographer and such like for a caption.  It will lead, perhaps, to a really valuable record of  the location of such paths and their history.

I took much of the above information from the great blog, dovegreyreaderscribbles.






Sunday, May 19, 2013

Edward Thomas, Adlestrop and trees

Adlestrop railway station
Yes, we all remember 'Adlestrop' - the one  Edward Thomas poem everybody knows and possibly the nation's favourite poem still, in spite of 'Stop all the clocks' and Frost's 'Stopping By Woods.....'
There are still trees - those willows and in imagination  the trees beyond, where 'all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire' are singing.

 Adlestrop is the archetypal "Edward Thomas poem" , the poetry that has elicited tributes from other poets: Elected Friends:Poems for and about Edward Thomas', Anne Harvey 1991  and recently 'Branchlines', edited by Guy Cuthbertson and Lucy Newlyn. Anne Harvey has done marvellous work on the Adlestrop story.
(Anne's  'Adlestop Revisited' (Henry Sutton, 1999) . This year on the 23th June she and the Friends of The Dymock Poets organised a celebration. of the event with a train halting briefly and Robert Hardy reading the poem.

In brief, Edward and Helen,  on the 23rd June attended  the Russian - Diaghelev - ballet in London. Next day they set off for Ledbury by train to organise the summer lodgings near the Frosts' in Leddington, the Oldfield Farm lodging where the first section of my novel is set. Later he recollected it:

'He was confined to bed, quite immobile. Helen had to do everything for him. A fine beginning to the New Year! A last visit to the Frosts at Ryton had to be cancelled; no one came to see him, not even Eleanor or his mother. The most he could do was crawl from his bed and sit in a deck-chair in the bedroom, where the east window looked out on the wintry garden. There he could at least write; he wrote about a ploughman he knew who’d been killed in France, and about the time last June when their train to Ledbury stopped at a station with an odd name – Adlestrop.'

Adlestrop is  a pretty Cotswold village in Gloucestershire, near Stow-on-the -Wold and Chipping Norton. The Edward Thomas Fellowship has circulated information about the village's Open Day, June 16th. The information and a link is below.

But first,


Yes, I remember Adlestrop --
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop -- only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

I'm afraid this is past-

Adlestrop Open Day

Sunday 16th June, 12.00 - 5.00 p.m.

Enjoy a potentially golden afternoon in Adlestrop, one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds. Browse around the village’s beautiful and varied gardens and the thirteenth-century church (hosting a floral display), and inspect the thoroughbred horses at the racing stables. Enjoy hearty ploughman’s lunches and delicious tea and cakes at the Village Hall and buy an ice cream from the thatched Post Office. It is also an opportunity to see the platform and sign of the railway station (now closed) which inspired Edward Thomas's most famous poem. The Adlestrop Open Day also includes the usual features of a village fete: stalls offering bric-a-brac, plants or home-made produce, plus a shire-horse display and a dog show, as well as a raffle to enter and prizes from the tombola stall.

Entry is £4.00 per adult, children free. Car-parking is also free. All proceeds from this event will benefit Adlestrop Church and Village Hall plus the Blue Cross.

Adlestrop is situated about 3 miles from Stow-in-the-Wold and 6 miles from Chipping Norton, and is just half a mile off the A436.

Further information is available at Any enquiries should be made to Victoria Huxley: or 01608 - 658 758.
Adlestrop railway station
The name-sign on the platform of the former railway station at Adlestrop

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Forest Poems

Manuscript of The Dark Forest

Forest is one of the most  frequent symbols in the poetry, but he disliked obvious symbolism and the 'forest' meanings change with context.  'and our explanations tend to sound heavy and clumsy compared to the poet's touch' (Coombes)

The Green Roads, The Dark Forest, Lights Out.

Spencer Gore, The Icknield Way, 1912.                                                 creative

Edward Thomas was specific about the 'forest' in the Green Roads.
'a fragment left 6 miles from here. (Hare Hall Camp), the best of all this county. I go there every time I can.... You can't imagine a wilder, quieter place.'
It is a fairy-tale, emblematic landscape with  old man and child, goose feathers and the Hansel and Gretel -ist track.
The second line has an interesting internal rhyme structure which has a sense of wandering, but because of the dominance of forest, we seem to be getting drawn in under the forest canopy more and more.
An oak tree ages and dies, but there is memory and the present  and future repeating moment of thrush song.

The Green Roads

The green roads that end in the forest
Are strewn with white goose feathers this June,

Life marks left behind by someone gone to the forest
To show his track. But he has never come back.

Down each green road a cottage looks at the forest.
Round one the nettle towers; two are bathed in flowers.

An old man along the green road to the forest
Strays from one, from another a child alone.

In the thicket bordering the forest,
All day long a thrush twiddles his song.

It is old, but the trees are young in the forest,
All but one like a castle keep, in the middle deep.

That oak saw the ages pass in the forest:
They were a host, but their memories are lost,

For the tree is dead: all things forget the forest
Excepting perhaps me, when now I see

The old man, the child, the goose feathers at the edge of the forest,
And hear all day long the thrush repeat his song.

The Dark Forest

Dark is the forest and deep, and overhead
Hang stars like seeds of light
In vain, though not since they were sown was bred
Anything more bright.

And evermore mighty multitudes ride
About, nor enter in;
Of the other multitudes that dwell inside
Never yet was one seen.

The forest foxglove is purple, the marguerite
Outside is gold and white,
Nor can those that pluck either blossom greet
The others, day or night.
{Not even beloved and lover or child and mother,
One from within, one from
Without the forest could recognise each other,
Since they have changed their home.}
This last stanza he omitted - it was presumably too obvious. It does make it clear that the poem is elegiac and the separation of living from dead, the war dead, is absolute.
 It made me think of the extraordinary  1914 choral work by Elgar, Death on the Hills - must be heard  to have the full heartbreaking impact.  (The words are from  a Russian poem by Maykov  translated by Rosa Newmarch.)

Death on the Hills
Why o'er the dark'ning hill-slopes
Do dusky shadows creep?                                 
Because the wind blows keenly there,
Or rainstorms lash and leap?

No wind blows chill upon them,
Nor are they lash'd by rain:
'Tis Death who rides across the hills
With all his shadowy train.

The old bring up the cortege,
In front the young folk ride,
And on Death's saddle in a row
The babes sit side by side.

The young folk lift their voices,
The old folk plead with Death:
"O let us take the village-road,
Or by the brook draw breath.

"There let the old drink water,
There let the young folk play,
And let the little children
Run and pluck the blossoms gay."

(Death speaks) "I must not pass the village
Nor halt beside the rill,
For there the wives and mothers all
Their buckets take to fill.

"The wife might see her husband,
The mother see her son;
So close they'd cling - their claspings
Could never be undone."
Photograph by Gemma Davies, from the marvellous  Oxford Brookes Fine Art Degree show - ends tomorrow, 17th May  - go if you can. None of the old shock and irony but beautiful , ugly, varied,  imaginative explorations of the world and the human condition. Almost  entirely women - aren't young men allowed to go to Art School anymore but channelled into 'useful' ie lucrative jobs?

"Through the use of a camera obscura - an optical device- she creates a visual paradox that transposes one time and one place on another. This juxtaposition imbues a sense of deliberate ambiguity which immerses the viewer in the uncanny ..."


 I chose it because Lights Out is primarily about sleep, a positive thing for Thomas. But there are layers of meaning, 'shelf upon shelf'  in the poem, and he was nearing the time when he would be tested, would 'find out' as he wanted.

Lights Out

I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.

Many a road and track
That, since the dawn's first crack,
Up to the forest brink,
Deceived the travellers,
Suddenly now blurs,
And in they sink.

Here love ends,
Despair, ambition ends,
All pleasure and all trouble,
Although most sweet or bitter,
Here ends in sleep that is sweeter
Than tasks most noble.

There is not any book
Or face of dearest look
That I would not turn from now
To go into the unknown
I must enter and leave alone
I know not how.

The tall forest towers;
Its cloudy foliage lowers
Ahead, shelf above shelf;
Its silence I hear and obey
That I may lose my way
And myself.


And now from 'The Other' , that's the end of the forest -

The forest ended. Glad I was
To feel the light, and hear the hum
Of bees, and smell the drying grass
And the sweet mint, because I had come
To an end of forest, and because
Here was both road and inn, the sum
Of what's not forest.



Publishing Matters

If you have read 'A Conscious Englishman' and liked it, or even not entirely liked it,  I would be so grateful if you would take five minutes to review it on Amazon.

It's not necessarily that I'm pro-Amazon, but increasingly people use it as a reference book about fiction and other books. Especially as they have now taken over goodreads.

Thank you in advance.

Publisher Frank Egerton's  Streetbooks page has kept very up-to-date with reviews - they are on 


Monday, May 13, 2013

More Thomas Trees.

The soldier's poems, after enlistment. These have trees of significance and perhaps portent. The associations seem to have more of death in them.

Aspens:  The Cherry Trees:Cock Crow: October: The Ash Grove: The Wind's Song: The Team's Headbrass: The Gallows:  and later the Forest Poems - The Green Roads:   The Dark Forest: Light's Out.

Elderly ash trees.

The Ash Grove is a poem I don't remember having read before. The long lines are unfamiliar and perhaps rather uncomfortable at first. Then I remembered  the song and it read better.  Better still after listening to Laura Wright Songs, YouTube, The Ash Grove.

Edward Thomas loved these old English and Welsh songs and sung beautifully himself - at least Helen thought so. The  Ash Grove tune is a traditional Welsh harp melody to which English and Welsh words have been set. The ash was his favourite tree.

 The Ash Grove

Half of the grove stood dead, and those that yet lived made
Little more than the dead ones made of shade.
If they led to a house, long before they had seen its fall:
But they welcomed me; I was glad without cause and delayed.

Scarce a hundred paces under the trees was the interval -
Paces each sweeter than the sweetest miles - but nothing at all,
Not even the spirits of memory and fear with restless wing,
Could climb down in to molest me over the wall

That I passed through at either end without noticing.
And now an ash grove far from those hills can bring
The same tranquillity in which I wander a ghost
With a ghostly gladness, as if I heard a girl sing

The song of the Ash Grove soft as love uncrossed,
And then in a crowd or in distance it were lost,
But the moment unveiled something unwilling to die
And I had what I most desired, without search or desert or cost.
The intervals of a hundred paces  between the trees bring tranquillity, space and rhythm, and it is as Edna Longley points out 'tranquillity recollected in tranquillity' and made poetry.

Someone could set Thomas's  'Ash Grove' to music, perhaps.

By contrast, the short, one or two beat lines of  'Bright Clouds',  (The Pond) which Longley describes as a 'metrical sorbet' after three poems 'weighted with war.' But the 'Nothing to be done' she believes, suggests his impatience for action, and the scum of may-blossom has a darkness to it.

It's a May poem all the same.

 Most people including the Oxford University digitalisation project call the poem The Pond. Longley being a scholar says there is no justification for that except for a letter to Eleanor Farjeon asking if she'd received his 'poem about the pond?' I think she's losing that particular argument.
 'The Pond' notecard
 Original wood engraving by Yvonne Skargon.
From the Edward Thomas Fellowship notecards . Do see the edwardthomasfellowship website to order these  and eleven more lovely notecards.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Trees in Edward Thomas.

' {Only}    a silent place that once rang loud,
And trees and us - imperfect friends, we men
And trees since time began; and nevertheless
Between us still we breed a mystery.'
(The Chalk-Pit) 

   'their cloudy forms linked to earth by stately stems' (South Country'


There is enough material for a PhD or at least a Master's on this subject of Thomas and trees, I think! Any students out there?
Just looking at  trees which are significant not simply a part of the scene -  in the earlier, pre-enlistment poems only,

After Rain: The Hollow Wood: Beauty: First Known When Lost:  House and Man: Home(Often had I gone):Fifty Faggots: The Chalk-Pit: Under the Woods

And in prose works there is so much.
From 'The South Country':

'I like trees for the cool evening voices of their many
leaves, for their cloudy forms linked to earth by stately
stems — for the pale lifting of the sycamore leaves in
breezes and also their drooping, hushed and massed
repose, for the myriad division of the light ash leaves — for
their straight pillars and for the twisted branch work,
for their still shade and their rippling or calm shimmering
or dimly glowing light, for the quicksilver drip of dawn,
for their solemnity and their dancing, for all their sounds
and motions — their slow-heaved sighs, their nocturnal
murmurs, their fitful fingerings at thunder time, their
swishing and tossing and hissing in violent rain, the roar
of their congregations before the south-west wind when
it seems that they must lift up the land and fly away
with it, for their rustlings of welcome in harvest heat
— for their kindliness and their serene remoteness and
inhumanity, and especially the massiest of the trees that
have also the glory of motion, the sycamores, which are
the chief tree of Cornwall, as the beeches and yews are
of the Downs, the oaks of the Weald, the elms of the
Wiltshire vales. '
own picture
And from Horae Solitariae
I cannot walk under trees without a vague powerful
 feeling of reverence. Calmly persuasive, they
ask me to bow my head to the unknown
god. In the evening, especially, when the
main vocation of sight is to suggest what
eyes cannot see, the spacious and fragrant
shadow of oak or pine is a temple which
seems to contain the very power for whose
worship it is spread.

Those qualities in the South Country extract - their kindliness,  and their serene remoteness and inhumanity - can be found in the poems.
Hobbeman - National Gallery

Interval - a roaring wind,

But the woodman's cot
By the ivied trees
Awakens not
To light or breeze.

It smokes aloft
It hunches soft
Under storm's wing.    

And in Beauty, that angry poem that is soothed as it is written.

But, though I am like a river
At fall of evening when it seems that never
Has the sun lighted it or warmed it, while
Cross breezes cut the surface to a file,
This heart, some fraction of me, happily
Floats through a window even now to a tree
Down in the misting, dim-lit, quiet vale;
Not like a pewit that returns to wail
For something it has lost, but like a dove
That slants unanswering to its home and love.
There I find my rest, and through the dusk air
Flies what yet lives in me. Beauty is there     

Kindness, of course is implied in the Cherry Trees(though  sadly) and the many apple trees.

Perhaps there is 'serene remoteness'  about the trees in these famous lines

I should use, as the trees and birds did,
A language not to be betrayed;
And what was hid should still be hid
Excepting from  those like me made
Who answer when such whispers bid.

But inhumanity? Aspens is one of Thomas's most 'autobiographical ' poems, Aspens, with its analogies between a tree structure and the structure of poetry. In it he sees himself, flawed and 'unable to love' perhaps, but accepting himself. Separating himself from 'those who like a different tree.' An important poem.

All day and night, save winter, every weather,
Above the inn, the smithy and the shop,
The aspens at the cross-roads talk together
Of rain, until their last leaves fall from the top.

Out of the blacksmith's cavern comes the ringing
Of hammer, shoe and anvil; out of the inn
The clink, the hum, the roar, the random singing -
The sounds that for these fifty years have been.

The whisper of the aspens is not drowned,
And over lightless pane and footless road,
Empty as sky, with every other sound
No ceasing, calls their ghosts from their abode,

A silent smithy, a silent inn, nor fails
In the bare moonlight or the thick-furred gloom,
In the tempest or the night of nightingales,
To turn the cross-roads to a ghostly room.

And it would be the same were no house near.
Over all sorts of weather, men, and times,
Aspens must shake their leaves and men may hear
But need not listen, more than to my rhymes.

Whatever wind blows, while they and I have leaves
We cannot other than an aspen be
That ceaselessly, unreasonably grieves,
Or so men think who like a different tree.

Monet's poplars.


               Last weekend of Artweeks in Oxford City, then the turn of South Oxfordshire.

                             Details on Oxfordshire Artweeks

On Marc - /galleries, marc-thompson-oas

I sold five copies of A Conscious Englishman as the cover picture was on show, which was a bonus for me. Marc's pictures weren't on sale as heading for a gallery exhibition.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Edward Thomas and Trees

I am borrowing from Robert MacFarlane the idea that trees have a symbolic meaning for Thomas, that of stability and rootedness, as against birds which use them but have motion and freedom. These themes were echoed in his own life, as he would be violently restless against home, long to get away, then once away would need to come home.

 I think that trees often stand for people too - as the aspens and pollarded willows and the extraordinarily damaged trees in 'The Hollow Wood'.
Aspens - Populus Tremula

collective commons

Then there is the different concept of forest, which I'll look at next time.

Here is a very rooted tree indeed, from 'In Pursuit of Spring: the hawthorn tree reputed to have sprung from Joseph of Arimethia's staff ( Not vandalised as of course it was quite recently.)


.'............Joseph of Arimathea's thorn, and how it blossomed at Christmas. "Did you ever see it blossoming at Christmas?" I asked. "Once," she said, and she told me how the first winter she spent in Glastonbury was a very mild one, and she went out with her brothers for a walk on Christmas day in the afternoon. She remembered that they wore no coats. And they saw blossom on the holy thorn. After all, I did go through the turnstile to see the abbey. The high pointed arches were magnificent, the turf under them perfect. The elms stood among the ruins like noble savages among Greeks. The orchards hard by made me wish that they were blossoming. But excavations had been going on; clay was piled up and cracking in the sun, and there were tin sheds and scaffolding. I am not an archaeologist, and I left it. As I was approaching the turnstile an old hawthorn within a few yards of it, against a south wall, drew my attention. For it was covered with young green leaves and with bright crimson berries almost as numerous. Going up to look more closely, I saw what was more wonderful -- Blossom. Not one flower, nor one spray only, but several sprays. I had not up till now seen even blackthorn flowers, though towards the end of February I had heard of hawthorn flowering near Bradford. As this had not been picked, I conceitedly drew the conclusion that it had not been observed. Perhaps its conspicuousness had saved it. It was Lady Day. I had found the Spring in that bush of green, white, and crimson. So warm and bright was the sun, and so blue the sky, and so white the clouds, that not for a moment did the possibility of Winter returning cross my mind. '

  Also from In Pursuit:
The pollard willows fringing the green, which in the sunlight resemble mops, were now very much like a procession of men, strange primeval beings, pausing to meditate in the darkness.”

In the novel I have many references to specific trees:
The orchards at Leddington where the novel begins, the foliage so green that it colours their rooms at Oldfields.
The seven elm trees at the Gallows which distress Robert during his last winter in England and which were blown down in March 1916.
The abandoned tree where Edward watches the ploughman in 'As the team's headbrass' -  implying destructiveness in its fall but more so in the absence of men to remove it out of the plough's way.

The mix of black yew and bright whitebeam he sees every day from his study window.

'Wind-beat whitebeam'. Hopkins

The destroyed, splintered trees in France and these, in his memory:
'He walked back heavily, hearing the wind howling in the empty rooms of the great house when he went in. He sat at the broken window, watching a dozen black crumpled sycamore leaves swirl round and round on the terrace.

Their occasional rustling whispers brought a memory to his mind: the very different lively chatter of aspens at the crossroads in Steep when a breeze blew, a breeze that often meant rain. A Sunday and the village street utterly quiet, the public house closed and the smithy silent. Only the group of aspens had seemed alive on the earth at that moment, talking together, their alignment suggesting an empty room, a room of ghosts. He had had a strange sense of premonition that day: whether for the country life he had known and loved, or for more than that, he could not tell, but as he sat in that ruined landscape he thought of it.'
Here is the ultimate 'restless, walking Tom, get away from home' poem,
The Lofty Sky

To-day I want the sky,
The tops of the high hills,
Above the last man's house,
His hedges, and his cows,
Where, if I will, I look
Down even on sheep and rook,
And of all things that move
See buzzards only above:-
Past all trees, past furze
And thorn, where nought deters
The desire of the eye
For sky, nothing but sky.
I sicken of the woods
And all the multitudes
Of hedge-trees. They are no more
Than weeds upon this floor
Of the river of air
Leagues deep, leagues wide, where
I am like a fish that lives
In weeds and mud and gives
What's above him no thought.
I might be a tench for aught
That I can do to-day
Down on the wealden clay.
Even the tench has days
When he floats up and plays
Among the lily leaves
And sees the sky, or grieves
Not if he nothing sees:
While I, I know that trees
Under that lofty sky
Are weeds, fields mud, and I
Would arise and go far
To where the lilies are.

Publishing:  Reviews.

A Conscious Englishman by Margaret Keeping
'[Margaret Keeping's] writing is very assured and she has the necessary eye for place, detail, weather and seasons to write about Edward Thomas...I hope the book will reach the wide audience it deserves and feel sure that many others will enjoy it as much as I have.'  Linda Newbery, author of Set in Stone
'A Conscious Englishman...turns its subject into a twentieth-century equivalent of the old-fashioned notion of Keats: a poet misvalued by his times and cruelly cut down...'  Peter McDonald, The Times Literary Supplement

'The author’s research on Frost, Farjeon and Thomas is commendable, and her sympathies obviously lie with Edward...'  Janet Williamson, The Historical Novels Review
'An absorbing book...This novel is very good on the influences behind the wonderful poetry.'  Merryn Williams, The Oxford Times

Very worth seeing Flora McLachlan's paintings and prints  at Art Jericho gallery - marvellous magical pictures. Such characterful oak trees!

Autumnal, ink and watercolour.

It continues well for Marc. Lots of visitors throughout the beautiful Bank Holiday weekend. Fewer but a steady trickle during the week.

Here is the May Hill picture with trees of course and before that Storm Fox.