Steep, Robert Frost visits, and three local pubs
The plaque on the memorial stone, erected on Shoulder of Mutton hill, Steep, in 1935. After his name and dates is written "And I rose up and knew I was tired and I continued my journey."I believe it's from 'In Pursuit of Spring' but not sure - ( Guy, forgive me!) A comment would be welcome.
A very important pub - or inn as Thomas would have called it - is the Pub-with-no-name at Froxfield, a comfortable walk from Steep: it is the subject of his first known poem, Up in the Wind.(3rd December 1914).
|The Pub with no name - the inn sign frame remains blank. ( Its name is The White Horse)|
"Tall beeches overhang the inn, dwarfing and half hiding it, for it lies back a field’s breadth from the by road. The field is divided from the road by a hedge and only a path from one corner and a cart track from the other which meet under the beeches connect the inn with the road. But for a signboard or rather the post and empty iron frame of a signboard close to the road behind the hedge a traveller could not guess at an inn. The low dirty white building looks like a farmhouse, with a lean-to, a rick and a shed of black boarding at one side . . . "
As Edna Longley writes, "Up in the Wind is Thomas's closest approximation to the Robert Frost "eclogue" in which rural speakers tell or act out their story." Her annotation to the poem adds so much to the reading of it.
Another inn that appears in the novel is at the village of Hawkley, a walk away down the 'other' side of the hill, through Oakshott with the watercress stream. This is part of the Hanger's Way walk (beech hangers are wooded slopes.)This extract concerns the imminent move of Edward from Steep - really the beginning of the end:
Its green bowl was surrounded by high hills, with Cheesecombe Farm lying comfortably at the base. Watercress grew all along the stream and under the plank bridge. It hadn’t been gathered this year. He thought that the old man, who he always thought of as Jack Noman, must be dead; ‘Jack’ had last appeared with watercress on a lovely May day more than two years before. Edward reached down and dipping his hand into a cluster of the streaming leaves, he snapped off some stalks, bringing them up to his face. The water cooled him and the tang of the cress filled him with memories.
Crossing Oakshott Rill
The third pub brings us back to Steep, or at least its outer borders, almost in the village of Sheet. It is the lovely little Harrow Inn - a tiny bar which is surely much as it was in 1915 when I have Robert visiting Edward just before he leaves with his family and Merfyn Thomas for America.
|The Harrow, Steep.|
From 'Up in the Wind:'
Two roads cross, and not a house in sight
Except " The White Horse " in this clump of beeches.
It hides from either road, a field's breadth back ;
And it's the trees you see, and not the house,
Both near and far, when the clump's the highest thing
And homely, too, upon a far horizon
To one that knows there is an inn within.
" 'Twould have been different," the wild girl shrieked, " suppose
That widow had married another blacksmith and
Kept on the business. This parlour was the smithy.
If she had done, there might never have been an inn ;
And I, in that case, might never have been born.
Years ago, when this was all a wood
And the smith had charcoal-burners for company,
A man from a beech-country in the shires
Came with an engine and a little boy
(To feed the engine) to cut up timber here.
It all happened years ago. The smith
Had died, his widow had set up an alehouse —
I could wring the old thing's neck for thinking of it.
Well, I suppose they fell in love, the widow
And my great-uncle that sawed up the timber :
Leastways they married. The little boy stayed on.
He was my father." She thought she'd scrub again —
" I draw the ale and he grows fat," she muttered —
But only studied the hollows in the bricks
And chose among her thoughts in stirring silence.
The clock ticked, and the big saucepan lid
Heaved as the cabbage bubbled, and the girl
Questioned the fire and spoke : " My father, he
Took to the land. A mile of it is worth
A guinea ; for by the time all trees
Except these few about the house were gone :
That's all that's left of the forest unless you count
The bottoms of the charcoal-burners' fires —
We ploughed one up at times. Did you ever see
Our signboard ? " No. The post and empty frame
I knew. Without them I should not have guessed
The low grey house and its one stack under trees
Was a public house and not a hermitage.
" But can that empty frame be any use ?
Now I should like to see a good white horse
Swing there, a really beautiful white horse,
Galloping one side, being painted on the other."
" But would you like to hear it swing all night
And all day ? All I ever had to thank
The wind for was for blowing the sign down.
Time after time it blew down and I could sleep.
At last they fixed it, and it took a thief
To move it, and we've never had another :
It's lying at the bottom of the pond.
But no one's moved the wood from off the hill
There at the back, although it makes a noise
When the wind blows ; as if a train were running
The other side, a train that never stops
Or ends. And the linen crackles on the line
Like a wood fire rising." " But if you had the sign
You might draw company. What about Kennington ? "
She bent down to her scrubbing with " Not me :
Not back to Kennington. Here I was born,
And I've a notion on these windy nights
Here I shall die. Perhaps I want to die here.
I reckon I shall stay. But I do wish
The road was nearer and the wind farther off.
Or once now and then quite still, though when I die
I'd have it blowing that I might go with it
Somewhere distant, where there are trees no more
And I could wake and not know where I was
Nor even wonder if they would roar again.
Look at those calves."
Between the open door
And the trees two calves were wading in the pond,
Grazing the water here and there and thinking,
Sipping and thinking, both happily, neither long.
The water wrinkled, but they sipped and thought,
As careless of the wind as it of us.
" Look at those calves. Hark at the trees again."