Thursday, May 22, 2014

In Pursuit of Spring - The Grave of Winter.

Ernest Hazelhurst (original IPS illustration)

The final Chapter of  In Pursuit does what it ought: it contains elements of the whole before bringing the book to a satisfying end with a surprising image. It is in fact a reprise: he had arrived at Kilve, his destination, the night before the chapter opens, but is having a look further afield before turning for a train station and home.
Kilve Beach

There is a long diversion, similar to the early one on clay pipes, on the subject of waterproofs. Or rather not-waterproofs. We have certainly an advantage over Thomas as we do have garments that are both waterproof, light, easy to walk in and don't tear - something he thought would never be possible.
And a shorter one about local biscuits especially Half-Moon biscuits.

Birds - A thrush, starlings and 'The end of rain as I hoped, was sung away by missel-thrushes in the roadside oaks, by a chain of larks' songs which much have reached all over England.' Seagulls, rooks.           

Remarkable individuals - road-menders: 'the corduroys of one were stained so thoroughly by the red mud of the Quantocks, and shaped so excellently by wear to his tall spare figure, that they seemed to be one with the man.'
                                        the 'two old men sat in the small settle at the fireside talking of the cold weather, for so they deemed it. Bent, grinning old men they were, using rustic, deliberate grave speech.'

Flowers     -'tall arum, nettle, and celandine, and one plant of honesty from the last cottage garden.'


At the same time he is travelling, looking west.
Crowcombe Court: 'the sun was bright.' Now a wedding venue as are very many of the properties on his route.

 'I turned off for West Bagborough, setting my face toward the wooded flank of Bagborough Hill.'

 It was at the inn there he met the two old men. Then on to Cothelstone.

'I saw through the trees the gray mass of Cothelstone Manor-house beside its lake, and twelve miles off in the same direction the Wellington obelisk on the Black Down Hills. A stone seat on the other side of the trees commands both the manor house beneath and the distant obelisk. The seat is in an arched-over recess in the thickness of a square wall of masonry, six or seven feet in height and breadth. A coeval old hawthorn, spare and solitary, sticks out from the base of the wall. The whole is surmounted by a classic stone statue of an emasculated man larger than human, nude except for some drapery falling behind, long-haired, with left arm uplifted, and under its feet a dog; and it looks straight over at the obelisk. I do not know if the statue and the obelisk are connected, nor, if so, whether the statue represents the Iron Duke, his king, or a classic deity; the mutilation is against the last possibility. Had the obelisk not been so plainly opposite, I should have taken the figure for some sort of a god, the ponderous, rustic-classic fancy of a former early nineteenth-century owner of Cothelstone Manor. The statue and masonry, darkened and bitten by weather, in that high, remote, commanding place, has in any case long outgrown the original conception and intention, and become a classi-rustical, romantic what-you-please, waiting for its poet or prose poet. '
Cothelstone Hill

'a dome of green and ruddy grasses in the south-east, sprinkled with thorn trees and capped by the blunt tower of a beacon. The primrose roots hard by me had each sufficient flowers to make a child's handful..
          Turning to the left again, when the signpost declared it seven and three-quarters miles to Bridgewater, I found myself on a glorious sunlit road without hedge, bank, or fence on either side, proceeding through fern, gorse, and ash trees scattered over mossy slopes.'
The final pages are too evocative, too expressive of the spirit of the whole, to cut. The bluebells, dropped by the side of the road, the rainbow, the distant views to Wales  and the close -'The million gorse petals were like flames sown by the sun.'
The Grave of Winter.
Here they are as Thomas would have proof-read them in 1913, his saddest, most desperate year. What courage and strength he had.

Marc Thompson - two paintings.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

In Pursuit of Spring:Coleridge - a sunny day and a chiff-chaff.
Coleridge or STC.

Edward Thomas was an  admirer and critical student of Wordsworth, Coleridge and the Lyrical Ballads. Surely that volume influenced the thinking, with Frost, that one or the other of them, or both, should write a book on the theory of poetry. He considered Coleridge a great critic. But in In Pursuit of Spring and in  his 'A Literary Pilgrim in England ' he insists that Coleridge was a West Country man(originally from Devon) and that all his best work was written there at Nether Stowey in Somerset.
Coleridge had a tremendous benefactor, Thomas Poole, who lived in Nether Stowey in this fine house: the Coleridge's cottage was his and the  garden linked with the Poole's.

Poole House, now a B and B.

The Coleridges' cottage, Nether Stowey, Somerset.
Then William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy moved to a house nearby at Alfoxden, and their 'marvellous year' of 1795 began as Coleridge leaped over the fence to join them on his first visit.

Alfoxden as it was then - now very different.

Once Coleridge had moved to the Lakes, away from what Thomas saw as his natural home: 'His notebooks reveal how much he saw, and thought to use in writing, and never did. '

The In Pursuit pages on Coleridge begin with criticism of the early poems, full of   Personification  of Abstracts in Capital Letters. But Thomas admires him for overcoming the style of his times and forging the new. Edward gets over-excited, he says himself, about the copious honey-suckle around the village which might have served as 'honeydew' for the poet.

He comments many times on Coleridge's use of the terms 'mild' and 'wild' - the ideal has both qualities for him. This is the first time I have read a real close reading of poems by Edward and it is really enlightening, showing the qualities he valued. As we now know that it was in 1913 that he did make one or two attempts at poetry, before the Frost encounter, it must be that he was at some level arguing for his own potential approach.

For example on an early poem, "the uninspired accuracy of 'pink-silver skin' (of a birch tree)".

He comments on several lines which Coleridge cut out - an essential skill in a poet.

He praises the combination of the sensuous and  luxurious with  'the quality which responds to ghostliness and to the wildness of Nature, The Keepsake has it perfect, in this picture of a girl,-

In the cool morning twilight, early waked
By her full bosom's joyous restlessness,
Softly she rose, and lightly stole along,
Down the slope coppice to the woodbine bower,
Whose rich flowers, swinging in the morning breeze
Over their dim fast-moving shadows hung,
Making a quiet image of disquiet
In the smooth, scarcely moving river-pool.'

 The work of Coleridge's best period unites 'richness and delicacy, sweetness and freshness, sensuousness and wildness, spirit and sense.'

He ends his Coleridge meditation by writing of Christabel and The Ancient Mariner and quoting from the 'May opium dream' of Kubla Khan-

        But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
     Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
     A savage place! as holy and enchanted
    As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
     By woman wailing for her demon lover!

Of course what we all know about Kubla Khan is the supposed interruption by the Person from Porlock. Edward Thomas doesn't mention it.

 Porlock to Nether Stowey is quite a walk - it's now the Coleridge Way of course, taking between 3 and 4 days. Presumably the Person had some means of transport.

.The Walking Holiday comp

From Nether Stowey Edward went on to Holford - almost there at the sea, and with definite signs of spring.

April 1915 was an extraordinarily productive month for Thomas :
Wind and Mist, Lob, Digging, Home, In Memoriam, Health, and half a dozen lesser poems.

I chose In Memoriam(Easter 1915)

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.   

Friday, May 9, 2014

PEDAL FOLK   following the route of 'In Pursuit of Spring'.
Pedal Folk are a musical collective who power their journeys from gig to gig purely by bike. Folk musicians Robin Grey and Tim Graham spearheaded the project that hit the road last year in order to promote sustainable touring and make more out of the time spent travelling between performances. They completed two tours in 2013 covering just under 200 miles accompanied by Galway born fiddler Katie Stone-Lonergan. This April they undertook their largest tour yet travelling from London to the Quantocks in the well worn tyre tracks of Edward Thomas that he recounted in 'In Pursuit of Spring'.

This May they are heading on a return journey from Bath to Oxford, performing music written and inspired by Thomas' work as well as folk songs and tunes that were collected in the counties he passed through.
"Our tour dates are as follows:


31st - The Story Museum - OXFORD

For more information please visit

“What an incredible evening. Edward Thomas would have loved it!” 

Emma Craigie (Chair of Wells Literature Festival)

Here are a couple of youtube links from our gig in Salisbury last month

All the best


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

 In Pursuit of Spring, chapter V111- WH Hudson and birds.
Lark ascending , Mark Cox, Carmarthenartist.blogspot
(You will need to be into birds for this post.)
 Edward Thomas wrote a long diversion about Hudson, a man he admired. He writes to Frost and others admiringly and affectionately about the older man - his 'unique personality which is very dear to me'. He sent Hudson some of  his poems and said he was glad to receive criticism from him, though he does hold out for 'merry' describing England in Manor Farm.
 In this chapter Thomas praises Hudson on birds - adventures Among Birds had been published that year, 1913.
This extract is from 'Birds in Towns and Villages'
A thrush is making music on a tall tree beyond the garden hedge, and I am more grateful for the distance that divides us than for the song; for, just now, he does not sing so well as sometimes of an evening, when he is most fluent, and a listener, deceived by his sweetness and melody, writes to the papers to say that he has heard the nightingale. Just now his song is scrappy, composed of phrases that follow no order and do not fit or harmonize, and is like a poor imitation of an inferior mocking-bird's song.

Between the scraps of loud thrush-music I listen to catch the thin, somewhat reedy sound of a yellow-hammer singing in the middle of the adjoining grassy field. It comes well from the open expanse of purpling grass, and reminds me of a favourite grasshopper in a distant sunny land. O happy grasshopper! singing all day in the trees and tall herbage, in a country where every village urchin is not sent afield to "study natural history" with green net and a good store of pins, shall I ever again hear thy breezy music, and see thee among the green leaves, beautiful with steel-blue and creamy-white body, and dim purple over and vivid red underwings?

The bird of the pasture-land is singing still, perhaps, but all at once I have ceased to hear him, for something has come to lift me above his low grassy level, something faint and at first only the suspicion of a sound; then a silvery lisping, far off and aerial, touching the sense as lightly as the wind-borne down of dandelion.

It is the lark singing in the blue infinite heaven, at this distance with something ethereal and heavenly in his voice; but now the wide circling wings that brought him for a few moments within hearing, have borne him beyond it again; and missing it, the sunshine looks less brilliant than before, and all other bird-voices seem by comparison dull and of the earth.

Keith Tilley another lark ascending painting

Certainly there is nothing spiritual in the song of the chaffinch. There he sits within sight, motionless, a little bird-shaped automaton, made to go off at intervals of twelve or thirteen seconds; but unfortunately one hears with the song the whirr and buzz of the internal machinery.

 It is not now as in April, when it is sufficient in a song that it shall be joyous; in the leafy month, when roses are in bloom, one grows critical, and asks for sweetness and expression, and a better art than this vigorous garden singer displays in that little double flourish with which he concludes his little hurry-scurry lyric. He has practised that same flourish for five thousand years--to be quite within the mark--and it is still far from perfect, still little better than a kind of musical sneeze. So long is art!

Here follows, from my former Probation colleague, Tim Lee -
at  bird_song_tips.pdf

Hints for recognising bird song

Start close to home – in your garden or around the streets where you live. You see these birds every day but maybe take them for granted. Take more notice of them and try to memorise their songs and calls. Try to link the song to the image of the bird.

 Do the same when you are walking in your local area – Aston’s Eyot is ideal as there is a wide range of resident and migrant birds, as well as water birds.

 Whenever you hear a call or song you don’t recognise, try to track it down to see which bird is making the sound – it’s easier to remember a song or call when you have seen the bird making it.

 Soon you will have a base of knowledge that can be extended as time goes on. This helps with the process of elimination when trying to identify unrecognised songs and calls
– It sounds like a blackbird but ……ie ‘Same same but different’

Once you have built up a basic knowledge of the commonest birds you will find that you recognise a song but can’t remember which bird you should attach it to. It can help to link the song to a group of similar sounding birds and then concentrate on what distinguishes one song from another.

Here are a few pointers to help remind you how to tell similar sounding songs apart, by linking hints to the names of the birds. To understand what the hints are describing it would help to listen to the songs – see the last page for useful websites and resources.

Mnemonics for distinguishing similar bird songs Robin/Wren/Dunnock

To a beginner, these three birds can be confused. To separate them try to remember:
Wistful Wobin
– thin wistful fluting.

Ringing Wren
– a long, powerful trill in the middle of the song.

Diddly-diddly Dunnock
– a very even, level, ‘diddly-diddly’ song, often similar to Wren, but without the harsh trill.

Blackbird/SongThrush/Mistle Thrush
Similarly, these three can easily be confused so…
Beautiful Blackbird
– probably needs no introduction.

Say it Twice Song Thrush
– similar to a Blackbird but higher pitched and repeats phrases.

Mournful Mistle Thrush
– similar to Blackbird but song has a mournful tone, singing for shorter time and ending on an upward, questioning note. Likes the tops of large trees.

Great Tit /Coal Tit/Blue Tit
Great Tit

– its most common call sounds like ‘Great Tit, Great Tit’ or as is often said – ‘Tea-cher,Tea-cher’. But remember that Great Tits have numerous other calls. Bill Oddie says that if you know most woodland birds and hear something you can’t recognise, it’s probably a Great Tit.

Coal Tit
– sounds like the Great Tit ‘Tea-cher’ call but less powerful and a bit wheezy – having spent too much time down the coal mine!

Blue Tee Tee Tee Tit Tit Tit
– common call ‘Tee tee tee, tit tit tit’

Collared Dove/ Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
– a frequently repeated three note call – Du Doo Du

Wood D D Pigeon
– a five note call similar to a Collared Dove but finishing with an extra two ‘Du Du’ notes.– Du Doo Du, Du Du

Chaffinch/Willow Warbler/Chiffchaff
Cha-Cha-Cha, Cha-Cha-Cha, Cha-Cha-Cha Chaffinch
– a series of descending notes finishing with a flourish of notes. Chaffinches also often make a plaintive ‘chink chink’ call, so also think of the Chink Chink Chaffinch.

Willow Warbler -
also sings a series of descending notes, like a soft Chaffinch song, but slower and with no flourish at the end.

While we’re on Willow Warblers, their plumage is almost identical to the -
Chiffchaff -
but their call is easy to remember as it says its own name – ‘chiff/chaff chiff/chaff chiff/chaff’ and so sounds nothing like a Willow Warbler.

Taken by Pahlini  Keeeping on 20/04/13 at Aston Rowant, Chilterns

The Crow family
Like the Chiffchaff, many of their names are perhaps onomatopoeic -
Carrion Crow
– a harsh and longish ‘crow’

– call very similar to a Crow but with a bit of imagination it could sound like ‘rook’!! However, it’s only likely to be heard in the countryside. If you’re in a town, that very large black bird is likely to be a Crow (even if there are dozens of them). If you are in the countryside, large flocks are more likely to be Rooks (but not always) and isolated birds or pairs/family groups may be Crows. If you get a close look, Rooks have greyish, dull-looking bills whereas Crows have shiny black bills.

– a shorter, higher pitched ‘jack’, often repeated 'jack jack'

– another harsh call – a nasal ‘jaay’ (is there a pattern developing here?) but a little softer than some other members of the Crow family. The call is often made twice and at a distance – Jays are more wary of people than most other Crows.

‘The Chattering Magpie’
– is the name of a famous Irish folk tune and a very apt description of the harsh, staccato nature of the call of the Magpie. This Crow doesn’t say its name but rather the name highlights that it has pied plumage.

Blackcap/Garden Warbler/Whitethroat

– a rich and varied warble, usually starting with a chattering and finishing with a flourish of flute-like notes. Some people say that you when they get into their rhythm you can detect ‘duty day/duty done/duty day/duty done’.

Garden Warbler – ‘Garbled Warbler’
- very similar to the Blackcap but its song is often longer lasting with shorter pauses and is less varied – goes on a bit. They usually sing from a well concealed perch, which adds to the difficulty of identifying the bird.

Whitethroat – ‘I am a Whitethroat’
– song more scratchy than the Blackcap and includes a frequent five/six note phrase which sounds like ‘I am a Whitethroat’. In early spring does prominent ascending/descending song flights. Often seen at the top of bushes.

There are three resident woodpeckers in the UK and their names helpfully describe them.
Green Woodpecker
– usually seen flying away from you from the ground, where it will have been feeding on ants and other invertebrates. Their yellow rump is usually visible as they fly off. Their call, known as a ‘yaffle’, is a descending series of notes, sounding like someone laughing.

Great Spotted Woodpecker
– a black and white bird, rarely seen on the ground. Often seen near the tops of trees, searching the crevices for insects. Their call is a short ‘tchick’ sound and often alerts you to their presence. The Great Spotted are also renowned for their drumming on resonant branches, to declare their territory.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
– How do you tell a Great Spotted from a Lesser Spotted? Easy really – if you see a black and white woodpecker it is almost certainly going to be a Great Spotted. Lesser Spotted are very rare and hardly ever seen, almost never near to urban areas. As their names suggest, their size also tells them apart – Greats are the size of Starlings whereas Lesser are tiny birds, about the size of a Sparrow.

A few other hints….
Green Finch – ‘Green Beret Finch’
– staccato, machine gun like piping notes sometimes followed by whiny ‘peow, peow’ notes – like a little boy playing soldiers

Twittering Goldfinch
– usually seen in small flocks or pairs at the tops of trees or bushes, or feeding on thistles or teasels. A soft, tinkling, twittering song with occasional buzzes and wheezes.

– one of the highest pitched songs of woodland birds. Goldcrests are usually found in coniferous trees and have a soft, reeling ‘diddly diddly’ song lasting for a few seconds, gently rising to finish on a high note.

Treecreeper -
give a high pitched ‘tsee tsee’ call as they fly from tree to tree. Song similar to a Goldcrest and also difficult for some people to hear.

Peeping Bullfinch
– short, thin, single peeping note.

Reed Bunting – ‘Roadie Bunting’ – ‘one two…. one two…. one’.

‘Kee Kee Kee’ Kestrel –
call a high pitched ‘kee kee kee’, higher pitched than a green woodpecker.

Starling -
a mixture of squeaks.
Thanks, Tim.

POEM  - Sedge- Warblers

THIS beauty made me dream there was a time
Long past and irrecoverable, a clime
Where any brook so radiant racing clear
Through buttercup and kingcup bright as brass
But gentle, nourishing the meadow grass
That leans and scurries in the wind, would bear
Another beauty, divine and feminine,
Child to the sun, a nymph whose soul unstained
Could love all day, and never hate or tire,
A lover of mortal or immortal kin.
And yet, rid of this dream, ere I had drained
Its poison, quieted was my desire
So that I only looked into the water,
Clearer than any goddess or man's daughter,
And hearkened while it combed the dark green hair
And shook the millions of the blossoms white
Of water-crowfoot, and curdled to one sheet
The flowers fallen from the chestnuts in the park
Far off. And sedge-warblers, clinging so light
To willow twigs, sang longer than the lark,
Quick, shrill, or grating, a song to match the heat
Of the strong sun, nor less the water's cool,
Gushing through narrows, swirling in the pool.
Their song that lacks all words, all melody,
All sweetness almost, was dearer then to me
Than sweetest voice that sings in tune sweet words.
This was the best of May--the small brown birds
Wisely reiterating endlessly
What no man learnt yet, in or out of school.

Edward Thomas News - Sept 2014

Steep Church
Professor Edna Longley, of Queen's University, Belfast, who is speaking at the Winchester Festival in September coming has agreed to give a lecture in Steep Church on the evening before the festival, Thurs 11th Sept, at around 7 pm/730 pm
It's free, with a retiring collection. There are no tickets but will you contact Steep Church if you are intending to attend. (
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