Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Novel's Settings



1. Leddington and Dymock, in summer and autumn.

Maps, so important to Edward throughout his life and indeed right through his military training to his death in France. Place was all-important too, and there is a great revival of interest and study in the cultural geography and indeed 'psychogeography' of his work.
My purpose in visiting: observing, absorbing and imagining the places he knew and trying to recreate them in the reader's mind.

Part One of A Conscious Englishman is set in Leddington(now spelt Leadington), near Ledbury, with excursions to Dymock, May Hill near Gloucester and the Malvern Hills. I paid four visits to the area, two of them with Friends of The Dymock poets, two separately. It is farming or market gardening country with orchards and copses still surviving alongside some over-large arable fields with the most startling red soil. In Dymock especially, half-timbered white-rendered   houses stand, while most cottages and farm-houses are of mellowed brick clearly reflecting the red-rust of the area's clay.

The Thomas family rented a room in a farm called Oldfields which still exists but is greatly altered and enlarged. I'm so sorry to say I did photograph it years ago but all those photos are lost- probably I hadn't even heard of blogs then. But there is a good picture available of the Frosts' rented cottage, Little Iddens. I walked the few hundred yards across a field between the two houses several times, thinking of how often the two families, and especially Edward and Robert, walked that way. Eleanor Farjeon stayed for a few days at a farm called Glyn Iddens, just across the lane.


Dymock daffodils
Dymock daffodils
The area between May Hill and the Malvern Hills is most famous for its wild daffodils, which once grew everywhere in the meadows and woods. There are still many places where wild daffodils can be seen in late March and early April and Dymock is one 

There are two marked footpaths, the Poet's Paths, which start at the church, Dymock.

 The first heads east of Dymock in an 8-mile figure of eight that passes Abercrombie’s cottage,the Gallows, which features in the autumn chapters as the Frosts had moved there. The second is north of Dymock in a figure of eight that passes near Frost’s, Thomas’s and Gibson’s cottages.

St Mary's Dymock. The lych gate allows Edward and Robert a place to rest:
"They went on into Dymock. Robert admired the half-timbered houses, very like Little Iddens, lining
 the street. Beauchamp Green, with its row of lime trees leading up from the road to the lych gate, invited them to rest. They sat for a while under the silvered oak of the lych, looking down the valley. ‘You should have seen it  early last April,’ Robert said. ‘A torrent of little yellow daffodils tumbling down to the brook. Beautiful.’  

Two gypsies came up to them, a young woman smoking a clay pipe, with a baby in her brown shawl, and a thin young man with a concertina. The woman asked for money for the baby, but they’d scarcely any money and what they had was for cider at the Beauchamp Arms. Seeing Edward with his pipe she asked if he could spare half a pipe of tobacco. He looked long at her and smiled. Her brown fingers dipped delicately into the leather pouch he held out to her as she gazed back at him. Then she laughed, waved and went away, gracefully swaying across the green with the baby on her hip. "

The Malverns

British Camp in the Malvern Hills - Edward and Robert took a phenomenal walk from Leddington to this hill and as they were returning saw the moon effect that Robert wrote of in 'Iris by Night' -  his 'Elected Friends' poem.

Monday, September 22, 2014

On May Hill

An Edward Thomas Fellowship walk on May Hill, Gloucestershire.

Saturday 20th at May Hill
The Edward Thomas Fellowship  Walk.

Valerie McLean


It was an uncharacteristically misty day, so none of the far views Edward Thomas saw and included in his wonderful poem, Words. But it was very atmospheric and had the spirit of place rather closer to Marc's painting than to Valerie's.
Matthew Oates of the National Trust was there and made the walk extra richly interesting. His twitters will be worth following.

Here is an extract from the novel: it takes place just as Edward is reaching a decision about the enlisting or America dilemma.

'It was a chance to pay another visit to May Hill, where he’d been more than once with both Robert and Jack together.

They pedalled up through slopes of bracken and foxgloves, talking about Robert as they went, remembering how he would sometimes find their walks over-long, good-humouredly complaining. Tears came, to Edward’s surprise, and he blinked them away.

Some old firs and a beech tree were all that was left of a wood that had once clothed the slopes, Jack told him. As the gradient flattened, the hill became a broad common topped by a square plantation of young Scots firs. It was a clear bright day, one of the days when you could, it was said, identify twelve counties from the west side of the hill. There was the Severn snaking across its plain. Turn a little and you were looking towards the Cotswold Hills. He recognised the deep green of the Forest of Dean and the dip in its contours that was the Wye. Far beyond were the dark hills of Monmouthshire and further still the cloudy mass of the Black Mountains.

Jack spent his time closely observing the plants through his round glasses, often taking out his magnifying glass to see better. Once Edward heard him mutter,

‘Ah-ha -Veronica Officinalis – the heath speedwell – good.’

He looked towards Wales. That inheritance would always be part of him, but without doubt he was mostly an Englishman. To claim that he was Welsh was something of a sham, and he loathed sham and deception above anything. Still he valued Wales, that beautiful country, its language and its people, but he must admit to being a visitor, an admiring visitor whose roots gave him a small claim.

 Sitting down with his back to a sweet chestnut tree, looking towards the English counties, he began to write a draft of a poem in his notebook. It was about English words. And about names, villages and hills. He would include Wales. And himself and what, most passionately, he wanted. He thought of all his prose writing, the millions of words he’d written. Poetry was different; sometimes it was as if the words chose him, not the other way. He wanted to celebrate the history and the ever-changing, ever-renewing quality of words. They were old and yet worn new, again and again, they were like streams, always young, especially after rain. Words, and names, and things – real, exact concrete things – these he could celebrate.

He wrote feverishly, composing a kind of prayer – a prayer to words:

‘Let me sometimes dance

With you,

Or climb

Or stand perchance

In ecstasy,

Fixed and free

In a rhyme,

As poets do.’


And here is the poem in its entirety:
Out of us all
That make rhymes,
Will you choose
Sometimes –
As the winds use
A crack in the wall
Or a drain,
Their joy or their pain
To whistle through –
Choose me,
You English words?
I know you:
You are light as dreams,
Tough as oak,
Precious as gold,
As poppies and corn,
Or an old cloak:
Sweet as our birds
To the ear,
As the burnet rose
In the heat
Of Midsummer:
Strange as the races
Of dead and unborn:
Strange and sweet,
And familiar,
To the eye,
As the dearest faces
That a man knows,
And as lost homes are:
But though older far
Than oldest yew, -
As our hills are, old, -
Worn new
Again and again:
Young as our streams
After rain:
And as dear
As the earth which you prove
That we love.
Make me content
With some sweetness
From Wales
Whose nightingales
Have no wings, –
From Wiltshire and Kent
And Herefordshire,
And the villages there, –
From the names, and the things
No less.
Let me sometimes dance
With you,
Or climb,
Or stand perchance
In ecstasy,
Fixed and free
In a rhyme,
As poets do.

There is an excellent article about Words, in Carol Rumens' Poem of the Week column, the Guardian.