Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Edward Thomas - the sprained ankle poems.

Laid low with a badly sprained ankle, Edward Thomas was writing poems at a great rate. He once said he wrote well when in pain.
A Private, written on 6th and 7th January, has the first reference, I think, to the war, and it seems he altered it from its first draft, which referred to 'an old man' and implied the Boer war. What a powerful message it gives about those thousands lost and never found, or unrecognizable.
Pictures by Nick Hedges
This ploughman dead in battle slept out of doors
Many a frosty night, and merrily
Answered staid drinkers, good bedmen, and all bores:
'At Mrs Greenland's Hawthorn Bush,' said he,
'I slept.' None knew which bush. Above the town,
Beyond 'The Drover', a hundred spot the down
In Wiltshire. And where now at last he sleeps
More sound in France—that, too, he secret keeps.

As Edna Longley comments, this is a traditional folk idea but the oxymorons of 'gloom of whiteness' and 'dusky brightness' darken the metaphor.
In the gloom of whiteness,
In the great silence of snow,
A child was sighing
And bitterly saying: "Oh,
They have killed a white bird up there on her nest,
The down is fluttering from her breast!"
And still it fell through that dusky brightness
On the child crying for the bird of the snow.

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