Saturday, January 24, 2015

January 1915 'sprained ankle poems -
Edward Thomas wrote prolifically when confined to the house because of a serious ankle injury.
15th January - The Cuckoo,  and Swedes

The Cuckoo is the only Thomas poem with a woman narrator. It surely stemmed from a real conversation with a shepherd's widow. A passage in The Heart of England refers to the same shepherd's call. The last word is strengthened for me by the 'my' that precedes it.
The Cuckoo
That's the cuckoo, you say. I cannot hear it.
When last I heard it I cannot recall; but I know
Too well the year when first I failed to hear it -
It was drowned by my man groaning out to his sheep 'Ho! Ho!'

Ten times with an angry voice he shouted
'Ho! Ho!' but not in anger, for that was his way.
He died that Summer, and that is how I remember
The cuckoo calling, the children listening, and me saying 'Nay'.

And now, as you said, 'There it is', I was hearing
Not the cuckoo at all, but my man's 'Ho! Ho!' instead.
And I think that even if I could lose my deafness
The cuckoo's note would be drowned by the voice of my dead.


 They have taken the gable from the roof of clay
On the long swede pile.  They have let in the sun
To the white and gold and purple of curled fronds
Unsunned.  It is a sight more tender-gorgeous
At the wood-corner where Winter moans and drips
Than when, in the Valley of the Tombs of Kings,
A boy crawls down into a Pharaoh's tomb
And, first of Christian men, beholds the mummy,
God and monkey, chariot and throne and vase,
Blue pottery, alabaster, and gold.

But dreamless long-dead Amen-hotep lies.
This is a dream of Winter, sweet as Spring.

This is a popular poem that takes the every-day and sees in it something  remarkable. I have always noticed colour in Thomas's poems and prose, the many greens especially, but this is certainly more 'tender-gorgeous.' Of course Harold Carter had yet to open the tomb of Tutankhamen  that created such a sensation in the twenties.



  1. Hello, I love your blog. as I am an admirer of Thomas and other WWI poets. I am Mexican, though, and don't understand exactly what "swedes" are...

  2. Hello Guillermo, how good to have your comment.
    Swedes are root vegetables, orange inside and hard. They have to be boiled and then usually mashed with butter and pepper. However they are sometimes seen as more suitable for cattle to eat in the winter. An old way of storing them was to heap them up and cover them with earth and straw and in Thomas's poem it has just been opened up. Hope this helps.

  3. Thanks a lot! I just started reading your novel and am enjoying it very much so far. I'm doing it for pleasure but also because I'm currently writing a novel (in Spanish) about the generation of poets of WWI, mostly Thomas, Owen, Rosenberg and Sassoon.