two poems from: Poems by Edward Thomas
Published 1917 by Selwyn & Blount
The green elm with the one great bough of gold
Lets leaves into the grass slip, one by one, –
The short hill grass, the mushrooms small milk-white,
Harebell and scabious and tormentil,
That blackberry and gorse, in dew and sun,
Bow down to; and the wind travels too light
To shake the fallen birch leaves from the fern;
The gossamers wander at their own will,
At heavier steps than bird’s the Squirrels scold.
The rich scene has grown fresh again and new
As Spring and to the touch is not more cool
Than it is warm to the gaze; and now I might
As happy be as earth is beautiful,
Were I some other or with earth could turn
In alteration of violet and rose,
Harebell and snowdrop, at their season due,
And gorse that has no time not to be gay.
But if this be not happiness, – who knows?
Some day I shall think this is a happy day,
And this mood by the name of melancholy
Shall no more blackened and obscured be.
The Sun Used to Shine
The sun used to shine while we two walked
Slowly together, paused and started
Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked
As either pleased. and cheerfully parted
Each night. We never disagreed
Which gate to rest on. The to be
And the late past we gave small heed.
We turned from men or poetry
To rumours of the war remote
Only till both stood disinclined
For aught but the yellow flavorous coat
Of an apple wasps had undermined;
Or a sentry of dark betonies,
The stateliest of small flowers on earth,
At the forest verge; or crocuses
Pale purple as if they had their birth
In sunless Hades fields. The war
Came back to mind with the moonrise
Which soldiers in the east afar
Beheld then. Nevertheless, our eyes
Could as well imagine the Crusades
Or Caesar’s battles. Everything
To faintness like those rumours fades –
Like the brook’s water glittering
Under the moonlight – like those walks
Now – like us two that took them, and
The fallen apples, all the talks
And silences – like memory’s sand
When the tide covers it late or soon,
And other men through other flowers
In those fields under the same moon
Go talking and have easy hours.
Both poems fit the season of Autumn. ‘October’ splits into two sections where all is simply observed in the first stanza with the second initially pointing out the freshness of the scenes after the likely summer heat and fading of the summer flowers. Freshness brought on with the change in the weather and arrival of the cool and moisture; new colours of autumn foliage and fruits. But the initial sense of the poem and its seasonality is disrupted by the author’s sudden insecurity of his senses. Maybe he would find the emergence of Spring or Summer flowers as, or more engaging as they appeared. He points out that his frame of mind may account for his preference for autumn melancholy. This may well be true for him and his struggles with depression but his observation on the changes that autumn bring are true and widely appreciated by many observers of the countryside. Each change of season brings its own brand of spectacular beauty in variance to the previous.
‘The Sun Used to Shine’ also fits the seasonal embrace but here we could dig much deeper into the subtleties of references. When was it written? Seemingly early in WW1, was Edward Thomas writing after he enlisted? His reflections on the companionship might be when walking with his wife, or his friends Robert Frost or Eleanor Farjeon, or others. He was a great walker! As part of his work as a writer as well as his need for open space and exercise to keep his mind clear. Autumn slips in with the ‘fallen apples’ but seasonality is not the real focus here, rather memory of happier times that have been overtaken by the melancholy of ‘rumours of war’ that intrude with ‘sentry of dark betonies’. Even the wasps take on an afterthought of despoiling memory. Further in, ‘old war’ intrude into the poem but indirectly focusing on that present time of early WW1.
The last two verses are like closing a door on the past and assuming others will have to continue that companionable journey. His prescience, expectation of death or just that the past could not be re-enacted ever again because of the change wrought by war?
The third from last line: ‘And other men through other flowers’ seems to have been taken and slightly rewritten into ’Other Men’s Flowers’ for a famous anthology collected by A.P.Wavell (Field Marshall Earl Wavell) and published in 1944 by Jonathan Cape. It may be considered a bit of a period-piece now but a wonderful collection nevertheless. Slightly to my surprise it has neither this poem by Edward Thomas nor any of his in the collection.