Several Train Journeys

The Train Journey                                               John Middleton Murray

For what cause? To what end?
Into what nameless disaster speeding
Through a twilight cavern of space unheeding,
Through vapours of tears, with a numb heart bleeding,
Torn from what friend?

Cause there is none, nor friend;
Nor was that joy from which I parted,
But only what is no longer, yet departed
It’s voice rings golden to me broken-hearted,
Saying, There is no end.

 

The Send-Off                                             Wilfred Owen

Down the close, darkening lanes they sang their way
To the siding shed,
And lined the train with faces grimly gay.

Their breasts were stuck all white with wreaths and spray
As mens’s are, dead.

Dull porters watched them, and a casual tramp
Stood staring hard,
Sorry to miss them from the upland camp.
Then, unmoved, signals nodded, and a lamp
Winked to the guard.

So secretly, like wrongs hushed up, they went.
They were not ours;
We never heard to which front they were sent.

Nor there if they yet mock what women meant
Who have them flowers.

Shall they return to beatings of great bells
In wild trainloads?
A few, a few, too few for drums and yells,
May creep back silent, to still vintage wells
Up half- known roads

 

Journey.                               Harold Monro

(I)

How many times I miss the train
By running up the staircase once again
For some dear trifle almost left behind.
At that last moment the unwary mind
Forgets the solemn tick of station-time;
That muddy lane the feet must climb –
The bridge – the ticket – signal down –
Train just emerging beyond the town:
The great blue engine panting as it takes
The final curve, and grinding on its brakes
Up to the platform edge. . . . The little doors
Swing open, while the burly porter roars.
The tight compartment fills : our careful eyes
Go to explore each other’s destinies.
A lull. The station-master waves. The train
Gathers, and grips, and takes the rails again,
Moves to the shining open land, and soon
Begins to tittle-tattle a tame tattoon.

(sections II, III, IV continue and conclude the journey)

 

THE PARTING             Guy Butler, from ‘Stranger to Europe Poems 1939-1949′

Mounting, they crossed the ridge beneath the stars
Whose midnight brilliance seemed to shake and fill
The silence with dim strumming, like guitars
Heard from a distance when the air is still;
When the hidden half of the heart’s responding wire
Emits its own, still barely known, desire.

But when, dose by, two night jars broke
The starry strumming with their forlorn shriek
He felt it was the parting farm that spoke
Against far countries he was soon to seek.
Dismounting to open the creaking boundary gate                                                                          How rough underfoot the track’s familiar grit!

A pulse beyond the peak; then from the pass
Swivelled the headlight’s straight and scything ray.
Metal music over miles of grass
Rose to a roar, then blurred, then died away
To a dimmer, more exciting tripple beat
Like the throb in his throat, the horses’ feet.

Black-gloved bluegums mourning under the moon.
A mongrel yowling in the cinder-yard.
White, concrete platform. “Down train due in soon”,
Said in a dry dead voice by the tired guard;
But telegraph wires and poles were lines and bars
For the tense, dim strumming of far guitars.

The engine beat grew louder, louder till
It struck great bass chords from the iron bridge;
Then effortless, ominous, inevitable
Slid hiss-hissing down the smooth black ridge
Towards a heart bewildered. fluttering fast
From the small, now open cage of an empty past,

Then drew up silent and seemed to fall asleep
While they stood talking of last stock-fair day,
A recent law-suit, anything to keep
Control of these last minutes, not to betray
To each how each before Time’s magistrate
Was stuttering, inarticulate.

Not waiting for the whistle, the old man turned
With half a smile: “You’re good at shooting buck.
Remember there up North what you have learnt.
And don’t take stupid risks”. And then, “Goodluck”.
Embarrassed by his heart’s, his tongue’s distress
He barely managed to mutter a wry God-bless.

A childish lump in his throat, against his will,
Watching those shoulders darken out of sight,
Hearing the hooves grow dim on the slumbering hill …
Then only the engine hissing at the night:
Only the thought: He’s at the boundary gate.
He turns. He hears the birds. He feels the grit.

But when the whistle drove a long spear through
The unexpecting stillness, when, after a minute,
Echoes lapped back hollowly, he knew
His heart adventure-hungry, and hard within it
A doubt that an arid plain of rock and scrub
Could be his being’s centre, his whole life’s hub.

The first jets forced the angry cylinders,
And all down the train the couplings rang.
Ten bluegums struck the heavenly guitars,
o all the danger in him leapt and sang! –
But waiting with cries for other nights and stars,
Caught in his caging heart, slept two nightjars.

 

I would have included Adlestrop  by Edward Thomas but it has appeared here previously if you care to search in tags.

The first three poems are from ‘Selections from Modern Poets’ published 1927 by Martin Secker and Warburg, se;escted by J C Squire.   He started compiling in 1919 and cosidered it a selection of the best Modern Young Poets of the day.  None of them born before 1870, several dying in the First World War.  The book contains a fair number of  well-known now established names, respected writers of fiction as well as poetry.  Plus, for me a good mix of people I have come across only briefly or maybe not at all.

‘Modern’ was of the period but may not fit too well with poetry of today, ‘Georgian’ may fit better as well as  ‘Imagist’ but the sharpets edges may come from the ‘War Poets’ and  these accelerated the greatest boundary changes.

The Guy Butler is from the Second World war fitting the theme of trains and comes from the scenery of South Africa at the outbreak of the war.   I would have liked to include the complete poem by Harold Monro but felt it would stretch these pages a little too far. Maybe another time.

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Selected Poems of Edward Thomas, A Graph Review

Edward Thomas: selected poems                  A Graph Review, 55 with high points 65

Edited by Matthew Hollis

From: Poets of the Great War, a series of six titles, each on a poet of the First World War
edthomas coverThis title first published in 2011 and in this series edition in 2014

Publisher Faber & Faber,

978 0571 31363 1           hardback           rrp  £10.00

Edward Thomas; 1878-1917

Matthew Hollis has also published a study of Edward Thomaslatest now all:    Now all Roads Lead to France

In this ‘Selected Poems‘ Matthew shows his expertise on the subject with a synthesis of Edward Thomas’ life, work, how he came to write poetry, nudged along by Robert Frost, and his own creative style.

There is a large selection of poetry from a relatively small output but Matthew Hollis has included additional material of small excerpts from early writings and diaries, including parts of his war diary.  All of which add understanding to the process of the poems.  There is a table of key dates, separate notes for the introduction and a large section at the end relating to the place and time of writing individual poems. Excerpts from his war diary, Jan 30 to April 8 1917 show him still the observant writer whether of nature or his military situation.  Of course there is a contents list and index of first lines .

Edward Thomas was writing straight after leaving Oxford and was a mature writer and reviewer by the start of the war but took up poetry in the early part of 1914, eventually joining up in 1915 though as a father of three and aged 37 it was his own decision.  Why, is not an answer Thomas seems to have given, maybe his continuing health problems              (depression) gave him reasons he could or would not give or escape.  A military year was spent in Essex then he transferred regiments and shipped out to France.  He was there only a few weeks before dying in the early days of the battle of Arras, securing his place as a War Poet despite not writing specifically from the trenches.  His poetry was filtered and created from his years as a walker, note-taker and writer on the seasons and  countryside around him.  He suffered from depression much of his life and his need for walking and studying the rhythms of the countryside was likely an aid to balance himself.

He only began writing poetry in 1914, encouraged by his close friend Robert Frost, using his collations of walking-notes.  He was writing poetry, using old nature notes as well as new writing for slightly over two years.  His years of experience as a writer and critic           (appreciated by his literary peers and friends) enabled him to have the confidence and ability in using a style that was all his own.  Using natural speech rhythm, and often rhyme but always in a style that ran as a force of nature.  Running in distinct, smooth, rarely broken cadence (Words, breaks this norm somewhat).  Words chosen for their meaning, verse written for its sense; scenes and observations, conversations and happenings.  Through many poems there is a sense of the past and its existence but not regret of its passing, rather acceptance that now is not what was.  Numerous poems have a feeling of doubt about them, of a loneliness which he is part of, yet still, as an outsider observing the world.  A feeling of intimate as well as scenic Nature which ultimately is like the ebb and flow of mist, all around him with glimpses of a world he knew he loved but found difficult to keep hold of.

He produced a couple of hundred poems in the two years plus before his death.  Only saw the proofs of his first poetry collection shortly before he died, not the finished copy.  On publication his reputation as a poet began there and then and has maintained

I like to choose a few favourite poems from each poet so here we go:
I have to mention ‘Adlestrop‘ as I have written on it previously and it is perhaps his most known piece.
Many others could be picked but at time of reading five are standing out for me are:
The Brook,       Aspens,            No one as much as You

And two which may be better known: Lob      and         Tall Nettles

Lob         I do especially like as it is a theme that I find affiliation with.

Edward Thomas is remembered as a poet of standing who would probably have produced much more.  His credentials as one of the War Poets may be slightly over stated except that he died at the Front in WW1 (but who am I to really gainsay the world!).  However his high-standing as a poet of his day, and the fact that his style is as modern now as it was unique when written ensures his place high up in the honours-listing of poets.  For me, his poems have something of Ravilious about them and will stand the test of time.   A book to place firmly on the shelf, next to Matthew Hollis’ other Edward Thomas title:

Tall Nettles                                      (1916)
Tall Nettles cover up, as they have done                                                                                    These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough                                                                   Long worn out, and the roller made of stone:                                                                             Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.

This corner of the farmyard I like most:                                                                                          As well as any bloom upon a flower                                                                                                    I like the dust on the nettles, never lost                                                                                    Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.

Edward Thomas: ‘Adlestrop’

A couple of months ago  (by the time of writing but may now be lost into the digital memory of BBC Radio 4) I heard a straightforward repeat of a programme made some years earlier.  (of course I took no note of the original date because the programme had appeared, auraly that is, out of the air with the gentle words of that poem as I happened to switch the radio on.  I eventually gathered that it was aired in celebration of the poem’s hundredth year.  It was first published in April 1917 in the New Statesman and most likely written in  January 1915.  I was originally going to witter on about his volume The Trumpet, 1942 printing which I recently bought and additionally tapping in thoughts on Selected Poems of Edward Thomas,  selected by R.S. Thomas, Faber 1964 but it has been overlaid by a 30 minute programme on one poem.  A poem that was considered to epitomise the Nature of England when first published and continued to have that effect for a hundred years.  Continuously in print, in anthologies and  Edward Thomas’ selections and a most frequently asked for poem on Poetry Please.

The programme visited the site of the railway station of  Adlestrop where the ‘action’ takes place.  The presenter described the scene as they saw it and spoke to family members, local historians and Edward Thomas enthusiasts.  The poem, read variously in part or fully by actors, locals or relatives throughout the programme was amazingly effective as the subtle differences in emphasis of the words and lines slewed through the programme and all the background information and descriptions.  The conversation round the memorial seat opposite the now closed station did itself almost epitomise the essence of the English Nature.   Though on reflection I have to admit that nostalgia and age (mine) may also bear responsibility for my liking this poem.  But then you have to add personal chunks of life that are your own and mix it with the proffered words of the poet to get some form of experience, like or dislike.  It brought back whiffs of John Clare, a poet I have a great regard for and I like to imagine them meeting in some windy copse.  Clare lying in the grass with eyes fixed on detail and words rushing round in his brain and Thomas standing beside him with an eye on the middle distance taking in the view of a Ravilious landscape.   Yes, you guessed it, I very much like this poem, for many reasons that I hope you will be able to see and feel.

Adlestrop

Yes, I remember Adlestrop –

The name, because one afternoon

Of heat the express-train drew up there

Unwontedly.  It was late June.

 

The steam hissed.  Someone cleared his throat.

No one left and no one came

On the bare platform.  What I saw

Was Adlestrop –  only the name.

 

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,

And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,

No whit less still and lonely fair

Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

 

And for that minute a blackbird sang

Close by, and round him, mistier,

Farther and farther, all the birds

Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

 

This poem can be felt line by line and word by word, can also withstand analysis and still offer more that proves the mystery of poetry.   And the action is timeless.

Edward Thomas was only writing poetry for about three years, writing for the first time in the first week of December, 1914.  Though you could also point out that his style, his life, maybe, was pulling him towards poetry.  Or cynically you might say he used his ability and notebooks to rewrite into verse that which he had aleady said.  But it is his poetry that survives.  He had been struggling to earn a living, support his family for some years by writing.  He was a writer of biographies, on the English Countryside, as a literary critic (especially of poetry) and editing, a bit of a writer-for-hire.  He was  an established writer but in need of a further stream of income to boost a somewhat erratic flow.

When he turned his words into poetry he seems to have found his own rhythm and mystery and hit notes that still reverberate.    He volunteered for the army in 1915.  He was involved in editing his first volume of poetry ( to be published under the name of Edward Eastaway).  It was published on March 29th 1917 and he was sent a review from the Times Literary Supplement:He is a real poet, with the truth in him’. 

No doubt he saw the review but he never saw the finished book or it’s success.  He was killed in Flanders, 9th April, 1917.

latest now allRead the study by   Mathew Hollis:     Now all Roads Lead to France     (2012, ppr)      978 057124599 4        Faber & Faber,    for a tremendous study of the man and all the many influences of the period of those last five years that created a rush of poetry that has lasted a hundred years and is still as effective today.

Another site to visit is: The Friends of the Dymock Poets

for  useful notes on Edward Thomas’ days in May Hill and area in Gloucestershire to Malvern Hills in Herefordshire and his contacts with Robert Frost, John Drinkwater, Rupert Brooke, Lascelles Abercrombie and Wilfred Gibson.     All of whom will eventually appear in some small way in poetryparc.