Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Remembrance Day

On Remembrance Day, I shall stay with Edward Thomas.  As is so often the case, he accomplishes quietly what others seek to accomplish in high-toned language.

                                A Private

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.

Thomas wrote the poem in January of 1915.  He enlisted in July of that year.

                                Robin Tanner, "Still Is The Land" (1983)


PAL said...

I'm so glad you stayed with ET and picked this one rather than something more anthologised and obvious. Why isn't it better known, I wonder? - it says so much in little. Too much good WW1 poetry lends itself to being conscripted into a kind of victimology fashionable in our own time. So much of Owen for example strikes me as being too exclusively preocupied with the business of fighting and killing and dying and the futility of it all. This one of ET's is certainly about that, and is the equal in pathos of anything by Owen, but it has a wider focus, is about so much more - among other things, an ages-old way of life that WW1 would bring to an end. It exemplifies why I believe - only in the last analysis, mind you - that Ed is a better poet than Wilf. And that D Jones is a truer witness of what it was really like in the trenches.

Stephen Pentz said...

As always, PAL, it is great to hear from you. And -- as always -- you are right on the money. I can think of two other quiet war elegies by Thomas: 'In Memoriam (Easter, 1915)' and 'As the team's head-brass flashed out on the turn.'

The latter poem, in particular, confirms your excellent point about what was disappearing at that time -- an entire way of life. I think of these lines from the poem (after the ploughman has mentioned his friend, dead in France): 'Everything/Would have been different. For it would have been/Another world.'

Your point about David Jones is a good one as well. Although I would add that Edmund Blunden and Siegfried Sassoon also write well about the trenches -- though perhaps not as searingly as Jones. (I recall reading somewhere that, of the 'War Poets', Blunden and Jones spent the longest time at the front.)

Again, thank you, PAL.