Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Out In The Dark Over The Snow": Edward Thomas And Robert Frost

Robert Frost's "Desert Places" and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" put me in mind of a poem by Edward Thomas.  Thomas's poem in turn reminds me of the affinity between Thomas and Frost.  For both of them, the darkness (of a forest or of night or of interstellar space) is frightening as well as alluring:  "The woods are lovely, dark and deep" (Frost); "Dark is the forest and deep, and overhead/Hang stars like seeds of light/In vain" (Thomas); "They cannot scare me with their empty spaces/Between stars" (Frost).  (And consider also Frost's "Acquainted with the Night" and "An Old Man's Winter Night".)

Thomas wrote the first draft of the following poem on Christmas Eve of 1916 while he was on leave with his family at High Beech in Essex.

               Out in the Dark

Out in the dark over the snow
The fallow fawns invisible go
With the fallow doe;
And the winds blow
Fast as the stars are slow.

Stealthily the dark haunts round
And, when a lamp goes, without sound
At a swifter bound
Than the swiftest hound,
Arrives, and all else is drowned;

And star and I and wind and deer
Are in the dark together, -- near,
Yet far, -- and fear
Drums on my ear
In that sage company drear.

How weak and little is the light,
All the universe of sight,
Love and delight,
Before the might,
If you love it not, of night.

                    Eugene Jansson, "Riddarfjarden, Stockholm" (1898)


Murgatroyd said...

What a fantastic painting. I can feel the cold night air coming from that water, brrrrr. I'm off to find out more about him...

PAL said...

Mr Pentz: Greetings from a snow-bound hoar frost-encrusted Anglo-Welsh border, an area not without ET associations. The poem has always struck me as the perfect illustration of the point that ET was so much more than a pastoralist; as does the other one on the subject, actually entitled "Snow", which you will know - "In the gloom of whiteness..." - what a perfect description of snow light that is! The latter was set to music most affectingly by Ivor Gurney in 1921 and, I think, uses the snow scene to similar unsettling effect.

PAL said...

Mr Pentz: I forgot - thanks for the Charlotte Mew poem. She's always been just a name to me. It's the real stuff, isn't it? Packs a punch.

Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you very much for dropping by again, Murgatroyd. I'm happy that you like the painting by Jansson. I believe that I first came across him (and a number of other Scandinavian artists who were new to me) in an excellent book titled 'Nordic Landscape Painting in the Nineteenth Century' by Torsten Gunnarsson. I highly recommend it.

Thanks again.

Stephen Pentz said...

PAL: It is a pleasure to hear from you again. It must be beautiful in your part of the world now.

Yes, 'the gloom of whiteness' in 'Snow' is wonderful, isn't it? It always reminds me of 'the snows of yesteryear' when I was growing up in Minnesota -- it is a perfect description. And thank you very much for the reference to Gurney's setting of 'Snow' to music -- I was not aware of it, and I will try to track it down. (I am woefully ignorant of Gurney's music, I am sorry to say.)

I am pleased that you liked the Mew poem. I agree with you that 'it's the real stuff' -- when I first encountered it, my reaction was 'whew!' (Or something along those lines.)

As always, thanks for stopping by, PAL.