Long-time readers of this blog may have noticed that, when Robert Frost's name comes up, I am likely to think of Edward Thomas. And vice-versa. Thus, not surprisingly, Frost's "Tree at My Window" (which appeared in my previous post) got me to thinking about one of my favorite poems by Thomas.
Again, the subject is talking trees. Please note the final stanza and, in particular, the final line, which are pure Thomas and pure Frost. It is easy to understand why, after Thomas's death, Frost wrote: "Edward Thomas was the only brother I ever had." The stanza provides, I think, a great deal of insight into the characters of both men.
All day and night, save winter, every weather,
Above the inn, the smithy, and the shop,
The aspens at the cross-roads talk together
Of rain, until their last leaves fall from the top.
Out of the blacksmith's cavern comes the ringing
Of hammer, shoe, and anvil; out of the inn
The clink, the hum, the roar, the random singing --
The sounds that for these fifty years have been.
The whisper of the aspens is not drowned,
And over lightless pane and footless road,
Empty as sky, with every other sound
Not ceasing, calls their ghosts from their abode,
A silent smithy, a silent inn, nor fails
In the bare moonlight or the thick-furred gloom,
In tempest or the night of nightingales,
To turn the cross-roads to a ghostly room.
And it would be the same were no house near.
Over all sorts of weather, men, and times,
Aspens must shake their leaves and men may hear
But need not listen, more than to my rhymes.
Whatever wind blows, while they and I have leaves
We cannot other than an aspen be
That ceaselessly, unreasonably grieves,
Or so men think who like a different tree.
Edna Longley (editor), Edward Thomas: The Annotated Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books 2008).
Thomas wrote "Aspens" in July of 1915. It was among a set of poems that he sent to Frost that month. In a letter to Thomas commenting on the poems, Frost wrote: "Your last poem 'Aspens' seems the loveliest of all." Selected Letters of Robert Frost (1964), page 185.
Thomas also sent a copy of the poem to Eleanor Farjeon. After receiving her comments on the poem, Thomas wrote back to her on July 21, 1915:
"About 'Aspens' you missed just the turn that I thought essential. I was the aspen. 'We' meant the trees and I with my dejected shyness. Does that clear it up, or do you think in rereading it that I have not emphasized it enough?"
Eleanor Farjeon, Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years (Oxford University Press 1958), pages 152-153.
A final note: "the night of nightingales" is very risky, but very lovely.