Monday, March 18, 2013

Winter Into Spring, Part Six: "Now First Known"

In addition to their intrinsic beauty, the bare trees of late winter offer an opportunity for the discovery of birds' nests.  This thought brings to mind Edward Thomas, who was a great searcher for, and lover of, nests.

In a marvelous coincidence, Thomas met Paul Nash in the spring of 1916 at Hare Hall Camp, where Thomas was serving as a map-reading instructor. On May 21, he wrote to Robert Frost:  "I was with a young artist named Paul Nash who has just joined us as a map reader.  He is a change from the 2 schoolmasters I see most of. . . . He is wonderful at finding birds' nests." Edward Thomas, Selected Letters (edited by R. George Thomas) (Oxford University Press 1995), page 126.

It is lovely (and poignant) to think of Thomas and Nash going for walks together in the countryside during their time off, discovering nests.

Paul Nash, "The Orchard" (c. 1914)

                         Birds' Nests

The summer nests uncovered by autumn wind,
Some torn, others dislodged, all dark,
Everyone sees them:  low or high in tree,
Or hedge, or single bush, they hang like a mark.

Since there's no need of eyes to see them with
I cannot help a little shame
That I missed most, even at eye's level, till
The leaves blew off and made the seeing no game.

'Tis a light pang.  I like to see the nests
Still in their places, now first known,
At home and by far roads.  Boys knew them not,
Whatever jays and squirrels may have done.

And most I like the winter nest deep-hid
That leaves and berries fell into:
Once a dormouse dined there on hazel-nuts,
And grass and goose-grass seeds found soil and grew.

Edna Longley (editor), Edward Thomas: The Annotated Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books 2008).

Paul Nash, "Oxenbridge Pond" (1927-1928)

W. H. Davies and Edward Thomas were friends.  Thomas supported Davies financially when he was impoverished, even though Thomas and his family were themselves always struggling to make ends meet.

               Killed in Action
             (Edward Thomas)

Happy the man whose home is still
     In Nature's green and peaceful ways;
To wake and hear the birds so loud,
     That scream for joy to see the sun
Is shouldering past a sullen cloud.

And we have known those days, when we
     Would wait to hear the cuckoo first;
When you and I, with thoughtful mind,
     Would help a bird to hide her nest,
For fear of other hands less kind.

But thou, my friend, art lying dead:
     War, with its hell-born childishness,
Has claimed thy life, with many more:
     The man that loved this England well,
And never left it once before.

W. H. Davies, Forty New Poems (1918).

Paul Nash, "Behind the Inn" (1919-1922)


John Ashton said...

Mr Pentz, I looked at your post this morning and was delighted to see not only something by Edward Thomas, one of my favourite poets, but also Paul Nash, a wonderful painter. I was fortunate enough to see a major exhibition of his work, 2 or 3 years ago at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, here in London.A couple of days ago you posted a piece by Ivor Gurney, another favourite of mine. I totally agree with your comments regarding his poetry and his mental illness.
Visiting your blog is like looking along my own bookshelves and a wonderful prompt to return to volumes that have not been opened recently. I have been reading the Collected Poems of Leslie Norris, another poet not as well as he should be. He wrote two excellent poems relating to Edward Thomas; Ransoms and the Glass window, in memory of Edward Thomas at Eastbury Church. You may already know these, if not they are, in my opinion worth seeking out.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Ashton: Ah, to be in England! You are fortunate to be able to see the real thing, rather than images in books or on the Internet. I envy you your visit to the Nash exhibit.

I appreciate your mentioning Leslie Norris: I agree that his work is neglected. And, as a matter of fact, I posted "Ransoms" back in April of 2010, and also noted "The Glass Window." As you say, both poems are excellent -- lovely and moving. Now that you mention it, it is time for me to revisit his poems as well.

I concur: I think that our bookshelves look quite similar!

I always appreciate hearing from you. Thank you very much for visiting again.

Bovey Belle said...

Thank you for this timely post on Edward Thomas (I fear you know my addiction by now!) After nearly 10 weeks with no internet or phone, I have a lot of catching up to do on your blog.

Mr Ashton: many thanks for your mention of Leslie Norris's The Glass Window. It brought tears to my eyes. It has also given me the perfect ending for a project I am working on. Thankyou.

My list of poets to study grows ever longer . . .

John Ashton said...

Mr Pentz, I had'nt realised you had previously posted the Leslie Norris poems. I do, when time permits look back through some of your older posts, but there is such a huge archive of material I had'nt noticed that you had already posted Ransoms.
Sadly much of the England that Paul Nash, Edward Thomas and Ivor Gurney knew is gone. Much of it long before my time, but even that which still existed in my boyhood and youger days has now been destroyed, largely as a result of unchecked development, road building and an increasing population.Our present government is determined to relax planning laws even more; they say to encourage even more development and house building. There are small and ever shrinking areas of countryside reamaining, but the pressures on them are enormous. It saddens me to think that the land the poets wrote of and the painter painted is either gone or under such threat.Let us hope that a good percentage of what is left remains for many years to come. This is why the poets and painters are so important to us.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bovey Belle: as always, it is nice to hear from you.

Yes, I am also appreciative of Mr Ashton's mentioning Leslie Norris's poems about E.T. -- I need to revisit them. I think that you will like Norris's poetry: he was from Wales, and thus some of his poems are likely set in locations are familiar to you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr Ashton: as for missing "Ransoms": I often forget whether I have posted something myself, so I wouldn't have expected you to have noticed that! I'm grateful that you mentioned it since, as I mentioned, I haven't read Norris's poetry for quite a while.

It is sad to hear about the countryside. I think that even Thomas, in his time, was aware that things were disappearing, and part of his work was to preserve what was being lost in his poetry and prose. I can only imagine how things have changed in the nearly 100 years since his death.

Thank you very much for your follow-up thoughts.

Anonymous said...

What a story to find, about Edward Thomas and Paul Nash. The first painting, "The Orchard", makes me think of rows of the graves of fallen soldiers, & also of the row of Norway maples that was planted at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden right after World War I as a memorial.
Susan in NYC

Stephen Pentz said...

Susan in NYC: yes, when I learned of the meeting between Thomas and Nash, I was quite moved as well. Very nice, but also very sad, of course.

Thank you for the thoughts about "The Orchard." All I can find out is that it was painted "circa 1914," so I don't know whether it was painted before or after the war started. In any event, it is, as you suggest, evocative.

Thank you very much for visiting again. It is always good to hear from you.