Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Beauty": Edward Thomas

In my recent post on Edward Thomas's poem "October," I opined that the combination of beauty and melancholy is a common occurrence in his poetry.  I also stated that "beauty was absolutely real for Thomas -- it was not a poetic conceit."  In retrospect, I fear that those blithe pronouncements sound a bit high-falutin'.  In order to partially atone for my sins, here is a poem by Thomas about . . . melancholy and beauty.


What does it mean?  Tired, angry, and ill at ease,
No man, woman, or child alive could please
Me now.  And yet I almost dare to laugh
Because I sit and frame an epitaph --
'Here lies all that no one loved of him
And that loved no one.'  Then in a trice that whim
Has wearied.  But, though I am like a river
At fall of evening while it seems that never
Has the sun lighted it or warmed it, while
Cross breezes cut the surface to a file,
This heart, some fraction of me, happily
Floats through the window even now to a tree
Down in the misting, dim-lit, quiet vale,
Not like a pewit that returns to wail
For something it has lost, but like a dove
That slants unswerving to its home and love.
There I find my rest, and through the dusk air
Flies what yet lives in me.  Beauty is there.

             Martin Johnson Heade, "Newburyport Meadows" (c. 1876)


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't have guessed that the painting was by Martin Johnson Heade. I recently discovered this painter (I don't think he's so well known in Europe) when reading about hummingbirds - a favourite subject of Heade's. I read that he intended to publish an illustrated guide to Brazilian hummingbirds but could not find the funding to do so, which was a tremendous pity. Greg Rappleye, who has a blog called, “SONNETS AT 4 A.M.”, is working on a collection of poems based on Heade's hummingbird paintings, I look forward to its publication.

Stephen Pentz said...

Thank you for visiting again, pomposa.

Yes, I always thought of Heade as a "birds and flowers" still-life painter, until I came across a book about him a few years ago, where I discovered his landscapes. He did a series of panoramic views of marshes and meadowlands along the east coast of the U.S. that are very nice, I think. He certainly was versatile, wasn't he?

Thank you for the reference to Mr. Rappleye's blog, which is very nice. I notice that there was a book published in 2008 by Christopher Benfey titled (lengthily) "A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade." I am not familiar with Mr. Benfey, or with the book, but the title sounds interesting!

Thank you again, pomposa.