After night’s thunder far away had rolled
The fiery day had a kernel sweet of cold,
And in the perfect blue the clouds uncurled,
Like the first gods before they made the world
And misery, swimming the stormless sea
In beauty and in divine gaiety.
The smooth white empty road was lightly strewn
With leaves – the holly’s Autumn falls in June –
And fir cones standing up stiff in the heat.
The mill-foot water tumbled white and lit
With tossing crystals, happier than any crowd
Of children pouring out of school aloud.
And in the little thickets where a sleeper
For ever might lie lost, the nettle creeper
And garden-warbler sang unceasingly;
While over them shrill shrieked in his fierce glee
The swift with wings and tail as sharp and narrow
As if the bow had flown off with the arrow.
Only the scent of woodbine and hay new mown
Travelled the road. In the field sloping down,
Park-like, to where its willows showed the brook,
Haymakers rested. The tosser lay forsook
Out in the sun; and the long waggon stood
Without its team:it seemed it never would
Move from the shadow of that single yew.
The team, as still, until their task was due,
Beside the labourers enjoyed the shade
That three squat oaks mid-feld together made
Upon a circle of grass and weed uncut,
And on the hollow, once a chalk pit, but
Now brimmed with nut and elder-flower so clean.
The men leaned on their rakes, about to begin,
But still. And all were silent. All was old,
This morning time, with a great age untold,
Older than Clare and Cobbett, Morland and Crome,
Than, at the field’s far edge, the farmer’s home,
A white house crouched at the foot of a great tree.
Under the heavens that know not what years be
The men, the beasts, the trees, the implements
Uttered even what they will in times far hence –
All of us gone out of the reach of change –
Immortal in a picture of an old grange.
Four miles at a leap, over the dark hollow land,
To the frosted steep of the down and its junipers black,
Travels my eye with equal ease and delight:
And scarce could my body leap four yards.
This is the best and the worst of it –
Never to know,
Yet to imagine gloriously, pure health.
To-day, had I suddenly health,
I could not satisfy the desire of my heart
Unless health abated it,
So beautiful is the air in its softness and clearness, while
Promises all and fails in nothing as yet;
And what blue and what white is I never knew
Before I saw this sky blessing the land.
For had I health I could not ride or run or fly
So far or so rapidly over the land
As I desire: I should reach Wiltshire tired;
I should have changed my mind before I could be in Wales.
I could not love; I could not command love.
beauty would still be far off
However many hills I climbed over;
Peace would still be farther.
Maybe I should not count it anything
To leap these four miles with the eye;
And either I should not be filled almost to bursting with desire,
Or with my power desire would still keep pace.
Yet I am not satisfied
Even with knowing I never could be satisfied.
With health and all the power that lies
In maiden beauty, poet and warrior,
In Caesar, Shakespeare, Alcibiades,
Mazeppa, Leonardo, Michelangelo,
In any maiden whose smile is lovelier
Than sunlight upon dew,
I could not be as the wagtail running up and down
The warm tiles of the roof slope, twittering
Happily and sweetly as if the sun itself
Extracted the song
As the hand makes sparks from the fur of a cat:
I could not be as the sun.
Nor should I be content to be
As little as the bird or as mighty as the sun.
For the bird knows not the sun,
And the sun regards not the bird.
But I am almost proud to love both bird and sun,
Though scarce this Spring could my body leap four yards.
The downs will lose the sun, white alyssum
Lose the bees’ hum;
But head and bottle tilted back in the cart
Will never part
Till I am cold as midnight and all my hours
Are beeless flowers.
He neither sees, nor hears, nor smells, nor thinks,
But only drinks,
Quiet in the yard where tree trunks do not lie
Out in the sun the goldfinch flits
Along the thistle-tops, flits and twits
Above the hollow wood
Where birds swim like fish –
Fish that laugh and shriek –
To and fro, far below
In the pale hollow wood.
Lichen, ivy, and moss
Keep evergreen the trees
That stand half-flayed and dying,
And the dead trees on their knees
In dog’s-mercury and moss:
And the bright twit of the goldfinch drops
Down there as he flits on thistle-tops.
Not the end: but there’s nothing more.
Sweet Summer and Winter rude
I have loved, and friendship and love,
The crowd and solitude:
But I know them: I weary not;
But all that they mean I know.
I would go back again home
Now. Yet how should I go?
This is my grief. That land,
My home, I have never seen;
No traveller tells of it,
However far he has been.
And could I discover it,
I fear my happiness there,
Or my pain, might be dreams of return
Here, to these things that were.
Remembering ills, though slight
Brings a worse, an impurer pang
Than remembering what was well.
No: I cannot go back,
And would not if I could.
Until blindness come, I must wait
And blink at what is not good.
Fair was the morning, fair our tempers, and
We had seen nothing fairer than that land,
Though strange, and the untrodden snow that made
Wild of the tame, casting out all that was
Not wild and rustic and old; and we were glad.
Fair too was afternoon, and first to pass
Were we that league of snow, next the north wind.
There was nothing to return for, except need,
And yet we sang nor ever stopped for speed,
As we did often with the start behind.
Faster still strode we when we came in sight
Of the cold roofs where we must spend the night.
Happy we had not been there, nor could be,
Though we had tasted sleep and food and fellowship
‘How quick’, to someone’s lip
The words came, ‘will the beaten horse run home!’
The word ‘home’ raised a smile in us all three,
And one repeated it, smiling just so
That all knew what he meant and none would say.
Between three counties far apart that lay
We were divided and looked strangely each
At the other, and we knew we were not friends
But fellows in a union that ends
With the necessity for it, as it ought.
Never a word was spoken, not a thought
Was thought, of what the look meant with the word
‘Home’ as we walked and watched the sunset blurred.
And then to me the word, only the word,
‘Homesick’, as it were playfully occurred:
If I should ever more admit
Than the mere word I could not endure it
For a day longer: this captivity
Must somehow come to an end, else I should be
Another man, as often now I seem,
Or this life be only an evil dream.
Often I had gone this way before
But now it seemed I never could be
And never had been anywhere else;
‘Twas home; one nationality
We had, I and the birds that sang,
They welcomed me. I had come back
That eve somehow from somewhere far:
The April mist, the chill, the calm,
Meant the same thing familiar
And pleasant to us, and strange too,
Yet with no bar.
The thrush on the oaktop in the lane
Sang his last song, or last but one;
And as he ended, on the elm
Another had but just begun
His last; they knew no more than I
The day was done.
Then past his dark white cottage front
A labourer went along, his tread
Slow, half with weariness, half with ease;
And, through the silence, from his shed
The sound of sawing rounded all
That silence said.
One hour: as dim he and his house now look
As a reflection in a rippling brook,
While I remember him; but first, his house.
Empty it sounded. It was dark with forest boughs
That brushed the walls and made the mossy tiles
Part of the squirrels’ track. In all those miles
Of forest silence and forest murmur, only
One house – ‘Lonely!’ he said, ‘I wish it were lonely’ –
Which the trees looked upon from every side,
And that was his.
He waved good-bye to hide
A sigh that he converted to a laugh.
He seemed to hang rather than stand there, half
Ghost-like, half like a beggar’s rag, clean wrung
And useless on the brier where it has hung
Long years a-washing by sun and wind and rain.
But why I call back man and house again
Is there now a beech-tree’s tip I see
As then I saw – I at the gate, and he
In the house darkness, – magpie veering about,
A magpie like a weathercock in doubt.
How at once should I know,
When stretched in the harvest blue
I saw the swift’s black bow,
That I would not have that view
Until next May
Again it is due?
The same year after year –
But with the swift alone.
With other things I but fear
That they will be over and done
And I only see
Them to know them gone.
He has a hump like an ape on his back;
He has of money a plentiful lack;
And but for a gay coat of double his girth
There is not a plainer thing on the earth
This fine May morning.
But the huxter has a bottle of beer;
He drives a cart and his wife sits near
Who does not heed his lack or his hump;
And they laugh as down the lane they bump
This fine May morning.
To the best of our knowledge, Edward Thomas’s poetry is ex-copyright in the United Kingdom. In so far as any rights can be established in this on-line collection, they are reserved by The Richmond Review.
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