Words

Edward Thomas wrote this before the start of the First World War.  Ivor Gurney’s view was that it said all that needed to be said about the English language.

Out of us all that make rhymes,

Will you choose sometimes –

As the winds use a crack in a wall or a drain,

Their joy or their pain to whistle through –

Choose me, you English words?

 

I know you: you are light as dreams,

Tough as oak, precious as gold, as poppies and corn

Or as an old cloak: sweet as our birds to the ear,

As the burnet rose in the heat of Midsummer:

Strange as the races of dead and unborn:

Strange and sweet equally, and familiar, to the eye,

As the dearest faces that a man knows,

And as lost homes are: but though older far

Than oldest yew – as our hills are, old –

Worn new again and again, young as our streams after rain:

And as dear as the earth which you prove that we love.

 

Make me content with some sweetness

From Wales whose nightingales have no wings –

From Wiltshire and Kent and Herefordshire,

And the villages there – from the names, and the things

No less. Let me sometimes dance with you,

Or climb or stand perchance in ecstacy,

Fixed and free in a rhyme, as poets do.

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An August Midnight

Another Thomas Hardy poem, but quite different from the last one. I suspect that few of us welcome insects into our homes.   We might just be more tolerant of bumblebees (Hardy’s dumbledore) as we tend to view these more positively than we do flies, although we know they are better off outside.

A shaded lamp and a waving blind,

And the beat of a clock from a distant floor:

On this scene enter – winged, horned, and spined –

A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore;

While ‘mid my page there idly stands

A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands …

 

Thus meet we five, in this still place,

At this point of time, at this point in space.

My guests parade my new-penned ink,

Or bang at the lamp-glass, whirl, and sink.

“God’s humblest, they!” I muse. Yet why?

They know Earth-secrets that know not I.

In Time of The Breaking of Nations

Thomas Hardy’s picture of everyday country life, far away from battlefields, could have been drawn from life round here a hundred years ago. Though a man harrowing with a horse seems so distant now, other things endure.

Only a man harrowing clods

In a slow silent walk

With an old horse that stumbles and nods

Half asleep as they stalk.

 

Only thin smoke without flame

From the heaps of couch-grass;

Yet this will go onward the same

Though Dynasties pass.

 

Yonder a maid and her wight

Come whispering by:

War’s annals will cloud into night

Ere their story die.

O were my Love yon Lilac fair

Robert Burns wrote this in 1793, towards the end of his life. It’s as much about roses as the lilac, but isn’t the best known of his rose songs.  You will usually hear it sung to the traditional tune Hughie Graham – he was a notorious cattle thief who terrorized the debatable lands between England and Scotland in the mid-16th century.

O WERE my Love yon lilac fair,

Wi’ purple blossoms to the spring,

And I, a bird to shelter there,

When wearied on my little wing!

How I wad mourn when it was torn

By autumn wild and winter rude!

But I wad sing on wanton wing,

When youthfu’ May its bloom renew’d.

 

O gin my love were yon red rose,

That grows upon the castle wa’;

And I mysel a drap o’ dew,

Into her bonie breast to fa’!

O there, beyond expression blest,

I’d feast on beauty a’ the night;

Seal’d on her silk-saft faulds to rest,

Till fley’d awa by Phoebus’ light!

 

May 1915

Charlotte Mary Mew was born in London in 1869.  She is said to have been haunted by unrequited love and the fear of madness throughout her life.  Mew is not known as a war poet, but this poem is as much about life and renewed human hope as it is about the seasons. It was written a hundred years ago between the landings at Gallipoli and the first Zeppelin raid on London.

Let us remember Spring will come again

To the scorched, blackened woods, where the wounded trees

Wait with their old wise patience for the heavenly rain,

Sure of the sky: sure of the sea to send its healing breeze,

Sure of the sun, and even as to these

Surely the Spring, when God shall please,

Will come again like a divine surprise

To those who sit today with their great Dead, hands in their hands

Eyes in their eyes

At one with Love, at one with Grief: blind to the scattered things

And changing skies.

The daft hill plover

This is George Campbell Hay’s vivid description of an air-borne golden plover, which he observed in remote Wester Ross. If you’re really very lucky, you might see one in Wiltshire in winter.

The daft hill plover tumbles,

and cries his birling cry,

tumbles and climbs and tumbles,

daft in the wide hill-sky.

 

Alone with his hill-top daftness,

he runs himself a race,

The windy, daft hill plover,

daft with wind and space.

The Winter’s Spring

This is an extract from John Clare’s The Winter’s Spring.  It reminds me to make the best of every season, even winter, despite aching cold and biting winds.

The winter comes; I walk alone,

I want no bird to sing;

To those who keep their hearts their own

The winter is the spring.

No flowers to please – no bees to hum –

The coming spring’s already come.

 

I never want the grass to bloom:

The snowstorm’s best in white.

I love to see the tempest come

And love its piercing light.

The dazzled eyes that love to cling

O’er snow-white meadows sees the spring.

 

I love the snow, the crumpling snow

That hangs on everything,

It covers everything below

Like white dove’s brooding wing,

A landscape to the aching sight,

A vast expanse of dazzling light.

 

It is the foliage of the woods

That winters bring – the dress,

White Easter of the year in bud,

That makes the winter Spring.

The frost and snow his posies bring,

Nature’s white spurts of the spring.