I have just come to the end of Edward Thomas’s Collected Poems. There are 146; not so many, but then he wrote his first poems in December 1914 and was killed at the Battle of Arras in April 1917. (It works out at just over one a week.) Ted Hughes referred to him as ‘the father of us all’.
‘Anything, however small, may make a poem’, he wrote. This is called ‘Tall Nettles‘.
Tall nettles cover up, as they have done
These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough
Long worn out, and the roller made of stone:
Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.
This corner of the farmyard I like most:
As well as any bloom upon a flower
I like the dust on the nettles, never lost
Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.
I also love ‘The Combe‘:
The Combe was ever dark, ancient and dark.
Its mouth is stopped with bramble, thorn, and briar;
And no one scrambles over the sliding chalk
By beech and yew and perishing juniper
Down the half precipices of its sides, with roots
And rabbit holes for steps. The sun of Winter,
The moon of Summer, and all the singing birds
Except the missel-thrush that loves juniper,
Are quite shut out. But far more ancient and dark
The Combe looks since they killed the badger there,
Dug him out and gave him to the hounds,
That most ancient Briton of English beasts.
He also wrote this in his diary:
Up 7. Reading. After tried to shoot myself. Evening reading. Read Marlowe. To bed 11.
He didn’t write stuff to cheer you up.
This is me:
I wonder if Edward Thomas had to ignore-
When he stepped into the combe-
Empty cider tins; worse-
To be able to form his idea of the Ancient Briton-
If the badger he wrote of
Had choked on a used condom-
No; that’s Modern Britain.