The Welsh born poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917) made his living writing prose but mid-career, through his friendship with Robert Frost, he decided to give himself to his privately nourished passion, poetry. His verse was pastoral and his voice was authentic and sonorous. Serving at his own volition in WWI, he died in combat in 1917. Considered one of the great English War poets despite the fact that combat rarely invaded his verse, Thomas was very prolific in his 2 year career.
The poems below are the first 3 of his 4 “Household Poems”. In them Thomas fantasizes about providing for his family by blessing them. In doing so he alludes to inheritance in the Bible, to Isaac blessing his children, and to the inheritance of Caleb’s daughter. Furthermore, in the first poem, to Thomas’ eldest daughter a symbolic payment is imposed upon her, as though she were the beloved in the Song of Songs or a farmer who had first fruits. The 4th of these poems, not included, is addressed to his wife.
If I should ever by chance grow rich
I’ll buy Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch,
Roses, Pyrgo, and Lapwater,
And let them all to my elder daughter.
The rent I shall ask of her will be only
Each year’s first violets, white and lonely,
The first primroses and orchises –
She must find them before I do, that is.
But if she finds a blossom on furze
Without rent they shall all forever be hers,
Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch,
Roses, Pyrgo and Lapwater, –
I shall give them all to my elder daughter.
If I were to own this countryside
As far as a man could ride,
And the Tyes were mine for giving or letting, –
Wingle Tye and Margaretting
Tye, – and Skreens, Gooshays, and Cockerells,
Shellow, Rochetts, Bandish, and Pickerells,
Martins, Lambkins, and Lillyputs,
Their copses, ponds, roads, and ruts,
Fields where plough-horses steam and plovers
Fling and whimper, hedges that lovers
Love, and orchards, shrubberies, walls
Where the sun untroubled by north wind falls,
And single trees where the thrush sings well
His proverbs untranslatable,
I would give them all to my son
If he would let me any one
For a song, a blackbird’s song, at dawn.
He should have no more, till on my lawn
Never a one was left, because I
Had shot them to put them into a pie, –
His Essex blackbirds, and every one,
And I was left old and alone.
Then unless I could pay, for rent, a song
As sweet as a blackbird’s, and as long –
No more – he should have the house, not I:
Margaretting or Wingle Tye,
Or it might be Skreens, Gooshays, or Cockerells,
Shellow, Rochetts, Bandish, or Pickerells,
Martins, Lambkins, or Lillyputs,
Should be his till the cart tracks had no ruts.
What shall I give my daughter the younger
More than will keep her from cold and hunger?
I shall not give her anything.
If she shared South Weald and Havering,
Their acres, the two brooks running between,
Paine’s Brook and Weald Brook,
With pewit, woodpecker, swan, and rook,
She would be no richer than the queen
Who once on a time sat in Havering Bower
Alone, with the shadows, pleasure and power.
She could do no more with Samarcand,
Or the mountains of a mountain land
And its far white house above cottages
Like Venus above the Pleiades.
Her small hands I would not cumber
with so many acres and their lumber,
But leave her Steep and her own world
And her spectacled self with hair uncurled,
Wanting a thousand little things
That time without contentment brings.