Edward Thomas’ Song 3


This is a better representation of Edward Thomas’ war poetry than his delightful “Household Poems”.  It was written in the summer of 1916, less than a year before the death he hastened to bravely. 

Song 3

Early one morning in May I set out,
And nobody I knew was about.
I’m bound away for ever,
Away somewhere, away for ever.

There was no wind to trouble the weathercocks.
I had burnt my letters and darned my socks.

No one knew I was going away,
I thought myself I should come back some day.
I heard the brook through the town gardens run.
O sweet was the mud turned to dust by the sun.

A gate banged in a fence and banged in my head.
‘A fine morning, sir,’ a shepherd said.

I could not return from my liberty,
To my youth and my love and my misery.

The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet,
The only sweet thing that is not also fleet.
I’m bound away for ever,
Away somewhere, away for ever.

Edward Thomas’ Household Poems


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.

graveyard welsh heritage

Household Poems

[1 Bronwen]

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.

[2 Merfyn]

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.

[3 Myfanwy]

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.

Donald Justice’s Excerpt From Five Portraits


Portrait With Flashlight

from Five Portraits
by Donald Justice

What lonely aisles you prowled
In search of the forbidden,
Blinking your usher’s torch,
Firefly of the balconies!

And when you found it – love! –
It was to pure French horns
Soaring above the plains
Of Saturday’s Westerns.

The defiant eyes laughing
Into the sudden beam,
The soft Mexican curses.
The stains, the crushed corsages…

Off, off with those bright buttons,
Poor spy. Your heart’s as dark
As theirs was and it speaks
With the same broken accent.

Girls read it in your eyes now
And ask for your autograph.
They torture you for secrets.
And you give them poems,

Poems with hair slicked back,
Smelling of bay rum, sweat,
And hot buttered popcorn.
Furtive illuminations…

projection room

Daniel Hoffman’s As I Was Going To St. Ives


As I Was Going To St. Ives
by Daniel Hoffman

As I was going to Saint Ives
In stormy, windy, sunny weather,
I met a man with seven wives
(The herons stand on the swift water).

One drinks her beer out of his can
In stormy, windy, and bright weather,
And who laughs more, she or her man?
(The herons stand still on the water.)

One knows the room his candle lit,
In stormy, lightning, cloudburst weather,
That glows again at the thought of it
(Two herons still the swift water.)

His jealous, wild-tongued, Wednesday’s wife —
In dreepy, wintry, wind-lashed weather
What’s better than that ranting strife?
(Two herons still the roaring water.)

There’s one whose mind’s so like his mind
In streaming wind or balmy weather,
All joy, all wisdom seem one kind.
(The herons stand in the swift water.)

And one whose secret mazes he
In moon-swept, in torrential weather
Ransacks, and cannot find the key
(Two herons stand in the white water.)

And when to Saint Ives then I came
In fairest, rainiest, windiest weather,
They called his shadow by my name,
(The herons stand in the quick water.)

And the one whose love moves all he’s done,
In windy, warm, and wintry weather,
What can he leave but speaks thereon?
(Two herons still the swift water.)

Daniel Hoffman

Daniel Hoffman pictured above with a creative peer, Annie Kunjappy, is now 89. He was made Poet Laureate Consultant in 1973.

Lewis Turco gives a useful but technical analysis of this poem at his neat site.  This poem retells an old riddle which asks the question, how many were going to St. Ives?  We have eight stanzas, the first being introductory.  And then can we count seven wives in the other stanzas?

The third wife is the man’s “wednesday’s wife.” Then we can count the wives by days, the first being monday’s.  There is no overt mention of a wife on the Saturday stanza.  That is, unless the man’s ‘shadow called by the speaker’s name,’ has been called by his name because of marriage.  It seems the speaker has merged with not only the shadow, but the man with seven wives.

The final stanza returns us to the riddle, which asks “how many are going to St. Ives, among a man who had seven wives, each with seven sacks, each with seven cats, each with seven kittens?” The answer is one, for all else turn back. Now, Hoffman says this Sunday wife is “the one” (“whose love moves all he’s done.”)  She is, as Lewis Turco says, the single wife representing all women to her husband.  So if we ask what is turned back from the man going to St. Ives, (and how many travel on,) the man answers, “what can he leave but speaks thereon?”  In other words he can leave nothing of this mystery, it always travels with him, and moves everything he does.  And with that, he bids us goodbye, we who speak too much.

One last thought: All this smorgasbord, this mad loving, may be indebted to the influence of the Little Richard song, as quoted here, Tutti Frutti.

Cesar Vallejo’s The Black Riders


The Black Riders
by Cesar Vallejo
(translated by Robert Bly)

There are blows in life so violent—I can’t answer!
Blows as if from the hatred of God; as if before them,
the deep waters of everything lived through
were backed up in the soul . . . I can’t answer!

Not many; but they exist . . . They open dark ravines
in the most ferocious face and in the most bull-like back.
Perhaps they are the horses of that heathen Atilla,
or the black riders sent to us by Death.

They are the slips backward made by the Christs of the soul,
away from some holy faith that is sneered at by Events.
These blows that are bloody are the crackling sounds
from some bread that burns at the oven door.

And man . . . poor man! . . . poor man!
He swings his eyes, as
when a man behind us calls us by clapping his hands;
Swings his crazy eyes, and everything alive
is backed up, like a pool of guilt, in that glance.

There are blows in life so violent . . . I can’t answer!

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ – The Windhover


Randall Jarrell once said, “A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great.” Gerard Manley Hopkins’, who was both exacting and inspired, counted his poem “The Windhover” as his greatest work, and many readers agree.  He was surely struck rapt by lightning the morning he marveled at this hovering windhover, which, flying in place, are considered a symbol of Christ crucified.  Read carefully one finds that it has fewer violations of grammar than it may seem initially, because while every moment the language seems to flow and rush in transcendent association, the verbal sense is still maintained smoothly, even while the description performs its wild maneuvers. It reminds me that fire that is the most beautiful thing.