Saturday, 3 April 2010
Edward Thomas: 'In Memoriam [Easter 1915]'
6. IV. 15
The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.
The manuscript of Edward Thomas's 'In Memoriam [Easter 1915]' reveals that this sophisticated four-line poem has been given its elaborate title by an editor at a later date. '6.IV.15', by comparison, is suitably bare, suitably unembellished, and it seems right for a poem which withholds more than it explicitly voices. We might quibble at the phrase 'call into mind', which may be metrically essential but only at the expense of the more natural (and less clumsily repetitive) 'call to mind'. Otherwise, the poem is a tiny marvel. It moves from abundance ('The flowers left thick') to dearth (the absent men), so that paradoxically it speaks of loss through nature's surfeit. Those men are 'far from home' eschatologically, not just geographically. They are either dead already, or they will soon be dead: they won't be coming back. As I've argued elsewhere, the last twist of the knife comes from Thomas's syntax. In its anastrophic delaying of the negative --- 'and will do never again' instead of the more customary 'and will never do again' --- the poem tantalizes by briefly imagining a replenished future ('and will do'), only to snatch that potential away with emphatic immediacy.
Posted by Tim Kendall at 07:51
Labels: Edward Thomas, First World War
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I agree, it shows how powerful simplicity and directness are in poetry, when all the time we are earnestly striving for the opposite!ReplyDelete
Always willing to quibble, I offer two-plus thoughts. You dislike "call into mind," and I only wonder if there might not be some larger remembrance implied--not just vaguely reminded but the men in some way actually entering the chamber of his mind like restless spirits. A stretch, I suppose.ReplyDelete
But I am sonically bothered more by that final "never again," which may add emphasis but jars on my ear, even while it does that pausing... then-snapping-shut that you discuss. He might have said "... but never will again." Would that have paled so beside the poet's off-rhythm choice?
I love Thomas. So much beautiful work.ReplyDelete
perhaps it's because I have met so many at war, or those returned from war (A'stan/Balkans), I somehow feel this is a comment not only on the physical death but also the spiritual/psychological death of those men which prevents them from ever again gathering the flowers with their sweethearts... some of those who return will never, ever be able to fully come home.ReplyDelete
'In Memoriam [Easter 2010]'ReplyDelete
The binbags left thick at nightfall in the street
This Eastertide call into mind the book of Edward Thomas' poetry,
Now far from home, which I left on a London bus
and will never see again.
Short and powerful. Edward Thomas has that knack of capturing emotion in so few lines. Even when he elongates the theme as in "The Team's Headbrass" the brevity is still there.ReplyDelete
Owen, Sassoon and Gurney had the powerful descriptive stuff but Thomas is, to my mind, the WWI poet.
I will always find this poem intensely moving. My late lamented English teacher did a PhD on Edward Thomas and got me interested in the first place.ReplyDelete
The iambic pentameter leads inexorably to "and never will again". Why did Thomas reject this? it isn't just a question of the delayed negative; "and will do never again' is outrageously ugly. Why? I assume Thomas may have thought the natural ending too conventionally sweet and deliberately reminded us that what is here implicit is itself ugly.ReplyDelete
Ref. 'call into mind' and 'will do never again'. Just a shot in the dark, but I think the poem reads better in a Welsh accent, which I assume Thomas must have had even though he was brought up in London.ReplyDelete
(Welsh ancestry/ children: Bronwen, Merfyn and Myfanwy/ ‘If the war goes on I believe I shall find myself a sort of Englishman, though neither poet or soldier’).
What does 6.IV.15 refer to? Easter was on 4/4 in 1915.ReplyDelete
Maybe that's why the title got changed!ReplyDelete
Do you believe that Thomas wrote a poem in 1915, that includes the phrase "This Eastertide," and yet titled it '6.IV.15? Isn't it more likely that it was originally titled '4.IV.15,' and that a typo occured somewhere?ReplyDelete
By the way, was it common at the time to use Roman numerals in dates?
No, I doubt that it's a typo. Eastertide is a period which includes, but is not limited to, Easter Sunday. Two days after Easter Sunday is still Eastertide.ReplyDelete