I’d like to begin the introduction to this week’s featured poem by wishing everyone a happy St. David’s Day, and especially so to the Welsh contingent. Hopefully you will be doing something suitably Welsh to mark the day – perhaps gaze upon some daffodils (most likely in a florist’s, if this especially cold winter is anything to go by; haven’t happened upon any bulbs sprouting just yet) or eat some leek soup (OK, maybe that is pushing it slightly…but it is a national emblem). The Welsh are well known for being an especially lyrical and poetic people, and you need only to look at the works of such poets as Dylan Thomas and W.H Davies to recognise great poetic talent. Another poet who I find to have an especially distinctive way with words is Edward Thomas. Although described as an Anglo-Welsh poet as he was born in London, hailing from a Welsh family denotes Thomas’s inbuilt and strong connections with the country.
Thomas began to write poetry late in his short life, and perhaps this factors into why the Edward Thomas Fellowship labels him as ‘the least rhetorical of poets’. This is a description I would be inclined to agree with, as I find Thomas expresses complex ideas and issues that many of us struggle with in an entirely and easily relatable way. Yet in no way does this mean that Thomas’s poetry is plain – as a wordsmith he can be quite outstanding, conjuring up images of delicate yet sumptuous natural landscapes.
It is a focus on the beauty of nature that occupies a great deal of Thomas’s work, and is one of the central concerns of The Glory. For all the ability Thomas undoubtedly has a poet, he does not seem to consider his insight to mean much – having been inspired by the nature around him, its glory leaves him ‘scorning, all I can ever do, all I can be’; any attempt to put the beauty of nature into words can only ever be synthetic in some way, and therefore inadequate. A feeling of inadequacy does seem to pervade this poem, as Thomas constantly questions himself and wonders whether he should change tack. Thomas appears to be striving for the perfection in the way he writes and describes as he perceives there to be in nature itself. As someone who is wretchedly prone to perfectionism and self-questioning, maybe I see much of myself in his words. Above all, The Glory does appear a poem of paradoxes. The obvious one being that in the berating of himself for not matching the glory of nature, Thomas writes beautifully about it and truthfully about the writing process in itself and all the uncertainty and self-doubt it often induces. Another contradiction comes in the fabulous closing line: ‘I cannot bite the day to the core’. Aside from producing a great image, it has been suggested that it contains religious undertones referring specifically to the Garden of Eden. For someone who appears to want to know more, too much knowledge can be dangerous – indeed, ‘biting to the core’ may lead to the discovery that nature is not as glorious as it seems, with illusions being shattered. Perhaps some trepidation is good if it means you can keep your ideals of ‘glory’ in tact.
The glory of the beauty of the morning, –
The cuckoo crying over the untouched dew;
The blackbird that has found it, and the dove
That tempts me on to something sweeter than love;
White clouds ranged even and fair as new-mown hay;
The heat, the stir, the sublime vacancy
Of sky and meadow and forest and my own heart: –
The glory invites me, yet it leaves me scorning
All I can ever do, all I can be,
Beside the lovely of motion, shape, and hue,
The happiness I fancy fit to dwell
In beauty’s presence. Shall I now this day
Begin to seek as far as heaven, as hell,
Wisdom or strength to match this beauty, start
And tread the pale dust pitted with small dark drops,
In hope to find whatever it is I seek,
Hearkening to short-lived happy-seeming things
That we know naught of, in the hazel copse?
Or must I be content with discontent
As larks and swallows are perhaps with wings?
And shall I ask at the day’s end once more
What beauty is, and what I can have meant
By happiness? And shall I let all go,
Glad, weary, or both? Or shall I perhaps know
That I was happy oft and oft before,
Awhile forgetting how I am fast pent,
How dreary-swift, with naught to travel to,
Is Time? I cannot bite the day to the core.
Edward Thomas (1878-1917)