Today’s Fourteenlines is a guest blog by Frank Hudson. Please check out his marvelous website and commentary on Edward Thomas including his creative interpretations in music by clicking on the link below.
Rain, rain go away, come again another day, little Tommy wants to play, rain, rain go away!
by Edward Thomas
Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into solitude.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:
But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying tonight or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead,
Like a cold water among broken reeds,
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be towards what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.
Sunshine has been in short supply the past few weeks and there is only one day forecast in the next ten in which it will grace us with its presence in Minneapolis. It looks more like April 1 outside my window than May 2, with nary a tulip in sight. The Governor is going to need to declare a state wide “sunshine” mental health day the first day it hits 80 degrees F to counter balance the umpteen “snow” days this past winter. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were so blinded by the sun on a glorious spring day that we all had to not go into work and instead dig in our gardens and get our finger nails dirty in the sunshine?
Edward Thomas fans have also been in short supply the past week. I haven’t been inundated with recommendations from readers of his top poems. So I took it upon myself to take a deeper look and find several Thomas’ poems that at least struck my fancy. I sincerely enjoy his 18 line poem Rain. Like nearly everything else Thomas wrote, it’s melancholy feel makes the wading through it a little thick, but it creates in me, an interesting thought of rain, washing away everything but the love of death.
It is a bit of an odd thought, to love death and to not do so in a macabre or unhealthy way, rather an idea that if we love life that someday we may have to equally embrace our death with that same passion to find release. I am not one of these people who want to know my genetic tendencies for various ailments, so I’ll pass on the fad of genetic testing. I can look at my parents and grandparents and get a pretty good idea of what my risk factors are; diabetes and heart disease. I find the whole mindset of believing you can somehow “cure” death insulting. I don’t believe if I were to simply exercise more, eat a diet free of sugar and fat, save the earth by bringing cloth shopping bags to Trader Joes and eat more fiber that I change much the trajectory of my own life. I am quite content in my knowledge that my yearly physical shows that I am aging well in some regards and in others I am progressing on a fairly predictable timeline towards what is inevitable. I refuse to cooperate with my health insurance provider who dangles a monthly discount if I prove to them I am doing what I am already doing. Its none of their damn business in my opinion and since the clinical evidence based on my blood pressure, lipids and A1C would all suggest otherwise anyways, I figure I better prepay my fair share of the costs of my eventual modern heart interventions. I feel I lead a pretty darn healthy life, but the insurance industry actuary tables have me pegged for going toes up sometime around 2043. Lots of time left to sip coffee, eat my oatmeal and enjoy rainy May Thursday mornings like today.
Now That You Too…
By Eleanor Farjeon
Now that you too must shortly go the way
Which in these bloodshot years uncounted men
Have gone in vanishing armies day by day,
And in their numbers will not come again:
I must not strain the moments of our meeting
Striving each look, each accent, not to miss,
Or question of our parting and our greeting –
Is this the last of all? is this- or this?
Last sight of all it may be with these eyes,
Last touch, last hearing, since eyes, hands, and ears,
Even serving love, are our mortalities,
And cling to what they own in mortal fears:-
But oh, let end what will, I hold you fast
By immortal love, which has no first or last.
by Edward Thomas
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.
To E. T.
by Robert Frost
I slumbered with your poems on my breast
Spread open as I dropped them half-read through
Like dove wings on a figure on a tomb
To see, if in a dream they brought of you,
I might not have the chance I missed in life
Through some delay, and call you to your face
First soldier, and then poet, and then both,
Who died a soldier-poet of your race.
I meant, you meant, that nothing should remain
Unsaid between us, brother, and this remained—
And one thing more that was not then to say:
The Victory for what it lost and gained.
You went to meet the shell’s embrace of fire
On Vimy Ridge; and when you fell that day
The war seemed over more for you than me,
But now for me than you—the other way.
How over, though, for even me who knew
The foe thrust back unsafe beyond the Rhine,
If I was not to speak of it to you
And see you pleased once more with words of mine?
Edward Thomas never saw any of his poetry in print, a small volume of six poems under an alias came out shortly after his death in the Battle of Arras in 1917, having enlilsted in the infantry two years prior in 1915. Thomas was a poorly paid hack for most of his life, putting out anything that would pay a modest wage to feed an ever growing family. He wrote mostly criticisms and reviews of other writers work for most of his career, until a year long friendship with Robert Frost unleashed his creative potential, when Frost encouraged him to start writing poetry in the final three years of his life.
I wonder reading Thomas’ poetry if he would be half as admired if he had not died in France in World War I? I don’t mean that as an insult but an honest question. I do not find Thomas’ poetry particularly compelling, in fact I find the poems written about him far more interesting. However I realize it is poor manners to admit you don’t particularly like the poetry of war heroes, being far easier to just accept that the many learned academics who have reviewed him kindly after he died as accurate in their warm regards for his contribution to 20th century literature.
Thomas was a gifted prose writer whose critiques and reviews were witty, biting and insightful. Thomas’ undeniable contribution to American Literature was the push his passionate review of Frost’s 1914 collection of poems titled North of Boston provided, it being the first volume of Frost’s poetry that was met with critical and financial success.
I realize I may need to read more of Thomas’ work to better understand his vibe as a poet. Do you have a favorite E. T. poem? Please share it and tell me why.
Easter Monday (In Memoriam E. T. )
by Eleanor Farjeon
In the last letter that I had from France
You thanked me for the silver Easter egg
Which I had hidden in the box of apples
You liked to munch beyond all other fruit.
You found the egg the Monday before Easter,
And said, ‘I will praise Easter Monday now –
It was such a lovely morning’. Then you spoke
Of the coming battle and said, ‘This is the eve.
Good-bye. And may I have a letter soon.’
That Easter Monday was a day for praise,
It was such a lovely morning. In our garden
We sowed our earliest seeds, and in the orchard
The apple-bud was ripe. It was the eve.
There are three letters that you will not get.