Tag Archives: Edward Thomas

Two or three days in the year.


Yesterday Abel was coming away from the L’Arche Glebe garden when his eye was arrested by the round, tan-coloured husks beneath the hollow yew outside Saint Mildred’s church. They must really be discarded cones, since the yew is a conifer – with no recognisable cone. 

I was half reminded of something. Then today Mrs T and I went to see the cowslips near Brogdale, happily growing on the chalk. Another chalk-lover is the beech tree, one I loved to climb as a boy, and a mile or so on from the cowslip field our walk took us through a beech wood. Unlike this picture from last year, it was a grey day, the path was wet, but we could still appreciate Edward Thomas’s observation in The South Country.


Then in the early morning the air is still and warm, but so moist that there is a soul of coolness in the heat, and never before were the leaves of the sorrel and wood sanicle and woodruff, and the grey-green foliage and pallid yellow flowers of the large celandine, so fair. The sudden wren’s song is shrewd and sweet and banishes heaviness. The huge chestnut tree is flowering and full of bees. The parsley towers delicately in bloom. The beech boughs are encased in gliding crystal. The nettles, the millions of nettles in a bed, begin to smell of summer. In the calm and sweet air the turtle-doves murmur and the blackbirds sing — as if time were no more — over the mere.

The roads, nearly dry again, are now at their best, cool and yet luminous, and at their edges coloured rosy or golden brown by the sheddings of the beeches, those gloves out of which the leaves have forced their way, pinched and crumpled by the confinement. At the bend of a broad road descending under beeches these parallel lines of ruddy chaff give to two or three days in the year a special and exquisite loveliness, if the weather be alternately wet and bright and the long white roads and virgin beeches are a temptation.

beech husks2

There is never enough traffic on this bridleway to order the husks  into parallel lines, but there they are, colouring the path. The nettles are in evidence ahead; we would discern the white of cow parsley if we were closer, but the pale celandine was not yet in flower here. (The bright, low-growing, lesser celandine is all but finished.)

beech husks1

Close to, the russet husks are indeed cool and luminous. Who would have said that brown could shine?

Thank you Edward Thomas!


A moment observed

I can forgive myself for not recalling Edward Thomas in the small hours last night, but here he is, a century ago in Adlestrop, with blackbirds in the foreground and way away into the background. The birds’ greeting to the sun when the new dawn breaks here in Kent will be echoed, some 8 minutes later, by all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, as the sun’s rays reach out to them.

Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop

Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas and the Gorse


Edward Thomas came into this piece written in January:

Where the road cuts through the belt of sandy soil near Ezra’s place are clumps of gorse, filled with rabbit runs which the little terriers love to explore. The first week of the year, and the gorse is in flower. This always brings a smile to my lips, remembering Edward Thomas.

‘If  I should ever by chance grow rich’, he wrote, he would buy local beauty spots and let them all to his elder daughter for a rent of the year’s first white violets, primroses and orchids, if she should find them before he did. I don’t know what these flowers were doing a century ago, but on January 1st this year the violets by our door are blooming – look under the leaves –  primroses are out next door, and, though this is cheating, Mrs Turnstone’s Christmas orchid is next to the crib.

When his poem was first published, some readers saw a touch of cruelty in Thomas’s next thought:

‘ But if she find a blossom on furze
Without rent they shall all forever be hers.’

The joke was on them, had they but realised it, for gorse, or furze, can be found in flower every day of the year. Thomas was giving his child all this beauty without condition. It is given to us too, had we but eyes to see it. Not Solomon in all his glory was clothed as one of these. Was Jesus perhaps cracking a joke when he preached this parable, to show us that we don’t know as much as we think we do?

If I Should Ever by Chance by Edward Thomas

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 for ever be hers,
Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch,
Roses, Pyrgo and Lapwater,–
I shall give them all to my elder daughter.

Of Flowers, Foragers, and Fiona.

I should have made a list, said Mrs Turnstone, as we came off the cliff path to stride into the village. Had she done so, the list would doubtless have been longer than I have remembered, but here are some of the flowers in bloom on 26th October, alongside a Cornish cliff path, a salt-sprayed habitat that suits relatively few plants.

  • As Edward Thomas would tell you, the gorse flowers every day of the year. There were two different species of bee in attendance on it.
  • The little daisy also smiles up at us whenever the ground is free of snow. Among its relatives there was camomile edging a ploughland, and assorted dandelion-like flowers whose names I do not know.
  • The close cousins red campion and sea campion.
  • Thrift, another low-growing rock lover, provided a springy mattress when we sat down to dine and then measured our length on the ground to watch the clouds and rest.
  • Brambles had a few sweet berries, leaves turning red, and the odd cluster of pale pink flowers.
  • Invaders from the south, from west and east: the equestrian’s enemy, ragwort, Michaelmas daisies and Russian Vine. That can go on spreading forever, like its relative the sorrel whose lemon flavoured leaves offered this walker a quick refreshment.
  • Pennywort spires among the stones of the Cornish hedges, which are a local variant on drystone walling.
  • A relative, unknown if only to us, of the bugle as well as the bugle itself.
  • We only saw one violet flower, but surely we missed many more by not getting on our knees to seek out these treasures at a field’s edge.
  • Old man’s beard may be a seed head, not a flower, but its exotic glory will last through most of the winter.

There was a bonus for the foragers towards the end of the walk: enough sloes to make the jelly for the Christmas goose, well worth a few scratches! The question arose then: what to do about a jar? We had none to hand in our holiday cottage.

At this point in our conversation we came across Fiona’s Mobile Café, tailor-made to her specification from an old Citroen van. Fiona admired and congratulated us on our harvest. ‘Gin?’ she asked. ‘No, Jelly for the goose’, we said, ‘but we need to find a jar.’ ‘Well, I won’t need to take this one home today’, said Fiona. Thank you Fiona, we are set up!

* And so we were. The jar was just the right size to hold the jelly when I made it the next day. Once again, thank you Fiona!

Here is a picture of Fiona’s café –  http://www.flickr.com/photos/93297327@N05/9048998772/