Friday 26 October 2012

Another Brook

One of the things I love about blogging is how it so often leads to unexpected connections and happy discoveries. In her comment below my 'Otherwhere' post, Susan from NYC - having expressed surprise at my schoolboy reading of Frost (not unusual I think - he's a kind of honorary English poet over here, and I believe his Selected Poems was a GCE set book) and asked about Emily Dickinson (no, never read at school, discovered much later) - asks if Edward Thomas ever wrote about a brook. I couldn't think of anything off hand, so had a browse - and here's what I found (in Last Poems): 

The Brook

Seated once by a brook, watching a child
Chiefly that paddled, I was thus beguiled.
Mellow the blackbird sang and sharp the thrush
Not far off in the oak and hazel brush,
Unseen. There was a scent like honeycomb
From mugwort dull. And down upon the dome
Of the stone the cart-horse kicks against so oft
A butterfly alighted. From aloft
He took the heat of the sun, and from below.
On the hot stone he perched contented so,
As if never a cart would pass again
That way; as if I were the last of men
And he the first of insects to have earth
And sun together and to know their worth.
I was divided between him and the gleam,
The motion, and the voices, of the stream,
The waters running frizzled over gravel,
That never vanish and for ever travel.
A grey flycatcher silent on a fence
And I sat as if we had been there since
The horseman and the horse lying beneath
The fir-tree-covered barrow on the heath,
The horseman and the horse with silver shoes,
Galloped the downs last. All that I could lose
I lost. And then the child’s voice raised the dead.
“No one’s been here before” was what she said
And what I felt, yet never should have found
A word for, while I gathered sight and sound.

Well, that's quite a poem, isn't it? After getting off to a rather clunky start, it picks up as soon as that butterfly lands on the sun-heated stone and warms himself, from aloft and from below, and Thomas watches him (I wonder what kind he was). 'Frizzled' for water running over gravel is just the word - pure Thomas. And then the shift of perspective, the swoop back into the deep past, and that terse, unexpected 'All that I could lose I lost' - and the call back to life from the voice of the child in the brook. 'No one's been here before.'
And I might never have come across this poem if it wasn't for Susan from NYC.


  1. And I would never have come across it if it wasn't for you, Nige. Thank you!

  2. I must have read that poem before but this time I won't forget it. Thank you!
    It makes me think of a poem of Hardy that I read this summer -- unfortunately the book isn't here & I've forgotten the title. Hardy contemplates the opening of a barrow near his home, & regrets that the two skeletons were not left in peace. The same chill of the deep past, although Hardy expresses it in a much less subtle way. Less subtle, but I found it memorable. It's in his collection "Winter Words". Susan from NYC

  3. Ah yes it's called The Clasped Skeletons - can't find it online I'm afraid. A real swoop back through time, first ancient history - then, to put history itself in its place, back to the fossils in the soil around the skeletons. Very Hardy...

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