Tuesday 10 June 2014

'For these I ask not...'

The Great War centenary hullabaloo is doing its bit to fuel the great Edward Thomas revival which, over the past few decades, has established the formerly overlooked poet in his rightful place. Considering that he was only writing poems for three years - two of them years of war service - it's surprising how many Thomas managed to write, and how high a proportion of them are seriously good or great. Browsing among them, I still find myself surprised by gems that I've somehow missed.
 Take this one - a fine example of Thomas's gift for 'swerving' a poem into unexpected territory. The first three of its plain ABBA stanzas seem to be steadily painting a picture of an idyll - but then comes the shock of the jarring, awkward, all but despairing final stanza. It has been suggested that, if Robert Frost hadn't got him writing poetry, Thomas might have descended so deeply into depression that he could even have ended his life. Reading For These, it's easy to believe. He was indeed a man who rarely found contentment - though he did, from time to time, know happiness, which is far more.

For These

An acre of land between the shore and the hills,
Upon a ledge that shows my kingdoms three,
The lovely visible earth and sky and sea
Where what the curlew needs not, the farmer tills:

A house that shall love me as I love it,
Well-hedged, and honoured by a few ash trees
That linnets, greenfinches, and goldfinches
Shall often visit and make love in and flit:

A garden I need never go beyond,
Broken but neat, whose sunflowers every one
Are fit to be the sign of the Rising Sun:
A spring, a brook's bend, or at least a pond:

For these I ask not, but, neither too late
Nor yet too early, for what men call content,
And also that something may be sent
To be contented with, I ask of Fate.   

1 comment:

  1. Synchronicity: I've just spent a weekend in which two of his poems - Tall Nettles and The Brook - came up for appreciation and thoughts.