Thursday 3 March 2016

Thomas and Larkin Mark the Day

The poets' birthdays are coming thick and fast; today it's Edward Thomas (born 1878). On his birthday in 1915, two years before his death, he marked the day with one of his happier poems:

March the Third

Here again (she said) is March the third
And twelve hours singing for the bird
'Twixt dawn and dusk, from half past six
To half past six, never unheard.

'Tis Sunday, and the church-bells end
When the birds do. I think they blend
Now better than they will when passed
Is this unnamed, unmarked godsend.

Or do all mark, and none dares say,
How it may shift and long delay,
Somewhere before the first of Spring,
But never fails, this singing day?

And when it falls on Sunday, bells
Are a wild natural voice that dwells
On hillsides; but the birds' songs have
The holiness gone from the bells.

This day unpromised is more dear
Than all the named days of the year
When seasonable sweets come in,
Because we know how lucky we are.

That last line is so unexpected...
Also on this day, in 1956 (60 years ago!), Philip Larkin wrote First Sight, an unusually sweet poem of 14 lines (but not a sonnet) that moves from winter to spring, or its promise - 'Earth's immeasurable surprise':

Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold,
Is a wretched width of cold.
As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth’s immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.

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