Tuesday 18 August 2020


Yesterday was my adorable granddaughter's seventh birthday. As we celebrated in the garden, a lone belated swift flew over, at summer's pace [v Larkin 'Cut Grass']. Was it the last of the year? Very probably, but I'm still scanning the skies, just in case. The day before, I had spotted one – a full fortnight after the general exodus – and thought that too must be the last...

Edward Thomas seemed to know when he was seeing the last swift of summer –

How at once should I know,
When stretched in the harvest blue
I saw the swift's black bow,
That I would not have that view
Another day
Until next May
Again it is due?

The same year after year –
But with the swift alone.
With other things I but fear
That they will be over and done
And I only see
Them to know them gone.

That last phrase, and its sentiment, chime with the title of another of Thomas's poems – 'First Known When Lost' – which in turn gave its name to Stephen Pentz's endlessly rewarding blog


  1. Nige: Thank you very much for the kind words, which I greatly appreciate.

    A nice coincidence: I have recently been revisiting the poetry of Walter de la Mare, who, as you know, was a friend of Thomas'. Thomas' poem on the swift immediately brought to mind two poems by de la Mare on the annual departure of swallows, not swifts. So as not to take up too much space, I will only present one of them:

    The Last Swallow

    The robin whistles again. Day's arches narrow.
    Tender and quiet skies lighten the withering flowers.
    The dark of winter must come . . . But that tiny arrow,
    Circuiting high in the blue -- the year's last swallow,
    Knows where the coast of far mysterious sun-wild Africa lours.

    The other poem is "Swallows Flown," and is worth seeking out.

    Another nice coincidence: a day or so before your post, I had returned to de la Mare's heartbreaking elegy for Edward Thomas, which I'm sure you know. I apologize for taking up more space, but it always deserves to be abroad in the world:

    To E. T.: 1917

    You sleep too well -- too far away,
    For sorrowing word to soothe or wound;
    Your very quiet seems to say
    How longed-for a peace you have found.

    Else, had not death so lured you on,
    You would have grieved -- 'twixt joy and fear --
    To know how my small loving son
    Had wept for you, my dear.

    A moving and wonderful poem, I think. It shows both how well de la Mare knew Thomas and the depth of his sorrow. Many elegies have been written for Thomas, but I think this is the best (better even than the two by Frost).

    I apologize for taking up so much space! Thank you again.

  2. Thanks, Stephen – and you're always welcome here! I did not know either of the De La Mare swallow poems, and they're both very fine – it seems to me his short poems are usually the most rewarding; he did tend to waffle a bit if he had the space to do so. But gosh, he was good at his best – and very underrated now.