Tag Archives: Edward Thomas

A Memorable Phrase

Sometimes a phrase suddenly lodges itself in my head and immediately starts generating ideas for a poem.  I don’t know where I came across the phrase “Everyday life at the end of its tether”; I seem to remember seeing it in a book review a while ago, but I can’t remember who the reviewer was, or which book he/she was reviewing.  Anyway, the phrase took hold of me, and I started jotting notes for a poem, which eventually was to be entitled “Tether”.

I was reminded of the phrase by a fascinating book I’m currently reading: “Now All Roads Lead to France – The Last Years of Edward Thomas” by Matthew Hollis.  Devoted followers of this blog will know of my liking for the poems of Edward Thomas, who was killed in the First World War.  Thomas’s most well-known poem is “Adlestrop”, which I affectionally pastiched in my poem “Cricket at Adlestrop”.  Matthew Hollis’s book is a biography of Thomas, focusing on the last four years of his life, and his friendship with the American poet Robert Frost.  I knew very little about Thomas, before reading this book, so I had no idea that he suffered from chronic depression, and attempted suicide on more than one occasion.  Reading Thomas’s comments about how family life with his wife and three children had become unbearable, the phrase “Everyday life at the end of its tether” inevitably sprang to mind.

Tether:

No fun anymore, only sadness and pain.
Dust infiltrates into cracks in the leather.
Nothing exceptional, all is mundane.
Everyday life at the end of its tether.

The haunting horror lurches down the lane.
Just a nightmare, but with you forever.
The thought of it chills you, drives you insane.
Try as you might, you can’t hold things together.

No point anymore, only losses, no gain.
Whatever the day, whatever the weather.
Spirit dissolves into cells in the brain.
Everyday life at the end of its tether.

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Cricket at Adlestrop

Following on from the “Bathtime Reading” of my last post, I am now in danger of giving the impression that I spend most of my time luxuriating in a warm bath; but the bathtime theme of my poem “Cricket at Adlestrop” is purely coincidental.

Edward Thomas’s poem “Adlestrop” invariably features in listings of the most popular English poems.  It is a pastoral vision of the countryside and, simultaneously, a moment in time, captured with perfect clarity.  One can see the steam-train, idling at the “bare platform”; hear the birds singing.  An inbuilt feeling of nostalgia is deepened by our knowledge that Thomas was killed at Arras in 1917.  My pastiche is meant as a humorous, oblique tribute.  The world it hints at is that of a multi-ethnic modern city; far away from the rural railway station of the original.

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.  Some one 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 around him, mistier,
farther and farther, all the birds
of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

And my version:

Cricket at Adlestrop:

 

Yes, I remember the result.
It was the hottest day
of the year.  I sweltered
in a hot bath – illogically.

The radio crackled.  The soap
slipped through my hands
into foam-filled water
while I changed wavebands.

What I heard
was Bangladesh – only the name
of the winning team.  Australia,
incredibly, had lost the game.

And for that minute a car horn blared
close by, then a louder
claxon, and another.  All the cars
of all the Bangladeshis of Peterborough.

 

 

 

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