Oct. 6, 2014: ROADS (Edward Thomas)

Dear readers,

apologies again for the 24-hour delay.

For today’s reading, in our attempt to temporarily tear ourselves from the tyranny of free verse, a “bridge” poet. I did a hasty search and it seems like somehow Edward Thomas (1878-1917) has evaded our review thus far. Today’s poem was described on the Poetry Foundation’s website as a “nature poem,” but that only makes sense to me if we include human nature in “nature.”

I’m calling Thomas a bridge poet because he lies somewhere between the Georgian movement of the early 20th century, and the moderns. He packed his poems with the first person and an intense vision, like some of the moderns, yet he also leaned on nature poetry and archaic diction, like “the ancients.” I think one can see that in today’s poem, with its measured diction, regular rhythm, and a classical ABBA rhyme scheme. On the other hand, the end rhymes in that first stanza areso slanted that it struck me as a very contemporary attack, more along the lines of a Jayhawks song than a WWI poem.

And it is clearly a WWI poem, as you see in the concluding stanzas. Thomas would publish only one book of poems during his lifetime, under a pseudonym; a second book, some fragments, and collected poems were issued posthumously. He was killed in the Battle of Arras, two years after enlisting. His reputation as a master has grown, particularly in the 21st century. What is it about this piece (or his other works) that is so appealing to us? -ed.


I love roads:

The goddesses that dwell

Far along invisible

Are my favorite gods.

Roads go on

While we forget, and are

Forgotten like a star

That shoots and is gone.

On this earth ’tis sure

We men have not made

Anything that doth fade

So soon, so long endure:

The hill road wet with rain

In the sun would not gleam

Like a winding stream

If we trod it not again.

They are lonely

While we sleep, lonelier

For lack of the traveller

Who is now a dream only.

From dawn’s twilight

And all the clouds like sheep

On the mountains of sleep

They wind into the night.

The next turn may reveal

Heaven: upon the crest

The close pine clump, at rest

And black, may Hell conceal.

Often footsore, never

Yet of the road I weary,

Though long and steep and dreary,

As it winds on for ever.

Helen of the roads,

The mountain ways of Wales

And the Mabinogion tales,

Is one of the true gods,

Abiding in the trees,

The threes and fours so wise,

The larger companies,

That by the roadside be,

And beneath the rafter

Else uninhabited

Excepting by the dead;

And it is her laughter

At morn and night I hear

When the thrush cock sings

Bright irrelevant things,

And when the chanticleer

Calls back to their own night

Troops that make loneliness

With their light footsteps’ press,

As Helen’s own are light.

Now all roads lead to France

And heavy is the tread

Of the living; but the dead

Returning lightly dance:

Whatever the road bring

To me or take from me,

They keep me company

With their pattering,

Crowding the solitude

Of the loops over the downs,

Hushing the roar of towns

and their brief multitude.


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