October 6, 2014: ROADS

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 are so 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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