Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Edward Thomas Course Journal

Re-reading Lob makes me see all the more how it both parallels and contrasts with The Other.  The Other is a quest for a single person who is unknowable, and frightening.  Lob is a quest, at first, for a single ‘rustic’ who is very knowable and familiar and affable.   But the original query about the man he’d seen gradually widens out until he is any number of possible countrymen, and then he merges into mythological/folkloric people like Hob and Jack the Giant Killer.  They themselves are seen as merging into the very soil of England, as Thomas’s consciousness in Adlestrop merges into the landscape (or is it the air?) of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.   Lob is, like Old Man, about memory and an uncatchable and unnameable memory, which dissolves into England as such.

Lob is in a sense ‘only a name’, but he is also any number of names in English folklore.  The number of names expands like the birdsong in Adlestrop.  And yet Lob is not wholly to be separated from The Other,  in that there is a moment in the middle section of that poem where Thomas does feel a kind of stasis, and then he is ‘an old inhabitant of Earth’ – but not particularly England in that poem.  And his ‘belonging’ there is ambiguous, melancholic.  

In Lob, though, the self seems to be found -  in ‘England’ as Thomas sees it, that is rural Southern England now threatened by the industrial ‘dust’ of the road coming towards it, as well as – in the background – war.    Thomas read a lot of folklore, and poetry influenced by folklore, the best known being that of W B Yeats.   And he was a student of Richard Jeffries the great naturalist who is the model for the Squire’s son who takes up the more mythological narrative towards the end.

I don’t know if there’s a risk of sentimentality towards the end of Lob.   The lovable countrymen are gently mocked for their irrationality in shooting the weathercock,  and the catalogue of names tends also towards fairy stories.    Is he perhaps idealising the countryman?    

In As the Team’s Head Brass we have a different kind of poem.  No mythology here, but a present day naturalistic narrative, a short story of a kind, in which the countryman is real, and the sense of the threat of modernity and war to rural life is related to daily work on the farm.  The dialogue between the relative stranger, a soldier off duty, and the local man,  allows us to understand what’s going on without any intervention of the poet himself, and there’s nothing directly to do with his identity problems.     The poet/narrator casually mentions the lovers going into the wood at the beginning of the poem, and then they come out of the woods at the end.    This establishes a thematic contrast:  war versus love.   And the love is perhaps merging into a love of English traditional country ways and countryside when Thomas adds ‘for the last’ time right at the end of the poem.   

It’s interesting how different in approach this poem is from Lob.   Naturalistic narrative here with close observation of detail, and recollection and thought in Lob.

In This is No Case Thomas shows a different approach again, now much nearer to discussion an argument. 

So three kinds of poem, perhaps:   memory and myth,   contemporary narrative,  discursive.


  1. Burrowing around on the internet I wonder if I have stumbled on something that might shed a tiny bit of light on ET's poem which we read last week, 'This is no case ...' I wonder if it could perhaps be a direct response to a notorious German poem by one Ernst Lissauer, Hymn of Hatred against the English. This was of course written in German - but an English translation was in circulation soon after the outbreak of WW1. You can read it here in both versions.


    I do therefore wonder if ET's use of the word 'hate' - or perhaps better put, his exploration in the poem of the idea of hatred - may stem from an encounter with this diatribe. For discussion, anyway!

    Incidentally Ernst Lissauer is credited with inventing the slogan 'Gott strafe England', God punish England. Maybe ET's line in this poem, God save England, is a counter blast to this, i.e. a more specific reference than just a generalised expression of his wartime feelings.

    I've steered clear of Edna Longley et al so I've no idea if others have been here before me!


    1. I emailed you but now, looking at the address, I am not sure you go the reply. Basically, I don't know, and haven't found any evidence in people like Andrew Motion and Edna Longl
      ey, and a few others' essays. Certainly the type of thing Thomas is blasting. I don't know what date the poem was translated into English, though. As far as I know Thomas didn't speak German. But since emailing you I found this piece by J C Squire who's a fellow 'Georgian Poet',

      God heard the embattled nations sing and shout
      “Gott strafe England” and “God save the King!”
      God this, God that, and God the other thing –
      “Good God!” said God, “I’ve got my work cut out!”

      As far as I know Squire and Thomas weren't close, but surely would have met, and Squire reviews Thomas and Frost very warmly.