Walking to Worcester Beacon on a hazy summer day, the foxgloves gleam like torches of purple. A buzzard hovers then stoops down to its prey. A couple walks ahead of us in sensible sandals and sunhats. I’m hot and anxious but the breeze and steading climb calm me down. At the top, we sit looking out at the yellow and green fields of Herefordshire as a jackdaw flaps serenely past us against the wind.
I lift heather by the roots, pulling
Layers of thought, outmoded, deeply compacted.
The rain draws down like a frail shawl, as I’m slicing
through peat, scraping, striefing the roots from their bed.
Sharp and exclamatory, like the crow, the thought comes.
Where have I been? This beauty scrapes through, I’m filtered by rain
Now seen clearly: my heart and eyes are one.
Amid the heather, covered in peat, I’m freed.
Ghostly thoughts, lost loves, old friends and news
Rise up from the sodden ground, instead of new trees,
Like Christmas cards brought out too late for use
I’ve kept them under wraps by unearthly means.
Henri Bergson has inspired quite a bit of my thinking in my PhD. Here is a taster of why I think he’s important to early 20th-century poetry …
‘The words may then have been well chosen, they will not convey the whole of what we wish to make them say if we do not succeed by the rhythm, by the punctuation, by the relative lengths of the sentences and parts of the sentences, by a particular dancing of the sentences, in making the reader’s mind, continually guided by a series of nascent movements, describe a curve of thought and feeling analogous to that we ourselves descrine … The words, taken individually, no longer count. There is nothing left but the flow of meaning which runs through the words, nothing but two minds, which, without intermediary, seem to vibrate directly in unison with one another.’
Henri Bergson, ‘The Soul and the Body’.
Setting out on the strange adventure of three days in West Sussex to reconnect with my Stenning roots. At six forty it’s light: Malvern’s heavy greens and red-browns are bleached by a week of sun. I wait on the grey-granite platform among smartly-dressed commuters, with my bulging rucksack and over-spilling enthusiasm. The rest are tired and determined. I’ve lost some of my earlier anxiousness: as a solitary PhD student, a trip on my own seems peculiar. One in search of dead ancestors verges on madness. So strange, I feel disoriented and have to remind myself of what I am: an inhabitant of England on a very English journey. Perhaps also this: a human inhabitant of earth in search of a communion when I walk from the town where my grandmother now lives to the South Downs. This is to be a journey to the South Country, which Edward Thomas describes as the land dominated by the Downs and the English Channel.
My mission to spread the joys of Edward Thomas’s prose continues:
Long ago men said that mankind was like an ants’ nest, but they did not believe it. Only a theologian said it, and for joy of an ingenious invention, they repeated it as if it were a reality. But now we can see mankind so. It is not the spaces of stars that terrify us, but the spaces between one lover and the other, between a child and the dead that bore him.
Edward Thomas, Maurice Maeterlinck, p99.