It didn’t start off as a book at all, merely as a resolution to read more poetry, to read in fact a new poem every day. But before too long, I discovered, as I jotted down my thoughts on the poems I was finding, that my notes were turning into a sort of diary, and what I was writing was fast turning into a book about reading poetry, and eventually that book found its way into print. It’s called A Bracelet of Bright Hair and you can read more about it on my website http://www.francesthomas.org/
Since I feel that each new enterprise deserves a poem to set it off and get it going, I looked for a poem to start this blog. After all, as Sigmund Freud said, everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me. The poem I’ve chosen is by Edward Thomas, that charming, damaged and difficult man, whose grave in Northern France we visited earlier this year – another thing I’d like to write about before too long. This poem brings to mind the more famous one by Thomas’s friend Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken, about journeys and choices, their seemingly arbitrary nature and their profound reverberations. Curiously, Frost hinted that his poem was in fact partly a sly dig at Thomas, who was famously indecisive when it came to making choices. Frost makes a choice – but he muses on what might have happened had he chosen the other way. It can be read, and usually is, as a life affirming, positive poem. Thomas’s poem is altogether bleaker; a cold monochrome pervades the first few lines, and the characteristic despair kicks in at the end of the first verse; At twenty you wished you had never been born. But then a second voice interposes itself, the voice of the Other Man, the mysterious doppelganger who accompanies Thomas in so much of his writing, and seems to offer, if not a happy ending, at least some sort of reconciliation. Death will put an end to all, but the poet, at sixty, might be content, after all, to be here or anywhere talking to me/ No matter what the weather on earth/At any age between death and birth, To see what day or night can be… Of course, Thomas never made that sixtieth birthday, but he crammed a lot of experience, good and bad, into the thirty-nine years that he lived, and this is a poem of mature years, reflective and meditative. A good way for me to start this venture, anyway. Where shall I journey, O where?
The Sign-Post Edward Thomas
The dim sea glints chill. The white sun is shy,
And the skeleton weeds and the never-dry
Rough long grasses keep white with frost
At the hilltop by the finger-post:
The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed
Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft.
I read the sign. Which way shall I go?
A voice says: You would not have doubted so
At twenty. Another voice gentle with scorn
Says: At twenty you wished you had never been born.
One hazel lost a leaf of gold
From a tuft at the tip, when the first voice told
The other he wished to know what ‘twould be
To be sixty by this same post. ‘You shall see; but either before or after,
Whatever happens, it must befall,
A mouthful of earth to remedy all
Regrets and wishes shall freely be given;
And if there be a flaw in that heaven
‘Twill be freedom to wish, and your wish may be
To be here or anywhere talking to me,
No matter what the weather, on earth,
At any age between death and birth,
To see what day or night can be,
The sun and the frost, the land and the sea,
Summer, Autumn, Winter Spring, -
With a poor man of any sort, down to a king,
Standing upright in the air
Wondering where he shall journey, O where?’