Monday, March 02, 2009

The stranger's bright city

I've been reading the beautifully produced Enitharmon Press anthology, Branch-Lines: Edward Thomas and Contemporary Poetry, in which 56 writers and critics pay tribute to the enduring influence of Thomas's poems. The review in The Guardian notes that 'Old Man' is the Thomas poem that receives most mentions, 'and it's easy to see why, as its insistence on the manifold bewilderments of utterance and reference give it a strikingly contemporary ring.' In the poem Thomas wonders whether his small daughter will remember picking the herb Old Man - a thought made additionally poignant by the death of the poet soon afterwards and the fact that his daughter, Myfanwy, lived on until 2005. Charles Tomlinson's poem 'Old Man, or Lad's Love' recalls meeting Myfanwy Thomas and being given by her a sprig of old man from the bush Thomas wrote about. Tomlinson has grown from this four plants of his own, which stand at the door in the Cotswolds opening up a landscape 'into space and time.'

Branch-Lines is a fascinating and often rather moving book, as many of the poets look back to their own formative years and memories. The contributions often have no direct connection to nature or landscape, but I'll highlight here one that does. U. A. Fanthorpe writes that Thomas comes naturally 'to writers in English, like grass growing' and talks about Thomas's love of place names, as in these lines:

If I should ever by chance grow rich
I'll buy Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch,
Roses, Pyrgo, and Lapwater,
And let them all to my elder daughter.

Fanthorpe contributes her own poem 'Strong Language in South Gloucestershire' (2000) in which the old names (Sodbury, Nympsfield, Ozleworth, Doughton, Slimbridge, Gloucester) are seen to preserve landscapes from the distant past: 'Soppa's tinpot two acres, / Something holy, a good place for blackbirds, / Dock farm, bridge over mud, / The stranger's bright city.'


Ed Ecclesbert said...

Interesting blog.I found Simon Schama's book Landscape & Memory a good introduction to some of the issues-the mythologies of landscape interest me in particular.

Philip Lancaster said...

For me, 'Landscape & Memory' is a highly indulgent book on Schama's part. However, I can heartily recommend Jonathan Bate's 'The Song of the Earth', which I thought to be a remarkable volume on the subject. If you haven't read it already, do!

Plinius said...

I enjoyed them both, but of the two I think I got more out of Jonathan Bate. It would be great to see him write another book like that.