An Introduction to English War Poetry
When we think of English poetry, we are right to think of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Donne, Milton, and all of the other patron saints of English literature. Their greatness merits, and even necessitates, studying them on their own: One class on just Chaucer or just Milton is not enough; one lifetime of Shakespeare is certainly not… The post An Introduction to English War Poetry appeared first on VoegelinView.




When we think of English poetry, we are right to think of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Donne, Milton, and all of the other patron saints of English literature. Their greatness merits, and even necessitates, studying them on their own: One class on just Chaucer or just Milton is not enough; one lifetime of Shakespeare is certainly not enough. Still, there is a place for thematic studies of poetry for the lover of English literature. Studying poetry through a theme that is tied to a specific time frame is an eye-opening experience for the reader who wants to understand how people perceived a particular issue. Of course, thematic studies must be tied to a time period, lest we confuse them with the contemporary misunderstanding of social issues masqueraded as “themes” in literature. In other words, “love poetry” or “women’s poetry” are not themes in the proper sense, but a lazy grouping and poor understanding of the (good) poet’s intellectual complexity. History is one of the best indicators of relevant themes that may be explored through poetry and literature at large: What we consider key moments in history are key moments in human development, so poetry during that time frame and on that topic are, naturally, worth the study.
One of the greatest contributions to modern English poetry came through the works that described World War I, in great part because of WWI’s significance on human history. Poetry written by soldiers is one of the best ways to approach literature on the subject, and it will be the focus of this essay to introduce two war poets, one Englishman and one Irishman, who conveyed the sense of being a soldier in the Great War and, in turn, were transformed by this event. Edward Thomas and Francis Ledwidge were two such poets whose pieces drew upon elements of nature to communicate a soldier’s isolation and his acceptance, even embrace, of imminent death. These two poets were common men, and sometimes within the canon of English and Western literature we may forget that there were talented writers of value even if they did not reach international renown. Many times, it is only through the art of small men that we can understand the impact of the forces that we create and that envelop us as they grow out of control.
Edward Thomas was an English poet born in 1878. He enlisted as a soldier at the age of thirty-seven in 1915 and was killed, after two years of training, on the first day of battle in Arras, France in 1917.[1] Francis Ledwidge, born in 1887, enlisted as a soldier in 1914 at the young age of twenty-seven and was killed three years later in Boezinge, Belgium.[2] Though both of these men wrote several poems inspired by their experiences fighting during the Great War, they were not concerned with the war as a political or controversial topic. In fact, those familiar with war poetry might wonder why I don’t mention better-known WWI poets, like Wilfred Owen. All soldiers were diverse people who understood war differently. Owen had one of the most explicit critiques of war, and I think most of his fame came from that political statement. Take his most famous poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est,” the message of which can be understood from a first reading:
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
The poem is moving, no doubt, because it is a true depiction of war. Even in his blunt description of battle, Owen manages to describe death in beautiful verse, “Dim through the misty panes and thick green light / As under a green sea, I saw him drowning” (13-14), followed by a nightmarish description of the image that haunts him in his sleep. The moral of the story? It is a lie, that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. Owen’s message resonated with many anti-war activists, and this statement is not meant to detract from what is an exceptional poem with intricate literary devices (just read the first two lines out loud! Alliteration, assonance, almost onomatopoeic, making the sound of soldiers marching—amazing). But I do think Owen’s political message has influenced his appreciation as a poet as being more for his message, not for his poetry.
What I prefer about the lesser-known war poets is the humility of their voice, which is more preoccupied with coming to terms with themselves as soldiers, as the helpless victims of circumstance, rather than criticizing the world for what’s happened to them. What Thomas and Ledwidge seemed to understand was that during times of war wherein a soldier found himself lost and alone, it was man’s relationship with himself that took priority over everything else. While the spirit of the soldier who sacrifices himself for others is revered, I do believe that, internally, what took place in the minds of these soldiers was a necessary form of isolation that turned into self-reflection. This excerpt of a letter from Ledwidge to a woman named Katherine conveys a similar sentiment to Owen’s poem, but in a very different tone:
“If I survive the war, I have great hopes of writing something that will live. If not, I trust to be remembered in my own land for one or two things which its long sorrow inspired… You ask me what I am doing. I am a unit in the Great War, doing and suffering… I may be dead before this reaches you, but I will have done my part… I am always homesick. I hear the roads calling, and the hills, and the rivers wondering where I am. It is terrible to always be homesick.”
—Francis Ledwidge, Letter to Katherine Tynan, dated 6 January 1917.[3]
It is not poetry, of course, but it was written by a poet. Notice how Ledwidge says that if he “survives,” he wants to write something that will “live.” He does not use the word “live” for himself, although we usually say, “if I live.” It is almost as though Ledwidge is recognizing that he’s already lost a part of himself. Ledwidge viewed himself as a “unit,” just going through the motions of what needed to be done. It was not on the battlefield or while doing his duty as a soldier, then, that the individual fighter contemplated himself. Their relationship with the self, then, was the solution to their loneliness and feeling of insignificance.
The machinery used during the Great War meant that infantry combat was only a secondary resource in battle, and this change in weaponry prevented the individual soldier from playing a direct part in this industrialized war.[4] People’s belief in a heroic image of one body of men fighting arm in arm was shattered upon realizing that soldiers were dying undignified and by the thousands. The question then became, what was a singular man’s place amidst such mass destruction? Truly, his identity was overcome by an agglomerate of soldiers who were treated as objects. What “greater” sense of himself could the soldier contribute to a cause devoid of greatness?
For Edward Thomas and Francis Ledwidge, the way that they contemplated their place and themselves was through their poetry, and nature was an integral part of this relationship because it was a direct way for them to envision home. Since home was seldom in proximity for the soldier, it can be deduced that he often resorted to his immediate surroundings to find comfort and reassurance. Both Thomas and Ledwidge developed this sort of companionship with nature.
Nature’s characteristic as an ongoing duality between life and death, the beauty of creation and destruction, bore resemblance to what they were experiencing on a daily basis, and they perceived it, therefore, as a reflection of their own lives. Thomas and Ledwidge did not solely use nature in their poetry to recount their personal experiences, however, but they also used it to create a space of recognition for the individual faceless soldier as a method of remembrance. They used the symbol of a grave to manifest this sentiment.

The Grave Symbolic for Death and Life

Since there were no number of graves that would suffice for the number of casualties in the Great War, the grave as it was used by these two poets is a symbol for what it represents. In the case of Edward Thomas, the grave as a symbol of remembrance was more important than the physical tombstone. He did not mention graves in his poems, nor did he describe or reference them. Thomas’ focus on the grave was on the writings that would commonly go on the tombstone, and he replicated them in lyrical structure and form in his verses. This elegiac form, often meant for epitaphs, is common in several of his poems.[5] Thomas saw a contrast with epitaphs since they represented what was fixed but also what was transcendent, and he even attributed a literary value to them.[6] An example of such a poem is titled, “In Memoriam (Easter 1915)”:
The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will never do again. (1-4)
This poem, written in iambic pentameter with an alternating end-rhyme, is typical of an elegiac stanza, which is a fitting style based on the content of Thomas’ piece since it is a poem of remembrance for the men who left for war and did not return. Nature is immediately invoked when Thomas mentions the flowers “left thick at nightfall in the wood” (1) that should have been gathered by the young soldiers and their sweethearts. Thomas acknowledges that seeing the life of the flowers that have not been picked calls to mind the death of the soldiers: the presence of one thing represents the absence of another.
Thomas used the flower as a symbol of both remembrance and impermanence to recall the past, note the present, and contemplate the future. The importance of nature in the poem might be further stressed upon considering that Thomas used un-plucked flowers in the woods as the main subject. It is only upon seeing the flowers that he is reminded of the dead soldiers. Rather than addressing the dead soldiers directly, Thomas prefers to invoke them through nature even though the poem, as the title expresses, is meant to be an elegy or epitaph of some sort for the men who died in war.
Another poem that expresses this notion of the grave as a point of convergence for death and life is “A Soldier’s Grave” by Francis Ledwidge. It bears some similarity to “In Memoriam (Easter 1915)” since flowers are also mentioned and used as a symbol of remembrance, but the flowers are only secondary to the greater symbol that is the actual earth-grave, which is the main subject of the poem. Here, however, the grave is one with nature, or, rather, the grave is a platform for nature:
And where the earth was soft for flowers we made
A grave for him that he might better rest.
So, Spring shall come and leave it sweet arrayed,
And there the lark shall turn her dewy nest (5-8)
Spring is personified to depict a regenerating force that will decorate the soldier’s grave with different forms of life. A grave was made where “the earth was soft” (5), and spring will use this ground as its stage to grow new flowers and attract birds to lay their nests (8). In the context of this poem, death relieves the soldier from his burdens and even results in beauty and harmony as nature pushes the cycle forward, thus demonstrating that time continues to pass as one life ends by turning the soldier’s resting place into a display of new life. Both poets console the horrors of war with the beauty of nature and portray nature as playing an active role in death and life. By attributing these characteristics to nature, Thomas and Ledwidge are displaying self-awareness in their role as a soldier. They hint, likewise, at their acceptance of death since their poems display a similar disposition towards mortality, where the thought of dying comes no longer as a fear, but as a part of nature.

The Notion of “Passing” as Nature

Francis Ledwidge was able to depict nature as serene and personify it as a force of aid for the dying soldier. We can further analyze his poem “A Soldier’s Grave” and look at the first stanza to corroborate this point:
Then in the lull of midnight, gentle arms
Lifted him slowly down the slopes of death
Lest he should hear again the mad alarms
Of battle, dying moans, and painful breath (1-4)
With his opening line, Ledwidge immediately assumes a narrative tone, which serves to calm the reader since the poet sounds like he is telling a pleasant story that is taking place in a tranquil setting, “the lull of midnight” (1). The simple alternating end-rhyme scheme enhances this emotion as each stanza concludes in such a way that sounds complete, and the word-choice (lull, gentle, lifted, slowly) reassures the reader that what is happening to the soldier is a good thing rather than a negative one. In terms of the story that Ledwidge is telling, an unknown entity is introduced whose role is to ease the soldier’s passing and carry him peacefully towards death: But the reader is not told who or what it is; it is simply described as “gentle arms” (1). Though it might be difficult to infer who or what the gentle arms refer to, Ledwidge seems to imply that the entity is a gracious and sympathetic one since it is taking the soldier away from “the mad alarms of battle, dying moans, and painful breath” (3-4).
Francis Ledwidge briefly mentioned the journey from life towards death in “A Soldier’s Grave” when he describes the soldier being lifted down death’s slopes (2). Edward Thomas elaborated on this journey to a greater extent in “Lights Out,” which was written by Thomas in 1916 just before going to war.[7] The poem is about the process of dying, and he describes this gradual passing, which he calls a sleep, by relating it to walking in a forest. The presence of nature here plays a distinct role: It is no longer a kind and sympathetic force as Ledwidge portrayed in his poem; rather, Thomas depicts it as intense and inescapable:
I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.
Many a road and track
That, since the dawn’s first crack,
Up to the forest brink,
Deceived the travelers,
Suddenly now blurs,
And in they sink. (1-12)
Nature, here in the form of a forest, is bottomless; if sleep were a land, Thomas describes the borders of this realm as abysmal since he chooses to break the sentence at a moment where the sentence reads, “I have come to the borders of sleep / The unfathomable deep…” (1-2) It is only after continuing the poem that Thomas reveals a forest that is inevitable; “where all must lose their way, however straight or winding, soon or late; they cannot choose” (3-6). Considering the conditions and timing under which Thomas wrote this poem, prior to going to war and a year before his death, we can assume that Thomas used sleep to refer to death and the forest as a metaphor for the passing. The two symbols of sleep and the forest combined emphasize the inevitability of death since Thomas explains that everyone will eventually succumb to this sleep regardless of the path they take. All the roads and tracks that “deceived” travelers, perhaps into thinking death would not come for them, blur at the forest brink. That forest is a whole wherein they sink: A deep sleep.
Nature, in this respect, has tricked and captured the traveler wandering through the forest, which might cause the reader to view nature as a negative force. The subsequent stanzas, however, rectify this false assumption as Thomas defends the forest as being a neutral place where all emotion is distilled and where the traveler can rid himself of all earthly cares:
Here love ends,
Despair, ambition ends;
All pleasure and all trouble,
Although most sweet or bitter,
Here ends in sleep that is sweeter
Than tasks most noble.
There is not any book
Or face of dearest look
That I would not turn from now
To go into the unknown
I must enter, and leave, alone,
I know now how. (13-24)
It is interesting to note that Thomas describes death as neither good nor bad: both pleasure and trouble end, both love and despair (1-3). The fourth stanza in the poem indicates a type of personal relief in death that is incomparable to any worldly joy. “Face” (20) in this context represents any family or friend that would normally keep Thomas from dying, while “book” (19) might be a symbol for any moral, intellectual, or philosophical code of ethics that might make a man believe that it is better to continue living. Alternatively, it could be a metaphorical representation of literature and of Thomas’ potential career as a literary figure, since he was a well-reputed writer and book reviewer before he enlisted in the army. Thomas determines, nonetheless, that neither will stop him from entering the unknown.
In the fifth and final stanza of the poem, Thomas returns to his nature imagery and completes a cycle not only in the mechanical structure of the poem as he brings back the image of the forest, but also in a metaphorical sense since he concludes by expressing the embrace of death as a release from the self and a unification with nature:
The tall forest towers;
Its cloudy foliage lowers
Ahead, shelf above shelf;
Its silence I hear and obey
That I may lose my way
And myself. (25-30)
There is a clear contradiction when Thomas states that he is able to “hear” (28) the forest’s silence and that this absence of sound is what persuades him to obey it. It is as though the forest did not need to do anything to convince Thomas to comply; rather, the impulse to follow it comes intuitively and subconsciously. While the forest seems to overpower Thomas as “its cloudy foliage lowers” (26) over him and beckons him to venture deeper, Thomas simultaneously displays free will and choice by acknowledging the fact that in so doing he will lose his path in the forest and ultimately himself (30). The facts that Thomas senses an invitation from the forest, that he understands what he must do without the need for an audible command or signal, and that he is well aware of the consequences, serve to support the idea that he views passing to be almost instinctive and part of nature.
By placing such an emphasis on dying while concurrently using nature as a metaphor and analogy to describe the process, Thomas and Ledwidge affirm an instinctual connection between their deaths and their environment. For both of these poets, the transience of nature was a way to understand and justify their role as a soldier likely to die at any moment. Thomas’ poem opens the important subject of English WWI poetry: the self.

The “Self” and Individual Life

Although the previous poems might insinuate that Thomas and Ledwidge had accepting dispositions towards death, they wrote other poems on the matter that conflicted with the notion of them having one view of death. The thought of death might have served as alleviation for these poets, but it did not resolve many questions in regard to their place amidst the Great War, after all. Their poetry was the attempt to validate the life and death of the soldier more than it was an outward critique on war. Thomas and Ledwidge placed a heavy importance on the “self” and the individual life of the soldier as he lived and suffered the war, for this experience tremendously affected his perception of the world, of life, and of death. From the traumatizing events that they endured, an existential question correspondingly arose and troubled the soldier’s mind: were his efforts and his death justified? Would he ever have recompense for his efforts, even after death? Francis Ledwidge addressed these questions in one of his most famous poems, “Lament for Thomas MacDonagh.” MacDonagh was a revolutionary leader during the 1916 Easter Rising who was executed by the British Army.[8] Ledwidge wrote a poem in his honor where he revealed his thoughts on the individual who sacrificed his life and died for a greater cause:
He shall not hear the bittern cry
In the wild sky where he is lain
Nor voices of the sweeter birds
Above the wailing of the rain
Nor shall he know when loud March blows
Thro’ slanting snows his fanfare shrill
Blowing to flame the golden cup
Of many an upset daffodil (1-8)
The opening stanza bears some resemblance to Thomas’ poem, “Lights Out” in the sense that Ledwidge is describing death indifferently as a state of neither pain nor happiness: Ledwidge states that MacDonagh will hear neither “the bittern cry” (1) nor the sounds of “the sweeter birds” (3). MacDonagh, moreover, will not be able to witness the winter: “Nor shall he know when loud March blows / Thro’ slanting snows his fanfare shrill” (5-6). Ledwidge strengthens this sentiment by using words like “wild” (2) to describe the sky, and the winter and the rain as cacophonous with their “wailing” (4) and “shrill” (6). This desolate landscape depicts nature as harsh, destructive, and violent as the winter “blows to flame” (7) the golden cups of daffodils.
The first two stanzas paint a bleak landscape to reflect how Ledwidge feels about the death of Thomas MacDonagh as he uses words such as “upset” (8) and “bittern” (1) to further emphasize his discontent. Through these statements, Ledwidge addresses the existential question of the life and soul of a man after death, but he seems to lean towards the opinion that MacDonagh is completely gone. It isn’t until the third stanza that Ledwidge introduces a hesitation, providing an optimistic and alternative view to MacDonagh’s untimely death:
But when the Dark Cow leaves the moor
And pastures poor with greedy weeds
Perhaps he’ll hear her low at morn
Lifting her horns in pleasant meads (8-12)
Ledwidge continues to describe the landscape in a negative form, “pastures poor with greedy weeds” (9). This adjective choice for the weeds implies that there is some sort of corruption occurring on this field, which perhaps is a reference to the political instability occurring in Ireland at the time of the Easter Rebellion, since it was during this event that MacDonagh died (again, history is vital for good poetry writing and study). This negative landscape is reconciled once Ledwidge inserts an important shift by introducing the Dark Cow leaving this field. The “Dark Cow” (8) that Ledwidge foresees eventually leaving the moor is turned into a proper noun, which supports the idea that the cow is a metaphor for his country and Ledwidge’s way of optimistically expressing the possibility of Ireland overcoming its tumultuous state.
The most important lines in the poem are the final two where Ledwidge readdresses the question of MacDonagh’s death by considering the possibility that, if and once Ireland overcomes its strife, MacDonagh will be able to see (even from beyond the grave) his country prosper once again. Ledwidge achieves this optimistic shift by using the key word “perhaps” (11) to state that MacDonagh will be able to hear the Dark Cow (that is, Ireland) and see her “lifting her horns in pleasant meads” (12), an image of triumph and pride. This gesture that Ledwidge attributes to the cow not only reveals his hopes for Ireland, but also his feelings towards MacDonagh’s death: By being able to hear the cow upon lifting her horns, MacDonagh’s senses are restored and his memory, therefore, brought back to life.
Ledwidge’s interest in the soul of Thomas MacDonagh reveals his own personal curiosity regarding the soul of the individual before and after death. Edward Thomas also addressed this issue in his poem, “Rain,” by questioning this same subject and placing emphasis on the senses to express the possibility of the self ceasing to exist after death:
Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into solitude. (1-6)
The prominence and repetition of the word “rain” in the first line replicates the rhythm of raindrops, which implies that Thomas is actively listening to the rain and is therefore in a state of deep contemplation. The third line of the poem reveals that Thomas is thinking about his death; yet, it is not his death that is troubling him, but rather the notion of losing his senses and, therefore, of losing himself.
Francis Ledwidge wrote a similar poem titled “Soliloquy,” in which he assesses the importance of being a soldier and the probability of dying. The poem opens with a reflection on his youth and progresses chronologically with him through the years. The third stanza is the break in the poem where his thoughts come back to the present moment:
And now I’m drinking wine in France,
The helpless child of circumstance.
Tomorrow will be loud with war,
How will I be accounted for? (15-18)
By questioning what will happen if he dies, Ledwidge acknowledges the risk he runs of potentially being killed; yet, in the last stanza of his poem, he seems to dispose of this worry by glorifying himself as a soldier:
It is too late now to retrieve
A fallen dream, too late to grieve
A name unmade, but not too late
To thank the gods for what is great;
A keen-edged sword, a soldier’s heart,
Is greater than a poet’s art.
And greater than a poet’s fame
A little grave that has no name. (19-26)
Ledwidge refers to himself indirectly when he states, “A keen-edged sword, a soldier’s heart / Is greater than a poet’s art” (23-24). He adds, “And greater than a poet’s fame” (25) is “a little grave that has no name” (26). This statement seems to contradict the aforementioned letter he sent to Katherine Tynan expressing how he hoped to live and become a great poet. Is he being sarcastic? It is difficult to say.
Within these poems, Thomas and Ledwidge make clear that their words are more than a mere expression of observations and recounting of events as soldiers in the Great War. Their quest was more profound, directed inwards towards themselves and less directed towards their audience.

The Great Grave

The poet’s career doesn’t end once he dies. The soldier’s career arguably does. The poet-soldier, then, has died physically, but what remains of him (as Ledwidge noted in his letter) is his art. There was, however, a certain inhumanity about the way soldiers’ deaths were regarded.
Since both poets managed to create something that transcended their persons and lasted long after being killed in war, their absence was not necessarily detrimental to the poetry itself. But what of that part of them that was a mere soldier, a unit in the war? The day that Ledwidge was killed, for example, the chaplain recorded his death as follows:
Crowds at Holy Communion. Arrange for service but washed out by rain and fatigues. Walk in rain with dogs. Ledwidge killed, blown to bits; at Confession yesterday and Mass and Holy Communion this morning. R.I.P.[9]
Ledwidge’s collection of poems titled “Songs of Peace” was published in September 1916, three months after his death, under the description of a “Soldier Poet Fallen in the War.”[10] This image rendered him as an epitome of the brave soldier, and it seems that the soldier brand stuck with him more than the poet part. But although this image was a kind way of portraying him to a greater cause—the fallen soldier—it set aside Francis Ledwidge’s identity as an individual who experienced the world (or which war was the last part). A contemporary poet at the time, John Drinkwater, was one of the few who refuted how Ledwidge’s death was portrayed to people, which he believed to be insulting. In regards to Ledwidge’s death, he wrote:
“The continual insistence, not that his devotion is splendid, but that it is upon us that his devotion may splendidly bestow itself, is contemptible . . . his poetry exults me, while not so his death. And it is well for us to keep our minds fixed on this plain fact, that when he died, a poet was not transfigured, but killed, and his poetry was not magnified, but blasted in its first flowering.”[11]
As Drinkwater observed, death, despite being a source of influence for many of his poems, managed to abruptly halt what would have been a promising career for Ledwidge. This is a problem that is difficult to overcome: What role does strife play for the artist? Pain and suffering may help him develop his art, but at what cost? Although he enlisted voluntarily, the setting in which he died was artificially created; the way his death was recorded, almost absurd.
There are only some of the questions that come to me when I read war poetry, but it is a great genre in poetry that merits more study beyond this (very short) introduction. The most fitting way to conclude this essay is with one more poem by Ledwidge. The bucolic poem, “Behind The Closed Eye,” describes what Ledwidge understood to be his personal encounter with death: A return home, to Ireland.
I walk the old frequented ways
That wind around the tangled braes,
I live again the sunny days
Ere I the city knew.
And scenes of old again are born,
The woodbine lassoing the thorn,
And drooping Ruth-like in the corn
The poppies weep the dew.
Above me in their hundred schools
The magpies bend their young to rules,
And like an apron full of jewels
The dewy cobweb swings.
And frisking in the stream below
The troutlets make the circles flow,
And the hungry crane doth watch them grow
As a smoker does his rings.
Above me smokes the little town,
With its whitewashed walls and roofs of brown
And its octagon spire toned smoothly down
As the holy minds within.
And wondrous impudently sweet,
Half of him passion, half conceit,
The blackbird calls adown the street
Like the piper of Hamelin.
I hear him, and I feel the lure
Drawing me back to the homely moor,
I’ll go and close the mountains’ door
On the city’s strife and din.


1 Biography of Edward Thomas by
2 Francis Ledwidge Museum.
3 Alice Curtayne, Francis Ledwidge, A Life of the Poet, (Dublin: New Island Books, 1998.) 170.
4 Helen B. McCartney, “The First World War Soldier and his contemporary image in Britain,” International Affairs, Feb. 2014: 299.
5 Move Him Into the Sun.
6 Judy Kendall, Edward Thomas: Origins of His Poetry (LLandybïe: University of Wales Press, 2012), 57.
7 Wojciech Klepuszewski, “‘Lights Out’: Edward Thomas on the Way to War,” Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Mar. 2012, 69-82.
8 Thomas Macdonagh Heritage Centre
9 Alice Curtayne, Francis Ledwidge, A Life of the Poet (Dublin: New Island Books, 1998) 188.
10 Ibid. 190.
11 Ibid. 191.
This was originally published with the same title in The Imaginative Conservative on August 10, 2019.

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