Monday, September 06, 2010

Words

Edward Thomas is one of my favorite poets of the Modern era.  He's often lumped in with the "war poets" of that time, and he could write convincingly of ugliness and despair.  But it's a sweet poem, "Words" that brings me to Thomas today. 

It's natural for writers to reflect on the sources of their inspiration.  Few have done it as gently and honestly as Thomas has here.  He speaks directly to "Words," not cajoling or begging or feeling sorry for himself.  He simply asks for the blessing to be able to say what he needs to say.

In speaking of writing, we often say that we "use" words.  It's as though words are a resource not unlike the oil we pump from the bottom of the ocean.  After reading Thomas's poem, the idea of "using" words seems coarse.  Thomas says the word "use," too, but, ah, it's the way he says it in conjunction with "choose" which has about it a sweet whiff of grace.

It's good to remind ourselves where it all begins, in the kind of glory that Thomas shows in his poem "Words," in the humility Thomas expresses, in his love for the words that patiently give themselves to us.


Words


Out of us all
That make rhymes
Will you choose
Sometimes -
As the winds use
A crack in a wall
Or a drain,
Their joy or their pain
To whistle through -
Choose me,
You English words?


I know you:
You are light as dreams,
Tough as oak,
Precious as gold,
As poppies and corn,
Or an old cloak:
Sweet as our birds
To the ear,
As the burnet rose
In the heat
Of Midsummer:
Strange as the races
Of dead and unborn:
Strange and sweet
Equally,
And familiar,
To the eye,
As the dearest faces
that a man knows,
And as lost homes are:
But though older far
Than oldest yew, -
As our hills are, old, -
Worn new
Again and again:
Young as our streams
After rain:
And as dear
As the earth which you prove
That we love.


Make me content
With some sweetness
From Wales
Whose nightingales
Have no wings, -
From Wiltshire and Kent
And Herefordshire, -
And the villages there, -
From the names, and the things
No less.
Let me sometimes dance
With you,
Or climb
Or stand perchance
In ecstasy,
Fixed and free
In a rhyme,
As poets do.

Edward Thomas

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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken

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