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Guy Cuthbertson and Lucy Newlyn (eds), Edward Thomas: Prose Writings: A Selected Edition, Vol. 2: England and Wales

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Among friends and acquaintances and authors, I have met many men who have seen and read more of Wales than I can ever do. But I am somewhat less fearful in writing about the country, inasmuch as few of them seem to know the things which I know, and fewer still in the same way. When I read their books or hear them speak, I am interested, pleased, amazed, but seldom am I quite sure that we mean the same thing by Wales; sometimes I am sure that we do not. One man writes of the country as the home of legends, whose irresponsibility puzzles him, whose naïveté shocks him. Another, and his name is legion, regards it as littered with dead men's bones, among which a few shepherds and miners pick their way without caring for the lover of bones. Another, of the same venerable and numerous family as the last, has admired the silver lave of Llanberis or blue Plynlimmon; has been pestered by the pronunciation of Machynlleth, and has carried away a low opinion of the whole language because his own attempts at uttering it are unmelodious and even disgusting; has fallen entirely in love with the fragrant Welsh ham, preferring it, in fact, to the curer and the cook. Others, who have not, as a rule, gone the length of visiting the persons they condemn, call the Welshmen thieving, lying, religious, and rebellious knaves. Others would repeat with fervour the verse which Evan sings in Ben Jonson's masque, For the Honour of Wales:

  •                         And once but taste o' the Welsh mutton,
  •                         Your English seep's not worth a button:15

and so they would conclude, admitting that the trout are good when caught. Some think, and are not afraid of saying, that Wales will be quite a good place (in the season) when it has been chastened a little by English enterprise: and I should not be surprised were they to begin by introducing English sheep, though I hardly see what would be done with them, should they be cut up and exposed for sale. The great disadvantage of Wales seems to be that it is not England, and the only solution is for the malcontents to pg 94divide their bodies, and, leaving one part in their native land, to have the rest sent to Wales, as they used to send Welsh princes to enjoy the air of two, three, and even four English towns, at the same time and in an elevated position.

Then also there are the benevolent writers of books, who have for a century repeated, sometimes not unmusically, the words of a fellow who wrote in 1798, that the beauty of Llangollen 'has been universally allowed by gentlemen of distinguished taste,' and that, in short, many parts of Wales 'have excited the applause of tourists and poets.'16 Would that many of them had been provided with pens like those at the catalogue desks of the British Museum! Admirable pens! that may be put to so many uses and should be put into so many hands to-day and to-morrow. Admirable pens! and yet no one has praised them before. Admirable pens that will not write; and, by the way, how unlike those which wrote this:—

'Caldecot Castle, a grand and spacious edifice of high antiquity, occurs to arrest the observation of the passing stranger about two miles beyond the new passage; appearing at no great distance across the meadows that lie to the left of the Newport road. The shattered remnants of this curious example of early military architecture are still so far considerable as to be much more interesting than we could possibly have been at first aware, and amply repaid the trouble of a visit we bestowed upon it, in our return through Monmouthshire by the way of Caldecot village. In the distance truly it does not fail to impress the mind with some idea of its ancient splendour, for it assumes an aspect of no common dignity: a friendly mantling of luxuriant ivy improves, in an eminent degree, the picturesque effect of its venerable mouldering turrets; and, upon the whole, the ruin altogether would appear unquestionably to great advantage, were it, fortunately for the admirers of artless beauty, stationed in a more conspicuous situation, like the greater number of edifices of a similar nature in other parts of the country.'

pg 95The decency, the dignity, the gentlemanliness (circa 1778), the fatuity of it, whether they tickle or affront, are more fascinating than many better but less portentous things. There was, too, a Fellow of the Royal Society who said in the last century that, in the Middle Ages, St. Winifred's Well and Chapel, and the river, and Basingwerk, must have been 'worthy of a photograph.'

Yet there are two others who might make any crowd respectable—the lively, the keen-eyed, the versatile Mr. A. G. Bradley,17 and George Borrow,18 whose very name has by this time absorbed and come to imply more epithets than I have room to give.19 From the former, a contemporary, it would be effrontery to quote. From the latter I allow myself the pleasure of quoting at least this, and with the more readiness because hereafter it cannot justly be said that this book does not contain a fine thing about Wales. Borrow had just been sitting (bareheaded) in the outdoor chair of Huw Morus, whose songs he had read 'in the most distant part of Lloegr, when he was a brownhaired boy';20 and on his way back to Llangollen, he had gone into a little inn, where the Tarw joins the Ceiriog brook. ' "We have been to Pont-y-Meibion," said Jones, "to see the chair of Huw Morus," adding, that the Gwr Boneddig was a great admirer of the songs of the Eos Ceiriog. He had no sooner said these words than the intoxicated militiaman started up, and, striking the table with his fist, said: "I am a poor stone-cutter—this is a rainy day and I have come here to pass it in the best way I can. I am somewhat drunk, but though I am a poor stone-mason, a private in the militia, and not so sober as I should be, I can repeat more of the songs of the Eos than any man alive, however great a gentleman, however sober—more than Sir Watkin, more than Colonel Biddulph himself."

pg 96'He then began to repeat what appeared to be poetry, for I could distinguish the rhymes occasionally, though owing to his broken utterance it was impossible for me to make out the sense of the words. Feeling a great desire to know what verses of Huw Morus the intoxicated youth would repeat, I took out my pocket-book and requested Jones, who was much better acquainted with Welsh pronunciation, under any circumstances, than myself, to endeavour to write down from the mouth of the young fellow any verses uppermost in his mind. Jones took the pocket-book and pencil and went to the window, followed by the young man, scarcely able to support himself. Here a curious scene took place, the drinker hiccupping up verses, and Jones dotting them down, in the best manner he could, though he had evidently great difficulty to distinguish what was said to him. At last methought the young man said, 'There they are, the verses of the Nightingale (Eos), on his deathbed …'21

'… A scene in a public-house, yes! but in a Welsh public-house. Only think of a Suffolk toper repeating the deathbed verses of a poet; surely there is a considerable difference between the Celt and the Saxon?'22

But the number is so great of sensible, educated men who have written on Wales, or would have written if business or pleasure or indolence or dislike of fame had not prevented them, that either I find it impossible to visit the famous places (and if I visit them, my predecessors fetter my capacity and actually put in abeyance the powers of the places), or, very rarely, I see that they were imperfect tellers of the truth, and yet feel myself unwilling to say an unpleasant new thing of village or mountain because it will not be believed, and a pleasant one because it puts so many excellent people in the wrong. Of Wales, therefore, as a place consisting of Llandudno, Llangammarch, Llanwrtyd, Builth, Barmouth, Penmaenmawr, Llanberis, Tenby, … and the adjacent streams and mountains, I cannot speak. At ——, indeed, I ate poached salmon and found it better than any preserver of rivers would admit; it was dressed and served by an Eluned (Lynette), with a complexion pg 97so like a rose that I missed the fragrance, and movements like those of a fountain when the south wind blows; and all the evening they sang, or when they did not sing, their delicate voices made 'llech' and 'llawr' lovely words:23 but I remember nothing else. At ——, I heard some one playing La ci darem la mano:24 and I remember nothing else. Then, too, there was ——, with its castle and cross and the memory of the anger of a king: and I remember that the rain outside my door was the only real thing in the world except the book in my hand; for the trees were as the dreams of one who does not care for dreams; the mountains were as things on a map; and the men and women passing were but as words unspoken and without melody. All I remember of ——, is that, as I drew near to it on a glorious wet Sunday in winter, on the stony roads, the soles began to leave my boots. I knew no one there; I was to reach a place twelve miles ahead among the mountains; I was assured that nobody in the town would cobble on Sunday: and I began to doubt whether, after all, I had been wise in steadily preferring football boots to good-looking things at four times the price; when, finally, I had the honour of meeting a Baptist—a Christian—a man—who, for threepence, fixed my soles so firmly that he assured me they would last until I reached the fiery place to which he believed I was travelling, and serve me well there. I distrusted his theology, and have yet to try them on 'burning marl,'25 but they have taken me some hundreds of miles on earth since then.

It would be an impertinence to tell the reader what Llangollen is like, especially as he probably knows and I do not. Also, I confess that its very notoriety stupefies me, and I see it through a cloud of newspapers and books, and amid a din of applausive voices,26 above which towers a tremendous female form 'like Teneriffe or Atlas unremoved,'27 which I suppose to be Lady Eleanor Butler.28

Nevertheless, I will please myself and the discerning reader by repeating the names of a few of the places to which I have never been, or of which I will not speak, namely, Llangollen, Aberglaslyn, Bettws-y-Coed, the Fairy Glen, Capel Curig, Colwyn, Tintern, Bethesda, Llanfairfechan, Llanrhaiadr, pg 98Llanynys, Tenby (a beautiful flower with a beetle in it), Mostyn, Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr, Penmaenmawr, Pen-y-Gader, Pen-y-Gwryd, Prestatyn, Tremadoc, the Swallow Falls, the Devil's Bridge, the Mumbles, Harlech, Portmadoc, Towyn, and Aberdovey (with its song and still a poet there).29 I have read many worse lyrics than that inventory.30

But there is another kind of human being—to use a comprehensive term—of which I stand in almost as much awe as of authors and those who know the famous things of Wales. I mean the lovers of the Celt. They do not, of course, confine their love—which in its extent and its tenuity reminds one of a very great personage indeed—to the Celt; but more perhaps than the Japanese or the Chinese or the Sandwich Islander the Celt has their hearts; and I know of one who not only learned to speak Welsh badly, but had the courage to rise at a public meeting and exhort the (Welsh-speaking) audience to learn their 'grand mother tongue.' Their aim and ideal is to go about the world in a state of self-satisfied dejection, interrupted, and perhaps sustained, by days when they consume strange mixed liquors to the tune of all the fine old Celtic songs which are fashionable. If you can discover a possible Celtic great-grandmother, you are at once among the chosen. I cannot avoid the opinion that to boast of the Celtic spirit is to confess you have it not. But, however that may be, and speaking as one who is afraid of definitions, I should be inclined to call these lovers of the Celt a class of 'decadents,' not unrelated to Mallarmé,31 and of æsthetes,32 not unrelated to Postlethwaite.33 They are sophisticated, neurotic—the fine flower of sounding cities34—often producing exquisite verse and prose; preferring crême de menthe and opal pg 99hush35 to metheglin36 or stout, and Kensington to Eryri and Connemara;37 and perplexed in the extreme by the Demetian38 with his taste in wall-papers quite untrained. Probably it all came from Macpherson's words, 'They went forth to battle and they always fell';39 just as much of their writing is to be traced to the vague, unobservant things in Ossian,40 or in the proud, anonymous Irishman who wrote Fingal in six cantos in 1813. The latter is excellent in this vein. 'Let none then despise,' he writes, 'the endeavour, however humble, now made, even by the aid of fiction, to throw light upon the former manners and customs of one of the oldest and noblest nations of the earth. That once we were, is all we have left to boast of; that once we were, we have record upon record.… We yet can show the stately pharos41 where waved the chieftain's banner, and the wide ruin where the palace stood—the palace once the pride of ages and the theme of song—once Emuin a luin Aras Ullah.' The reader feels that it is a baseness to exist. Mr. John Davidson,42 who, of course, is as far removed from the professional Celt as a battle-axe from a toothpick, has put something like the fashionable view majestically into the mouth of his 'Prime Minister':

  •                         … That offscouring of the Eastern world,
  •                         The melancholy Celt, whom Latin, Greek,
  •                         And Teuton drove through Europe to the rocks,
  •                         The utmost isles and precincts of the sea;
  •                         Who fight for fighting's sake, and understand
  •                         No meaning in defeat, having no cause
  •                         At heart, no depth of purpose, no profound
  •                         Desire, no inspiration, no belief;—
  • pg 100                        A twilight people living in a dream,
  •                         A withered dream they never had themselves,
  •                         A faded heirloom that their fathers dreamt:
  •                         How much more happy these had they destroyed
  •                         The spell of life at once, and so escaped
  •                         An unregarded martyrdom, the consciousness
  •                         Of inefficience and the world's contempt.43

But it is probably true that when one has said that the typical Celt is seldom an Imperialist, a great landowner, a brewer, a cabinet minister, or (in Wales at least) a member of the Salvation Army, one has exhausted the list of his weaknesses; and that not greatly wanting to be one of these things, he has endeared himself to those to-day who have set their hearts on gold and applause and not gained them, and those few others who never sought them. I heard of a pathetic, plausible stockbroker's clerk the other day, who, having spent his wife's money and been at last discovered by his tailor, took comfort in studying his pedigree, which included a possibly Welsh Lewis high upon the extreme right. He was sufficiently advanced in philology to find traces of an Ap' in his name, which was Piper, and he could repeat some of Ossian by heart with great emotion and less effect. I prefer the kind of Celt whom I met in Wales one August night. It was a roaring wet night, as I stepped into the shelter of a bridge to light a pipe. As I paused to see if it was dawn yet, I heard a noise which I supposed to be the breathing of a cow. My fishing-rod struck the bridge; the noise ceased, and I heard something move in the darkness close by. I confess that my pipe went out when, without warning, a joyous, fighting baritone voice rose and shook the bridge with the words:

  •                         Through all the changing scenes of life,
  •                                 In trouble and in joy,
  •                         The praises of my God shall still
  •                                 My heart and tongue employ.44

The voice sang all the verses of the hymn, and then laughed loudly, yet with a wonderful serenity. Then a man stood up heavily with a sound like a flock of starlings suddenly taking flight. I lit a match and held it to his face and pg 101looked at him, and saw a fair-skinned, high-cheek-boned face, wizened like a walnut, with much black hair about it, that yet did not conceal the flat, straight, eloquent mouth. He lit a match and held it to my face and looked at me and laughed again. Finding that I could pronounce Bwlch-y-Rhiw, he was willing to talk and to share the beer in my satchel. And he told me that he had played many parts—he was always playing—before he took to the road: he had been a booking-office clerk, a soldier, a policeman, a game-keeper, and put down what he called his variability to 'the feminine gender.' He would not confess where he had been to school, and his one touch of melancholy came when, to show that he had once known Latin, he began to repeat, in vaguely divided hexameters, the passage in the Aeneid which begins Est in conspectu Tenedos.45 For he could not go on after At Capys46 and was angry with himself. But he recalled being caned for the same inability, and laughed once more. Every other incident remembered only fed his cheerfulness. Everything human had his praise,—General Buller in particular.47 I cannot say the same of his attitude towards the divine. His conversation raised my spirits, and I suppose that the bleared and dripping dawn can have peered on few less melancholy men than we. 'Life,' said he, 'is a plaguey thing: only I don't often remember it.' And, as he left me, he remarked, apologetically, that he 'always had been a cheerful ——„ and couldn't be miserable,' and did me the honour of supposing that in this he resembled me.

He went off singing, in Welsh, something not in the least like a hymn to a fine victorious hymn tune, but had changed, before I was out of hearing, to the plaintive, adoring 'Ar hyd y nos.'48 And I remembered the proverbial saying of the Welsh, that 'the three strong ones of the world' are 'a lord, a headstrong man, and a pauper.'

Having heard and read the aforesaid authors, tourists, higher philatelists, and lovers of the Celt, I need hardly say, firstly that I have come under their influence; secondly, that I have tried to avoid it; and thirdly, that I am not equal to the task of apportioning the blame between them and myself for what I write.

And, first, let me ease my memory and pamper my eyes, and possibly make a reader's brain reverberate with the sound of them, by giving the pg 102names of some of the streams and lakes and villages I have known in Wales. And among the rivers, there are Ebbw and Usk, that cut across my childhood with silver bars, and cloud it with their apple flowers and their mountain-ash trees, and make it musical with the curlew's despair and the sound of the blackbird singing in Eden still; and Towy and Teivy and Cothi and Ystwyth; and, shyer streams, the old, deserted, perhaps deserted, pathways of the early gods, the Dulais and Marlais and Gwili and Aman and Cenen and Gwenlais and Gwendraeth Fawr and Sawdde and Sawdde Fechan and Twrch and Garw; and those nameless but not unremembered ones (and yet surely no river in Wales but has a name if one could only know it well enough) that crossed the road like welcomed lingerers from some happier day, flashing and snake-like, and ever about to vanish and never vanishing, and vocal all in reed or pebble or sedge, some deep enough for a sewin,49 others too shallow to wash the dust from the little pea-like toes of the barefooted child that learns from them how Nile and Ganges flow, and why Abana and Pharpar were dear, and why these are more sweet; and there is Llwchwr, whose voice is bright in constant shadow; and Wye; and the little river in a stony valley of Gower which at first reminded me, and always reminds me, of the adventure of Sir Marhaus, Sir Gawaine, and Sir Uwaine.

'And so they rode, and came into a deep valley full of stones, and thereby they saw a fair stream of water; above thereby was the head of the stream a fair fountain, and three damosels sitting thereby. And then they rode to them, and either saluted other, and the eldest had a garland of gold about her head, and she was threescore winter of age or more, and her hair was white under the garland. The second damosel was of thirty winter of age, with a circlet of gold about her head. The third damosel was but fifteen year of age, and a garland of flowers about her head. When the knights had so beheld them, they asked them the cause why they sat at that fountain? 'We be here,' said the damosels, 'for this cause: if we may see any errant knights, to teach them unto strange adventures; and ye be three knights that seeken adventures, and we be three damosels, and therefore each one of you must choose one of us; and when ye have done so we will lead you unto three highways, and there each of you shall choose a way and his damosel with him. And this day twelvemonth ye must meet here again, and God send you your lives, and thereto ye must plight your troth.' 'That is well said,' said Sir pg 103Marhaus.'50 And no other than a Welsh story-teller could have made that clear picture of the three damosels.

And there is Severn in its wild and unnoted childhood, its lovely and gallant youth, its noble and romantic prime, as it leaves Wales and passes Shrewsbury, the pattern of all famous streams—

  • Fluminaque antiquos subterlabentia muros;51

and its solemn, grey, and mighty and worldly-wise old age, listening to its latest daughter the Wye, where it has

  • A cry from the sea, a cry from the mountain;52

and Clywd and Conway and Ceiriog and Aled and Dovey, streams that remember princes and bards; and the little waters flowing from Cwellyn Lake, of which a story is told.

Near the river which falls from Cwellyn Lake, they say that the fairies used to dance in a meadow on fair moonlit nights. One evening the heir to the farm of Ystrad, to which the meadow belonged, hid himself in a thicket near the meadow. And while the fairies were dancing, he ran out and carried off one of the fairy women. The others at once disappeared. She resisted and cried, but he led her to his home, where he was tender to her, so that she was willing to remain as his maid-servant. But she would not tell him her name. Some time afterward he again saw the fairies in the meadow and overheard one of them saying, 'The last time we met here, our sister Penelope was snatched away from us by one of the mortals.' So he returned and offered to marry her, because she was hard-working and beautiful. For a long time she would not consent; but at last she gave way, on the condition 'that if ever he should strike her with iron, she would leave him and never return to him again.' They were happy together for many years; and she bore him a son and a daughter; and so wise and active was she, that he became one of the richest men of that country, and besides the farm of Ystrad, he farmed all the lands on the north side of Nant-y-Bettws to the top of Snowdon, and all Cwm Brwynog in Llanberis, or about five thousand acres. But one day Penelope went with him into a field to catch a horse; and as the horse ran away from him, he was angry and threw the bridle at him, but struck Penelope pg 104instead. She disappeared. He never saw her again, but one night afterward he heard her voice at his window, asking him to take care of the children, in these words:

  •                         Oh, lest my son should suffer cold,
  •                         Him in his father's coat enfold:
  •                         Lest cold should seize my darling fair,
  •                         For her, her mother's robe prepare.

These children and their descendants were called the Pellings, says the teller of the tale; and 'there are,' he adds, 'still living several opulent and respectable persons who are known to have sprung from the Pellings. The best blood in my own veins is this fairy's.'53

And of lakes, I have known Llyn-y-Fan Fach, the lonely, deep, gentle lake on the Caermarthen Fan, two thousand feet high, where, if the dawn would but last a few moments longer, or could one swim but just once more across, or sink but a little lower in its loving icy depths, one would have such dreams that the legend of the shepherd and the lady whom he loved and gained and lost upon the edge of it would fade away: and Llyn Llech Owen, and have wondered that only one legend should be remembered of those that have been born of all the gloom and the golden lilies and the plover that glories in its loneliness; for I stand in need of a legend when I come down to it through rolling heathery land, through bogs, among blanched and lichened crags, and the deep sea of heather, with a few flowers and many withered ones, of red and purple whin, of gorse and gorse-flower, and (amongst the gorse) a grey curling dead grass, which all together make the desolate colour of a 'black mountain'; and when I see the water for ever waved except among the weeds in the centre, and see the water-lily leaves lifted and resembling a flock of wild-fowl, I cannot always be content to see it so remote, so entirely inhuman, and like a thing a poet might make to show a fool what solitude was, and as it remains with its one poor legend of a man who watered his horse at a well, and galloped back to stop it, and saw the lake thus created and bounded by the track of his horses' hooves; and thus it is a thing from the beginning of the world that has never exchanged a word with men, and now never will, since we have forgotten the language, though on some days the lake seems not to have forgotten it. And I have known the sombre Cenfig water among the sands, where I found the wild goose feather with which I write.

pg 105And I have seen other waters; but least of them all can I forget the little unnecessary pool that waited alongside a quiet road and near a grim, black village. Reed and rush and moss guarded one side of it, near the road; a few hazels overhung the other side; and in their discontented writhing roots there was always an empty moorhen's nest, and sometimes I heard the bird hoot unseen (a sound by which the pool complained, as clearly as the uprooted trees over the grave of Polydorus complained),54 and sometimes in the unkind grey haze of winter dawns, I saw her swimming as if vainly she would disentangle herself from the two golden chains of ripples behind her. In the summer, the surface was a lawn of duckweed on which the gloom from the hazels found something to please itself with, in a slow meditative way, by showing how green could grow from a pure emerald, at the edge of the shadow, into a brooding vapourish hue in the last recesses of the hazels. The smell of it made one shudder at it, as at poison. An artist would hardly dare to sit near enough to mark all the greens, like a family of snaky essences, from the ancient and mysterious one within to the happy one in the sun. When the duckweed had dissolved in December, the pool did but whisper that of all things in that season, when

  • Blue is the mist and hollow the corn parsnep,55

it alone rejoiced. It was in sight of the smoke and the toy-like chimney-stacks of the village, of new houses all around, and of the mountains. It had no possible use—nothing would drink of it. It did not serve as a sink, like the blithe stream below. It produced neither a legend nor a brook. It was a whole half-acre given up to a moorhen and innumerable frogs. It was not even beautiful. And yet, there was the divinity of the place, embodied, though there was no need for that, in the few broken brown reeds that stood all the winter, each like a capital Greek lambda,56 out of the water. When the pool harboured the image of the moon for an hour in a winter night, it seemed to be comforted. But when the image had gone, the loss of that lovely captive pg 106was more eloquent than the little romantic hour. And I think that, after all, the pool means the beauty of a pure negation, the sweetness of utter and resolved despair, the greatness of Death itself.

And I have been to Abertillery, Pontypool, Caerleon, infernal Landore, Gower, Pontardulais, Dafen, Llanedi, Llanon (where only the little Gwili runs, but good children are told that they shall go to Llanon docks), Pen-y-Groes, Capel Hendre, Maes-y-bont, Nantgaredig, Bolgoed, Pentre Bach, Bettws, Amanford, Llandebie, Pentre Gwenlais, Derwydd, Ffairfach, Llandeilo, Tal-y-Llychau, Brynamman, Gwynfe, Llanddeusant, Myddfai, Cil-y-Cwm, Rhandir Mwyn, and the farms beyond,—Maes Llwyn Fyddau, Bwlch-y-Rhiw, Garthynty, Nant-yr-ast, Blaen Cothi, Blaen Twrch,—Llanddewi Brefi, Tregaron, Pont Llanio, Llanelltyd, Bettws Garmon, Bala, Aber Dusoch.… And I have crossed many 'black' mountains, and Gareg Lwyd, Gareg Las, the Banau Sir Gaer, Crugian Ladies, Caeo, Bryn Ceilogiau, Craig Twrch, and Craig-y-Ddinas.… The chapels and churches, Siloh, Ebenezer, Llanedi, Llandefan, Abergwesyn, Llanddeusant, … but I dare not name them lest I should disturb some one's dreams, or invite some one to disturb my own. They are all in the admirable guide-books, which say nothing of the calm and the nettles and the shining lizards and the sleepy luxurious Welsh reading of the lessons at ——; and the wet headstones at ——, where you may lean on any Sunday in the rain and hear the hymn take heaven by storm, and quarrel melodiously upon the heights, and cease and leave the soul wandering in the rain as far from heaven as Paolo and Francesca in their drifts of flame;57 and ——, white and swept and garnished, and always empty, and always lighted by a twilight four hundred years old, the door being open and ready to receive some god or goddess that delays; and Soar at ——, so blank, lacking in beauty and even in ugliness,—so blank that when one enters, the striving spirit will not be content, and perforce takes flight and finds an adventure not unlike that of the man who was once returning from Beddgelert fair by a gloomy road, and saw a great and splendid house conspicuously full of gaiety in a place where no such house had seemed to stand before; and supposing that he had lost his way, he asked and was given a lodging, and found the chambers bright and sounding with young men and women and children, and slept deeply in a fine room, on a soft white bed, and on waking and studying his neighbourhood, saw but a bare swamp and a tuft of rushes beneath his head.

And there is Siloh at——, standing bravely,—at night, it often seems perilously,—at the end of a road, beyond which rise immense mountains and pg 107impassable, and, in my memory, always the night and a little, high, lonely moon, haunted for ever by a pale grey circle, looking like a frail creature which one of the peaks had made to sail for his pleasure across the terrible deeps of the sky. But Siloh stands firm, and ventures once a week to send up a thin music that avails nothing against the wind; although close to it, threatening it, laughing at it, able to overwhelm it, should the laugh become cruel, is a company of elder trees, which, seen at twilight, are sentinels embossed upon the sky—sentinels of the invisible, patient, unconquerable powers: or (if one is lighter-hearted) they seem the empty homes of what the mines and chapels think they have routed; and at midnight they are not empty, and they love the mountain rain, and at times they summon it and talk with it, while the preacher thunders and the windows of the chapel gleam.

And there is——, where an ancient, unwrinkled child used to talk in gentle, melancholy accents about hell to an assembly of ancient men who sometimes muttered 'Felly, felly,' as men who had heard it so often that they longed to be there and to taste and to see; where the young men and maidens sang so lustily and well that I wondered the minister never heard them, or, hearing, understood them. To the children, when they listened, his mild ferocity did but put an edge on the bird's-nesting of the day before and the day after. When they did not listen, some of them looked through the windows and saw heaven as fresh and gaudy, in the flowers of a steep garden close by, as in the coloured pictures of apostles and lambs on their bedroom walls; but chiefly in the company of delicate lime trees that stood above the garden, on a grassy breast of land. The fair, untrodden turf below them shone even when the sun was not with it. The foliage of all the limes, in autumn, ripened together to the same hue of gold. It burned and was cool. It flamed and yet had something in it of the dusk. It was the same as when, many years ago, two children saw in it some fellowship with the coloured windows at Llandaff, and with the air of an old library that had 'golden silence and golden speech' over the door.58 And the trees seemed to be a council of blessed creatures devising exquisite enjoyments and plotting to outwit the preacher. They might not be ill-chosen deputies of leisure, health, and contemplation, and all that fair and reverend family. In the cool gloom at the centre of the foliage sat also Mystery, with palms linked before her eyelids, unlinking them but seldom, lest seeing might shut out visions.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
15 Ben Jonson (1572/3–1637), For the Honour of Wales (first performed 17 February 1618). These are lines 5 and 6 of the third section of a long song sung by several Welshmen.
Editor’s Note
16 William Hazlitt (1778–1830) visited Llangollen in 1798. See Hazlitt, 'On Going a Journey', Table Talk (1822): 'It was on the tenth of April, 1798, that I sat down to a volume of the New Eloise, at the inn at Llangollen, over a bottle of sherry and a cold chicken.' According to LPE, in 1798 he took 'a walk to the Vale of Llangollen and back again, thus initiating himself "in the mysteries of natural scenery," and he was enchanted; "that valley was to me (in a manner) the cradle of a new existence: in the river that winds through it, my spirit was baptized in the waters of Helicon" ' (pp. 123–4). IW: 'Hazlitt read La Nouvelle Heloise at Llangollen on his birthday' (p. 29). 'Reading Out of Doors': 'Such a star was the inn at Llangollen where Hazlitt read the Nouvelle Héloise, on his birthday, "over a bottle of sherry and a cold chicken." ' For Thomas and Hazlitt see Lucy Newlyn, 'Hazlitt and Edward Thomas on Walking', Essays in Criticism, lvi, 2 (April 2006), 163–87.
Editor’s Note
17 Thomas reviewed A. G. Bradley's Highways and Byways in South Wales in DC on 14 August 1903; and, later, other books by Bradley, including The Avon and Shakespeare's Country in DC on 1 September 1910. On 6 August 1910: 'Can I be a sort of an A. G. Bradley and E. T. at the same time?' (LGB, 205). SC: 'But there is no man of whose powers I stand more in awe than the topographical writer, from Mr. A. G. Bradley or Mr. E. V. Lucas downwards.' Highways and Byways in South Wales is the book to compare with Thomas's: it was published by Macmillan in 1903 with illustrations by the excellent Frederick L. Griggs. In 1905, Bradley's In the March and Borderland of Wales was published by Archibald Constable. Bradley's The Wye was published by A &C Black in 1910.
Editor’s Note
18 For George Borrow (1803–81), see GB, and Borrow's Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery (1862).
Editor’s Note
19 Cf. RR: 'William Cobbett is one of those names which have come to symbolise the bearer's character to perfection. It is now impossible to say how much of the character of the name was given to it by this one man in his seventy-two years of life.'
Editor’s Note
20 Wild Wales, chapter XX. This passage is included in PGB, ed. Edward Thomas (1912), 185–7.
Editor’s Note
21 'Eos' means 'nightingale'. Cf. 'Words': 'Wales/Whose nightingales/Have no wings' (ll. 44–6). The Ceiriog Valley is Huw Morus country. Two other Welsh language poets were known as 'Eos'—James Rhys Parry, 'Eos Eyas', and Thomas Williams, 'Eos Gwynfa'.
Editor’s Note
22 In GB, Thomas returned to the incident, describing how Borrow recited verses by the Nightingale of Ceiriog 'in his best Welsh' (p. 267), and providing, from this visit in Wild Wales, a passage where, 'standing on a bridge over the Ceiriog, just after visiting the house of Huw Morus' (p. 283), Borrow compares the scene with the work of 'Moreland, and Crome' (p. 283). 'Haymaking', written ten days after 'Words', mentions 'Morland and Crome' (l. 35), and was built upon notes taken during the days of the composition of 'Words'—notes that mention 'Moreland and Crome'. The Collected Poems of Edward Thomas, ed. R. George Thomas (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 400.
Editor’s Note
23 'llech' is slate or slab; 'llawr' is floor, ground or earth.
Editor’s Note
24 A duet in Mozart's Don Giovanni.
Editor’s Note
25 Paradise Lost, Book I, l. 296.
Editor’s Note
26 Cf. Thomas's poem 'The Chalk-Pit': 'And I am not quite sure,/Even now, this is it. For another place,/Real or painted, may have combined with it' (ll. 31–3). IOW: 'The Isle of Wight contains the most-advertised of beauties, so that it might be supposed difficult to see the beauty for the praise.'
Editor’s Note
27 Paradise Lost, Book IV, l. 987.
Editor’s Note
28 One of the Ladies of Llangollen, who were close friends Lady Eleanor Butler (?1739–1829) and Miss Sarah Ponsonby (?1735–1831).
Editor’s Note
29 The song is probably 'The Bells of Aberdovey', about the kingdom flooded by the sea.
Editor’s Note
30 As in 'Adlestrop' and 'Old Man', Thomas likes the names for their own sake, not for what they are attached to. Thomas's poems use place-names very effectively. Cf. 'Penderyn': 'So that evening the name was still purely music, perhaps more earthly than before, more definitely mountainous, perhaps the sweetest place name in the world.' Cf. Thomas in Words and Places: 'fortunately science cannot destroy the imagination which kindles at the majestic "Caernarvon", the romantic "Schiehallion", and at the infinite variety of significance in names like Baydon, Tregonebris, Shepherdswhim, Castell-y-Dail, Castell-y-Gwynt, Kingly Vale, Noar Hill, Thorpe Constantine, Stoke Charity, Palfrey Green, Happersnapper Hanger, Jenny Pink's Copse, Amesbury, Bynoll, Ryme Intrinseca' (p. x). A long list of place-names is provided in SC, where Thomas says that 'those poems which are place-names could be translated at last'.
Editor’s Note
31 Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–98), French poet.
Editor’s Note
32 Cf. 'This England': 'it seemed to me that either I had never loved England, or I had loved it foolishly, æsthetically' (LS).
Editor’s Note
33 Jellaby Postlethwaite, an aesthete created by George Du Maurier (1834–96), who poked fun at aestheticism in a number of cartoons.
Editor’s Note
34 John Davidson (1857–1909), one of the decadents, quoted later in this paragraph, refers to 'The sounding cities, rich and warm' (l. 23) and 'the sounding city's gate' (l. 69) in 'A Ballad of a Nun' (1894).
Editor’s Note
35 Opal hush is red wine and lemonade. It is mentioned in Bohemia in London (1907) by Thomas's friend Arthur Ransome.
Editor’s Note
36 Welsh mead.
Editor’s Note
37 Eryri is in Snowdonia, Wales; and Connemara is in County Galway, Ireland. Connemara has associations with W. B. Yeats, who is mentioned later in BW.
Editor’s Note
38 Someone from South Wales.
Editor’s Note
39 Ossian (1765), 'Cath-Loda', 2: 'They came forth to war, but they always fell'. Scotsman James Macpherson (1736–96) was the author or 'translator' of Gaelic poetry written by Ossian. CS: ' "The Land of Youth" is based chiefly on Professor O'Looney's rendering of a poem on Oisin in Tir-nan-oge ("Transactions of the Ossianic Society")' (p. 3).
Editor’s Note
40 CS: 'After that heroic age followed the Ossianic.… The tales of this Ossianic age were supposed to have been the work of Ossian himself.… We cannot tell how near to that age lived the first tellers of the tales' (p. 127).
Editor’s Note
41 A lighthouse or beacon.
Editor’s Note
42 John Davidson (1857–1909), Scottish poet of the fin de siècle. On 22 April 1907: Thomas admired 'this sad serious, very "clever egoist" ' (LGB, 137). Davidson is discussed and quoted in MM. Davidson's poem 'A Runnable Stag' was admired by Thomas, who included it in PB. See Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Eng. lett. d.281, 28/3/06.
Editor’s Note
43 John Davidson, The Testament of a Prime Minister, ll. 218–32. Thomas reviewed The Triumph of Mammon on 30 April 1907 (DC): 'A poet may be a metaphysician and a great one, but not at the same time, or if he is we should salute him as we should one who is poet and baker and composes with dough, currants and icing. It is extraordinary that Mr Davidson should know this, yet write things like The Testament of a Prime Minister and The Triumph of Mammon. Its effect upon his writing alone ought to have told him that he had gone wrong' (LNB, 78).
Editor’s Note
44 A hymn by Nahum Tate (1652–1715) and Nicholas Brady (1659–1726).
Editor’s Note
45 The Aeneid, Book II, l. 21: 'There stands in view Tenedos'. The start of Book II is quoted in CET. Thomas studied Book II at school.
Editor’s Note
46 The Aeneid, Book II, l. 35.
Editor’s Note
47 Sir Redvers Henry Buller (1839–1908), British Commander-in-Chief in the Boer War, a popular and liberal officer and landowner. Mentioned in 'Tipperary' in LS.
Editor’s Note
48 A well-known Welsh folk song. The title, repeated through the song, means 'All through the night'.
Editor’s Note
49 Welsh sea trout.
Editor’s Note
50 Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur, Book IV, chapter 18.
Editor’s Note
51 Virgil, Georgics, Book II, l. 157. The river here is in the Tuscan hills.
Editor’s Note
52 Untraced. Cf. Isaiah 24:14: 'They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing for the majesty of the Lord, they shall cry aloud from the sea.' Isaiah 42: 11: 'Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar doth inhabit: let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains.'
Editor’s Note
53 See P. H. Emerson (ed.), Welsh Fairy-Tales and Other Stories (London: David Nutt, 1894). The story is called 'The Pellings'.
Editor’s Note
54 See The Aeneid, Book III, where the trees at the grave of Polydorus bleed:
  •                                                               I strove,
  •                         More stoutly still against the spear-like twigs,
  •                         And on my knees was wrenching at the sand—
  •                         Speak shall I, or be silent? there is heard
  •                         A tearful groan from bottom of the mound
  •                         And words in answer fall upon mine ear:
  •                         'O why, Aeneas, art thou mangling thus
  •                         A wretched man?' (ll. 37–41)
Editor’s Note
55 Untraced.
Editor’s Note
56 In other words, like Λ‎.
Editor’s Note
57 Paolo and Francesca feature in the fifth canto of Dante's Inferno.
Editor’s Note
58 There is a saying 'silence is golden, speech is silver'.
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