In 1913, Edward Thomas wrote his last prose narrative, an account of a bicycle journey from Guildford to Somerset, In Pursuit of Spring.  It describes a landscape on the brink of change,  but it is the cradle too of so much of Thomas’s poetry, and an index to the man himself. These poems by Kym Martindale and the accompanying drawings of Caroline Blythe are ‘re/tracings’ – of journeys made by the poet and artist in the wake of Thomas himself. They too are in search of a landscape that is changing physically, economically, and aesthetically.

 

 

The Most Insistent Thing

[Looking west from Winchester] I could see the low, half-wooded Downs crossed by the Roman road to Sarum and by hardly any other road. The most insistent thing there was the Farley Tower, perched on a barrow at one of the highest points, to commemorate not the unknown dead but a horse called Beware Chalkpit, who won a race in 1734 after having leaped into a chalkpit in 1733. The eastern scene was lovelier […]

– Edward Thomas, In Pursuit of Spring (1914)

 

UNDERNEATH LIES BURIED A HORSE, THE PROPERTY OF PAULET ST JOHN ESQ, THAT IN THE MONTH OF SEPTEMBER 1733 LEAPED INTO A CHALK PIT, TWENTYFIVE FEET DEEP, AFOXHUNTING WITH HIS MASTER ON HIS BACK, AND IN OCTOBER 1734 HE WON THE HUNTERS PLATE ON WORTHY DOWNS, AND WAS RODE BY HIS OWNER AND WAS ENTERED IN THE NAME OF ‘BEWARE CHALK PIT’.

– Plaque on the Farley Monument

 

It has a stillness today that hangs like

Tapestry,

Heavy with crickets and

Beyond the haze larks spinning ineffectually.

 

Names x 2…

To the glory of God / underneath lies buried / men of this parish

 

Hinting at church porch, but recalling bus shelter in fact,

The monument rises

Mad and sudden,

Sudden as a wound streaked across the fields

And he recoils, briefly to the lovelier east; he knows that

West and north of here

The madness will drill and train as north and west of here

Old invasions ran their spear through as north

And west of here

They drill, train, prepare . . .

 

The monument scores my notes,

Like a knife scores bark,

Guilty of knowing what happened next.

 

Names…in honoured memory of those who/a horse the property of  ooo . . . his master

 

His sky was full of rain, mine is airless

But England unfurls

Without shame beneath both,

As seductive as a dream of itself.

He remembers himself, realigns,

And faces west again.

 

Names….

men of this parish who gave their lives / that leapt into a chalk pit

twenty-five feet deep,  afoxhunting / lest we forget

 

He is already scooping up the panorama

Where it clings to his boot;

And always turning west with

England slipping through his fingers.

Why, for what – he was asked.

‘Literally for this’

And England trickles from his

Outstretched fist.

 

Names… gave

gave / afoxhunting with his master on his back / their lives / literally ooo for this

 

July 2012: a kestrel insists, and

Four boys wrestle their mountain bikes up to the monument

That is not for the unknown dead.

Thick stripes of mud down their calves,

Their backs, they stand for nothing

But themselves.

In a present that easily allows them.

 

Names… we forget / for this


 

From Farley Mount

From Farley Mount, Caroline Blythe

 

 

 

Nan Trodd’s Hill

 

As hills go it isn’t much

So note the black yews on the slope,

The crown, that he noted too and

The gentle rise of arable; and so

To the slighter yew-crowned rise and oaks

Of Hursley Park.

 

And note, the curving road

Confirms the half-wooded green wall

Of Nan Trodd’s Hill

Climbing like he did

Out of the deep hollow –

Pitt Village.

 

And there he glides along the

Silent road twinned with a future

Of freight and speed,

The silent road where his pale shape

Pauses but you can’t pause

Now, on the A3090.

 

Watch him go, a long-spent

Dusk whispering at his back,

While trucks and BMWs

Roar the present.

 

 

 

Busy Road, Caroline Blythe

Busy Road, Caroline Blythe

 

 

The Test

 

Thomas smelt the sea here but I smelt river,

Full and sharp. The landlocked river

Has a musk, as if it sought a mate,

Animal and keen. The Test:

Sluiced at Kimbridge

It was sucked from a deep race

Where it quivered ready to thunder

Out,

Broad,

Unforgiving

In the dazzle of its own sleek brilliance.

 

The Test flexed its muscle and currents,

Skirling at its banks ferocious and randy, to

Run its tongue round roots

And trout.

 

Then oddly, it aged,

Its power gone foetid and sly,

Its muscle turned to slab, like a river that

Wanted darkness.

 

The land-locked river wretched in its coils

Begging for melodrama in its valley,

Made the road bleak.

A wren yammering in alarm leapt

Out of my chest like an expression of horror.

 

And overhead two goldfinches sat

On a telegraph wire,

Utterly still, some feet apart,

And silent, as if stunned.

 

 

 

 

Dr Kym Martindale is a senior lecturer at Falmouth University, in English and Writing, combining a love of cycling with an interest in place and poetry. The poetry and artwork here are part of a larger project to record impressions of Thomas’s journey, and the changes in that landscape since.

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Caroline Blythe is a BA Drawing student at Falmouth University and has a degree in Geography from the University of Sussex. Caroline is interested in exploring visual ways of communicating our understanding and interpretations of landscape and place.