Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"The Glory," a Poem by Edward Thomas

I first came across Derek Walcott's work when I was a freshman in college and we read his Omeros as the final installment of a two-semester sequence on the epic. I was intrigued by Walcott's use of classical elements and by the Saint Lucian world he evokes. But my younger self was grumpy about his anti-colonialism and some perceived slights of organized religion. Moreover, I was sufficiently anti-establishment at the time to look askance at his Nobel Prize for Literature.

Nevertheless, the urge to pick up Omeros and re-read it never quite left me and so, when I saw that First Things published a kind of obituary last year, I took a look.

What surprised me was not so much that Walcott was a devotee of the poetic tradition - I had long suspected as much, even as my younger self tried to believe he was a bomb thrower - but that among American students, even those taking his class at Boston University, Walcott was largely seen as an irrelevant throwback. As Garrick Davis painfully recounts, contemporary students of poetry seem to have no ear for it, nor real interest in it.

But before I could begin silently castigating the ignoramuses pretending to study poetry in America's most prestigious schools, it occurred to me that, although I affirm the value of poetry, particularly in its more traditional forms, I actually read or recite rather little of it.

To rectify that, I'll be sharing a few poems here, beginning with one Walcott himself thought quite extraordinary, Edward Thomas's "The Glory," a meditation on the beauty of a morning and the struggle to respond to it aright:
The glory of the beauty of the morning, -
The cuckoo crying over the untouched dew;
The blackbird that has found it, and the dove
That tempts me on to something sweeter than love;
White clouds ranged even and fair as new-mown hay;
The heat, the stir, the sublime vacancy
Of sky and meadow and forest and my own heart: -
The glory invites me, yet it leaves me scorning
All I can ever do, all I can be,
Beside the lovely of motion, shape, and hue,
The happiness I fancy fit to dwell
In beauty's presence. Shall I now this day
Begin to seek as far as heaven, as hell,
Wisdom or strength to match this beauty, start
And tread the pale dust pitted with small dark drops,
In hope to find whatever it is I seek,
Hearkening to short-lived happy-seeming things
That we know naught of, in the hazel copse?
Or must I be content with discontent
As larks and swallows are perhaps with wings?
And shall I ask at the day's end once more
What beauty is, and what I can have meant
By happiness? And shall I let all go,
Glad, weary, or both? Or shall I perhaps know
That I was happy oft and oft before,
Awhile forgetting how I am fast pent,
How dreary-swift, with naught to travel to,
Is Time? I cannot bite the day to the core.
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