I can no longer walk the distances or climb the hills that would warrant inclusion in Restless Jo’s Monday Walks but looking through my photographs today I came across one of me beside the Memorial Stone to the poet, Edward Thomas, taken about 30 or more years ago, way back in the days when I walked long distances and climbed hills with abandon. It started me thinking about the poet, and the walk from Steep to the Memorial Stone, about 4 miles over bridle paths and stiles, through beautiful wooded countryside to the final stretch up a steep, chalky slope to the Stone.
The Sarsen stone and the octagonal bronze plaque designed by Professor Sir Patrick Leslie Abercrombie and erected in 1937, stands on top of the Shoulder of Mutton Hill in Hampshire. Lord Horder of Ashford Chace owned the land when the stone was erected and he dedicated the hillside in perpetuity to Edward Thomas. It is now Listed Grade II.
The plaque reads: This Hillside is Dedicated to the Memory of Edward Thomas Poet, Born in Lambeth 3rd March 1878 Killed in the Battle of Arras 9 April 1917 And I Rose up and Knew That I was Tired and Continued my Journey.
Note that the whole hillside has been dedicated to the poet.
You may know the poem Adlestrop, a poem most of us learned at school and one of Edward Thomas’s most famous poems. I’ve loved his poetry since I first read Adlestrop.
……… Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June………
It was when I began to take a deep interest in War Poetry however, that I found Thomas again, and although he didn’t write about war and his poetry as his contemporaries were doing, I felt that his experiences in the trenches influenced his poetry of the English countryside. His poetry was lyrical, was tied to his rural home and displayed a profound love of natural beauty and of the area in which he lived.
My walk to the Memorial Stone was inspired by possibly, the best known poem of one of my favourite Second World War Poets, Alan Lewis – All Day It Has Rained. It depicts the dreariness and boredom of a soldier’s life on a slow Sunday at a military training camp in Edward Thomas country mixed with foreboding about what will follow when they go overseas. I give you just the closing few lines that took me to “Sheet and Steep and up the wooded scree”
Or the shaggy patient dog who followed me
By Sheet and Steep and up the wooded scree
To the Shoulder o’ Mutton where Edward Thomas brooded long
On death and beauty – till a bullet stopped his song.
Edward Thomas was killed at the first Battle of Arras on April 9th, 1917.
The poet lived in the village of Steep (near Petersfield) at the bottom of The Shoulder of Mutton Hill and it was this landscape, the fields and the hills, that informed his poetry.
In the village of Steep stands All Saints Church in which was installed in 1978 two beautiful glass windows engraved by Sir Lawrence Whistler and dedicated to the poet. The left window depicted a road across hills bordered by yew and flowering may. The poet’s jacket hangs on a branch and his pipe and stick are beside it with landscape and sky in the background. The right hand window has one of his poems engraved on it with above it, in the mist, his house on the hill above Steep. Below this is a sequence of doors the last one opening onto a Flanders battlefield from which the sun rises and then turns into the door latch he has just closed behind him in the poem.
Sadly, in 2010 the windows were smashed in a burglary and I understand there are no plans to replace them. Indeed, how could they replace such priceless work?
Collected Poems by Edward Thomas: Published by Faber & Faber
Collected Poems by Alun Lewis: Published by Seren Books
There are many biographies about both Alun Lewis and Edward Thomas but the two I have on my bookshelves are:
Now All Roads Lead to France by Matthew Hollis, which is about the last six years of Thomas’s life. Published by Faber & Faber
Alun Lewis. A Life by John Pikoulis Published by Poetry Wales Press
Below is a reading of Adlestrop by the late Geoffrey Palmer.