A Walk for Edward Thomas

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.

Mari at the Edward Thomas Memorial on top of Shoulder of Mutton Hill in Hampshire

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. 

Edward Thomas Memorial
Edward Thomas, Poet
Shoulder of Mutton Hill

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”

Alun Lewis, 2ns World War Poet

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.

Copy of a Postcard of the Whistler windows in All Saints’ Church

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? 

Further reading:

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.

15 thoughts on “A Walk for Edward Thomas

  1. Vandalism seems rife the world over.
    I’m afraid the photo is an old one. I’ve been thinking for some time that I should put up a more up-to-date one but I seldom have pix taken. However, friends send me one that they took just last year and I am going to try and extract my fellow companion and put that one up. At least it looks somewhat more like me today!

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  2. What a beautiful landscape, I can see how one would be inspired to write poetry there. Sad about the vandalism, it really is getting bad everywhere. We had a treasure hunter damage an old cemetery in Yellowstone park recently. Just terrible.

    Also, that last bit with Mr. Palmer made me so nostalgic for the time when our local PBS station used to play “As Time Goes By” and other brilliant British shows we never knew existed (Keeping Up Appearances, Vicar of Dibley, Waiting for God). I think I’ll have to go find some reruns online now! 🙂

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    1. So nice to meet another fan of “As Time Goes By”. We had a recent re-run of the complete series which I enjoyed again, pleased to be able to watch something so gentle and humourous and it held up well because it’s truths were universal. You may find quite a lot of these available on You Tube, hidden away from view.

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  3. This is lovely, Mari! Thanks so much! I’ve just come back from town where the river is flowing orange with the amount of soil that’s washed down in the heavy rain. A strange sight 🙂 🙂 I especially enjoyed Palmer’s reading of Adlestrop. Such an unromantic name for a village. I never really read any of the war poets. A tragically early ending to so many lives.

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  4. As I said, Thomas didn’t write about the war, but his poetry about the English landscape is beautiful. I don’t know why I love the war poets so much, but I do, ranging over the two world wars, the Spanish Civil War and the Vietnam war (the poetry of the latter very similar in nature to that of the poets of WW1, both I think, a shattering of innocence). I think maybe I like it because it represents such a break from what went before, a revolution in itself – and I love a good revolution!
    Your orange river sounds somewhat startling but will it damage the surroundings, or the fish in the river – if there are any? You are having very changable weather now, aren’t you. We are threatened with snow this weekend and I haven’t seen that for 8 years!

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  5. What an interesting post, Mari. How lovely to have a whole hill dedicated to Edward Thomas. Despite my youthful sojourn in Hampshire I have not heard of Shoulder of Mutton Hill. Shocked at the loss of those beautiful windows to vandalism. Philistines! Finally, the poem conjured up such a beautiful countryside image that I now feel more cheerful and relaxed! Also, I’ve loved Geoffrey Palmer since Butterflies, so nice to hear his voice again.

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  6. If you enjoyed it then I’m happy, and I’m really pleased that the reading by Geoffrey Palmer cheered you up. Sheet and Steep are very typical Hampshire villages and without Thomas they would never have been noticed. I should have added a picture of the church – it’s late Norman.

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  7. One of my favourite poets too but I’ve never (yet) visited Steep. Such a shame about those church windows – I would have loved to have seen them. I do know Adlestrop and you’ve given me an idea for a future blog post about the village and Thomas’s poem 🙂

    If you’re interested in books about him, have you read his wife Helen’s book, ‘World Without End’?

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    1. It’s so nice to meet someone else who loves poetry and Edward Thomas’s in particular. Yes, I have read “World Without End” and enjoyed it. Do you live near Petersfield? If so, I can recommend the walk to Steep even though I can no longer do it. I look forward to reading your post on Adlestorp: do link it to mine so that other people may get the connection as well.

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      1. No, I’m in London, but with staycations being on the agenda more in the immediate future we could well find ourselves down that way. I’ll have to check out the walk, but I’m not that fit myself and looks like quite a climb?

        I’ll certainly link to this post as and when I write about Adlestrop – I’ve made a note to do so 🙂

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  8. Well, yes, it is as hike. Not too far but very steep. It’s an easy walk to Steep from Petersfield which is a straight run from Waterloo.

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