As well as Dylan Thomas and R. S. Thomas, there is another poet called Thomas I like very much, and that is Edward Thomas (1878-1917). A somewhat melancholic and solitary figure, his life was cut tragically short when he was killed in action during the Battle of Arras in WWI. He scraped a living as a hack writer, producing reviews, nature essays, topographical works, even a novel - anything to earn a crust.
But his friend, the great American poet Robert Frost, encouraged him to uncover his true, literary talent - which lay in the writing of a type of unsentimental, acutely observant, rather melancholic nature poetry. His poems had a strong, posthumous influence on later English landscape and nature poets such as Ted Hughes. Thomas was a keen walker and walked through much of Southern England and Wales in his travels.
This poem, The Unknown Bird, is one of his finest poems, and one of my favourites:
The Unknown Bird
Three lovely notes he whistled, too soft to be heard
If others sang; but others never sang
In the great beech-wood all that May and June.
No one saw him: I alone could hear him:
Though many listened. Was it but four years
Ago? or five? He never came again.
Oftenest when I heard him I was alone,
Nor could I ever make another hear.
La-la-la! he called, seeming far-off -
As if a cock crowed past the edge of the world,
As if the bird or I were in a dream.
Yet that he travelled through the trees and sometimes
Neared me, was plain, though somehow distant still
He sounded. All the proof is - I told men
What I had heard.
I never knew a voice,
Man, beast or bird, better than this. I told
The naturalists; but neither had they heard
Anything like the notes that did so haunt me,
I had them clear by heart and have them still.
Four years, or five, have made no difference. Then
As now that La-la-la! was bodiless sweet:
Sad more than joyful it was, if I must say
That it was one or other, but if sad
'Twas sad only with joy too, too far off
For me to taste it. But I cannot tell
If truly never anything but fair
The days were when he sang, as now they seem.
This surely I know, that I who listened then,
Happy sometimes, sometimes suffering
A heavy body and a heavy heart,
Now straighway, if I think of it, become
Light as that bird wandering beyond my shore.
There's a hint of mysticism in this poem I find very appealing, a sense of something being just out of reach, a communion with a spirit in nature which can give momentary release from the pain and suffering of human life. This chimes in very much with the theme of my recent post A Gift From The Gods.