Sunday, 2 March 2008

The Dymock Poets

I don’t sleep well – certainly not when I have things on my mind. Then I lie awake, trying to get back to sleep, and the more I try, the more sleep evades me. My mind begins rushing around like an ill-disciplined puppy – I imagine a Jack Russell, for some reason – rushing here and there, bring back words and ideas and information like sticks for me to throw. In the middle of this night, this long, cow-coughing, wind-sighing, black-as-molasses night, it brought me a list of jobs to do. I ignored them. It bought me yew trees: I saw memories of yew trees dark, branches dancing in the breeze, a childhood book, the bleeding yew trees of Nevern, a friend sitting inside a vast yew tree at Much Marcle. The puppy got very excited then, yapping Robert Frost, and Edward Thomas, and Rupert Brooke and bringing me a huge stick with Dymock Poets written on it. Of course, sleep has now been abandoned for the night, and I have that old urge to learn, to satiate a desire to fill in the bigger picture between these names whose poetry means so much to me.

An “Access” course in English Literature which I did in 1995 introduced me, amongst other things, to the work of various poets, from Wordsworth and Keats, and culminating in the WW1 poets – though they were never called the Dymock Poets. This I only discovered recently – mentioned by my friend who took me to Much Marcle, and then on a Radio 4 programme.

The thought of a colony of poets roaming the landscape of a quiet corner of Gloucestershire, where they must have seemed very Bohemian indeed to the locals, intrigues me. They were only there a short time – arriving around 1911 and breaking up in 1914 at the start of WW1. Poet and playwright Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfrid Gibson and American poet Robert Frost formed the core, with visits from Rupert Brooke, John Drinkwater, Eleanor Farjeon and Edward Thomas. Eleanor Farjeon had a close friendship with Edward Thomas, despite his marriage. The group were doomed never to reform – Rupert Brooke died from septicaemia in 1915 (strangely enough, like Lord Caernarvon, from an infected mosquito bite), and Edward Thomas was killed in action at Arras in 1917. These two were also known as the Georgian poets, along with Masefield, Sassoon, Masefield, Andrew Young, Robert Graves, Walter de la Mare and others.

They published their own poetry magazine, New Numbers, the first issue was dated February 1914; Gibson published two volumes of poetry early in 1914 – Fires and Borderlands. Edward Thomas published his book In Pursuit of Spring in April the same year. Originally a prose writer, Robert Frost encouraged Edward Thomas to write poetry instead, and his own book of poems, North of Boston, was published in May that year. A second issue of New Numbers was brought out in April, and a third in the August of 1914. By the end of the year, Rupert Brooke was serving his country at War. Drinkwater and Abercrombie were involved in writing and producing plays and Drinkwater’s poetry was published – a book called Swords and Ploughshares – in 1915. The issues of New Numbers (there were only ever 4), were posted out from the tiny village post office at Dymock.

This poem from Wilfrid Gibson (who I believe lived in the cottage called the Old Nail Shop), is a very fitting end to this Dymock meander and to their time together: the cosy cream washed living room
Of the Old Nail Shop, we all talked and laughed -
We sat there in the lamplight, while the day
Died from rose-latticed casements, and the plovers
Called over the low meadows, till the owls
Answered them from the elms, we sat and talked...
'Twas in July
On nineteen fourteen that we talked
Then August brought the war and scattered us.
The figures dissolve. The echoes die away. Ou sont les neiges d'antan? Now the Dymock daffodils, albeit thinner ranked than of yore, nod sagely silent in the breeze, a little fugitive sunlight warms the young bones of a new spring's generation...the lambs skip, the guns are spiked, old tragedies lie crumbling below encrusting coats of tear-absorbing moss.

An excellent link is:

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