Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: all roads lead to france, edward thomas, justice and peace, matthew hollis, nature writing, poetry, reading, response to war, summer reading
I’m immensely grateful for some extra space this summer. The years at St Gabriel’s have been wonderful, but now that I have paused, I realise how exhausted I am. It is a real gift to have some time to recover energy, to reconnect with the creative springs, to think and ponder, and to spend time with my family, especially as Meenakshi prepares for her year in Cambodia soon. In these days of heat I find myself in a comfortable chair in the garden.
I am more than usually aware as I do this of the luxury that this involves. The news has been unremittingly grim in the past weeks with day after day of appalling bloodshed in Gaza, in Iraq and Syria, in the Ukraine; with persecution and terrorism; health disasters. I try to work out what I can do about this, beyond registering my opposition to it all, praying hard, seeking to be more and more deeply a peacemaker and person of peace, working on what I can do and be in this small part of the world where I live.
One of the books I am reading at the moment is Matthew Hollis’ Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas. This is a very good book which I really recommend. It traces the final years of Edward Thomas’ life as he becomes a poet and grapples with his response to the great slaughter that was the First World War. It is about love of the land:
‘Every man who was ever any good had a little apple-face man or woman like this somewhere not very far back in his pedigree,’ wrote Thomas in his 1913 book ‘The Country’; someone who stood, like the badger of the coombe, as that most ancient of Britons. ‘He has been in England as long as dove and daw.’
I am aware though of the need to read and live this love of our land with a committed internationalism, a love of the city, and a deeply rooted commitment to peace and justice for all God’s people.
It was just over a hundred years ago that Thomas was on a train that paused at Adlestrop and wrote in his journal:
Then we stopped at Adlestrop, through the willows cd be heard a chain of blackbirds’ songs at 12.45 and one thrush and no man seen, only a hiss of engine letting off steam…
This became his most loved poem:
Yes. I remember Adlestrop –
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
Yet, as he wrote this, a cataclysmic war was brewing that sucked him in.
What do these connections mean for me as I sit and read and think?
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