Saturday, January 8, 2011

Frost, DESERT PLACES; Edward Thomas, 13.1.17

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it - it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is, that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less -
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars - on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

The sorrow of true love is a great sorrow
And true love parting blackens a bright morrow;
Yet almost they equal joys, since their despair
Is but hope blinded by its tears, and clear
Above the storm the heavens wait to be seen.
But greater sorrow from less love has been
That can mistake lack of despair for hope
And knows not tempest and the perfect scope
Of summer, but a frozen drizzzle perpetual
Of drops that from remorse and pity fall
And cannot ever shine in the sun or thaw,
Removed eternally from the sun's law.

That was Thomas's last poem (or at least the last one we have) before he was killed by an artillary shell blast at the Battle of Arras. It is numbered #144 in THE COLLECTED POEMS AND WAR DIARY, 1917 (Faber and Faber, 2004).

Edward Thomas was Robert Frost's best friend. Frost mourned him all of his life, much as Henry James mourned the death of his friend, Robert Louis Stevenson.