A hundred years this Easter, when Easter also arrived early, the poet Edward Thomas embarked upon a journey, by bicycle and foot, from his parent’s house in south London to the Quantock hills in west Somerset, the scene of the remarkable Romantic partnership between Coleridge, whom he particularly admired, and Wordsworth. A year later his account of the journey was published under the title In Pursuit of Spring, as the maelstrom of the Great War was brewing.
In Pursuit of Spring can be viewed as being the jumping off point for Thomas’s greatly admired poetry, for much of the book’s prose is on the very brink of poetry, though the developing poetic trance is frequently broken by moments of laconic humour and sojourns into human trivia. One passage late in the opening chapter transmogrifies easily into –
Meekly, by night, the north-east wind
Gives up its power to the south. Sweet
Soft days follow, when the earth,
An invalid certain of recovery, delicate
With smiles, languors and fatigues,
Discloses violets to children,
And some lovers.
It is St David’s Day.
Copses, roadside hedges, brooksides,
Possessed by myriad primroses
In thick, long-stemmed clusters,
Their green, just flower-like,
Their scent, suited to the invalid,
Strengthens the earth.
The start of the next paragraph outs him: ‘Then for most of the day it rained, and what was done under cover of that deliberate irresistible rain, only a poet can tell.’ He knew what poets can tell, but had yet to find his poetic Muse, or at least his confidence as a poet. His real journey In Pursuit of Spring is towards his poetic Muse.
Thomas’s pilgrimage took him through the Surrey hills into Hampshire, past Winchester and Salisbury, and up over Salisbury Plain, where he was serenaded by an ethereal of skylarks. On descending from the Plain he stayed with friends at the delightfully named Dillybrook Farm, which then must have epitomised the Edwardian rural idyll he loved so dearly.
This Easter you are invited to share Thomas’s In Pursuit of Spring journey on Radio 4, presented by the National Trust’s Matthew Oates, a keen follower of Thomas’s approach to the natural world. Saturday 3.30pm, the concluding programme on Easter Sunday at 2.45pm.