100 years ago on Easter Day the poet Edward Thomas cycled through the Quantock hills in west Somerset on the last stage of his journey In Pursuit of Spring. The weather was almost spring-like, in sharp contrast to the preceding days of his ride from London. He visited Coleridge Cottage, only he did not find the great poet and metaphysician there. Instead, he encountered the spirit of Coleridge in the lanes around Nether Stowey and on Kilve Beach, a place where Coleridge, William & Dorothy Wordsworth, Charles & Mary Lamb and latterly Shelley had all wandered and mused. Thomas too mused on Kilve Beach, which magnetically attracts poets (Virginia Woolf visited, on her honeymoon, and many living poets).
Then, Thomas ascended to Cothelstone Hill, one of the highest points of the Quantocks, where he found (or perhaps did) something rather odd: ‘By the side of the road were the first bluebells and cowslips. They were not growing there, but some child had gathered them below at Stowey or Durleigh, and then, getting tired of them, had dropped them. They were beginning to wilt, but they lay upon the grave of Winter. I was quite sure of that. Winter may rise up through mould alive with violets and primroses and daffodils, but when cowslips and bluebells have grown over his grave he cannot rise again: he is dead and rotten, and from his ashes the blossoms are springing.’
Had ‘some child’ really carried bluebells and cowslips all the way up there that day – presumably from a garden, for spring was running late, Easter had come early and cowslips and bluebells would not have been out in the Quantocks? Surely only a poet would do such a thing, and a fine one at that? Three Easters later, Edward Thomas was to lose his life on the Western Front. He lives on though, through his words – which touch chords deep within us.
In the final, emotive episode of In Pursuit of Spring Matthew Oates meets with Coleridge scholar Justin Shepherd at Coleridge Cottage and on Kilve Beach to discuss the significance of Nature poets like Coleridge and Thomas today, and to ask whether their voices continue into Now, through the poetic line.
The final readings, from the book’s concluding chapter (entitled The Grave of Winter), are by Robert Macfarlane.
- Matthew Oates is a naturalist and follower of the poetic approach to Nature. He has worked for the National Trust for over 20 years, but poetry is steadily taking him over.
- In Pursuit of Spring, a tribute to Edward Thomas (1878-1917). Radio 4. East Sunday. 2.45pm. Thereafter on iPlayer (3 episodes).