Week 500: The Sun Used To Shine, by Edward Thomas

Well, I seem to have made it to week 500: my thanks to all those who have encouraged and assisted me on the way. Having just turned seventy-eight I can’t absolutely guarantee that I’ll make it through the next ten years to week 1000 but I’ll do my best.For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,/Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green’.

I started in week one with the poet I love best, Edward Thomas, so it seems fitting to mark this optimistically putative halfway point with another of his. This one, written in the spring of 1916, is a deeply wistful recollection of the evening walks he took with Robert Frost in the fields around Dymock during the great summer of their friendship, 1914, and shows him becoming the master of a relaxed, conversational style, able to take in its stride enjambements and potentially awkward rhymes. It also shows that equilibrium I like so much in his work: how, although a very self-orientated poet concerned, reasonably enough, with his own moods and desires, he always has time too for the otherness of the world. That ‘yellow flavorous coat/Of an apple wasps had undermined’, for example – I suppose it might be possible to devise some symbolic role for this in the poem, but I think it is there simply because he took a quiet pleasure in such things for their own sake and liked to give them their due, just as he does to the betony, a common enough wild flower with its stiff reddish spike, renowned in herbal medicine but up to that point little celebrated in verse. But best of all in this poem I like the closing lines, with their aching sense of the transience of all things, even memory, balanced by the consoling thought that for others at least friendship, love and the beauty of the earth will go on.

The Sun Used to Shine

The sun used to shine while we two walked
Slowly together, paused and started
Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked
As either pleased, and cheerfully parted

Each night. We never disagreed
Which gate to rest on. The to be
And the late past we gave small heed.
We turned from men or poetry

To rumours of the war remote
Only till both stood disinclined
For aught but the yellow flavorous coat
Of an apple wasps had undermined;

Or a sentry of dark betonies,
The stateliest of small flowers on earth,
At the forest verge; or crocuses
Pale purple as if they had their birth

In sunless Hades fields. The war
Came back to mind with the moonrise
Which soldiers in the east afar
Beheld then. Nevertheless, our eyes

Could as well imagine the Crusades
Or Caesar’s battles. Everything
To faintness like those rumours fades –
Like the brook’s water glittering

Under the moonlight – like those walks
Now – like us two that took them, and
The fallen apples, all the talks
And silences – like memory’s sand

When the tide covers it late or soon,
And other men through other flowers
In those fields under the same moon
Go talking and have easy hours.

Edward Thomas 


5 thoughts on “Week 500: The Sun Used To Shine, by Edward Thomas

  1. Hi David, congratulations on your 500th post! I’ve greatly enjoyed dipping into your posts over the last year or so. You’ve led me down a variety of poetic paths, some grassy and wanting wear, some with leaves no step had trodden black, and some with signs in strange tongues. Regards, Chris.

    • Thanks for that, Chris, and also for your keen eye for typos and your elucidation of obscure words here and there. I have myself become wary of making too many assumptions about people’s vocabulary, ever since I started to explain the term ‘ambient temperature’ to my six year old grandson and he fixed me with a look of withering contempt and said ‘I KNOW what ambient temperature means’, so it’s better coming from you!

  2. For one of Frost’s views of their friendship see “Iris by Night” (Week 436). And there’s this quote from one of Frost’s letters: “He more than anyone else was accessory to what I had done and was doing. We were together to the exclusion of every other person and interest all through 1914 – 1914 was our year. I never had, I never shall have another such year of friendship”.

  3. “soldiers in the east” – soldiers on the battlefields in France. “like memory’s sand / When …” – like memory is sand when … ? (I initially tried to read it as the possessive but that can’t be right?)

    • No, your initial reading is correct: “memory’s” is indeed possessive. You may be getting confused by all the parenthetical dashes, but ignore those and just read ‘Everything to faintness fades/Like memory’s sand/When the tide covers it late or soon’ and it should all become clear: the image is one of time erasing memory as imprints in the sand are erased by the incoming tide.

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