Lockdown Poetry: Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas, ‘The Mill-Pond’

The sun blazed while the thunder yet
Added a boom:
A wagtail flickered bright over
The mill-pond’s gloom:

Less than the cooing in the alder
Isles of the pool
Sounded the thunder through that plunge
Of waters cool.

Scared starlings on the aspen tip
Past the black mill
Outchattered the stream and the next roar
Far on the hill.

As my feet dangling teased the foam
That slid below
A girl came out. ‘Take care!’ she said—
Ages ago.

She startled me, standing quite close
Dressed all in white:
Ages ago I was angry till
She passed from sight.

Then the storm burst, and as I crouched
To shelter, how
Beautiful and kind, too, she seemed,
As she does now!

(1917)

Prior to serving and dying as a soldier in France in 1917, Edward Thomas lived in Petersfield, to the north of Portsmouth. He wrote this poem in 1917 while remembering his walks by the local mill stream where, one day, he had an unexpected encounter with a girl. My daily lockdown walks sometimes take me to the mill ponds. Leaving the main road we walk down the lane, through the snicket by some ancient cottages and to the side of the mill-pond. The pond is at the bend in the river, darkened by tall trees on the banks. In summer, you can swim and picnic here but now we walk quickly up the bank and on to the fields. Following in his tracks, with this poem in mind, I share his appreciation of the peacefulness and subtle beauty of our natural environment. We find ourselves, just over 100 years later, in a world that has been suddenly quietened, I like to think, to one that would have seemed familiar to Thomas. Reading the poem today in the time of COVID, I reflect, as did Thomas, on the empathy we find even in seeming solitude, and the small kindnesses offered by strangers who we happen to meet in our purposeful isolation.

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