Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Edward Thomas and the Tywi Valley

Several years ago I bought Edward Thomas' book "Wales".  Imagine my surprise when reading, "And I have been to Abertillery, Pontypool, Caerleon, infernal Landore . . . . etc - and then "Nantgaredig".  I did a double take. Amongst all the poetical Welsh place names - Myddfai, Llanddeusant, Llanddewi Brefi, Cil-y-Cwm - there was Nantgaredig.  WHAT was it doing there?  WHY did he mention it, for as it stands now it is just where the school is and the train station was and most people drive through it unless they live in Station Road.  I pondered and then, when I was researching something else in our parish, my eye was drawn to the name Marendaz - Edward Thomas had Marendaz ancestors . . .  The lady in the gravestone above (in Llanegwad churchyard), lived in the village for most of her life.  She was down, aged 11, in the 1881 census.  She was born in London, but her father was a Swansea man, and from what I deduced, he had married a Tywi Valley lass, who must have been working in Swansea.  From what I remember, she died when Sarah Anne (put down simply as Ann Marendaz in the 1871 census) was very small and so the little girl went back to her maternal family roots.  Nantgaredig was the station he would have left the train to walk the tracks across the fields to Llanegwad, to visit his Marendaz relative . . .

This ancient mounting block and equally ancient warty old tree beside it would definitely have been familiar to him, as would the cottage below when it was in its prime:

He would certainly have known Y Plas, which we tried to buy for my mum.  When we viewed it the half timbering inside had every beam painted a different colour gloss, and there was someone dossing in the bedroom, but the original cloam fireplaces were still there from more than a century earlier.  Now it is modernized, the beams covered in plaster and the clay fireplaces have long gone.

Dryslwyn Castle, dreaming across the fields.  

He and Helen had spoken of moving to Wales - had he survived the war, perhaps they may have settled in the Tywi valley he knew and loved . . .

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The centenary of Edward Thomas's death

Blossom on the Damson tree; a clamour of birdsong; a trembling of Cowslips on a sunny bank; a blue mist of Bluebells deepening on the steep hillside.  So will I remember the centenary of the death of Edward Thomas, who knew and loved the Towy Valley well and perhaps may have moved here with his family as he wanted to, had the war not intervened.  For countryside such as this he gave his life . . .

Saturday, 1 April 2017

3th March 1917 - Letter from Edward Thomas to Eleanor Farjeon

Please forgive the extreme tardiness of my posts on here.  At the moment thoughts on ET are uppermost again as I research a talk I have been asked to give on the Dymock Poets and his involvement in them.

As this is the centenary of his death, I thought it would be appropriate to remember him in a number of posts:

30th March 1917 - Edward Thomas to Eleanor Farjeon:

"My dear Eleanor, Another penultimate letter before I shall be unable to write from press of work.  And first I must thank you for sending the apples and also for the apples themselves, which arrive today.

It was a good post, a parcel also from Mother and letters from Helen and Mother - there was one from you yesterday which I believe I must have answered.  I have just looked at your letter again and I see you ask if I prefer things that can't be pooled.  Perhaps I do, but perhaps I had better not.  Everything is useful, and will be especially in the time to come when I have to take up food for perhaps considerably over 24 hours and pig it in noise and darkness and worse.  Subalterns are told nothing but I happen to know what is intended, only not what difference this rain may make.  I say this rain, but a most lovely cold bright evening, clear and still, has just passed, with many blackbirds singing.  I fancy though that the Easter weather is not really beginning yet.  I wish it was. I should welcome a warm night.  Tomorrow I rather fear I shall have nowhere at all to shelter in, and no fire.

But nothing is so hard as the days of hanging about seeing that the men work like the one I had a day ago.

You will hear soon enough about what is doing, before I can tell you.

We have got a stray dog here, a big hairy brindled old thing, who likes us well and the fire too and stays in most of the time.  Horton gives him bars of chocolate and often remarks that he's a lovely creature.

The town is catching it badly now and we are well away - touch wood - although we aren't in a paradise or the bagpipes wouldn't have played what they did last night.  The crossings and corners are dirty places.  But the Hun must be confounded with our numbers, though you might think he couldn't fire without hurting more than the open fields.  Luckily he often does.  He bangs away at one part (of ?) the beautiful grass and we can feel safe in another not far off.  It isn't nice, though, going up in the cold dawn.  If only one could keep warm without being burdened with clothes and all sorts of ornaments - glasses, maps, waterbottles, haversacks, gas-helmets, periscopes etc., so that a trenchcoat isn't wide enough, and if you have to throw yourself down you feel like an old woman home from marketing and still more so when you get up - while you on shore and a great many more are sleeping warm and dry-oh.  Don't forget your old houseboat mate, Fol-de-rol-de-riddle-fol-de-rol-de-ri-do.  Who is ever yours, Edward Thomas."

This latter fragment of sea-shanty was to remind Eleanor of a houseboat party in the summer of 1913, and says something of the pressure Edward and his batallion were under with a battle in the offing, and where his guard was briefly down, so that he tried to lighten his mood.  Perhaps he had an inkling that they might be the last words he wrote to Eleanor, just as she had to accept they were just a short while later (he was to die in the Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917).