Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, April 14, 2005


English writer Edward Thomas (1878 - 1917) made his living as a book critic and only starting writing poetry in his 30s. Robert Frost was his friend. He enlisted to fight what we now call the First World War and was killed in battle.

I set this poem to a slow stoic tune in 3/4; none of the stanzas repeat exactly, though the first, second, and fourth are similar. I used to know a man who read Sappho in the original Greek who argued that her poems were syntactically too dense and complex to have been sung, and that the idea of her poems being “sung” was a metaphor. Thomas’s poem has a lot of clauses and semi-colons, yet I like to think I sing it fine.

I think of it as a sequel to J. M. Synge’s “Prelude,” which I posted last night; “The Owl” describes the aftermath of the hike, for the solvent traveler. Thomas addresses solvency. He also alludes to a song from Love’s Labour Lost in which Shakespeare -- sarcastically, I think -- calls an owl’s cry “a merry note.” Thomas is arguing with Shakespeare as he takes his rest after his walk.

Here is The Owl:

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl's cry, a most melancholy cry

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.

And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird's voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.
Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?