The South Country

The last of the Edward Thomas nature books for now, The South Country, has just been posted on Project Gutenberg.

Like The Heart of England, this is not a record of a particular journey, but a series of impressions of, broadly, the area of the Downs.

As with previous books, some of this is rather heavy-going: there are a lot of descriptive passages where Thomas seems determined to identify every dog’s mercury and clematis in sight, but there are some touching portraits of some of the countryside’s wandering folk.

Every so often he breaks out into a lengthy philosophical excursion:

Stay, traveller, says the dark tower on the hill, and tread softly because your way is over men’s dreams; but not too long; and now descend to the west as fast as feet can carry you, and follow your own dream, and that also shall in course of time lie under men’s feet; for there is no going so sweet as upon the old dreams of men.

The nature descriptions are sometimes similarly bold:

The green fire of the larch woods is yellow at the crest. There and in oak and ash the missel thrush is an embodiment of the north wind, summing it up in the boldness of his form and singing, as a coat of arms sums up a history. Mounted on the plume of the top of the tall fir, and waving with it, he sings of adventure, and puts a spirit into those who pass under and adds a mile to their pace.

the turtle-doves whose voices, in the soft lulls after rain, make the earth seem to lie out sleek in the sun, stretching itself to purr with eyes closed.

One evening the first chafer comes to the lamp, and his booming makes the ears tremble with dim apprehension. He climbs, six-legged and slow, up the curtain, supporting himself now and then by unfurling his wings, or if not he falls with a drunken moan, then begins to climb again, and at last blunders about the room like a ball that must strike something, the white ceiling, the white paper, the lamp, and when he falls he rests. In his painful climbing he looks human, as perhaps a man looks angelic to an angel; but there is nothing lovelier and more surprising than the unfurling of his pinions like a magic wind-blown cloak out of that hard mail.

And towards the end, for no particular reason, we have some splendid appreciation of the ballad tradition:

What a poet, too, was he who put that touch into “Bewick and Grahame,” where the father throws down his glove as a challenge to his son and the son stoops to pick it up, and says–

“O father, put on your glove again,

The wind hath blown it from your hand.”

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