Edward Thomas

(3 March 1878 - 9 April 1917 / London / England)

Old Man


Old Man, or Lads-Love, - in the name there's nothing
To one that knows not Lads-Love, or Old Man,
The hoar green feathery herb, almost a tree,
Growing with rosemary and lavender.
Even to one that knows it well, the names
Half decorate, half perplex, the thing it is:
At least, what that is clings not to the names
In spite of time. And yet I like the names.

The herb itself I like not, but for certain
I love it, as someday the child will love it
Who plucks a feather from the door-side bush
Whenever she goes in or out of the house.
Often she waits there, snipping the tips and shrivelling
The shreds at last on to the path,
Thinking perhaps of nothing, till she sniffs
Her fingers and runs off. The bush is still
But half as tall as she, 'though it is as old;
So well she clips it. Not a word she says;
And I ca only wonder how much hereafter
She will remember, with that bitter scent,
Of garden rows, and ancient damson trees
Topping a hedge, a bent path to a door
A low thick bush beside the door, and me
Forbidding her to pick.
As for myself,
Where first I met the bitter scent is lost.
I, too, often shrivel the grey shreds,
Sniff them and think and sniff again and try
Once more to think what it is I am remembering,
Always in vain. I cannot like the scent,
Yet I would rather give up others more sweet,
With no meaning, than this bitter one.
I have mislaid the key. I sniff the spray
And think of nothing; I see and I hear nothing;
Yet seem, too, to be listening, lying in wait
For what I should, yet never can, remember;
No garden appears, no path, no hoar-green bush
Of Lad's-love, or Old Man, no child beside,
Neither father nor mother, nor any playmate;
Only an avenue, dark, nameless, without end

Submitted: Sunday, March 23, 2003
Edited: Monday, April 16, 2012

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  • Paul Timbrell (1/28/2006 12:38:00 PM)

    This lovely poem becomes particularly memorable when you know the scent of the aromatic plant. I cannot smell the plant without remembering the poem. In the 1960s, when I was in college in Cheltenham (UK) , our usual English lecturer was ill and a retired teacher took his place. The elderly gentleman chose to study the poem with us and, as we concluded, reached into his pocket and produced a sprig of Old Man, plucked from his own garden that morning. The twig was passed around for us to experience its scent and, as we sniffed it, the lecturer explained that, when he was a young man, he and Edward Thomas had been close friends. The artemisia plant in his garden, the fronds of which we were savouring, had been propagated from the very bush about which Thomas writes in his poem. (Report) Reply

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