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Edward Thomas

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

The Glory


The glory of the beauty of the morning, -
The cuckoo crying over the untouched dew;
The blackbird that has found it, and the dove
That tempts me on to something sweeter than love;
White clouds ranged even and fair as new-mown hay;
The heat, the stir, the sublime vacancy
Of sky and meadow and forest and my own heart: -
The glory invites me, yet it leaves me scorning
All I can ever do, all I can be,
Beside the lovely of motion, shape, and hue,
The happiness I fancy fit to dwell
In beauty's presence. Shall I now this day
Begin to seek as far as heaven, as hell,
Wisdom or strength to match this beauty, start
And tread the pale dust pitted with small dark drops,
In hope to find whatever it is I seek,
Hearkening to short-lived happy-seeming things
That we know naught of, in the hazel copse?
Or must I be content with discontent
As larks and swallows are perhaps with wings?
And shall I ask at the day's end once more
What beauty is, and what I can have meant
By happiness? And shall I let all go,
Glad, weary, or both? Or shall I perhaps know
That I was happy oft and oft before,
Awhile forgetting how I am fast pent,
How dreary-swift, with naught to travel to,
Is Time? I cannot bite the day to the core.

Submitted: Wednesday, March 19, 2003

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  • Ali Hall (4/13/2006 1:03:00 PM)

    Just a few more thoughts on the poem:

    The rhyme scheme of the poem begins in a structured, orderly fashion (words like “dove” are rhymed with “love”) , but soon breaks up, as he poem descends into a “labyrinthine syntax”, “with a ghostly hint of subliminal order” (Stan Smith) . Here we see the form of the poem reflecting its meaning: the breaking up of the rhyme scheme is symbolic of Edward Thomas’ own fractured state of mind as he comprehends his own poetic failure.

    The very title of the poem seems to have religious undertones, a point affirmed by the language in the first stanza: the phrase “sublime vacancy” shows the reader how Thomas is awestruck by the Glory, but there are also definite religious connotations here. This idea is developed further into the notion of a religious quest when Thomas writes, “the dove that tempts me on to something sweeter than love”. This quotation displays the Glory in an even more mystical and obscure light, something that Edward Thomas is intent on finding, but at the same time feels he is unable to fully describe. Thomas proceeds to write: “The Glory invites me, yet it leaves me scorning all I can ever do, all I can be”. There are a number of different poetic devices being used in this extract, but the most prominent is the ambiguity of the statement: either Thomas has been left scorning his own poetic abilities, or the Glory itself has been personified, and is mocking Thomas’ own attempts at poetic description.

    We see the fragility of Thomas’ mental state when he says “The happiness I fancy fit to dwell in beauty’s presence.” Here, the word “fancy” indicates that he does not really feel this happiness, but can only imagine what it feels like to be able to fully describe the beauty of the scene. This extract introduces the reader to the notion of art being completely inferior to the power of nature: Art is completely limited, as poets, like Edward Thomas, can only use words, which can never fully describe reality. This implies that the quest, which Thomas is embarking on in the poem, is all in vain- as words can never accurately reflect the beauty of nature.

    The notion of the poem being a religious quest is elaborated upon when Thomas writes:
    “Shall I now this day begin to seek as far as heaven, as hell,
    Wisdom or strength to match this beauty”
    Here, Thomas deliberately uses enjambment, emphasising the opposites “heaven and hell”, and “Wisdom and strength”. Thomas seems to be deciding on the best vocabulary to describe the Glory, choosing between “wisdom and strength”. The word “strength” implies that Thomas would proceed with confidence in his poetic ability, an egotistic portrayal of his ability to describe nature. However, judging from the context of the whole poem, it is more likely that Thomas has attempted to use his wisdom in the description of the glory, as he is not at all assertive about his own poetic abilities, and he is generally very cautious about his method of description, a point illustrated by the repetition of the words “Shall I” and “or”, which show his own indecision and insecurity about his own skills as a poet. Thomas’ unawareness about his own method of description is highlighted when he says: “Shall I … start, and tread the pale dust pitted with dark drops, in hope to find whatever it is I seek”, here, the phrase, “whatever it is I seek” is of great importance in showing how he is daunted by the task of describing such a beautiful and momentous scene. However, the paradox of the poem is also evident in this extract: as Thomas is trying to show his personal failings as a poet, he has included a strong alliterative image describing the countryside, the onomatopoeic repetition of the “p” sounds creating the impression of falling rain in the reader’s mind. This image can also be contrasted to the description of the “untouched dew” in the second line, and so this masterly use of imagery is an example of Thomas affirming his own abilities as a great poet.

    Thomas also contemplates giving up in his quest to describe the glory:
    “Or must I be content with discontent, as larks and swallows are perhaps with wings? And shall I ask at the day’s end once more what beauty is, and what I could have meant by happiness? ”
    Here, Thomas has introduced the notion that he may have made no progress at all in his attempts to describe the glory, and he will end up asking the same questions that he was asking at the beginning of the day, suggesting that the beauty of nature may simply be an illusion, and that the “happy seeming things” of nature are only so because that is how we have chosen to see them. Thomas again reflects over the impossibility of his task, thinking that he was “happy oft and oft before”, so there is no real reason why he should continue his quest to describe the glory. However, Thomas then proceeds to describe how he is “fast pent, how dreary swift with naught to travel to is time? ” In other words he is trapped by his inability to describe the glory, and suddenly is struck by the eternal nature of time, which passes more and more slowly. The contrasting “dreary swift” description of time is typical of Thomas’ technique.

    The last line of the poem is very complex and ambiguous, and also touches on a theme which is seen in many of Edward Tomas’ other poems, including “Old Man”: the image of the Garden of Eden. When Thomas writes, “I cannot bite the day to the core”, there are two possible meanings. Firstly, he may be unable to fully express the beauty of the day, due to his own poetic failings, or, the alternative viewpoint, which employs the image of the Garden of Eden, is that Edward Thomas does not want to bite the day to the core: because when the biblical apple was bitten to the core, it brought knowledge and the harsh realisation that the world was not as prefect as it may have at first seemed, and this relates to the theme of childhood innocence contrasted against adult experience, (a common comparison in Thomas’ poems) . In “The Glory”, Thomas realises that if he were able to fully describe the glory, then he would realise that nature is perhaps not as perfect as we tend to believe, and that part of the power and beauty of nature is the fact that no one can fully grasp it, and Thomas is actually keen to hold on to this innocence at the end of the poem.

    In conclusion, though the poem appears to begin in a reasonably orderly fashion, Thomas introduces many complex concepts in “The Glory”, constantly hinting at possible wider systems of meaning, but never fully communicating his message to the reader. We see many techniques being used that we would typically associate with Thomas, such as extended use of enjambment, and the employment of varied comparisons and contrasts. The paradoxical nature of the poem is where the abilities of Thomas really shine through: it appears that he is attempting to capture his own happiness at the beginning of the poem, but then his inadequacy overwhelms him and he appears to fall into despair. However, by the conclusion of the poem, the reader realises that Edward Thomas’ poetic failings are nothing more than the subject matter of the poem, as he has written a brilliant poem which explains the impossibility of art fully desiring the beauty of nature. (Report) Reply

  • Ali Hall (4/13/2006 1:02:00 PM)

    “The Glory”, one of Edward Thomas’ most complex poems, is a work of paradoxical genius. Thomas finds himself confronted with “The glory of the beauty of the morning”, and, as he vainly attempts to describe the beauty of the situation that faces him, he is overwhelmed by his own inadequacy as a poet. The paradox of the poem though, is that in describing his own failings as a poet, because he has done so with such consummate literary skill, Thomas has actually confirmed to the reader his status as a poet with great talent and ability (Report) Reply

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