Edward Thomas

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

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.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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  • Andrew Hoellering (10/20/2009 4:22:00 AM)

    One further point that illustrates both Thomas's sensitivity as a poet and his remarkable honesty.'Salted' is an apt choice of word, and Thomas is right to repeat it. While his sympathy for 'soldiers and poor' is genuine, 'rejoice' suggests his own sense of contentment which triggers feelings of guilt or bad conscience. 'Salted' thus suggests both pleasure and pain; salt as adding flavour and salt as harshness, as in rubbing salt into a wound.
    Quite brilliant. (Report) Reply

  • Andrew Hoellering (10/20/2009 1:58:00 AM)

    I admire this poem as much as Adelstrop, which is saying a great deal.
    The construction with its flow and stress on key words (e.g. hungry, cold, tired) is simple yet effective. Synonyms for these words are picked up and matched in the second stanza, and a new element, the owl's cry, is introduced.
    In the third verse, Thomas's wide reading is evident as he differs from Shakespeare regarding the significance of the owl's cry.
    In the last stanza, Thomas tells of the sobering effect of this voice, and an awareness of those less fortunate than himself. (Report) Reply

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