Monday, December 23, 2013

Edward Thomas: The Unknown Bird

I must admit I know little about Edward Thomas, except that he was a friend of Robert Frost, which definitely is a plus for him.  I was only exposed to him in the past few years because of Stephen Pentz whose blog is First Known When Lost.    His blog focuses on poetry and art that corresponds to or illuminates the poem(s) that he presents.  You can easily find his blog by checking the right side of this blog and moving down to the section that contains blogs I follow.   I would very highly recommend a visit to First Known When Lost, which happens to be the title of a poem by Edward Thomas.

I guess my way of going through a book of poetry is a bit unusual.  I can't start at page one and slowly work my way through the poems one-by-one.  Instead,  I skim through the poems, looking for one that jumps out at me.  I stop there and read it several times.  I then let it simmer in my unconscious for awhile and then go back to it.  Sometimes I can figure out why this one or that one moves me, but frequently I can't: it just grabs me.  This is the first one that jumped out at me.

The Unknown Bird

Three lovely notes he whistled, too softly to be heard
If others sang; but others never sang
In the great beech-wood all that May and June.
No one saw him: I alone could hear him
Though many listened.  Was it but four years
Ago?  or five?  He never came again.

Oftenest when I heard him I was alone,
Nor could I ever make another hear.
La-la-la! he called, seeming far-off --
As if a cock crowed past the edge of the world,
As if the bird or I were in a dream.
Yet that he traveled through the trees and sometimes
Neared me, was plain, though somehow distant still
He sounded.  All the proof is -- I told men
What I had heard.

                            I never knew a voice,
Man, beast, or bird, better than this.  I told
The naturalists; but neither had they heard
Anything like the notes that did so haunt me,
I had them clear by heart, and have them still.
Four years, or five, have made no difference.  Then
As now that La-la-la! was bodiless sweet:
Sad more than joyful it was, if I must say
That it was one or the other, but if sad
'Twas sad only with joy too, too far off
For me to taste it.   But I cannot tell
If truly anything but fair
The days were when he sang, as now they seem.
This surely I know, that I who listened then,
Happy sometimes, sometimes suffering
A heavy body and a heavy heart,
Now straightaway, if I think of it, become
Light as that bird wandering beyond my shore.

-- Edward Thomas --
The Annotated Collected Poems

"As if a cock crowed past the edge of the world,"
"Light as that bird wandering beyond my shore."

Does this suggest some sort of mystical experience? No one else could hear the bird sing, nor could any naturalist identify it.

"bodiless sweet"

There, but not there?   Insubstantial?

Perhaps it is best to forget the analysis and to simply experience and enjoy the poem.


  1. It is a wonder. Thank you so much.

  2. Anonymous,

    I'm glad you enjoyed it. Anything in particular attract you?