Sunday, June 8, 2014

Edward Thomas: First Known When Lost

The title of this poem provided the name for Stephen Pentz'  blog,  "First Known When Lost."  I recommend that you visit it, if you haven't already discovered it.  It's listed in my blog list in the column to the right.  A click will get you quickly there.  It was Stephen who first introduced me to Edward Thomas' poetry in any sustained way.  Thank you.

First known when lost

 I never had noticed it until
'Twas gone, --the narrow copse
Where now the woodman lops
The last of the willows with his bill.

I was not mre than a hedge overgrown.
One meadow's beadth away
I passed it day by day.
Now the soil is bare as a bone,

And black betwixt two meadows green,
Though fresh-cut faggot ends
Of hazel make some amends
With a gleam as if flowers they had been.

Strange it could have hidden so near!
And now I see as I look
That the small winding brook,
A tributary's tributary, rises there.

-- Edward Thomas --
Edward Thomas:  The Annotated Collected Poems
Edited by Edna Longley 

There seems a touch of irony here for he discovers two things.  The first is the copse that he never noticed until it was gone, and now its absence allows him to discover the source of that small winding brook.  

"A tributary's tributary". 

A "tributary" can be a small river or stream or brook that flows into another river, but not into a sea or ocean.  Perhaps this tells us that the brook flows into another stream that is also a tributary of another.  A "tributary" can also mean  paying something to another to acknowledge submission, to obtain protection, or to purchase peace.    I wonder if Thomas is being ambiguous here. 


  1. I think of Robert Frost (especially his poem The Road Not Taken) when I read Thomas's poem and your commentary.

    And ambiguity -- it seems to me -- is an important ingredient in most poetry. Options for "meanings" allow for more different readings. This is essential in a "good" poem.

  2. RT,

    Yes, ambiguity is frequently an ingredient in poetry. Frost has his own unique way of introducing it. His poems are fairly straightforward throughout and I figure I've got a handle on it, and then in the last stanza or even the last two lines, he introduces something that questions everything that's gone before.

    Thomas, who apparently was a friend of Frost, in the few poems I've read of his, does similar things. And I so far also am reminded of Frost when I read something by Thomas.