"Ponderynge together yestardayes promise, and two-dayes doyng"
(Hall's Chronicle - 1548)


"Goronigl gwyr yr Ynys" (Lewis Glyn Cothi - 1450)

A Language Not To Be Betrayed


Edward Thomas (1878-1917)


Commenting on Adam Sargant's blog ANIMYSTIC on the adequacy of language to capture 'reality', I was reminded of a line from a poem by Edward Thomas and have since been moved to go back and read it again. Thomas endorses the view that things are hidden from us but suggests that it is sometimes possible to transcend the barrier and see things as they are. In one sense this is a classic piece of nature mysticism. He is suddenly blessed with the feeling that he is part of everything and can tap in to all the other life forms and share the world with them in language as well as in fact. That is, relationship becomes possible. 

Here is the poem:

I Never Saw That Land Before

I never saw that land before, 
And now can never see it again; 
Yet, as if by acquaintance hoar 
Endeared, by gladness and by pain, 
Great was the affection that I bore 

To the valley and the river small, 
The cattle, the grass, the bare ash trees, 
The chickens from the farmsteads, all 
Elm-hidden, and the tributaries
Descending at equal interval; 

The blackthorns down along the brook 
With wounds yellow as crocuses 
Where yesterday the labourer's hook 
Had sliced them cleanly; and the breeze 
That hinted all and nothing spoke. 

I neither expected anything
Nor yet remembered: but some goal 
I touched then; and if I could sing 
What would not even whisper my soul 
As I went on my journeying, 

I should use, as the trees and birds did, 
A language not to be betrayed;
And what was hid should still be hid 
Excepting from those like me made 
Who answer when such whispers bid.

I love the way this poem evokes a very specific, though not idealised, landscape as the poet walks through it noticing every detail and sets this down using the rhymed stanzas not to constrain but to capture the intricacies of his thoughts as he goes on. And that last verse, the second line of which I had remembered and quoted, culminating in those whispers which only "those like me" respond to. He is not, I think, claiming any superiority here so much as the willingness to reply to the whispers, which is certain to be rarer even than hearing them.