Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The Heavenly Beauty of Earthly Things

Dear Mike,

More havoc for your collection, from Edward Thomas's 'The South Country' (1909), a chapter ironically entitled 'An Adventurer', which describes the beleaguered life of an old man of Surrey as he sees the land his father farmed being steadily engulfed by the suburbs of London in the first decade of the last century.
"The scaffold-poles, the harsh blocks of stone, the rasping piles of bricks, the scores of cold earthenware and iron articles belonging to the rows of villas about to replace the old houses, looked more like ruin than preparation as they lay stark and hideous among the misty grass and still blue elms. There were days when the thrushes still sang well among the rioting undisturbed shrubberies. But soon men felled the elms and drove away their shadows for ever, and all that dwelled or could be imagined therein. No more would the trees be enchanted by the drunken early songs of blackbirds. The heavenly beauty of earthly things went away upon the timber carriages and was stamped with mud. The butts of the trees were used to decorate the gardens of the new houses. Two, indeed, were spared by some one's folly, and a main bough fell in the night and crushed through a whole fortnight's brickwork.

Those elms had come unconsciously to be part of the real religion of men in that neighbourhood, and certainly of that old man. Their cool green voices as they swayed, their masses motionless against the evening or the summer storms, created a sense of pomp and awe. They gave mystic invitations that stirred his blood if not his slowly working humble brain, and helped to build and to keep firm that sanctuary of beauty to which we must be able to retire if we are to be more than eaters and drinkers and newspaper readers. When they were gone he wondered, still humbly, what would do their work in the minds of the newcomers. Looking at the features of the younger people, held in a vice of reserve or pallidly leering, and hearing the snarl of their voices, he was not surprised. They had not been given a chance. How could they have the ease, the state, the kindliness of the old inhabitants? They had no gods, only a brand-new Gothic church. Often they supported this or that new movement, or bought a brave new book, but they continued to sneer timidly or brutally at everything else. They were satisfied with a little safe departure from the common way, some mental or spiritual equivalent to the door-knocker of imitation hammered copper. They did not care very much for trees though they planted them in every street, where the grammar-school boys and errand-boys mutilated them one by one in the dark; they cut off the heads of a score of tall poplars, lest perchance the west wind should one day do the same thing when one of the million was passing below."
The South Country (1909) London: J. M. Dent pp. 64-5


Eric Thomson

Frontispiece of Edward Thomas, The South Country

Related posts: Apollo Karneios and the Cornel-Trees; Pitiful Destruction; Enemy of Orchards; Arboricide and Matricide; The Sacrilegious Axe; Arboricide on the Wayne Ranch; The Woods of Bachycraigh; Papadendrion; Papadendrion Again; A Bewilderment of Birds; Ancient Protests Against Deforestation; Illustrations of Erysichthon; Prayer and Sacrifice to Accompany Tree Cutting; A Spirit Protects the Trees; St. Martin and the Pine Tree; The Geismar Oak; Bregalad's Lament; Petition of a Poplar; Cactus Ed and Arboricide; Views from the Center of Highgate Wood; Artaxerxes and Arboricide; When the Last Tree Falls; The Hamadryads of George Lane; Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; Like Another Erysichthon; The Fate of Old Trees; Scandalous Misuse of the Globe; The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Hornbeams; Protection of Sacred Groves; Lex Luci Spoletina; Turullius and the Grove of Asclepius; Caesarian Section; Death of a Noble Pine; Two Yew Trees in Chilthorne, Somerset; The Fate of the Shrubbery at Weston; The Trees Are Down; Hornbeams; Sad Ravages in the Woods; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.


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