In Pursuit of Spring

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Latest update 25.03.2013 11:29

To celebrate the centenary of In Pursuit of Spring and Thomas’s poetic understanding of nature, Radio 4 are presenting a series of short programmes, presented by Matthew Oates, the Trust’s specialist on nature and wildlife.

A hundred years ago this Easter the poet-writer-naturalist Edward Thomas (1878-1917) embarked upon a cycle ride from south London to the Quantock hills in West Somerset. Easter in 1913 occurred at the end of March, as it does this year, and the weather was indifferent.

The following spring Thomas published a book based on his journey, curiously entitled In Pursuit of Spring. His publisher wanted him to seek out the first signs of spring and produce a travel account, as they were popular at the time. But Thomas’s mind went considerably deeper. It may be that he did not pursue anything, rather he took winter as far away as he could, and buried it – along with all the stuff and nonsense it represents, and what it inflicts upon the human mind. At one point he hears a Chiffchaff sing, sensing ‘as if every note had been the hammering of a tiny nail into winter’s coffin.’

No one understood the tug of war relationship between spring and winter better than Thomas; not even his mentor, the great Victorian nature-writer Richard Jefferies, Swindon’s most eminent son.

At the end of In Pursuit of Spring Thomas finds a spray of bluebells and cowslips discarded along a lane by a child, and remarks: ‘They were beginning to wilt, but they lay upon the grave of Winter. I was quite sure of that. Winter may rise up through mould alive with violets and primroses and daffodils, but when cowslips and bluebells have grown over his grave he cannot rise again: he is dead and rotten, and from his ashes the blossoms are springing.’

That is some mighty metaphor.

When describing the feel of late winter in an earlier book, The South Country (1909), he muses: ‘It is not yet spring. Spring is being dreamed’.

Perhaps he suggests here that the sleeping land and dormant trees actually dream up, or even conjure up the spring. One of his poems, March, begins, ‘Now I know that Spring will come again, perhaps tomorrow’. It then describes a gigantean battle between winter’s ice and spring’s song thrushes, between the clouds and the primroses, before concluding with, ‘a silence saying that Spring returns, perhaps tomorrow.’

Although Thomas was tragically killed in the Great War he lives on through his work, mightily. Indeed, his poems are more popular now than ever, and his poems and countryside writings can help us connect deeply with nature and with Nature.

Tune in to Radio 4
This Easter, Radio 4 is a broadcasting a series of short programmes celebrating the centenary of In Pursuit of Spring and Thomas’s poetic understanding of nature. The programmes are presented by Matthew Oates, the Trust’s specialist on nature and wildlife.

The programmes will be broadcast:

  • Friday 29 March: 15.30-15.45
  • Saturday 30 March: 15.30-16.00
  • Sunday 31 March: 14.45-15.00