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by Edward Thomas
Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flowers of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.
This four line poem is written with an AABB rhyme scheme. Lines 1, 2, and 4 are in iambic pentameter, while line 3 contains 13 syllables.
This poem is about how nature is more likely than man to notice subtle changes. It is also a poem about the relevance of perspective. While the humans labor on the ground, in snow half-thawed, the birds higher up notice that the snow is thawing and spring is on its way.
This poem is notable for its word choices. Most of the language used is simple and evocative, however, the use of “speculating” stands out. This is a word typically reserved for people. The Speaker credits the speculating to the rooks. We can imagine them weighing and considering amongst themselves the change of the season and they are coming to a right conclusion before the people below. Their advantage is perspective. They might also have an advantage of being the ones who are actively looking.
Who is Edward Thomas?
Philip Edward Thomas (3 March 1878 – 9 April 1917) was a British writer of poetry and prose. He is sometimes considered a war poet, although few of his poems deal directly with his war experiences. He only started writing poetry at the age of 36, but by that time he had already been a prolific critic, biographer, nature writer and travel writer for two decades. In 1915, he enlisted in the British Army to fight in the First World War and was killed in action during the Battle of Arras in 1917, soon after he arrived in France.
Thomas’s poems are written in a colloquial style and frequently feature the English countryside. The short poem In Memoriam exemplifies how his poetry blends the themes of war and the countryside.
On 11 November 1985, Thomas was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey‘s Poet’s Corner. The inscription, written by fellow poet Wilfred Owen, reads: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”
Thomas was described by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes as “the father of us all.”
At least nineteen of his poems were set to music by the Gloucester composer Ivor Gurney.