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The South Country by Edward Thomas

The South Country

by Edward Thomas

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Edward Thomas is now mostly remembered as a poet, or more specifically as a 'war poet', but before turning to poetry in 1914 Edward Thomas was mainly active as a writer of non-fictional prose. He is the author of a single novel. His main output consists in essays describing the natural history and country life in south and south-west England and Wales around the turn of the century. These essays were collected and published in beautifully illustrated volumes, such as about Oxford (1903), Beautiful Wales (1905), The Heart of England (1906) and The south country (1909). He also wrote biographies and critical sudies, e.g. about Algernon Charles Swinburne, George Borrow and Walter Pater. In fact, The south country was written alongside and published in the same year as Edward Thomas's biography on Richard Jefferies, His Life and Work (1909). Edward Thomas admired Richard Jefferies and The south country is at least indebted to his predeccessor in the choice of the title, which resembles Jefferies' Wild Life in a Southern County, published in 1879.

The south country consists of 16 essays about the countryside in England. The language in these essays is heavily-laden with poetic references, and beautiful descriptions. It shows the earliest attempts of Edward Thomas at developing a feel for the beauty of words. He often muses on the poetic quality of place names in the English countryside. The essays are of somewhat uneven quality, and elaborate descriptions force to slow and careful reading. The later essays seem to be lighter in tone than the earlier essays. The poetic quality of the first six essays seems a bit too heavy, very rich and complex. They also contain various philosophical thoughts of the author, or observations he made on his wanderings. The next three essays broaden the view to include descriptions of people, but some of these descriptions appear a bit too heavy-handed. However, from the tenth essay, "Summer - Sussex" the author manages a light, airy style describing various characters in the countryside, while both describing people and nature in a more balanced, and pleasant way.

These essays describe nature in southwest England in a beautiful way, and give readers a glimpse of life in the countryside that was very soon to alter and disappear. Besides the poetic descriptions of nature, Edward Thomas offers up gorgeous characterizations of the people he met in the villages and hamlets he passed through, such as in "Going Westward" where he describes "a thick, bent, knotty man" (...); "merely to look at him is to see a man five generations thick, so to speak, and neither Nature nor the trumpery of modern man can easily disturb a human character of that density." (p. 215-6).

The south country is illustrated with wood engravings by Eric Fitch Daglish.

As Wild Life in a Southern County inspired Edward Thomas to write The south country, thus, readers who enjoyed reading The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (2013) by Robert Macfarlane to look back at the work by Edward Thomas. For although the times, and the people change, we are still blessed with the richness and beauty of the countryside, to which we can turn for eternal inspiration. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Feb 28, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0956254519, Paperback)

Acutely sensitive to rhythms of the countryside, Edward Thomas's lyrical, passionate, and sometimes political writing merges natural history with folk culture, and gives us a free-form record of the feelings and observations of one of the great poets of the English language. First published 1909 by J.M. Dent & Sons

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:54 -0400)

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