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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

Edward Thomas

Friday, April 14, 2006

For various convoluted reasons I won't go into now, parallel to my thesis I have being doing some archival work on the correspondence of Edward Thomas (1878-1917). Thomas's poetry is quite unique, in that it was all written in a three year span after he was prompted at the age of 36, by Robert Frost, to turn away from the popular journalistic travelogues and biographies that were his stock-in-trade to a more creative literature. It is thus possible to correlate quite closely his biographical details (helped by the fact that he kept diaries) with the development of particular poems, such that it is possible to trace through his 144 poems the evolution of his mind on an almost weekly basis. This is something historians of more copious poets such as Wordsworth long for in their painstaking reconstructions of the multivarious influences in his works.

Because they develop over such a tight, and liminal, historical period, there is a haunting effect as one reads across his canon. Poems that start off describing natural scenes and rural life of his home Wales become infected, towards the second part of his Collected Works, with the tendril impacts of the war in France. Perhaps his most famous poem, "As the Team's Head Brass" demonstrates precisely and delicately the infections of the chaos of war on the steady pace of rural existence. Written in 1916, a year later Thomas himself would be plunged into the mud of the Western Front, and his poetry becomes dense with anxiety, darkness and loss.

However, in an optimistic mood, I thought I'd quote one of his very early pieces, which opens with a genius working in rhythm and rhyme, and closes with two brilliant examples of how effective line breaks can be in controlling the velocity of poetic "narrative." It is called "After Rain":

The rain of a night and a day and a night
Stops at the light
Of this pale choked day. The peering sun
Sees what has been done.
The road under the trees has a border new
Of purple hue
Inside the border of bright thin grass:
For all that has
Been left by November of leaves is torn
From hazel and thorn
And the greater trees. Throughout the copse
No dead leaf drops
On grey grass, green moss, burnt-orange fern,
At the wind's return:
The leaflets out of the ash-tree shed
Are thinly spread
In the road, like little black fish, inlaid,
As if they played.
What hangs from the myriad branches down there
So hard and bare
Is twelve yellow apples lovely to see
On one crab-tree,
And on each twig of every tree in the dell
Crystals both dark and bright of the rain
That begins again.

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Posted by Alistair at 9:14 am


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