Edward Thomas: The Sheiling
By Contributor Christopher Martin
Written by Edward Thomas on 23rd November 1916, just before setting off for the war in France, The Sheiling is one of Edward’s last poems. It is named after the house in Silverdale, near Carnforth, in Lancashire, the home of his poet and dramatist friend Gordon Bottomley. A sheiling is a remote building, typically in the Highlands of Scotland, an outpost, a fastness in the wilds. Thomas depicts it as part of the stony landscape:
It stands alone
Up in a land of stone
And worn like ancient stairs
A land of rocks and trees
Nourished on wind and stone.
It is a sheltered vantage point for Bottomley, who is often confined there by his ‘delicate’ health, and the place is:
By arts and kindliness
Coloured, sweetened, and warmed…
Thomas admired the commanding view, and the wildness: ‘the wild air’, ‘the travelling air’ and the trees that are ‘Nourished on wind and stone’. All these elements, Thomas suggests, encourage the poet or artist’s vision.
Thomas and Bottomley corresponded between 1902 and 1917, and though they met together infrequently, the many surviving letters Edward sent to Gordon Bottomley, show his fine-tuned critical intelligence as regards poetry, as he moved towards becoming poet himself. He had written favourably in print of Robert Frost’s early poetry, and Frost, soon a friend, was instrumental in that becoming, and would be, like Bottomley, a trusted sounding board for Thomas.
In the last verse of The Sheiling, Thomas pays affectionate tribute to Bottomley, the word ‘kind’ echoing down from the second verse:
One maker’s mind
Made both, and the house is kind
To the land that gave it peace,
And the stone has taken the house
To its cold heart and is kind. (1)
Christopher Martin is a regular contributor to the England Remembered Blog – read his earlier post on Edward Thomas ‘A Poet in the Artists’ Rifles’ here
His poem ‘Against Darkness’ is paired with Isaac Rosenberg’s ‘Returning We Hear the Larks’ in the England Remembered Book (this will be featured in a future post).
Christopher worked as a librarian at Portsmouth College of Art, Design and F.E. and the University of Portsmouth. He is Secretary of Portsmouth Film Society.
A collection of his poems ‘Chicken Factory’ and ‘Girls That Swim’ was published by Peter Way in 1972. Since then his poems have appeared in various publications, including Poetry (Chicago), Swindon Free Press, the Portsmouth Magazine, the anthologies Mandeville Dragoncards 3 (1975) and My Rebellious and Imperfect Eye: Observing Geoffrey Grigson (Rodopi Press, 2002).
Header image © Jacky Dillon (Edwardian Pergola, West Dean Gardens)
Image of Gordon Bottomley – Goodreads.com, Image of Edward Thomas – The Edward Thomas Estate
(1) Thomas, Edward Philip – The Sheiling – Edward Thomas Collected Poems, Faber and Faber, London (1979)