Writing and Walking in Ledbury

English Literature and Creative Writing students at the University of Gloucestershire were invited to an event on the theme of writing and walking that took place in Ledbury on the 25th October. Anna Stenning (PhD candidate at the University of Worcester) began by introducing some perspectives on the theme from the work of Robert Macfarlane, Linda Cracknell and Richard Mabey. Anna also brought in the poetry of Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, arguing that the enjambment and phrasing of Thomas’s ‘The Sun Used to Shine’ reflected the act of walking that the poem describes. After some delicious tea and cake, poet Ruth Stacey read from her work. She described how walking is an integral part of her creative process, and discussed some of the ways in which this has affected her poetry. Jenny Hope then read poems from her collection Petrolhead, as well as some new work. Her poetry brought myth and metaphor to bear on subjects that ranged from the wind to a local rook cull. Anna concluded the event by leading a walk out through the cobbled streets of Ledbury and into the nearby Frith Wood.

Gloucestershire’s own Poets’ Corner

Of the many writers and artists who have drawn inspiration from Gloucestershire and the borderlands, the Dymock Poets represent a particular moment in English life in the years leading up to WW1. Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Eleanor Farjeon, and others, along with the American poet Robert Frost (for a while) settled in Dymock from about 1913 – 16.  They were drawn by the area’s isolated beauty and the promise of companionship and support for their art, and for something more. Matthew Hollis writes: ‘They came from the cities for an elemental life, for the earth beneath their boots or the breeze that stirred the wheat fields.’ * Perhaps they idealised rural life, which is hard and unforgiving, then as now. For a while, though, the beautiful Leadon valley gave them the space and freedom that allowed them to develop as writers and artists.

We can still experience some of that peaceful beauty in Dymock today. In Spring, the paths to Dymock Woods trail through daffodils and bluebells. St. Mary’s Church Dymock stands behind the village green, but the visitor is in for another surprise: the Poets Corner in the northwestern part of the church, where an exibition of poems, paintings, publications and information celebrates the Dymock Poets’s achievements. Read more at the church’s web page on the poets. You can see some more photos at our Flickr gallery.


                                                                  ‘oh! yet
                                                    Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
                                                    And is there honey still for tea?’
                                                    Rupert Brooke, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ from Collected Poems (1916)
Frost and Thomas formed a close creative friendship, going for long walks in the Dymock Woods and along the valley. Thomas taught Frost to think his poems through the body, through the act of walking, not simply seeing. Roger Ebbatson remarks that ‘Thomas’s verse constantly implies the point of view of the walker in the landscape.’ * In return, Frost teased his friend for being constitutionally indecisive and hesitant. A walk through the daffodil paths at Dymock is thought to be the origin of one of Frost’s most famous poems. 
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, ‘The Road Not Taken’ (1915)
Frost went back to the USA; Thomas was killed in action in France on Easter Monday 1917.
The University of Gloucestershire preserves the Dymock Poets Archive, part of our Gloucestershire Poets, Writers and Artists Special Collection.  Several research staff and postgraduate students in the School of Humanities have a particular interest in Thomas’s work. But our connection with the work of local poets and writers goes beyond academic curiosity. Cheltenham and Gloucester are situated between the Cotswolds and the Severn, not far from the Forest of Dean and the Welsh borders. Our identity is strongly regional. Gloucestershire inspires everything we do, and it is the place to which we return continually in our work and university life.
* References: Matthew Hollis, Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas (London: Faber, 2011), p. 116; Roger Ebbatson, An Imaginary England: Nation, Landscape and Literature, 1840-1920 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), p. 167.
Photos: Hilary Weeks.

Hail and farewell

Anna Stebbing (University of Worcester) was the guest speaker at the final seminar hosted by the Centre for Writing, Place and History today. She demonstrated how the poet Edward Thomas’s ‘poetic evocation of the weather world’ can be read within the framework of ecocriticism, including Heideggerian analysis of nature. As usual, the conversation was richly diverse, although the event was rather poignant, as organiser and chair Professor John Hughes remarked. For more than five years the CWPH has brought guest speakers to the University of Gloucestershire and offered scholarly dialogue to staff and students, as well as opportunities for colleagues to contribute. Never is this intellectual activity more welcome than when we are all buried under heavy marking and admin loads, or revising for exams.

The Centre has presented research seminars on topics ranging from Thomas Hardy, Richard Jefferies, F.W. Harvey, Ivor Gurney, and nineteenth-century illustration, to Baudrillard and 9/11 literature, and British Communist culture. Speakers have included (among many) Rebecca Welshman, Brian Maidment, Roger Ebbatson, Simon Dentith, and Roger Deeks. The Centre also organised a symposium, ‘The (Dis) United Kingdom’ on English and Scottish cultural identity and history.

The CWPH’s scholarly work, like that of its fellow Humanities research group the Centre for the Bible and Spirituality, will be subsumed into the ‘Being Human’ project, established recently as a University Research Priority. With its discussion of weather, human consciousness and globalization, Anna’s paper bridges the two research areas and looks to future projects.

Our thanks go to John for running the Centre and organising its activities. We will miss those Wednesday afternoons.

Research seminar on Edward Thomas, poet of Gloucestershire and WW1

The Centre for Writing, Place and History
‘”The sun filled earth and heaven with a great light”: Edward Thomas’s poetic evocation of the weather world’
Anna Stebbing (University of Worcester)
Wednesday 7 May 2014
Francis Close Hall HC204, 5:15
Everyone is welcome
Image: Bluebells in Dymock Woods.
Reproduced for educational purposes only

Ivor Gurney, poet of the Severn and the Somme

The Gloucestershire poet Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) was also a composer. This week, one of his hitherto unknown sonatas was released from the  Gloucestershire Archives for the first time. Gurney wrote the Violin Sonata in E-Flat Major on his return from the front in 1918. Gurney’s beautiful songs and settings are well-known. Listen to ‘Sleep’ here.

The South Midlands is a musical land, the birthplace of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells, Gustav Holst (Gloucestershire) and Edward Elgar (Worcestershire). It also became famous for its poets after World War I. Some poets, like Gurney and F.W.Harvey, were born here; others, like Edward Thomas, Robert Frost, and Eleanor Farjeon, who identified themselves as the Dymock Poets, were drawn by the special magic of this region. Perhaps the landscape spoke to them in ways that silenced the horrors of war.
The University of Gloucestershire holds the entire Dymock Poets archives and the Edward Thomas collection, among many other things of interest. Be sure to visit.