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.
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.