Thursday, April 01, 2010

`And No More Singing for the Bird'

Observations of trees, birds and other animals behind the lines and in No Man’s Land appear with touching regularity in the “War Diary” Edward Thomas kept in the final months of his life. On Feb. 16, 1917, he notes:

“A mad Captain with several men driving partridges over the open and whistling and crying `Mark over.’ Kestrels in pairs. Four or five planes hovering and wheeling as kestrels used to over Mutton and Ludcombe.”

(Thomas sometime uses natural imagery to describe war. On Feb. 8, he writes: “Enemy plane like pale moth beautiful among shrapnel bursts.”)

March 11:

“At 6.15 all quiet and heard blackbirds chinking. Scene peaceful, desolate like Dulwich moors except sprinkling of white chalk on the rough brown ground.”

March 14:

“Ronville O.P. [observation post]. Looking out towards No Man’s Land what I thought first was a piece of burnt paper or something turned out to be a bat shaken at last by shells from one of the last sheds in Ronville.”

March 16, in what is presumably an inadvertent but grimly amusing double entendre:

“Larks and great tits. Ploughing field next to orchard in mist – horses and man go right up to crest in view of Hun at Beaurains.”

And this from March 31, 93 years ago Wednesday:

“Blackbirds in the clear cold bright morning early in black Beaurains. Sparrows in the elder of the hedge I observe through – a cherry tree just this side of the hedge makes projection in trench with its roots.”

April 7:

“Hardly any shells into Beaurains. Larks, partridges, hedgesparrows, magpies by O.P. A great burst in red brick building in N. Vitasse stood up like a birch tree or a fountain. Back at 7.30 in peace. Then at 8.30 a continuous roar of artillery.”

(In A Man Could Stand Up, the third volume of the Parade’s End tetralogy, Ford Madox Ford, a Great War veteran, writes: “There was so much noise it seemed to grow dark. It was a mental darkness. You could not think. A Dark Age! The earth moved.”)

The next day was Easter. Thomas made a journal entry but it makes no reference to the natural world. He was killed the following day, April 9, by a German artillery shell during the first hour of the Battle of Arras, and is buried in the Agny military cemetery outside Arras. Thomas had written his first poem in December 1914 when he was 36 years old; his last in January 1917, shortly before shipping to France with the Royal Artillery.

Written on one of the last pages of the diary is this solitary undated line:

“And no more singing for the bird”

1 comment:

VJESCI said...

.consider too the title of the book silent spring by rachel carson.a title inspired by both the "The sedge is wither'd from the lake, And no birds sing." line in "La Belle Dame sans Merci" by john keats combined with the death of birds in a local sanctuary misted with pesticide which ultimately left silent the spring season as the birds could not so much as begin their song.