I set out for Winchester by train, soaking up the sunshine and the views, expectant and hopeful of a great day and an insight into the life and surroundings of a poet that I had only recently discovered but in reading his poetry daily through March had begun to connect with and appreciate. I had been invited into ‘the glory’ and I was in need of some time to stop, pause, breathe and be caught up in the beauty of nature, so I grabbed the chance!
We gathered at The Parish Church in Steep, where we got to see two windows commemorated to Edward Thomas with expectant hearts and hopes, and after a brief opening and introduction in the beautiful grounds of the church we set out on our walk for the afternoon.
Steep and the whole experience would exceed my expectations. The beauty of the landscape, the words of Thomas poetry in and the way that Brian Draper and Howard Green led us together combining their ability to create space, understanding, warmth and enthusiasm, while reading and inviting us to read and reflect on poetry and nature as we walked was a beautiful thing.
We followed the route of this circular walk which takes you off the beaten track into quite remote territory, and some steep climbs and descents. The first half of our walk was the ascent to the top of the hill, and there were certainly some pretty significant climbs…. Steep by name and Steep by nature! It was good to pause along the climb for refreshment and rest, not all the first part was steep, there were plenty of flatter sections, and also pause to read poetry and take in the beauty of the views and the nature surrounding us.
Just after beginning our descent back into Steep we paused again at Edward Thomas’ ‘stone’ to reflect, rest and read some more of his wonderful poetry before making a significant descent back down into the main part of Steep. Brian read us the beautiful poem that Thomas wrote for his wife Helen, a really touching and tender work that expressed his clear love and deep admiration for Helen.
And you, Helen, what should I give you?
So many things I would give you
Had I an infinite great store
Offered me and I stood before
To choose. I would give you youth,
All kinds of loveliness and truth,
A clear eye as good as mine,
Lands, waters, flowers, wine,
As many children as your heart
Might wish for, a far better art
Than mine can be, all you have lost
Upon the travelling waters tossed,
Or given to me. If I could choose
Freely in that great treasure-house
Anything from any shelf,
I would give you back yourself,
And power to discriminate
What you want and want it not too late,
Many fair days free from care
And heart to enjoy both foul and fair,
And myself, too, if I could find
Where it lay hidden and it proved kind.
We then had the delight of being able to go into the grounds of the 3rd and final home that Edward, His Wife Helen and their children lived in. Brian read us the poem ‘Old Man‘ which Thomas wrote about a plant outside the back door of the house, which is still there to this day. It was the 4th poem that Thomas wrote, and is thought by many to be the one that for him and others really opened up the reality that he was such a good poet. He wrote at total of 7 poems in that first week of poetry writing, prolific stuff.
We ended the experience by refreshing ourselves at the famous ‘Pub with No Name’ aka ‘The White Horse‘ just a few short miles from the centre of Steep. It’s the pub that Thomas loved the most, and was a formative place that inspired him to write his first poem ‘Up in the wind‘. After a day walking in such beautiful scenery and surroundings, and hearing such beautiful and inspiring words, like standing in the Yew Tree Cottage garden, there was something pretty wonderful and awe inspiring to be sitting in the Edward Thomas bar, supping a pint of No Name Ale and reflecting on the day.
It was a beautiful day and brilliantly lead by Brian Draper and Howard Green. There love of nature, poetry, being spacious and generous curators and leaders and oozing passion and openness made it such a rich and glorious day.
I would highly recommend Thomas’ poetry and it’s worth checking out this Guardian video on his work and Steep. There is also this brilliant and insightful programme ‘In pursuit of spring’ by the Edward Thomas biographer Matthew Hollis. Cheers!