Friday, November 5, 2010

Poetry Friday: War, Love, Poets and Chocolate Rats

Edward Thomas

In honor of Veteran's Day on the 11th, I'm posting a love poem written by Edward Thomas, a Welsh poet, friend of Robert Frost, who was killed in action in France during the Battle of Arras, April, 1917. Arras is also known as the birthplace of that architect of the Reign of Terror, Maximilien de Robespierre. It was also laid siege to in 1640 during the Thirty Years War. It's equally famous for being the town where 250 suspected Resistance fighters were executed by the Germans during WWII. Hitler's favorite general, Erwin Rommel (aka The Desert Fox) was decorated with an Iron Cross for his role in capturing Arras, and the fall of the town led to the British evacuation of soldiers from the beaches at Dunkirk (described so agonizingly in Ian McEwan's Atonement.) Not a good place for a soldier to pass the time of day,  no matter what the century.  The town is well-known now for its heart-shaped cookies, Couers d'Arras, which come in two flavors, ginger and cheese, and for little chocolate rats stuffed with pralines. There are probably German and British tourists (with no desire to kill each other) all over the town each summer, shopping side by side for heart-shaped biscuits and nibbling away at chocolate rats. I wish one of the strolling tourists could be Edward Thomas, alive and well , an old man, but still writing poetry.  

Robespierre, Who Looks a Bit 
Like a Rat Stuffed with Pralines


After you speak
And what you meant
Is plain,
My eyes
Meet yours that mean---
With your cheeks and hair---
Something more wise,
More dark,
And far different.
Even so the lark
Loves dust
And nestles in it
The minute
Before he must
Soar in lone flight
So far,
Like a black star
He seems---
A mote
Of singing dust
That dreams
And sheds no light.
I know your lust
Is love.
                 -Edward Thomas
 Poetry Friday this week is rounded-up over at Teaching Authors. Head over there to see what other people have posted.


  1. What a history -- from violence to sweets.

    What a poem -- the look, the lark, the lust, the love...

  2. >>A mote
    Of singing dust<<

    This image in particular struck me. Thanks for sharing the poem, and so much history. (Chocolate rats!)
    Thanks also for linking to our Poetry Friday roundup at TeachingAuthors.

  3. How much better for a town to be known for its sweets, even if they do resemble Robespierre, than to be known for its killings.
    Thank you for introducing me to Edward Thomas. That's a poem to be revisited and remembered.

  4. this makes me wonder about our current active duty military personnel and how many of them are poets and writers whose voices are threatened with the silence of warfare.

    i suppose that's just one of those bi-products of remembrance day.

    and i think i'll always think "praline-stuffed rat" whenever i hear the name robespierre.

  5. David - a wonderful poet who emerged from the first Gulf War is Brian Turner - he wrote Here, Bullet. And I often think about what we would have lost if Yusef Komunyakaa - who is such a wonderful poet - had been killed in Vietnam. I'm sure some fine writers ended up face down in the mud (as in Komunyakaa's poem, below):

    We Never Know

    He danced with tall grass
    for a moment, like he was swaying
    with a woman. Our gun barrels
    glowed white-hot.
    When I got to him,
    a blue halo
    of flies had already claimed him.
    I pulled the crumbled photograph
    from his fingers.
    There’s no other way
    to say this: I fell in love.
    The morning cleared again,
    except for a distant mortar
    & somewhere choppers taking off.
    I slid the wallet into his pocket
    & turned him over, so he wouldn’t be
    kissing the ground.

    Yusef Komunyakaa

  6. Correction - I was wrong about Brian Turner's deployment. He was an infantry team leader with the Stryker brigade in Iraq in 2003. So many wars - easy to get mixed up!