STORY | The Dymock Poets - Poetry of A Place and Time
SYNOPSIS | Writers of name and history from the pre-First World War era who were inspired by the Gloucestershire countryside
What is the connection between the The Gallows at Ryton, The Old Nail Shop at Greenway, Oldfields and Little Iddens near Leddington - all places situated on the border between the north west corner of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire?
The answer is a literary group who were called the Dymock Poets.
These are the locations where the Dymock Poets lived and visited together in the period immediately before the First World War, between 1911 and 1916.
One such meeting of the group is remembered in a poem by Wilfrid Gibson called ‘The Golden Room’:
Do you remember that still summer evening When, in the cosy cream-washed living-room Of the Old Nailshop, we all talked and laughed-- Our neighbours from The Gallows, Catherine And Lascelles Abercrombie; Rupert Brooke; Elinor and Robert Frost, living a while At Little Iddens, who'd brought over with them Helen and Edward Thomas?
Who were the Dymock Poets?
They were never formally a group, but the 'Dymock Poets' are commonly understood to have comprised Wilfrid Gibson, Lascelles Abercrombie, Robert Frost, Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke and John Drinkwater.
The extent of their involvement with the area varies considerably: Gibson lived there for two years, Abercrombie for six, and Frost for less than a year, whereas the others were no more than visitors. Yet their network of friendships and their deep attachment to the local landscape continued to influence their writing, even after the outbreak of war had scattered the company to their separate destinies.
The Dymock Poets represent an idyllic, rural, almost arcadian, view of Edwardian England, with their focus on a love of nature, pastoral lyricism, connection with place and preference for the natural rhythms of speech. It has been suggested that they jointly reflect the ‘English Line’ of poetry to contrast with the modernism of the poetry of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. But the Dymock poets were a diverse group of literary figures with different interests. They were only named the Dymock poets retrospectively.
The individual poets who comprised this literary coterie have been remembered differently by history. Wilfred Gibson, one of the most successful poets of the early 20th century both in Britain and the U.S.A , is now largely forgotten. Both Lascelles Abercrombie and John Drinkwater are no longer well known.
But Rupert Brooke became an iconic literary figure due to his idealistic war sonnets and his early death in the First World War. Edward Thomas was a prolific prose writer who only started writing poetry two years before he also became a casualty of the war in 1917. Most of his poetry was published posthumously. Although sometimes considered a war poet, most of his poems are concerned with the natural world and its impact. Edward Thomas is considered by some to be the greatest English poet of the 20th century.
Robert Frost was an unknown poet in his home country of the U.S.A. when he first arrived in England. He allegedly came because he wanted to ‘live under thatch’ in England. Robert Frost’s poetry was first published in Britain and his relationship with Edward Thomas was a formative influence on both men – Frost’s poem ‘The Road Less Traveled’ is allegedly based upon Thomas’s indecisiveness when they were out on one of their many walks together in the countryside around Dymock. Thomas remembered these walks with Frost in poems like ‘The Sun Used To Shine’:
The sun used to shine while we two walked Slowly together, paused and started Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked As either pleased, and cheerfully parted
Robert Frost went on to become the most famous and decorated literary figure in America.
As a literary group they were most famous for being part of the so called Georgian poetry movement. Georgian poetry is little known today but was characterised by its simplicity, naturalness and focus on nature; it was a rejection of the stylised poetry of the Victorian era.
It is worth noting that Wilfred Owen, now identified across the world as a war poet had the original ambition of being known as a Georgian poet.
The Dymock poets are remembered for publishing the quarterly literary magazine called ‘New Numbers’ in which Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier was first published. It contains the well known lines:
If I should die, think only this of me: That there's some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England. There shall be In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
Apocryphal stories exist of the various Dymock poets in residence collating the new editions of the magazine and taking them to Dymock Post Office for distribution.
One of the most interesting aspects of the heritage of the Dymock poets is the way in which the places, and images about which they wrote can still be identified in the landscape around Dymock. There are in fact two walking paths established to commemorate the Dymock poets – Poets Path I which heads through Ryton to Redmarley and returns through Ketford and Poets Path II which heads through Greenway to Leddington and returns to Dymock.
If you choose the early spring to walk the area you can still see examples of the wild daffodils, which John Drinkwater featured in his poem ‘Daffodils’ and which grew in such profusion around Dymock woods in the Edwardian era.
If you want to honour the memory of the Dymock poets make a visit to Dymock, frequent the village pub and have a drink (and imagine Robert Frost and Edward Thomas supping a couple of pints by the fire) and then go to the village church, St Mary's, which has a permanent display recognising the contribution of Dymock poets.
If you are feeling more energetic take one of the many walks that criss-cross through Dymock and equip yourself with one of the many poems, written by the Dymock poets that evoke the places and the emotions that this unique place and landscape has inspired.