Where All Is Buried
The inaugural commission of
the Wachner Fund for New Music
Orchestral bass drum
Zils (brass finger cymbals)
Notes on the poet
Edward Thomas is counted among Britain’s World War One poets, though he did not survive to write about the conflict.
A graduate in history from Lincoln College, Oxford, Thomas was determined to make his living as a writer. He earned a very modest income as a literary critic and writer of biographies and Thoreau-like essays arising from his long walks through the British countryside (The Woodland Life, 1896). In 1913, after years of financial, physical and emotional strain, Thomas settled with his family in Steep Village, Hampshire. The American poet Robert Frost, then at the beginning of his career, happened to settle with his family in a nearby cottage.
The two men became fast friends, hiked through the countryside together, and enjoyed a wide circle of literary and artistic friends. Through his critical writing, Thomas helped build a wider appreciation for Frost’s poetry, which helped establish Frost’s reputation in America. It was Frost who urged Thomas to begin writing poetry and — with a war on in 1914 — to move with his family to America.
Thomas struggled with Frost’s invitation but chose to remain in Britain. Although he was a family man in his late thirties and could have avoided military service, Thomas enlisted. After military training and then service as a military instructor, he was commissioned as an officer and volunteered for overseas duty. On April 9, 1917, the first day of battle at Arras, France, he was killed by an artillery shell, little more than a month after his 39th birthday.
Thomas wrote more than 140 poems in the two years after meeting Frost, many of them meditations that blend elements of his life in the countryside with his service as a soldier. He is among the 16 “Great War” poets commemorated in the poets corner at Westminster Abbey.
The text: “Liberty,” by Edward Thomas (1878–1917)
The last light has gone out of the world, except
This moonlight lying on the grass like frost
Beyond the brink of [the tall elm’s] shadow.
It is as if everything else had slept
Many an age, unforgotten and lost –
[The men that were, the things done, long ago,]
All I have thought; and but the moon and I
Live yet and here stand idle over a grave
Where all is buried. Both have liberty
To dream what we could do if we were free
To do some thing we had desired long,
The moon and I. There’s none less free than who
Does nothing and has nothing else to do,
Being free only for what is not to his mind,
And nothing is to his mind. If every hour
Like this one passing that I have spent among
The wiser others when I have forgot
To wonder whether I was free or not,
[Were piled before me, and not lost behind,
And I could take and carry them away
I should be rich; or if I had the power
To wipe out every one and not again
Regret, I should be rich to be so poor.]
And yet I still am half in love with pain,
With what is imperfect, with both tears and mirth,
With things that have an end, with life and earth,
And this moon that leaves me dark within the door.
(See author’s draft manuscript)
[Words enclosed in brackets are not set in Where All Is Buried.]