Edward Thomas- Lob

You  can listen to this post on Podomatic.

edward-thomasIn the course Shakespeare: Myth, we look at the mythological worlds of Shakespeare’s plays. In this talk I want to read one poem, by Edward Thomas, without any commentary.  I shall talk about the poem in a later posting.  Before you listen to the poem, however, think of Robin Hood, then make a jump to Robin Goodfellow. Now trip over to an image of a hobgoblin.  You are ready to the enter the world of Lob.  It gives me a good opportunity to speak in my native West Country accent!



At hawthorn-time in Wiltshire travelling

In search of something chance would never bring,

An old man’s face, by life and weather cut

And coloured, -rough, brown, sweet as any nut,-

A land face, sea-blue-eyed, hung in my mind

When I had left him many a mile behind.

All he said was: “Nobody can’t stop ‘ee.  It’s

A footpath, right enough.   You see those bits

Of mounds- that’s where they opened up the barrows

Sixty years since, while I was scaring sparrows.

They thought as there was something to find there,

But couldn’t find it, by digging, anywhere.”


To turn back then and seek him, where was the use?

There were three Manningfords,- Abbots, Bohun, and Bruce:

And whether Alton, not Manningford, it was,

My memory could not decide, because

There was both Alton Barns and Alton Priors.

All had their churches, graveyards, farms, and byres,

Lurking to one side up the paths and lanes,

Seldom well seen except by aeroplanes;

And when bells rang, or pigs squealed, or cocks crowed,

Then only heard.  Ages ago the road

Approached.  The people stood and looked and turned.

Nor asked it to come nearer, nor yet learned

To move out there and dwell in all men’s dust.

And yet withal they shot the weather cock, just

Because ‘twas he crowed out of tune, they said:

So now the copper weather cock is dead.

If they had reaped their dandelions and sold

Them fairly, they could have afforded gold.


Many years passed, and I went back again

Among those villages, and looked for men

Who might have known my ancient.  He himself

Had long been dead or laid upon the shelf,

I thought.  One man I asked about him roared

At my description: “Tis old Bottlesford

He means, Bill.”  But another said: “Of course,

It was Jack Button up at the White Horse.

He’s dead, sir, these three years.” This lasted til

A girl proposed Walker of Walker’s Hill,

“Old Adam Walker.  Adam’s Point you’ll see

Marked on the maps.”

“That was her roguery,”

The next man said.  He was a squire’s son

Who loved wild bird and beast, and dog and gun

For killing them.  He had loved them from his birth,

One with another, as he loved the earth.

“The man may be like Button, or Walker, or

Like Bottlesford, that you want, but far more

He sounds like one I saw when I was a child.

I could almost swear to him.  The man was wild

And wandered.  His home was where he was free.

Everybody has met one such man as he.

Does he keep clear old paths that no one uses

But once a lifetime when he loves or muses?

He is English as this gate, these flowers, this mire.

And when at eight years old Lob-lie-by-the-fire

Came in my books, this was the man I saw.

He has been in England as long as dove and daw,

Calling the wild cherry tree the merry tree,

The rose champion Bridget-in-her-bravery;

And in a tender mood he, as I guess,

Christened one flower Love-in-idleness,

And when he walked from Exeter to Leeds

One April called all cuckoo-flowers Milkmaids.

From him old herbal Gerard learnt, as a boy,

To name wild clematis the Traveller’s-joy.

Our blackbirds sang no English til his ear

Told him they called his Jan Toy ‘Pretty dear’.

(She was Jan Toy the Lucky, who, having lost

A shilling, and found a penny loaf, rejoiced.)

For reasons of his own to him the wren

Is Jenny Pooter.  Before all other men

‘Twas he first called the Hog’s Back the Hog’s Back.

That Mother Dunch’s Buttocks should not lack

Their name was his care.  He too could explain

Totteridge and Totterdown and Juggler’s Lane:

He knows, if anyone.  Why Tumbling Bay,

Inland in Kent, is called so he might say.


“But little he says compared with what he does.

If ever a sage troubles him he will buzz

Like a beehive to conclude the tedious fray:

And the sage, who knows all languages, runs away.

Yet Lob has thirteen hundred names for a fool,

And though he never could spare time for school

To unteach what the fox so well expressed,

On biting the cock’s head off,- Quietness is best,-

He can talk quite as well as anyone

After his thinking is forgot and done.

He first of all told someone else’s wife,

For a farthing she’d skin a flint and spoil a knife

Worth sixpence skinning it.  She heard him speak:

“She had a face as long as a wet week”

Said he, telling the tale in after years.

With blue smock and gold rings in his ears,

Sometimes he is a pedlar, not too poor

To keep his wit.  This is tall Tom that bore

The logs in, and with Shakespeare in the hall

Once talked, when icicles hung by the wall.

As Herne the Hunter he has known hard times.

On sleepless nights he has made up weather rhymes

Which others spoilt.  And, Hob being then his name,

He kept the hog that thought the butcher came

To bring his breakfast.  “You thought wrong,”  said Hob.

When there were kings in Kent this very Lob,

Whose sheep grew fat and he himself grew merry,

Wedded the king’s daughter of Canterbury;

For he alone, unlike the squire, lord, and king,

Watched a night by her without slumbering;

He kept both waking.  When he was but a lad

He won a rich man’s heiress, deaf, dumb and sad,

By rousing her to laugh at him.  He carried

His donkey on his back.  So they were married.

And while he was a little cobbler’s boy

He tricked the giant coming to destroy

Shrewsbury by flood.  “And how far is it yet?”

The giant asked in passing.  “I forget;

But see these shoes I’ve worn out on the road

And we’re not there yet.”  He emptied out his load

Of shoes for mending.  The giant let fall from his spade

The earth for damming Severn, and thus made

The Wrekin hill; and little Ercall hill

Rose where the giant scraped his boots.  While still

So young, our Jack was chief of Gotham sages.

But long before he could have been wise, ages

Earlier than this, while he grew thick and strong

And ate his bacon, or, at times, sang a song

And merely smelt it, as Jack the giant-killer

He made a name.  He too ground up the miller,

The Yorkshireman who ground men’s bones for flour.


“Do you believe Jack dead before his hour?

Or that his name is Walker, or Bottlesford,

Or Button, a mere clown, or a squire, or lord?

The man you saw,- Lob-lie-by-the-fire, Jack Cade,

Jack Smith, Jack Moon, poor Jack of every trade,

Young Jack, or old Jack, or Jack What-d’ye-call,

Jack-in-the-hedge, or Robin-run-by-the-wall,

Robin Hood, Ragged Robin, Lazy Bob

One of the lords of No Man’s Land, good Lob,-

Although he was seen dying at Waterloo,

Hastings, Agincourt, and Sedgemoor too,-

Lives yet.  He will never admit he is dead

Til millers cease to grind men’s bones for bread,

Not til our weather cock crows once again

And I remove my house out of the lane

On to the road.”  With this he disappeared

In hazel and thorn tangled with old-man’s-beard.

But one glimpse of his back, as there he stood,

Choosing his way, proved him of old Jack’s blood,

Young Jack perhaps, and now a Wiltshireman

As he has oft been since his days began.




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