Gone, Gone Again/Blenheim Oranges - Edward Thomas

Introduction/General Points

Central Theme: Written September 1916. There is a military connection i.e. Battle of Blenheim, as if the experiences of War and passing of friends are conveyed in this poem. Themes incude the passing of time and memories.

Context: Blenheim Oranges are a type of apple; greenish yellow to orange tone streaked with red. The flesh is very white, producing a late, heavy harvest - TRIPLOID colouring. They cannot pollinate other apple trees. The name has a military ring. They grow in founds of Blenheim Palace, the family seat of the Dukes of Marlborough (the first Duke of Marlborough won a famous victory at Battle of Blenheim in early 1700s - Thomas had recently written book on him).

Structure: 8 stanza's of 4 lines. Quatrains are short emphasising the passing of time and focus our attention on memorable images - desolate quays, Blenheim oranges fallilng in the rain and old house.

Rhyming Scheme and Rhythm: There are changes in rhythm and rhyme scheme to create a sense of unease, dislocation.

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Stanza One

  • Immediate elegiac, tone created by the diction 'gone, gone again', 'again gone', the repeition suggests how time has slipped by from the memory of the speaker thus, denotes the sense of time passing. 
  • The syndetic listing of the months reinforces this as if there is a lack of significance by the listing of 'May, June, July and August', which have 'gone' - these months coalesce to connote sunlight, warmth, passion, life etc, yet there is a bleak tone as time is a constant cycle that has let these pass. It resembles the naming of the dead, a roll-call of the fallen - relevant as this was written just after the second anniversary of the start or WW1. The mournful tone-the short-lived hope that the War would be over by Christmas.
  • The rhythm is pacey, conveyed by lack of full-stops and the repeition, particularly of 'And', emphasising the sense of the speed of time passing - a sense of inexorability - as if War cannot be stopped. The long vowels in rhyme scheme 'July'/'By' create melancholic feeling - like a cry
  • Repetition heightens feelings of cycle of degeneration, not regeneration which is borne out in the poem as a whole, reversal of 'gone again' and 'again gone' emphasises.
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Stanza Two

  • The months are 'not memorable' in themselves, yet the significant is that time is passing and he shows keen awareness of his powerlessness to prevent this - reinforces by 'the rivers flow' which suggests the inorexability of time being a continuous process, emphasised by the rhyming of 'Go'/'flow'.
  • Rivers flowing past empty quays evokes a desolate image - one he associates with himself. Cataphorically references to the imagery of the empty 'old house' later in the poem. Quays are often imagined as bustling, noisy places, thus, an empty image appears rather desolate.
  • This stanza manifests that it is a personal poem 'I saw them go', the first person personal pronoun suggests he feels he must bear witness to time passing despite his inability to prevent it.
  • The imagery conjures a picture of people leaving to fight Wars - men about to embark for France and the other theatres of war would gather on quays with their loved ones. The image evokes the silence and solitude after the noisy ground depart.
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Stanza Three

  • The reader is forced to conext the unattractive, slightly repellent image of the Blenheim oranges riddled with grubs and rain, not with young men riddles with rifle shot, shell fragments and gangrene rotting on a rainy battlefield. The 'rain' may symbolise the rain of shells and bullets on the Western front.
  • 'Harvest rain' is an unusual image as harvest is usually associated with rain. The use of a sickle in harvet conjures the image of the Grim Reaper and the copious deaths in the War. The apples that 'fall' are a metaphor for the waste of lives in the War. Also, the fall of paradise at beginning of WW1 - the Edwardian twilight before WW1. (Refer to description of the apples in first card they resemble the fallen bodies). Although attractive apples, the repellent symbol of the corpses is as horrific as any of Sassoon's realistic images of War. They are a sterile apple (triploid, cannot pollinate other trees) - men who are never able to become fathers after the War.
  • The partial rhyme of 'oranges'/'trees' is jarring the adds to this sense of uncomfort and linking 'again' and 'rain' through the rhyme scheme.
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Stanza Four

  • Although inconcpicuous, anger is present, through the imagery and effective rhyming scheme of 'young'/'dung', to evoke the despair Thomas feels as the young are not expected to rot.
  • The phrase 'the lost one' links to the lost lives of those in the War - a link between the personal and universal. The apples also do this, connecting his own youth to that of the young men's corpses. They link past and present, personal and universal and this collision seems to be a catalyst for his thoughts in the latter half of the poem and his overall melancholy. The lost one could refer to the lost paradise of childhood. The fall of the apples in the rain, therefore, making him think of the past and personal losses borne by the country as a whole.
  • Apples are unavoidably associated with the Garden of Eden - biblical allusion. The images of the apples falling in rain is bleak conveying a sense of destruction and innocence of a whole generation, creating the impression of a lost paradise.
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Stanza Five and Six

  • 'Look at the old house' appears to be an abrupt change of subject as if the topic of War has become too painful to be dwelt on for very long.
  • There is a sense of admiration for the house, referring to it as 'dignified' despite the imagery of 'outmoded', suggested it is empty and dilapidated and almost forbidding appearance. There is however, an echo of the war as it is often glorified but like the house, but all War is 'Dark' and becomes 'untenanted' the longer it goes on - Thomas' personal perspective.
  • The alliteration of heavy 'd' sounds intensifies the sense of bleakness and death 'old'/'outmoded'/'dignified'/'dark' etc.
  • 'Strife', 'age', and 'pain' are darker aspects of life, used in antithesis with 'friendliness', 'love' as if of the same importance. Although he may be referring to the domestic, personal sphere; abstract nouns are universal and lead us to conlcude that war is paradoxically part of life, emphasised by the rhyming scheme (strife/life). Unlike the previous alliteration (d), here, where life is discussed, the alliterative f sound mainly predominates which is much softer - is it interesting how strife contains this too.
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Stanza Seven

  • The speaker idenitifies with the dilapidated house. The aspects of the life it has known are very much in the past. Reinforced by the way he affirms in the next three lines, he is 'Not dead...' and 'still breathing and interested/in the house that is not dead'. The house that is not dead could simply be his home and family life, or, as he is speaking in metaphorical terms, he means, as the 'old house' signifies death and the past, 'the house that is not dead' surely signifies life and the present.
  • The present tense is used to emphasise this 'I am', 'the house that is not'
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Stanza Eight

  • The syntactical parallelism at the beginning 'I am something like that', emphasises the identification with the house - despite having spent the last lines of the previous stanza asserting the contrary. It returns to connotations of death and the past. The house has 'not one pane to reflect the sun' as a result of schoolboy vandalism - the source of warmth and light, an image of hope and love cannot me seen, anaphorically referencing back to the first stanza, what the months couldn't provide for him due to the passing time.
  • It is as though these things habe been 'broken' into him too, perhaps due to the hardship of the War, so he is incapable of offering love and warmth as consolation to anyone else. It is incredibly bleak imagery, virtually overshadowing positive assertions of the penultimate stanza. The image of the Blenheim oranges has led to this conclusion.
  • Old house is perhaps a symbol of a moribund pre-war England, and the house which is not dead, the England which is being regenerated by the dedication of young men prepared to fight an reinvigorate what she stands for.
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