Words - Edward Thomas


Introduction/General Points

Central Theme: Thomas is specifically addressing "English words", it's a poem that seems unusually attuned to the London-born poet's Celtic origins. Thomas is self-depricating in his images suggessting the power of words.

Rhyming Scheme: Rhymes are complex, but not enforced by symmetrical pattern - as though Thomas is attempting to impress 'Words'. Their chimes are sometimes distant – this casual-seeming technique increases the sense that 'Words' is more free of restrictions than fixed, a kind of meandering 'stream' or 'crack in the wall' of a poem - a channel for his words/metaphor for the different uses of language.

Structure: This being the intended effect, words, compared significantly to the wind, are treated as an elemental, and also nearly supernatural, force. The short lines reinforcing this by focusing our attention to the significance and power of words.

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Stanza One

  • Long sentence comprising the first stanza is curiously non-conventionally English, highlighting the extent of Thomas' plea to identify with words, this concept further reinforced by the enjambement, that quickens the pace of Thomas' pleading: 'Choose me,/You English words?'
  • However, the adverb 'sometimes' only intensifies Thomas' yearning and the conceitful nature of the winds whistling of 'joy' in antithesis with 'pain', conveys how words provide a haven of comfort and happiness but equivocally constitute his pain whilst he pleads for them to choose him. - The oxymoronic phrase in context perhaps indicating the wide ranging scale of poetry.
  • The comparison between words and the wind, the way they 'whistle through', indicate the free-flowing nature and ease of words. - Thomas aspires to to be a kind of Aeolian Harp, to achieve this same harmonic frequency with words, that the wind has with an Aeolian Harp - but it seems such an image would be too presumptuous alongside the vast self-depricating images.
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Stanza Two

  • 'I know you' - fraught with a sense of familiarity, referring to the muse or words since the flow of the poem centers around the appreciation of words, emphasised through more overt rhyming scheme assisting the free-flowing nature. 
  • The second stanza is looser than first - at times more impressionistic and precise, justified by conjuring long list of similie depictors, stanza weaves in how words can affect the speaker: effective antithesis of 'light as dreams' and 'tough as oak' suggesting how words are equivocally compelling and eduring. Although 'precious as gold' is less enthralling, and addition of the 'old cloak' barely part of such an obvious rhyming scheme, Thomas suggests how he greatly values words ('gold'), however also have the value of sentimentality and concealment ('cloak').
  • Thomas' adjectives 'strange' / 'sweet' and superlative 'dearest' - all captivating, vague but highly emotive, as though he enjoys exploring grammatical variations, e.g. the archaism 'burnet', which Thomas attempts to coin, with the pun-paradox 'worn new' comfirming the exuberance.
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Stanza Two (Continued)

  • It is thought-provoking and ironic that English words appear 'as lost homes are', for an English poet. It is almost as if Thomas' Welsh mother-tongue has seeped into his thoughts at this point in the poem.
  • The comparatives form strong imagery of landscapes, 'our hills', 'our steams'. Although the posessive pronoun 'our' make the words appear specifically sentimental to the English language, the steams reiterate Thomas' consideration of other languages.
  • Streams initially emanate from larger bodies of water, perhaps a metaphor for the larg variety of ways people use language. Thomas is perhaps highlighting that language used by poets can re-vivrify the words or somtimes an old word can come back into the language and given a new lease of life to be 'young' again.
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Stanza Three

  • At this point, Thomas seems to have moved instinctively from language to identity, this shift clarified by 'make me content/With some sweetness/From Wales'. He is no longer referring to linguistic influence so much as his own heredity. The tribute to Welsh poets, 'nightingales' perhaps suggesting how they cannot soar without words, Thomas using his Welsh heredity as an excuse for if the words were not to choose him.
  • The poem's uncharacteristic buoyancy perhaps reflects the optimism Thomas felt in 1915 whilst he made never-fulfilled plans of joining Robert Frost in New Hampshire. Despite the optimism, theres an apparent anxiety at the prospect of losing his native landscapes. Words, grounded in locality, may no longer be evoked for him. This fear perhaps explaining the earlier preoccupation with familiar strangeness and the old made new.
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Stanza Four

  • Thomas subtly seems to personify the words, employing dynamic verbs such as 'dance' to highlight that like dancing, words also require a rhythm, but to conjure this, a level of endurance also require in a 'climb' (anaphoric reference to 'tough as oak'), suggesting his vocation is proving difficult and patience is essential for words to choose him. This is perhaps reflected in the way Thomas appears to distance himself from the indivuality of being a poet in the line 'As poets do', also reinforced by the distant rhyme of 'dance' and 'perchance' being 3 lines apart'.
  • The antithesis of 'fixed and free', is indicative of Thomas thinking poets should be more free-flowing in their nature, but are essentially restricted by poetic conventions. He aspires for poets to be in a kind of spiritual 'esctasy'.
  • The poem can be read as an extended metaphor, drawn from ideas of receptivity. It's not bardic mysticism but good practice for any poet to be free-flowing rather than manipulative during the first stages of creation, only later to apply the fixative.
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