Edward Thomas: A Story and Two poems

(from the Complete Fairy Tales of Edward Thomas)

David Haggis, King of Scotland, would not let anyone see him without his crown. Therefore he never married, and in his palace all the attendants were blind men. The Taker-off and Putter-on of the crown were both blind men. He would not even see himself with his crown off. He had no mirrors and instead of water he washed himself with skim milk. As everybody knows, David Haggis did not reign long. The Taker-off of the crown took off his head along with the crown one day.

Long before that there had been murmuring in Scotland against the king. Petitiions were sent in, beseeching him to show himself once a year without the crown. The makers of mirrors begged him to alter the law forbidding mirrors inside the private apartments of the palace. The chief lords and lackeys plotted to destroy all children born blind, and all such as became blind by accident. Thus they hoped to cut off the king's supply of blind men and compel him to employ ordinary men. But King Haggis was equal to the occaision. He merely had a hundred of those who could see made blind.

The plot of two boys, M'Pherson and M'Taggart, was more successful. They bored a hole in the wall where no draught would ever be felt, that is to say on the south side of the palace, for the south wind seldom blew and when it did the king put on his crown and went fishing. The boys looked in through the hole. Footsteps approached. It was the king. His feet and the last three buttons of his red leather gaiters were to be seen quite plainly, with the tip of his sword and the hem of his blue mantle. Even when he walked across the room only a few inches more of his sword and mantle and another button of his gaiters, were disclosed. This was not satifactory, but it was something. Now and then the boys returned to the hole in case they might catch the king standing on his head, for example. As a rule they only saw the legs of the attendants going to and fro: once or twice they caught sight of the sword, the mantle and the gaiters again.

But once they saw more. They had gone at night and wasted hours, as it seemed to them, before the room was lit. When it was lit it was by two green lamps that settled suddenly near the wall opposite the hole. Sometimes the lamps were covered, but they never moved until steps were heard, followed by the king's voice calling, "puss, puss." The lamps moved away, the cat began to purr. "Tut," said M'Pherson. "It's a cat." "Yes," said M'Taggart, " a cat may look at a king. I shall tell my father of this."

And so the downfall of David Haggis was brought about. The elder M'Taggart was infuriated with jealousy that a cat should look at a king, and he should not. He formed a conspiracy. The Taker-off of the king's crown took off the king's head. The cat also was killed by the mob. Nevertheless, it became law in Scotland that a cat may look at a king.

And You, Helen

And you, Helen, what should I give you?
So many things I would give you
Had I an infinite great store
Offered me and I stood before
To Choose. I would give you youth,
All kinds of loveliness and truth,
A clear eye as good as mine,
Lands, waters, flowers, wine,
As many children as your heart
Might wish for, a far better art
Than mine can be, all you have lost
upon travelling waters tossed,
Or given to me. If I could choose
Freely in that great treasure-house
anything from any shelf,
I would give you back yourself,
And power to discriminate
What you want and want it not too late,
Many fair days free from care
And a heart to enjoy both foul and fair,
And myself, too, if I could find
Where it lay hidden and it proved kind.


Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed.
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flower of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.

Edward Thomas' links:

A Review of Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years Eleanor Farjeon first met Edward Thomas in the late autumn of 1912, when her brother invited him to tea. It was the beginning of a deep friendship between the painfully shy 31-year-old woman and the reserved writer known for his prose works and literary criticism. Though he died at the Battle of Arras in April 1917, it was a friendship which for Eleanor did not end with his death, but lived beyond it in his letters, and his poems, many of which Edward had sent to her from the trenches of the First World War for her comments. This double memoir uses Edward's letters and Eleanor's diaries and linking commentary to provide an extraordinarily candid account of their developing friendship, and of the enthusiasms they shared - both loved walking, and it was during this period that Edward first found his way into poetry. Edward was often deeply depressed, a man who found in nature something fundamental and ideal, a soldier-poet who wrote about the war in a new way, but Eleanor also shows us another side to his character, capturing moments of joy and humour. She also offers a unique account of Thomas's development as a poet, including the momentous meeting in 1913 with the American poet Robert Frost, whose encouragement led to Thomas's first poems. Thomas describes for her his family, his friendships with other writers, D. H. Lawrence among them, and also provides an exceptionally detailed account of his experiences in the First World War with the Artists' Rifles. There are some letters between Helen, his widow, and Frost that have survived, unfortunately the friendship did not.

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