‘Beauty’ by Edward Thomas is an eighteen line poem that is contained within one block of text. The lines follow a very consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of AABBCC, and so on, changing end sounds as the poet saw fit. In regards to the meter, the lines are less uniform. They range in length, somewhere between eight and twelve syllables. This is not a huge difference, allowing them to appear of a similar length on the page.
Summary of Beauty
The poem begins with the speaker asking what “it” means. He is trying to figure out the balance in his life and how beauty influences it. In the day to day annoyances of life he does not find any beauty. He often feels “Tired, angry and ill at ease.” The speaker is likely to look down on his own life and feel useless.
This is a state that is remedied by taking a step back from his own depression and moving out into the natural world, at least mentally. There, he is able to leave behind his worries and feel like he is one with every other living thing.
There are a number of poetic techniques that Thomas makes use in ‘Beauty.’ One of the first a reader might notice is enjambment. This occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. For example, line two ends with the word “please” and a reader is forced to go down to line three to finish off the phrase. The transition between lines 14 and 15 is also a good example.
Thomas also makes use of caesura in ‘Beauty.’ This is a kind of formatting applied to lines which divides them into two equal parts, sometimes separated by a comma. Line thirteen, “Down in the misting, dim-lit, quiet vale,” is a good example.
This same line also makes use of consonance or the repetition of a consonant sound within multiple words. The “t” sound appears three lines in this phrase. “T” is also a popular consonant in the phrase, “And that loved no one.’ Then in a trice that whim.”
Analysis of Beauty
What does it mean? Tired, angry, and ill at ease,
No man, woman, or child alive could please
Me now. And yet I almost dare to laugh
Because I sit and frame an epitaph-
‘Here lies all that no one loved of him
And that loved no one.’ Then in a trice that whim
In the first lines of this piece, this speaker begins by asking a question. He queries the listener, inquiry what “it” means. Without any additional context, one should assume that the “it” referred to here is “beauty.” What comes next is unexpected though. The images of beauty that might first come to mind are not “Tired, angry and ill at ease.” This is a combination of words that does not speak to beauty at all, or so it seems.
Beauty is actually only part of the question. What the speaker is really wondering about is What it means to be changed by beauty, or to see it in the world. The phrase, “Tired, angry and ill at ease” is a state of being that he often finds himself in. Those around him do not help when he feels this way. It is something inside him that influences him so intensely.
In the next lines, he laughs at the darkness of his situation and that seems to improve his mood. He thinks up an “epitaph” for himself. In it, he imagines writing that he was loved by no one and found no one to love. This is a very dark place to be mentally, and after getting this thought out and hearing the absurdity of it, something lifts in his mind.
Has wearied. But, though I am like a river
At fall of evening when it seems that never
Has the sun lighted it or warmed it, while
Cross breezes cut the surface to a file,
This heart, some fraction of me, happily
Floats through a window even now to a tree
Down in the misting, dim-lit, quiet vale;
The darkness that plagues the speaker in these moments wearies and his mind starts to settle back down. In the next lines, the speaker describes how he sees himself and how his emotions change. He knows that he is “like a river / At fall of evening.” This is not the ideal time to be outside, and the scene is cold. It feels as though the sun has never “lighted it or warmed it” at that moment. Additionally, the breeze blows cold and hard cutting the “surface to a file.” This is one way the speaker exists, but there is another that is much lighter.
He goes on to say that “This heart” of his has a “fraction” which is happy to float outside to a tree. Spiritually he takes peace from the transition from the mundane world of his everyday life and into the natural one. This is where he can find a “quiet vale” or valley.
Not like a pewit that returns to wail
For something it has lost, but like a dove
That slants unanswering to its home and love.
There I find my rest, and through the dusk air
Flies what yet lives in me. Beauty is there
In the last lines, he compares himself to a “dove” not a “pewit.” Pewits and doves are both birds, and he sees himself (in this particular moment) as the latter. It is the calmer of the two. It flies, and “slants unanswering to its home and love.” These images are all building up. They are the puzzle pieces that come together to form the poet’s picture of what “Beauty” is.
When he enters into the calm tranquility of the natural world he feels at one with that which flies “through the dusk air.” It also “lives in” him. The connection between these two things is what beauty is. What is interesting about this definition of beauty is that it is a combination of something one can see and feel sensorially and something one must experience within their own body. It is physical and emotional.