Haymaking by Edward Thomas

Within ‘Haymaking’ Edward Thomas depicts the English countryside, one of his favourite images. He speaks on themes of time, and the power of the natural world.

 

Summary of Haymaking

‘Haymaking’ by Edward Thomas describes a landscape and its labourers who are impacted in different ways by the passage of time.

The poem begins with the speaker describing the end of a storm and the warmth that comes afterward. The scene is quite tranquil, highlighted by the fallen leaves on the road. Everything appears as it would’ve when the gods first created it.

The speaker continues to discuss the water mill and the birds singing in the woods. These elements are different parts of the same landscape and interact with one another in interesting ways. The poem concludes with a description of the haymakers and the rest they took by the water and how that moment is at once temporary and immortal.

 

Poetic Techniques in Haymaking

‘Haymaking’ by Edward Thomas is a forty-two line poem that is contained within one block of text. The lines do conform to a consistent rhyme scheme. It follows the pattern of AABBCCDD, and so on, alternating end sounds as Thomas saw fit. The steadiness of the rhyme scheme increased the harmony and unity of the piece and plays into the overall themes of the peaceful progression of time and the power of the natural world. 

The meter is almost as well structured, the majority of the lines are written in iambic pentameter, but there are a few moments in which the number of syllables stretches up to eleven or twelve. Iambic pentameter is a metrical pattern in which a line contains five sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second stressed. 

 

Other Poetic Techniques in Haymaking

Some other elements of this text that a reader should take note of are general moments of repetition of images, the use of assonance and consonance, as well as enjambment.

A reader can find assonance throughout this piece, but one good example is in the line: “Older than Clare and Cobbett, Morland and Crome.” Here, the long “o” sound is repeated four times and short “a” three times. In regards to consonance or the repetition of consonant sounds, the “The swift with wings and tail as sharp and narrow” is a good example. Here, the “w” sound is repeated multiple times in a row, helping to propel the reader along the line and helpfully mimic the sound of wings beating in the air.

A reader can find enjambment occurring throughout ‘Haymaking.’ It happens when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point, this can be especially prominent if the line is spoken aloud. One can look to lines four and five for an example of this taking place. A reader has to move quickly from one line to another to find out what it was the gods made.

 

Themes and Imagery 

Thomas makes use of vibrant images and symbols throughout this text. They all relate back to a few central themes. The first of these, and perhaps the most important, is time and its impact, or lack of impact. In the last few lines, the speaker makes a number of wide-ranging statements and uses descriptions spanning beyond the main setting of the poem. He speaks on how time passes, what will change, and what never will.

The second theme of importance is the power and endurance of the natural world and life at large. ‘Haymaking’ is scattered with vibrant images that speak to beautiful landscapes and moments of peace within a normal day. These all centre around the work of the haymakers who are themselves engaged materially with the same natural elements. It life, currently embodied through the leaves, trees, streams and workers, that is going endure throughout time. The elements mentioned in the last lines, “The men, the beasts, the trees, the implements,” are the present iteration. 

 

Analysis of Haymaking 

Lines 1-9

After night’s thunder far away had rolled

The fiery day had a kernel sweet of cold,

And in the perfect blue the clouds uncurled,

Like the first gods before they made the world

And misery, swimming the stormless sea

In beauty and in divine gaiety.

The smooth white empty road was lightly strewn

With leaves—the holly’s Autumn falls in June—

And fir cones standing stiff up in the heat.

The first lines of ‘Haymaking’ are incredibly peaceful. The speaker’s tone is completely calm as he considers the landscape and its various elements. He is able to take a wide view of the land. This includes understanding that since the “thunder far away had rolled” different elements are revealed. One can look up into the sky and see that it is “perfect blue.” This only adds to the “kernel sweet of cold” that penetrates the otherwise “fiery day.” 

Thomas describes the sky as appearing like “the first gods before they made the world.” It is the original sky. It is a place in which there is no “misery,” rather there are clouds moving in “beauty and in divine gaiety.” Without man present, there is nothing more complicated within it than pure beauty. Thomas’ speaker states that clouds are swimming in the sky. This line could actually refer to the sky and how it appears like a sheet of water. Or, the speaker could be referencing the ocean and the reflections of the clouds appearing as if they are swimming. 

He also adds that there is a “smooth white empty road.” The scene is set perfectly, with “leaves” strewn across it and “fir cones standing…up in the heat.” 

 

Lines 10-18 

The mill-foot water tumbled white and lit

With tossing crystals, happier than any crowd

Of children pouring out of school aloud.

And in the little thickets where a sleeper

For ever might lie lost, the nettle-creeper

And garden warbler sang unceasingly;

While over them shrill shrieked in his fierce glee

The swift with wings and tail as sharp and narrow

As if the bow had flown off with the arrow.

In the next lines of ‘Haymaking,’ the speaker describes the movement of the water at the bottom of a mill. It tumbles in white, appearing as though there are crystals within it. It has so much movement that seems to be joyful. He compares it to school children at peak joy at the end of a school day. It is even more powerful than that. 

Around the water, the speaker also takes note of the “little thickets.” These appear small and perhaps insignificant compared to the water and the grand sky, but the speaker appreciates them all the same. He sees that there are birds within, singing “unceasingly.” There is another bird penetrating this scene. It flies overhead, drowning out the song of the “nettle-creeper. and garden warbler.” It is a “swift bird,” also known as the common swift. The bird has a striking silhouette that the speaker compares, through simile, to a bow flying “off with the arrow.” 

 

Lines 19-26 

Only the scent of woodbine and hay new-mown

Travelled the road. In the field sloping down,

Park-like, to where its willows showed the brook,

Haymakers rested. The tosser lay forsook

Out in the sun; and the long waggon stood

Without its team, it seemed it never would

Move from the shadow of that single yew.

The team, as still, until their task was due,

Thomas’ speaker references “woodbine” and it distinctive scent in line nineteen. He is either referring to a kind of honeysuckle or to Virginia creeper. The smell combines with that of the “hay new-mown.” These scents are strong enough to travel the road. 

The next lines of ‘Haymaking’ introduce the haymakers to the scene. These are the men who are responsible for making hay from the grass. They are, in lines twenty-one and twenty-two, resting beside the willow. The speaker is interested in men and their jobs.  He only mentions the “tosser” though. He is laying out in the sun with the “long wagon” appearing abandoned off to the side under a single yew tree. 

 

Lines 27-31

Beside the labourers enjoyed the shade

That three squat oaks mid-field together made

Upon a circle of grass and weed uncut,

And on the hollow, once a chalk-pit, but

Now brimmed with nut and elder-flower so clean.

In the next lines of ‘Haymaking,’ the speaker takes a very broad look at the setting and time itself. The labourers enjoyed the shade, created by three oak trees, for a while longer. The symbolism of the number three is important in this moment. It is most prominently associated with the concept of the Trinity, found within numerous religions. The haymakers existing within a scene that is described quite beautifully. 

Thomas’ speaker describes how the trees are growing in a circle of grass. This only increases the symbolism of the three oaks grouped together. He continues on to add that further up in a “hollow” there was a “chalk-pit.” Now though, at this present moment, home to different kinds of flowers, “nut and elder-flower.”This speaks to the wider theme of life, growth and regeneration which is present within the text. As becomes clearer as the lines progress, the poem appears to be a larger allegory for life, death and rebirth. 

 

Lines 32-37

The men leaned on their rakes, about to begin,

But still. And all were silent. All was old,

This morning time, with a great age untold,

Older than Clare and Cobbett, Morland and Crome,

Than, at the field’s far edge, the farmer’s home,

A white house crouched at the foot of a great tree.

It is time again for the men to begin their work and they all prepare by picking up their rakes. Nothing happens though. They stand and lean, looking around taking in the overwhelming nature of this perfect moment. Everything was “silent” and everything was “old.” Thomas’ speaker expands the scene back so that a reader is able to comprehend the different periods of time that have passed.  The landscape has known so much, and for so long. 

 

Lines 38-42

Under the heavens that know not what years be

The men, the beasts, the trees, the implements

Uttered even what they will in times far hence—

All of us gone out of the reach of change—

Immortal in a picture of an old grange.

In the last lines of ‘Haymaking,’ the speaker considers the passage of time and how all men and “beasts” and “trees” live under the heavens that know not “what years be.” Time means nothing to the powers that control life or the possible higher forces that created it. Within the current world, the “ men, beasts, trees, [and] implements” will utter the same statement now as they will “in times far hence,” or in the future. They will say, “All of us gone out of the reach of change.” 

This line is somewhat vague, but perhaps Thomas was considering what happens after something alive dies, or a tool or “implement” is destroyed.  Considering the prominent focus on the natural world it is possible that he was considering the way that everything that dies is reincorporated into the world at large, becoming again the basic elements of life. 

This is a statement on the inevitable passage of physical time for these mentioned parts of the world. When men and beasts and plant life have moved beyond it, they will still be part of the “Immortal…picture” of the “old grange,” or country house. 

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