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Analysis of Edward Thomas's "Tears"

Analysis of Edward Thomas' Tears


World War One began on July 28, 1914 when the Germans invaded Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, Austro-Hungary invaded Serbia, and Russia attacked Prussia. Edward Thomas began composing poetry shortly after the war began, because he was struggling with whether or not he should enlist. He eventually decided to enlist in July of 1915. Thomas' poetry tends to describe the beauty of the natural world, but there is also a sense of darkness that shadows his words. As this very deadly war raged on, there was a huge disruption in the natural order of things. The effects of the war were evident in Thomas's writing. His ability to describe the beauty and richness of the natural world was made more powerful by a sense of utter doom and destruction.

Edward Thomas' Tears was written in January of 1915, only a few months before he enlisted. Thomas is the speaker of this poem. This poem is about the effects of the war, and it has an air of nationalism.

The "tears" lead the reader to believe that he is very sad about something, and the tear "ghosts" lead us to believe that he has been sad for a while. This sadness can be twofold: he is sad about all of the needless death of the soldiers, who are going off to fight a war that they know little to nothing about; and/or he is sad about his call of duty, should he enlist or not. Thomas seemed to feel that enlisting meant certain death, so it would make sense that he would agonize over that to the point of crying. Thomas also suffered from chronic depression, which can also factor into why he was so sensitive towards the war.

The hounds are used here as a metaphor for English soldiers. The "twenty hounds" is most likely referencing a military division, such as a brigade or regiment. When he says that the hounds "streamed" by him, he means that the soldiers were marching past him in a unit formation. The hounds were "not yet combed out," meaning that the soldiers were "green" or they were young and had not experienced the war first-hand yet. Lines four and five convey a sense of nationalism. The "green" soldiers are hungry for action; they want to fight for their country. "Rage of gladness" is an oxymoron, which is when two contradictory words are placed together. Lines four and five also describe a popular propaganda poster from WWI, which depicts a knight on a powerful white steed slaying a huge dragon. The soldiers want to be the knight in this poster; they want to become heroes.

The sun rises in the East ("bends towards the sun"); the central powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria are all east of England; so the English troops are marching east towards the sun. Hops are female flower clusters. They are primarily used as a flavoring additive and a stability agent in beer. They are mostly produced in Germany. To go along with the metaphor in lines three to five, hops are very toxic to dogs.

"Double-shadowed Tower" can have a few of different means when you factor in that Thomas was most likely talking about a building in London. I believe that he is referring to Burlington House, which served as the headquarters of the Artists Rifles (the branch of military that Thomas enlisted into), during WWI. It is ironic that Thomas chose to use the month of April (this poem was written in January 1915), because he was killed by a shell blast at the Western Front at the end of April in 1917. The solitude was strange, because there were soldiers buzzing all around him, but he felt isolated.

He is delighted by what he sees going on in the courtyard; he was watching the soldiers go about their daily tasks. "Fair-haired" means that they were most likely blonde. "Ruddy" means that they have a fresh, healthy red complexion; young men were often described in this manner, which leads the reader to believe that these soldiers were not yet fully grown men. "White tunics" are military uniforms.

"Fifes" are small, high-pitched, transverse flutes that are similar to the piccolo but louder and shriller due to its narrow bore. "The British Grenadiers" is a famous British marching song about the Brigade of Guards, which is an elite infantry unit. This song managed to break through Thomas's solitude and silence, and it touched him in a way he had not expected. This song is used to rally the troops; it is an example of the nationalism in this poem.

The British Grenadiers (Lyrics)

Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules

Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these.
But of all the world's great heroes, there's none that can compare
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, to the British Grenadier.

Those heroes of antiquity ne'er saw a cannon ball

Or knew the force of powder to slay their foes withal.
But our brave boys do know it, and banish all their fears,
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadier.

Whene'er we are commanded to storm the palisades

Our leaders march with fuses, and we with hand grenades.
We throw them from the glacis, about the enemies' ears.
Sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.

And when the siege is over, we to the town repair

The townsmen cry, "Hurrah, boys, here comes a Grenadier!
Here come the Grenadiers, my boys, who know no doubts or fears!
Then sing tow, row, row, row, row, row, the British Grenadiers.

The God of War was pleased and great Bellonia smiles

To look upon these heroes, of our British Iles
And all the gods Celestial, descending from their spheres
To hold in adoration, the British Grenadiers.
Then let us fill a bumper, and drink a health to those

Who carry caps and pouches, and wear the louped clothes.
May they and their commanders live happy all their years
With a tow, row, row, row, row, row, for the British Grenadiers.


Sources


The Lyrics for "The British Grenadiers": http://www.royalscotsgrenadiers.com/britishgrenadiers.html

Thomas, Edward. "Tears." The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Twentieth Century and After. 8thed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton, 2006. 1957.

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