Discuss Thomas’ presentation of Nature in ‘Aspens’.
Throughout ‘Aspens’ Edward Thomas contemplates objects of constancy such as vacancy, death and war through his natural surroundings; this places a typically Romantic aspect on his outlook on nature. This 19th century attitude is also seen in Thomas’ ‘Rain’, in which the rain is a catalyst or vehicle for him to discuss the existentiality of human life at the time of war.
In ‘Aspens’ the trees are a symbol of continuity placed in a world of change due to the fact that their cyclical rebirth contrasts man’s brevity and finite nature of life. The world of change is displayed in “the sounds that for these fifty years have been”, as what was a pastoral, agricultural landscape has now become sinister; perhaps the sounds of human life and tradition have a new connotation, brought by the devastation that is war. Moreover, the regular, ABAB rhyme scheme is put in place by Thomas to reflect the cyclical, timeless movement of the seasons and the flourishment of the “aspens” which occur in “all sorts of weather”. Thomas also uses the contrast between the imperative and the conditional to further highlight the constancy of the aspens; the trees “must shake their leaves” yet the “men may hear but need not listen”.
Furthermore, the series of oppositions throughout Thomas’ poetry produce a dramatic tension; in ‘Aspens’ it is between benign and malign nature and in ‘Melancholy’ it is the contrast between real experience and metaphorical imagination. For example, “the bare moonlight” creates the impression of vacancy and exposure, yet it is contrasted with “the thick-furred gloom” which creates the impression of blurriness or haziness. Additionally, the sinister nature of a “tempest” is contrasted with the aesthetics of a “night of nightingales”; the duality of meaning is where the dramatic tension lies. In ‘Melancholy’, the same dramatic tension is found as Thomas describes the antinomy of “solitude” and “company”....