Edward Thomas’s In Pursuit of Spring has always felt like a book that’s in pursuit of me. Published in April 1914, it traces the author’s cycle ride from London to the Quantocks one Easter weekend in search of the perfect English springtime. In doing so, he visits a number of the places of my life, from south London where I used to live, to Salisbury Plain where my father grew up and where Thomas sees ‘Saunderses’ buried in a graveyard, to such obscure places as the Lion and Fiddle pub in Hilperton in Wiltshire, where I once spent the night for a friend’s wedding. It is, to say the least, unnerving to find oneself preceded everywhere.
Thomas sometimes trades in this kind of spookiness, though, and usually when you least expect it. His short stories and essays are full of myths and uncanny experiences. As a writer he is now best known for his nature poetry, and In Pursuit of Spring certainly brims with his characteristically minute observations of his surroundings, such as this oak wood near Box Hill: ‘Sometimes the grey trunks were washed faintly with light, the accumulated branch-work proved itself purplish, and here and there the snick of a lost bough was bright.’
You can almost smell the sylvan air, and this is one of Thomas’s attractions. Born in the suburbs, his love of nature drove his devout wish to escape the noise and chaos of London. Like him, I have moved to the sticks and I feel he is speaking for me when he writes:
Many days in London have no weather. We are aware only that it is hot or cold, dry or wet; that we are in or out of doors; that we are at ease or not.
But Thomas’s writing is more than pastoral escapism. He often turns his retreat to the country into an assessment of himself and this is where In Pursuit of Spring becomes spooky, funny and also strangely wise.
I am not the only person who repeatedly crosses Thomas’s path
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