Meeting Edward Thomas on The Icknield Way
I found the track by accident one morning
at the back of the wood. A backbone carved
of stones, a chalk tyre tread making the miles
seem easy. The dog went far ahead, a small
lodestar: everything splintering,
resisting the tightness of frost.
The warmth of another breath was there,
wool shirt, tweed jacket, rucksack,
leather of boots. I thought I might
catch up, but there was no one,
between the black of winter hedges
that closed us in and held the path.
Perhaps it was white light,
an orange sun that lent itself to ghosts,
murmurs of other walkers blessing
the freezing air. But something was given
in the track appearing suddenly and the next day,
finding the book: where he’d noted
each turn and slip of the road. Asking
whoever followed to look again at leaf fall,
bright berries, the shape of hidden places,
marks of stone as he walked east to west,
on a pilgrimage across the chiselled heath,
which promised all the sky.
He must have imprinted air with the weight
of thought, his movement of hands.
Everything seemed so close to how he found it.
In that moment that was falling out of cold,
into spring, which had never been history,
had always been there,
if we had chosen to see it.
The Icknield Way is an ancient chalk track running from Norfolk across East Anglia into Oxfordshire.
Meeting Edward Thomas on The Icknield Way is taken from the book, The Shape of Us (Shoestring Press, Nottingham, 2010, ISBN 1 907356 07 0. Cover illustration: Rachel Birkett.)