Oak and Ash and Thorn author Peter Fiennes discusses the poems that inspired his new book:

 

1. 'The Chalk Pit' by Edward Thomas

 

I chose these lines as the opening quote for my book:

 

 ‘Here, in fact, is nothing at all

Except a silent place that once rang loud,

And trees and us – imperfect friends, we men

And trees since time began; and nevertheless

Between us still we breed a mystery.’

 

 They come at the end of Edward Thomas’s ‘The Chalk Pit’ and they express an uneasy truth about what is left of our woods: they have fallen silent. This is not to say that there is no noise. Stand at the top of the Hangers in Steep, Hampshire, the place that inspired these lines (and where Thomas is memorialized) and you will hear birdsong, and the whisk of the wind through the yews, and the inevitable baying of traffic from the A3 far below in the valley. But even here, in the crowded south-east, you will hear (and meet) almost no-one else. The woods are emptier – of flora and fauna, but above all of people – than they have been for millennia. We are detaching ourselves from the woods – from the whole of nature – and we urgently need to find a way back. There is regret – and loss – at the heart of Thomas’s poem. The places that once ‘rang loud’ are silent, the woodcutters and the walkers, the children and the chalk-pit workers, have all gone, and yet, despite our absence, the trees are waiting: we have been ‘imperfect friends’ for longer than we can imagine – and  ‘between us still we breed a mystery.’

 

  Peter Fiennes is the author of To War with God, a  moving account of  his grandfather’s service in the First  World War. As a publisher  for Time Out, he  has  published their city guides, as well as books  about  Britain’s countryside and seaside. He lives in  Wandsworth,  south-west London.

  Oak and Ash and Thorn is availbale now.