“If I should ever…”

I must have come across this poem when I was in my very early twenties.  I haven’t any clear recollection other than I found it immediately captivating…and I had a tune for it almost as I read. 

If I Should Ever by Chance

If I should ever by chance grow rich
I’ll buy Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch,
Roses, Pyrgo, and Lapwater,
And let them all to my elder daughter.
The rent I shall ask of her will be only
Each year’s first violets, white and lonely,
The first primroses and orchises –
She must find them before I do, that is.
But if she finds a blossom on furze
Without rent they shall all for ever be hers,
Whenever I am sufficiently rich;
Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch,
Roses, Pyrgo and Lapwater, –
I shall give them all to my elder daughter.

                                                  Edward Thomas

Before I started putting this post together I hunted around on the net for some analysis of this poem…Ok, I wasn’t looking that hard. One Wiki (more or less) says it’s about the poet wanting the world for his daughter. And I’m thinking – that’s a bit simplistic. Surely there’s more to it than that?

But maybe not. Maybe men with daughters (I am one) will agree that it’s just a heartfelt expression of love and hope for the future, an invocation of innocence soon to be lost, an elysian vision of rural England distilled into place names and flora – no hidden agendas.

I also found out (tonight) that Edward Thomas was Welsh by parentage, with many connections to Wales. The name should have given me a clue. He was killed in World War One, 1917, aged 39. He had only just taken up poetry at age 37.

(I’ve lived in South Wales from childhood. I’m naturalised Welsh – I can’t claim birthright or parentage.)

So anyway, I had a tune. I’d been overdosing on Benjamin Britten at the time, so I can’t say the tune was wholly original. Later, when I was trying to work it into a performable shape I was overdosing on Vaughan Williams.  Maybe these two influences have fused.

The piece is through composed. So my son would say it hasn’t got a tune. Yes it has – the tune varies all the way through. Does that mean it’s going to be inaccessible..unlistenable?  Don’t know. Lots of the early Genesis (with Peter Gabriel) is through composed.

Initial attempts were sketched for piano.  My piano playing was abysmal and my grasp of notation even worse – but I couldn’t see how I would get the level of detail I wanted otherwise – I really wanted an orchestra. For many years the manuscript sheets – dog-eared, rubbed and smudged, tippexed, physically cut and pasted – mouldered in a filing cabinet.

Finally, over the last two years, I (temporarily) abandoned  grandiose aspirations for this piece and condensed it down to a guitar and voice arrangement.

I don’t make things easy for myself.  It’s bloody hard – I’m still rehearsing it. I’m an improviser – I don’t take naturally to set pieces.  The tessitura is scary. 

To cap it all, this magnum opus which has haunted me on and off for nearly thirty years turns out to be about a minute and a half long.

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