Nevinson’s ‘Broken Reeds’

Studying this work by CRW Nevinson, ‘Rain and Mud After the Battle’ brought to mind a poem by Edward Thomas from 1916, called ‘Rain’:

Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain 
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me 
Remembering again that I shall die 
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks 
For washing me cleaner than I have been 
Since I was born into this solitude. 
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon: 
But here I pray that none whom once I loved 
Is dying tonight or lying still awake 
Solitary, listening to the rain, 
Either in pain or thus in sympathy 
Helpless among the living and the dead, 
Like a cold water among broken reeds, 
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff, 
Like me who have no love which this wild rain 
Has not dissolved except the love of death, 
If love it be for what is perfect and 
Cannot, the tempest tells me,  
disappoint.

7 January, 1916 

 While we can interpret Thomas’s words ‘myriads of broken reeds all stiff and still’ to refer to the loss of so many men, it was Nevinson’s use of a palette knife to create the slanted, sharp lines of the rain that brought those lines to mind: 

You can almost hear the sounds of the rain against all that mud; the unrelenting, icy touch as it hits the ground, churned up by the battle that has now ended. 

Although the scene is devoid of the human element, you cannot fail to be moved by the bleakness of this scene with the images of the blasted trees illuminated against the graduated grey sky. As a metaphor for the loss of life that took place, this is a powerful work. 

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