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This report is taken from PN Review 245, Volume 45 Number 3, January - February 2019.

‘While the tree lived’
'While the tree lived, he in these fields lived on'
John Clegg
Now Carcanet’s FyfieldBooks imprint has yielded to Carcanet Classics, it may be worth clearing up some confusion in the two sentences and a quotation which were printed opposite the title page for the duration of the series. ‘FyfieldBooks take their name from the Fyfield elm in Matthew Arnold’s ‘Scholar Gypsy’ and ‘Thrysis’. The tree stood not far from the village where the series was originally devised in 1971.’ This was followed by these lines from ‘Thrysis’:

Roam on! The light we sought is shining still.
Dost thou ask proof? Our tree yet crowns the hill,
Our scholar travels yet the loved hill-side.

The problem is that the tree with Arnoldian associations near South Hinksey (the village where the series was devised) isn’t the Fyfield Elm at all; the small village of Fyfield is a good ten miles away. The Fyfield Elm, also known as the Tubney Tree, was a hollow wych-elm about thirty inches in diameter marking the parish boundary (at an important crossroads) between Fyfield and Tubney. It doesn’t crown any hill; it nestles in a dip, or rather nestled, since when I went looking for it, any trace was long gone. (The last record I can find, thoroughly rotten by this point and its name long forgotten, is from 1986.) When Arnold says ‘I know the Fyfield tree’, it isn’t a recapitulation of ‘our tree-topped hill’ but his thoughts drifting through the other landmarks and timemarks he shared with Arthur Hugh Clough: ‘I know the wood which hides ...

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