Edward Thomas: selected poems A Graph Review, 55 with high points 65
Edited by Matthew Hollis
Publisher Faber & Faber,
978 0571 31363 1 hardback rrp £10.00
Edward Thomas; 1878-1917
In this ‘Selected Poems‘ Matthew shows his expertise on the subject with a synthesis of Edward Thomas’ life, work, how he came to write poetry, nudged along by Robert Frost, and his own creative style.
There is a large selection of poetry from a relatively small output but Matthew Hollis has included additional material of small excerpts from early writings and diaries, including parts of his war diary. All of which add understanding to the process of the poems. There is a table of key dates, separate notes for the introduction and a large section at the end relating to the place and time of writing individual poems. Excerpts from his war diary, Jan 30 to April 8 1917 show him still the observant writer whether of nature or his military situation. Of course there is a contents list and index of first lines .
Edward Thomas was writing straight after leaving Oxford and was a mature writer and reviewer by the start of the war but took up poetry in the early part of 1914, eventually joining up in 1915 though as a father of three and aged 37 it was his own decision. Why, is not an answer Thomas seems to have given, maybe his continuing health problems (depression) gave him reasons he could or would not give or escape. A military year was spent in Essex then he transferred regiments and shipped out to France. He was there only a few weeks before dying in the early days of the battle of Arras, securing his place as a War Poet despite not writing specifically from the trenches. His poetry was filtered and created from his years as a walker, note-taker and writer on the seasons and countryside around him. He suffered from depression much of his life and his need for walking and studying the rhythms of the countryside was likely an aid to balance himself.
He only began writing poetry in 1914, encouraged by his close friend Robert Frost, using his collations of walking-notes. He was writing poetry, using old nature notes as well as new writing for slightly over two years. His years of experience as a writer and critic (appreciated by his literary peers and friends) enabled him to have the confidence and ability in using a style that was all his own. Using natural speech rhythm, and often rhyme but always in a style that ran as a force of nature. Running in distinct, smooth, rarely broken cadence (Words, breaks this norm somewhat). Words chosen for their meaning, verse written for its sense; scenes and observations, conversations and happenings. Through many poems there is a sense of the past and its existence but not regret of its passing, rather acceptance that now is not what was. Numerous poems have a feeling of doubt about them, of a loneliness which he is part of, yet still, as an outsider observing the world. A feeling of intimate as well as scenic Nature which ultimately is like the ebb and flow of mist, all around him with glimpses of a world he knew he loved but found difficult to keep hold of.
He produced a couple of hundred poems in the two years plus before his death. Only saw the proofs of his first poetry collection shortly before he died, not the finished copy. On publication his reputation as a poet began there and then and has maintained
I like to choose a few favourite poems from each poet so here we go:
I have to mention ‘Adlestrop‘ as I have written on it previously and it is perhaps his most known piece.
Many others could be picked but at time of reading five are standing out for me are:
The Brook, Aspens, No one as much as You
And two which may be better known: Lob and Tall Nettles
Lob I do especially like as it is a theme that I find affiliation with.
Edward Thomas is remembered as a poet of standing who would probably have produced much more. His credentials as one of the War Poets may be slightly over stated except that he died at the Front in WW1 (but who am I to really gainsay the world!). However his high-standing as a poet of his day, and the fact that his style is as modern now as it was unique when written ensures his place high up in the honours-listing of poets. For me, his poems have something of Ravilious about them and will stand the test of time. A book to place firmly on the shelf, next to Matthew Hollis’ other Edward Thomas title:
Tall Nettles (1916)
Tall Nettles cover up, as they have done These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough Long worn out, and the roller made of stone: Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.
This corner of the farmyard I like most: As well as any bloom upon a flower I like the dust on the nettles, never lost Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.