War Poet : Edward Thomas


Edward Thomas was educated at Oxford University where he studied history. He was known as a critic and as an essayist. He wrote a lot (mainly reviews) but did not get much money.

Thomas started writing poetry in 1913 when he met Robert Frost, who encouraged him to write verse. December 1914 saw his first poems.

Thomas was 37, married and with family when he enlisted in 1915 because of social pressure. He died on Easter Day 1917, without seeing his poetry published under his own name: he was published under the pseudonym “Eastaway”.

He wrote poems during the last 2 years of his life. Considered as a major poet like Auden, Larkin and Walcott, who acknowledged their debts to Thomas.

It is difficult to categorize Thomas: his poetry has been variously described as Nature poetry, Georgian poetry, War poetry and Modernist poetry.

Although he wrote about Nature, it was more about his inner nature. Thomas’s poetry is a complement to Owen’s poetry.

His ideas about England

When asked why he enlisted, Thomas picked up a pinch of earth and said: “literally for this”. He had a deep love for England but did not write chauvinistic poems.

He regarded Coleridge’s poems such as “Fears in Solitude” as humble poems (“Oh dear Britain, O my Mother Isle”)

Thomas’s anthology is entitled This England. It is an allusion to the praise of England made by one of the characters of Richard II by Shakespeare (Act II, sc.1, l.40-50). This anthology is rooted in English traditions and landscape.

His definition of England was: “This England is what we may be Lord of without possessing. England is not an idea, not even a nation but a very specific place, a place that for the poet is home“.

Thus, Thomas’s notion of “Englisheness” is very different from Brooke’s conception in “The Soldier”. There is always a connection between “I” and the external world: Thomas wrote about life, survival, and the cyclically renewal of Nature.

In 1999, more than 60 poets wrote poems in a book called Elected Friends Poems From, For and About Edward Thomas. He is the only poet receiving such a tribute.

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