Philip Edward Thomas
Born: 3 March 1878 in Lambeth, London
Died: 9 April 1917 in Arras, France
Occupation: poet, journalist, essayist, biographer
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Son of Welsh parents living in London: Philip Henry Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Townsend
Edward Thomas was the eldest of six sons, educated in schools in London and spending holidays in Wales and Wiltshire.
Thomas was a widely published literary critic with a deep love for the countryside. He worked as a book reviewer and biographer. His first book, The Woodland Life, was published in 1896; a collection of essays about nature and the long walks he enjoyed in the countryside.
In 1899, Thomas married Helen Berenice Noble who was pregnant with their first child, before graduating from Lincoln College, Oxford with a history degree in 1900.
In 1905, Thomas worked at The Daily Chronicle as a Literary Critic and met poet W.H Davies, to whom Thomas became a close friend and mentor, developing Davies’ poetry career. In 1906, Thomas moved his family to Hampshire to live in his beloved countryside, where he and Helen went on to have two more children and continue his writing career.
However, by 1913, the impending outbreak of the First World War affected the literary market which in turn affected his income. He also found himself increasingly unsatisfied with his work and had been suffering from physical and psychological breakdowns as a result. The family moved to nearby Steep which improved his well-being.
The publication of his first novel, The Happy-Go-Lucky Morgan’s, came in 1913, the same year as his youngest daughter was born. This same year, Thomas met American poet, Robert Frost, with whom he shared his love of the countryside and his unique vision and expression of nature. They spent many hours together, on regular long walks, where Frost encouraged Thomas to write poetry.
Thomas soon developed his strong, poetic voice and prided himself on writing verse that used everyday language and the rhythms of ordinary speech. This can be considered as revolutionary to the poetry of the time, in comparison to his counterparts.
Thomas’s first published poem, Up The Wind, was published in 1914, under his pen name Edward Eastaway. Thomas and Frost continued to spend much time together and they gathered a community of local writers regularly. Thomas supported Frost’s poetry career by writing praiseful reviews.
Frost’s most famous poem, The Road Not Taken, was inspired by their walks, notably Thomas’s indecisiveness about his choice of walking routes. It is thought that Thomas took this poem seriously and it may have influenced his decision to enlist.
Arguably Thomas’s most famous poem, Adlestrop, was written on a journey to the countryside on 24 June 1914, while Great Britain was preparing to go to war. Frost had returned to New England, USA. Thomas considered taking his family to stay with Frost but instead chose to enlist to fight in the war, despite being above the age for duty.
In July 1915, he joined the Artists Rifles where he met fellow poet Wilfred Owen and wrote over 40 poems in the ten months he was at Hove Hall Camp.
In November 1916, Thomas was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery as a second lieutenant. Soon after arriving in France, on Easter Monday 9th April 1917, Thomas was killed in action by a shell-blast on the first day of battle at Arras. His wife, Helen, and his close friend W.H. Davies were left devastated and it is reported that Helen never fully recovered from the loss. Davies wrote the poem Killed In Action (Edward Thomas) to commemorate his friend, which was published in his 1918 collection Raptures.
Thomas is buried at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Agny in France. Since his death, Thomas has been commemorated in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey, and has several plaques and memorials dedicated to him at poignant addresses in London.
Helen Thomas wrote of their early life and marriage in books which were later merged together and published in Under Storm’s Wing, which included letters Frost had sent to Thomas. More recently, in 2012, English writer Nick Dear’s play The Dark Earth and the Light Sky premiered in London; a biographical play focusing on the last seven years of Thomas’s life.
Thomas is commonly considered as a war poet, but few of his poems relate directly to his war experiences, as do those of his peers of this genre. He is best known for his nature poems, marked by his unique observation and perception of nature.
Thomas’s portfolio of publications includes several poetry collections, fiction novels, prose, and essays, however, he only lived to see his first book of verse, Six Poems, published in 1916. To this day, Thomas continues to inspire poets and artists.
Whispers of Soflay (Yearly Anthology of Poetry) Vol 3
Edward Thomas Quotes
“Verse is the natural speech of men, as singing is of birds.”
“The simple lack of her is more to me than others’ presence.”
“How nice it would be to be dead if only we could know we were dead.”
R.P. Hewett (1968) The Choice of Poets, Harrap, London
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