Posts Tagged ‘Edward Thomas’

March Magazine – Edward Thomas

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Dreading his frown and worse his laughter

Edward Thomas The Other  1914


Our book group is exploring the life of the First World War poet Edward Thomas by reading Matthew Hollis’ Now All Roads Lead to France. It’s turned my view of Thomas upside down. Previously, I associated him with the beauty and melancholy of the Hampshire landscape as a pastoral age was overshadowed by war and mechanisation. However, Thomas also writes on the beauty and melancholy of his own internal landscape which, like many people, was wracked with depression and self doubt.


In his internal exploration Thomas encounters the philosopher cycling the Icknield Way from East Anglian to the West Country. Thomas opens with the purpose of his account, “Much has been written of travel, far less of the road.” This is not a guide book but an account of physically navigating an ancient route with its ruts and fatigue. A journey interrupted by a stranger, “Half his life lay behind him like a corpse, so he said, and the other half was before him like a ghost”. This stranger was really Thomas at time of crises and in search of the poet’s pen.


Later he cycles from London to the Somerset coast In Pursuit of Spring and encounters the Other Man. This man, who annoys him and can’t be shaken off, is again Thomas. But it’s the poem, The Other, which takes this further. Thomas is walking but where ever he goes he is mistaken for another man who has just passed that way. He tries to “outrun that other”. Thus “the Other” is unable to rest and the “I” is unable to give up the chase. It’s a harrowing account of what Tomas calls the “joint tenancy” in his head. He feels continually plagued by a critical, mocking interior judge.


The Christian call to holiness is associated with wholeness and an integrated personality. This is achieved when we accept and embrace the damaged parts of our ego. Personal healing often comes at a cost as we first have to recognise and confront our own damaged nature. This is often the part of us which we wish to remain hidden. Thomas does this courageously on the printed page, although it was a work in progress when he was cut down at the battle of Arras in 1917. Our own journeying to wholeness is also a lifetime’s work.


With love and prayers Paul

Easter Magazine Article

Monday, March 19th, 2012

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.
Edward Thomas In Memorium (Easter 1915)

The last of the Great War combatants has now passed on; diplomatic tensions mark 30 years since the end of the Falklands War; and the conflict in Afghanistan still rages after more than a decade. Where can we glimpse the new life of Easter? Edward Thomas sees Easter in nature’s abundance of “flowers left thick at nightfall” but also sees the Easter life extinguished as so many First World War soldiers will never again gather flowers with their sweethearts. The men are absent because of both the physical and psychological violence of conflict.

Thomas, a First War poet, battled depression and struggled, “plagued with work, burning my candle at 3 ends”. His depression made him cruel to his family and left him contemplating suicide. Rather like a Christian hermit he found solace in the countryside. The rhythm of walking around Hampshire, observing and recording with an ever present notebook, inspired him. That inspiration was unlocked by a deep friendship with the American poet Robert Frost which resulting in an explosion of poetic writing for two years before he was posted to France.

Thomas does not write about faith but was inspired by the rhythm of Christian life, “The church and yew / And farmhouse slept in a Sunday silentness.” I also remember his Prayer Book in an Imperial War Museum exhibition and wondered how the seasons of the church’s year inspired the insights of his pastoral poetry. For me he does epitomise something of the hope of faith. Out of the darkness of war and mental illness he records profound insights. “Beauty is there”, he proclaims despite or even because of his struggles. In another poem he is frustrated by his inability to describe the, “The glory of the beauty of the morning”, just as so many theologians have struggled to describe the glory of God.

Thomas was killed by a close passing shell just after Easter 1917. He fell with no mark on his body and his clay pipe was unbroken. His local understated poetry would have resonated with the empty tomb of Mark’s first gospel and the inability to describe the resurrection on that first Easter morn.

Wishing you a beautiful Easter Paul