Life and Contribution of Edward Thomas (1878—1917)- The Georgian Poet

“ When, indeed, Edward Thomas was killed in Flanders, a mirror of England was shattered of so pure and true a crystal that a clearer and tenderer reflection of it can be found no where than in these poems.” Walter de Ia Mare

 The Poet’ Life and His Prose Works: Edward Thomas was born in London in 1878. His father, a practically minded civil servant, took great care for the education of Edward. Read More History of English Literature (Essay) He had his school education at St. Paul s School and then entered the Lincoln College, Oxford.

 The family hailed from Wales. Edward as a boy heard a good many stories from his father about their native home in Wales, Even as a boy lie had a good store of tales and legends of Wales. Then as a fully grown up Youngman he undertook a walking tour in Wales. The impression of this tour is recorded in an attractive prose work Beautiful Wales. His second interest was English countryside. Read More Men That Keep Attention The Heart of England, The Woodland Life and The South Country are even today read with pleasure by all who find interest in country life.

Edward Thomas: Image Wiki
During the First World War, Edward served in the Artists’ Rifles and was killed in action in Flanders in 1917. Read More History of English Literature (Essay) Alan Lewis, a young poet and short story writer, died in India during Second World War while training for action in Burma wrote a poem entitled To Edward Thomas after a visit to the memorial stone of that poet whose feelings he shared , “Like YOU I felt sensitive and somehow apart.”  This sensitiveness and feeling apart give the poems of Thomas their distinctiveness.

Already, at Oxford he had decided to take up a writing career, and afterwards this he did with credit. He wrote numerous articles, reviews and also longer works for various periodicals and publishers. 

Thomas as a Poet: Thomas's career as a poet was indeed very briefer, so far as time was concerned —just last four years of his 39 years of life. Even that was a start by chance. Robed Frost, the American former poet of New England, temporarily settled in England between 1912 and 1915.  Read More History of English Literature (Essay) He was Thomas’s senior by 3 years. They came to know each ether personality and through writing. After reading Thomas’s prose, one day Frost “showed him that some of that work, a minimum of alteration, could be set down as poetry. Read More Men That Keep Attention This was the key that unlocked the door on the poetry stored up in Thomas’s mind.” About the source of inspiration of Thomas as a writer R. S. Thomas writes in the Introduction to Selected Work of Edward Thomas “the melancholy and wry whimsicality the longing to make the glimpsed good place permanent, which appear in Thomas’s verse, may have had a Welsh source.”

Characterization of Thomas’s Poetry: Read More History of English Literature (Essay) Thomas was a born Victorian, an age when motor car “had hardly intruded.” The knowledge of science, specially the theory of evolution, placed man in more Intimate relation with environment— with Nature.  His formative years were Georgian period in English poetry. Georgian poets were a group of English writers whose lyric poetry celebrated the English countryside. The Georgian poets included Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and our poet in discussion Edward Thomas.   Read More Men That Keep Attention 

 Much of the poet’s subject matter was taken from the stable world of the country-side. When the First World War broke down, Thomas was already 36. R. S. Thomas says: “the easy glib rhythms, the complacent sweetness, the elegant phrasing—all these were to be rejected and held up to obloquy. It was Edward Thomas’s scrupulous, self-searching honesty that was to make him something or a bridge between the older and the newer verse.”A. S. Collins said it ellaborately, “He said everything with a clear observation, behind which he lay a quiet but intense love. so that he saw not only with his eyes but with his understanding, and his poems gave a true picture not only of the scene but of himself -- trees and flowers were always with him, and it is hardly an exaggeration to say that half our English birds are there by name and nature in his poems.”  

 As a poet Edward Thomas was primarily a personal one, possessed by loves, fears and doubts of his time and permanent moodiness of Nature herself. Birds, flowers and hills; sky, mists and streams individually and sometimes landscapes in their totality again and again recurred in Thomas’s poems. Read More Men That Keep Attention And the moods in him created by all these are the result, as Alun Lewis said: made him sensitive and somehow apart. If we are to single out the thing that moved 1iomas most — then, one must give the first preference to Birds as a species. In his Collected Poems (1920) there are references to Sparrow, Lark, Cuckoo, Nightingale, Marsh bird, Swallow, Pigeon, Thrush, Sedge-warbler—all singing merry birds, then a whole poem on the Owl—a gloomy bird.

A few lines may be quoted from Thomas’s different poems to make the matter clear:

“. . .up and down the roof.

White pigeons nested...”

The Manor Farm

“All day long I heard a distant Cuckoo calling”


“..must I be content with discontent

As larks  and swallows are perhaps with wings ?”

The Glory

“And sedge-warblers, clinging so light

To willow twigs, sang longer than the lark,”

---sedge- Warblers

“Till then the track had never bad a name

For all its thicket and the nightingales

That should have earned it.”

Women He Liked

“What did the thrushes know? Rain, snow, sleet, hail

Had kept them quiet as primroses.”


The poet’s attachment for the birds in general will be very much clear by these three short lines :

“‘Twas home; one nationality

We had, I and the birds that sang,

 One memory.”


And lastly let us quote a few more lines to show his sentimental attachment for Wales

“Make me content

With some sweetness

From Wales

Whose nightingales

Have no wings.”—

Edward Thomas and the First World War: To speak of the poets who laid their lives in the First World War, H. J. C. Grierson and .J. C. Smith lamented in their A Critical History of English Poetry: “who can estimate what English poetry lost by the deaths of Charles Sorby, Wilfred Owen, Julian Grenfell, Francis Ledwidge, Rupert Brooke and Edward Thomas…”  (p. 496) Read More History of English Literature (Essay) But still Thomas is not generally acknowledged as a war poet. Why not? Simply because “He attempted no description of the battlefield." ( A. S. Collins. English Literature of the Twentieth Century). It seems that attitude of critics was shaped mainly by two poets: Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke. Read More Men That Keep Attention But this is not beyond question. Thomas also wrote a lot about war and its consequences upon man and society, and he did this in his own way. That is the difference. To quote a few lines:

“We turned from men or poetry

To rumours of the war remote

Only till both stood disinclined”

The Sun used to shine.

“The blizzard felled the elm whose crest

I sat in, by a woodpeckers’ round hole,

The ploughman said, ‘What, will they take it away?’‘When the war is over?‘”

--As the Team’s Head-Brass

“And lastly,

I hate not Germans, nor grow hot

With love of Englishmen, to please newspapers.

This is no case of pretty right or wrong