Depressing People All The Way From The Grave: Thoughts on Edward Thomas
Edward Thomas was born on the 3rd of March 1878 in Brixton, Lambeth and was an Anglo-Welsh writer of prose, turning to poetry only in 1914 after being encouraged to do so by Robert Frost, whom he met in 1913, and was to become very close to. So close, in fact, that he would become, in Thomas's eyes, the "saviour" he had once prophesied would help him:
"I feel sure that my salvation depends on a person, and that person cannot be Helen [his wife] because she has come to resemble me too much."
Edward Thomas reviewed books and was a respected biographer and literary critic, often reviewing up to 15 books every week, and spending many hours a day writing to earn enough to feed his family. He thought that poetry was the highest form of literature, and wrote his first five poems between the 3rd and 7th of December 1914, writing a total of 140 poems in just two years. In the summer months, as the war began, Thomas began to think of more than just poetry. As he walked with Frost one August evening, he jotted in his notebook:
a sky of dark rough horizontal masses in N.W. with a 1/3 moon bright and almost orange low down clear of cloud and I thought of men east-ward seeing it at the same moment. It seems foolish to have loved England up to now without knowing it could perhaps be ravaged and I could and perhaps would do nothing to prevent it.
Thomas would then question himself about his role in the war, in his country, and if he would do anything to protect it. Thomas was not patriotic, but loved England as a country, he shared Yeats' rejection of the triumph of a scientific modernity, and privileged the place of mythology and the "mystery of the past." He felt that urbanization and industrialization were destroying the countryside and undermining country life and values.
"Man seems to me to be a very little part of Nature and the part I enjoy least... But civilization has estranged us superficially from Nature." - Edward Thomas
He went so far as to describe birds as being his only true countrymen..
Much of his work blends and shifts between meditative recollections of his beloved countryside and his experiences in battle.
Edward Thomas enlisted in May 1915 and left for France in January 1917. He was killed on the 9th of April that same year.
There are a few recurring themes and characteristics in Thomas' poetry. Memory, the admiration of nature, the past vs. the present.. Thomas' poetry often shows a lot of indecision, uncertainty and ambiguity, as well as the use of roads and pathways, which links to how he felt in life, always indecisive, often changing his mind, always philosophizing, to the point that he felt cursed. Andrew Motion said of his work:
"It is all, in an important sense, war poetry. Behind every line, whether mentioned or not, lies imminent danger."
Studying his poetry can be somewhat challenging, some poems seem really vague, and often his indecision is a little annoying to read. The last poem we looked at in class was "Rain", and the first line reminded me of a song by Queensryche, "Another Rainy Night".
"Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain"
Another thought was "Here we go again!". And indeed, this poem is typically Thomas. He mentions rain eight times, and his solitude many times. His depression is shown quite clearly in this poem, as well as many others, which is why studying his poetry can be tiring. Maybe it is just me, but I feel similar when reading his poems to when I talk to someone who is depressed, and shows it. It is draining, and I can't help but feel some annoyance at this poor dead poet's attitude, unfortunately, because although his life sounds very sad, I often wonder if he ever tried to feel better. He did, after all, worry that not being depressed would take away his talent...
I've run out of things to say, this post did not come out entirely as I had planned it, so I hope it will still make for some good reading... perhaps for the next post I will find something a little more cheerful to talk about... I could spend a long time wondering about Thomas' state of mind and what caused it, but I am sure that would be of no benefit to me whatsoever, so I shall now leave you with one of his most depressing poems...
Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into this solitude.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:
But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying to-night or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead,
Like a cold water among broken reeds,
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be towards what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.