Longreads 2012: Edward Thomas

Now All Roads Lead to France, by Matthew Hollis – a biography of Edward Thomas reviewed by Robert Macfarlane (The Guardian):

Hollis opens with an evocation of the London poetry scene of a century ago. It was a rambunctious world: here is Ezra Pound judo-throwing Frost to the floor of a restaurant (“I wasn’t ready for him at all,” protested a disgruntled Frost afterwards); TE Hulme hanging Wyndham Lewis upside-down by his trouser turn-ups from the railings on Great Ormond Street (credit to the strength not only of Hulme’s upper body but also of Lewis’s trousers); back-stabbing and back-scratching behind the shield of review-anonymity. These were the emergent years of literary modernism, and the excitement of old clashing with new is well summoned by Hollis: the Georgians lavishing their glossy poetic “caresses” on the world’s phenomena, Pound blasting away at tradition, and all the while the war bearing down on the city and its unwitting poets…

The war saved Thomas before it killed him. It gave him purpose and, obliquely, it gave him poetry. “I am slowly growing into a conscious Englishman,” Thomas wrote in September 1914, and his first poem came two months later. In little more than two years – under Frost’s careful counsel – Thomas wrote a lifetime’s poetry.

Emotion Recollected in Intensity, by Allan Massie, a review of Now All Roads Lead to France, by Matthew Hollis (The Wall Street Journal):

Of far more importance for Thomas would be the arrival in England of the American poet Robert Frost in 1912. Like Thomas, Frost had as yet made little of his life. School-teaching and poultry-farming had both failed. Editors showed scant interest in his poems. In coming to England he was hoping that a new start in another country where poetry seemed to be enjoying a revival would bring him the recognition that he sought.

But the responses to his book “North of Boston” (1914) were discouraging. Then Thomas reviewed it—in three different publications—and said the poems were “revolutionary because they lack the exaggeration of rhetoric. . . . Their language is free from the poetical words and forms that are the chief material of secondary poets. . . . In fact, the medium is common speech.”

“At last,” Mr. Hollis writes, “Frost felt understood.” Thomas had given him, in Frost’s words, “standing as a poet.” Frost, in turn, encouraged Thomas to write poetry, and on long walks and conversations, they discussed their theories of how poetry should be written. Without Thomas, Frost’s first book might have fallen flat; without Frost, Thomas might never have nerved himself to write poems.

Now All Roads Lead to France: A Life of Edward Thomas (Hardcover), by Matthew Hollis


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