At the top of this page, you will see a quote from poet Edward Thomas from his poem "Roads." His is one of the names on a slate stone in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, which commemorates the sixteen “Great War Poets." It is alongside the likes of Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke, so Thomas’s name will therefore be immortalized as a war poet although most of his work was written before he ever went to war. In fact, his time at the front was tragically short—he was killed at the Battle of Arras very soon after arriving in France in 1917 on 9 April 1917.
|Edward Thomas During Training|
Like so many men of the time he felt compelled to enlist in the Army even though, as a married man of 37, he was not obliged to do so. Thus he joined the Artists Rifles in July 1915. It is generally regarded that he came to his decision having read fellow poet Robert Frost’s great poem "The Road Not Taken."
He went to France as a commissioned officer of the Royal Garrison Artillery and met his end in curiously tragic circumstances on Easter Monday, April 1917. Having survived the bloody Battle of Arras he stood casually in his trench to light his pipe. A late, random shell burst near to him and the concussive blast wave from it was so strong that the force of it killed him where he stood.
Edward Thomas’s body was taken to the Military Cemetery at Agny in France and here he lies among the many rows of fallen soldiers. He left behind his wife Helen and two daughters and so consumed by grief was Helen that she sought solace in writings of her own. She published an account of their early years together called As it Was (1926) with a second volume following in 1931 called World Without End.
This poem was one of the last Edward Thomas Wrote before he left his training camp for France.:
By Edward Thomas
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 tonight 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 for what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me,
7 January, 1916