Sunday, May 10, 2009

One from Edward Thomas


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The poetry of Edward Thomas (1878-1917) is often grouped with that of other World War I British poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegried Sassoon, chiefly because Thomas was killed in the war (he volunteered for the army, as he was too old to be drafted), but also because he did write a few poems when he was serving in France, before he was killed by artillery-fire.

But most of his poetry concerns rural Britain, is closely observed, and--although it deploys conventional rhyme and meter--is plainspoken. Thomas made his living chiefly as a "literary journalist"--writing reviews, editing anthologies, etc., and he was an early champion of Robert Frost's poetry. Thomas liked the way Frost had ignored a lot of conventional poetic diction and written precisely but plainly. Thomas himself first published his poetry under a pen-name. Then, after Thomas's death, Walter de la Mare put together a collection. I've been reading a relatively new paperback edition from Handsdel Books, with a nice introduction by Peter Sacks.

Here's a short poem related to May from the book:

The Cherry Trees

by Edward Thomas

The cherry trees bend over and are shedding
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed.

Did I mention that, like Frost, Thomas could be a bit glum, even before World War I came along?
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