Saturday, April 9, 2016

Robert Frost's commemorative poem: Edward Thomas March 3, 1878--April 9, 1917

Sadly, Edward Thomas is another of those artists, from many countries, whose artistic life was cut short during the Great War.  He enlisted in the army in 1915 and was sent to France as an artillery officer at the end of January 1917.   Thomas was at a forward observation post when he was killed.

I posted a sample of his poetry on June 8, 2014 and Dec. 23, 2013 and prose on March 20, 2015.   Robert Frost, a friend and mentor, published the following poem in 1923 in his collection, New Hampshire

To E. T.

I slumbered with your poems on my breast
Spread open as I dropped them half-read through
Like dove wings on a figure on a tomb
To see, if in a dream they brought of you.

I might not have the chance I missed in life
Through some delay, and call you to your face
First soldier, and then poet, and then both,
Who died a soldier-poet of your race.

I meant, you meant, that nothing should remain
Unsaid between us, brother, and this remained--
And one thing more that was not then to say:
The Victory for what it lost and gained.

You went to meet shell's embrace of fire
On Vimy Ridge, and when you fell that day
The war seemed over more for you than me,
But now for me than you--the other way.

How over, though, for even me who knew
The foe thrust back unsafe beyond the Rhine,
If I was not to speak of it to you
And see you pleased once more with words of mine?
 -- Robert Frost --

"E.T. . . .British essayist Edward Thomas . . ., a close friend of Frost's in England, began writing poetry with Frost's encouragement.   He joined the army in 1915, the year that Frost returned to the United States.   Several of Thomas's poems were published pseudonomously  from 1915 to 1917 and Frost succeeded in having a collection of Thomas's poems published in America."
from "Notes"
Robert Frost:  Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays
Richard Poirier and  Mark Richardson, Editors

Following is one of Thomas's last poems, written on December 24, 1916, while in England at home with his family.

Out in the dark

Out in the dark over the snow
The fallow fawns invisible go
With the fallow doe;
And the winds blow
Fast as the stars are slow.

Stealthily the dark haunts round
And, when a lamp goes, without sound
At a swifter bound
Then the swiftest hound,
Arrives, and all else is drowned,

And star and I and wind and deer
Are in the dark together, -- near,
Yet far, -- and fear
Drums on my ear
In that sage company drear.

How weak and little is the light,
All the universe of sight,
Love and delight,
Before the might,
If you love it not, of night.

 -- Edward Thomas --
The "Notes" regarding this poem in Edward Thomas: The Annotated Collected Poems suggest that Thomas Hardy's poem, "The Fallow Deer at the Lonely House," may have been influenced by Thomas's poem.  As Hardy is another favorite of mine, I must take a look at his poem.  It's intriguing to find Thomas as sort of a link between Frost and Hardy, both favorite poets of mine.   And, that "If" at the end sounds a note of ambiguity that is reminiscent of  both Hardy and Frost.
You will be seeing more of Edward Thomas's poetry here in the future.  If you haven't read anything by him yet, I would recommend you take a look.   And, thanks again to Stephen Pentz at "First Known When Lost" for introducing Thomas to me. 

It's a remarkable poem, considering it was written some four months before his death, and he knew he would be sent to France within the month.  Is it prophetic?


  1. I had never read Edward Thomas before.

    I agree that, this is very impressive verse that you posted.

    I love the work of Robert Frost and this seems to be have similarities. In particular the ever present sent of darkness illustrated here.

  2. i see thomas crouched down in the noisome trench with the overwhelming blast of big bertha ringing in his ears.. what a horrible time...

    1. Mudpuddle,

      According to the "Note," he was killed when an artillery shell exploded nearby.

  3. Brian Joseph,

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Yes, the link between Frost and Thomas is quite clear. I hope you get an opportunity to read more by Thomas.

    One commonality in the two poems is the humanity of both poets--these are real people with real feelings that come through clearly, even when confronted with the ambiguity of existence.

  4. Thank you, Fred, for introducing me to Thomas, and reminding me of Frost's poetic range. It seems to me that Frost was always striving to learn more and expand his poetic abilities. He lived long enough to make that effort; Thomas did not; that is, I guess, bitter cosmic irony of some sort.

    1. R.T.,

      Thanks for the kind words. I hope you get a chance to read some of Thomas's poetry.

      And not only Edward Thomas, but how many millions of others were unable to develop whatever skills they may have had?

      War is a curse on the human race, and those who blithely speak of nuking or carpet bombing others are sick. I will never vote for someone who thinks that way.

    2. hear hear! only two things required in life: kindness and tolerance...

    3. Mudpuddle,

      Well, universal acceptance and practice of those two virtues would certainly make life a lot better for all of us--both on the giving and receiving end.