poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

occasions

About this poet

On March 3, 1878, Philip Edward Thomas was born in Lambeth, London, the eldest of six sons of Welsh parents. As a child, Thomas spent many holidays in both Wales and Wiltshire, where he explored the landscape of Richard Jefferies, his first literary hero. Thomas was educated at several schools, including Battersea Grammar School and St. Paul's School in London. His father, who worked as a civil servant, wanted Thomas to enter the same field and urged his son to study for the civil service examination after leaving St. Paul's in 1895. Though he acquiesced and prepared for the exam, Thomas retained his desire to write and began publishing essays instead of pursuing a career in the civil service.

Encouraged by critic James Ashcroft Noble, Thomas compiled and published his first book, The Woodland Life in 1896, a collection of essays about his long walks. Thomas began a relationship with Noble’s second daughter, Helen Berenice Noble. They married in 1899, while she was pregnant with their son, Merfyn. Shortly after their first child was born, Thomas won a scholarship to Lincoln College in Oxford and later graduated with a degree in history, further diverging from the career path his father hoped he would follow.

For many years, Thomas supported his family through a series of reviewing positions. He succeeded Lionel Johnson as a regular reviewer for the Daily Chronicle, reviewing contemporary poetry, reprints, criticism, and country books, but was earning less than 2 pounds a week, forcing him to sacrifice creative writing for more necessary work. The Thomases moved five times in a ten year span, during which their two daughters were born, Myfanwy in 1910, and Bronwen in 1913. Most notably, in 1906, they moved to Petersfield in Hampshire, and later to the nearby Yew Tree Cottage in Steep, where the countryside had an immediate influence on Thomas’s poetic landscapes.

During this time, Thomas published a number of important critical and biographical studies, including Richard Jefferies (1909), Maurice Maeterlinck (1911), Algernon Charles Swinburne (1912), and Walter Pater (1913). Unsatisfied by work which he felt repressed his creativity, and under the constant stress of financial strains, Thomas endured poor health and recurrent physical and psychological breakdowns. His unhappiness was a great strain on his marriage, as were a few platonic friendships with women, such as the writer, Eleanor Farjeon. However, Thomas's well-being improved significantly following the family's move to Steep Village in 1913, where he began writing more creative and often autobiographical work. He began work on Childhood, and wrote The Happy-Go-Lucky Morgans (1913), The Icknield Way (1913), and In Pursuit of Spring (1914).

At this same time, the poet Robert Frost and his family moved into a nearby cottage. Frost was just at the start of his career, and the two men developed a strong friendship, taking long walks in the countryside together and gathering with a lively community of local writers in the evenings. Later, Frost wrote of their time together: "I never had, I never shall have another such year of friendship." It was during this precarious time, as World War I began, that Frost persuaded Thomas to begin writing poetry. He wrote his first real poem in 1914, the blank-verse dialogue "Up in the Wind," which was published, along with much of his later work, under the pseudonym Edward Eastaway. Thomas himself helped build Frost's reputation by writing a rave review of North of Boston in 1914.

As the literary market collapsed during the war, Thomas found more time to write poetry. He struggled with the difficult choice between moving with his family to New England, as Frost urged, or enlisting as a soldier. In July 1915, he joined the Artists' Rifles and was sent in November to Hare Hall Camp in Romford, Essex. He became a Lance Corporal and instructed his fellow officers, including the poet Wilfred Owen. While at Hare Hall Camp for ten months, Thomas wrote over 40 poems; in just two years, he wrote over 140 poems.

Written during wartime, while serving as a soldier, much of Thomas's work blends and shifts between meditative recollections of his beloved countryside and his experiences in battle. In a review in The Guardian, Ian Sansom writes: "If anything explains the continuing appeal of his poems, it's probably that Thomas seems to have no clear idea of what he's doing or where's he's going; the effort is all. Many of the poems feature a first-person narrator who is tramping along, overlooked by others, a visitor in the landscape, passing by beguiling streams and fields, often in the rain, listening to much thrush-song and 'parleying starlings' and 'speculating rooks', and getting absolutely nowhere. Happiness, life and love all lie just out of reach—a leap, or a walking-stick's length away."

In September of 1916, Thomas began training as an Officer Cadet with the Royal Garrison Artillery, and by November he was commissioned Second Lieutenant. He volunteered for service overseas and was sent to northern France, where he was stationed at Le Havre, Mondicourt, Dainville, and finally at Arras. On the first day of the battle at Arras, April 9, 1917, Thomas was killed by a shell blast. He was buried the following day in Agny military cemetery.


A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Poems (1917)
Last Poems (1918)
Collected Poems (1920)

Prose

The Woodland Life (1896)
The Heart of England (1906)
Richard Jefferies (1909)
The South Country (1909)
Maurice Maeterlinck (1911)
Algernon Charles Swinburne (1912)
The Happy-Go-Lucky Morgans (1913)
The Icknield Way (1913)
Walter Pater (1913)
In Pursuit of Spring (1914)

Tears

It seems I have no tears left. They should have fallen—
Their ghosts, if tears have ghosts, did fall—that day
When twenty hounds streamed by me, not yet combed out
But still all equals in their rage of gladness
Upon the scent, made one, like a great dragon
In Blooming Meadow that bends towards the sun
And once bore hops: and on that other day
When I stepped out from the double-shadowed Tower
Into an April morning, stirring and sweet
And warm. Strange solitude was there and silence.
A mightier charm than any in the Tower
Possessed the courtyard. They were changing guard,
Soldiers in line, young English countrymen,
Fair-haired and ruddy, in white tunics. Drums
And fifes were playing “The British Grenadiers.”
The men, the music piercing that solitude
And silence, told me truths I had not dreamed,
And have forgotten since their beauty passed.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas

Philip Edward Thomas was born in London in 1878. A close friend of the poet Robert Frost, he wrote much of his poetry while serving as a soldier during World War I. He was killed in France on April 9, 1917.

by this poet

poem
I never saw that land before, 
And now can never see it again; 
Yet, as if by acquaintance hoar 
Endeared, by gladness and by pain, 
Great was the affection that I bore 

To the valley and the river small, 
The cattle, the grass, the bare ash trees, 
The chickens from the farmsteads, all 
Elm-hidden, and the
poem

If I should ever by chance grow rich
I'll buy Codham, Cockridden, and Childerditch,
Roses, Pyrgo, and Lapwater,
And let them all to my elder daughter.
The rent I shall ask of her will be only
Each year's first violets, white and lonely,
The first primroses and orchises—
She must

poem

November’s days are thirty:
November’s earth is dirty,
Those thirty days, from first to last;
And the prettiest thing on ground are the paths
With morning and evening hobnails dinted,
With foot and wing-tip overprinted
Or separately charactered,
Of little beast and little bird.