Language Beneath Words: Edward Thomas

  • Stuart Sillars


Edward Thomas’s poetry has existed in three clear, separate incarnations. First is the reception, tentative and then increasingly secure, of the poems by ‘Edward Eastaway’ by a small circle of professional writers who judge him as a professional. The letters, to Eleanor Farjeon, Gordon Bottomley and of course Robert Frost repeatedly reflect a concern for the detail of his writing — ‘your dashes would clear up “Rain” a little. I will put them in’ (Farjeon, 183). This intimate, detailed respect changed with the publication of the Collected Poems in 1920. Walter de la Mare’s foreword understandably but inevitably shifts focus from the poetry as achieved object to the poet as struggling exile. When so many scarred by war struggled to find roots and rest in a countryside they had little known, the image of dispossession referred to by Thomas in his ‘accidental cockney nativity’2 and sense of the ‘superfluous man’3 exhausted by an alien city life and the mechanism of ceaseless book-reviewing found great resonance as a myth of exclusion. Along with the publication of Helen Thomas’s volumes of memoirs, its result was to throw interest away from the texts and back onto the struggle to achieve them. In the Thirties this move was extended by the first books about Thomas, which in their titles reveal the redefined relationship of poetry and poet: Robert Eckert’s Edward Thomas: A Biography and a Bibliography and John Moore’s The Life and Letters of Edward Thomas.


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  1. 1.
    Thomas, Edward. Feminine Influences on the Poets. London: Martin Secker, 1910, 85.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Letter to Ian MacAlister, 30 August 1900, in John Moore, The Life and Letters of Edward Thomas. London: Heinemann, 1930, 277.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The Happy-go-Lucky Morgans. London: Duckworth, 1913, 44. Here the term is first used of the character Aurelius, who closely resembles Thomas himself, but it is most fully defined in pp. 49–51.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The passage comes from p. 13. The approach is not original: I have borrowed it from Bernard Bergonzi’s treatment of some lines by Graham Greene in Reading the Thirties: Texts and Contexts. London: Macmillan, 1978, 60–61.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Page references are to to R. George Thomas’s The Collected Poems of Edward Thomas. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1978.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Mr and Mrs Robert Andrews, 1748–9; oil on canvas, 27½″ × 47″, National Gallery, London.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Light and Twilight. London: Duckworth, 1911.Google Scholar

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© Stuart Sillars 1999

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  • Stuart Sillars

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