Saturday, April 28, 2012

Matthew Hollis - Edward Thomas

I've just finished reading Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas by Matthew Hollis (Faber & Faber). Matthew Hollis is an editor at Faber and a poet and was tutor on an Arvon course I attended in Yorkshire some years ago.

This is a fascinating read, partly because Thomas is such a complex character and partly because Hollis tells the story so well. He places the poet within the literary scene of the times with much reference to and discussion of contemporary writers including small parts for Yeats, Eliot and Pound.

Edward Thomas had scraped a living as a reviewer and as a writer of twenty prose books, many of them travel books. Though he had a reputation as an important critic he despaired of making a living as a writer and was very unhappy in his marriage. In 1908 he even considered suicide.

He then met the American poet Robert Frost, who had come to England to make a fresh start as a poet and under his influence started writing poetry at the end of 1914 believing like Frost that poetry should employ the natural cadences of ordinary speech.

On the outbreak of war Frost returned to the USA and after months of indecision Thomas joined the army and was killed on 9 April 1917 at the start of the battle of Arras. His first collection of poetry was published six months after his death. Since then Edward Thomas' reputation as a poet has continued to grown in stature.

The book is a great read, full of wonderful insights into the pre-period. Francis Ledwidge even gets a mention though few on this side of the Irish Sea would have called him a "republican" as Hollis does in the book!

The book won the the 2012 Costa Biography section award.
Loads of reviews online including this one.
The author reads from the book here.
Adlestrop is probably his most well-known poem.

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