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An Introduction to Edward Thomas

Steph Atkinson | Thursday September 08, 2011

Categories: Poetry, Thomas, Edward Thomas, KS5 Archive, AQA A Level, AQA A Level Pre-2015 Resources, AQA A Level English Literature A, LTA1, OCR A Level, OCR A Level Pre-2015 Resources, OCR A Level English Literature, F661

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Edward Thomas and His Poetry

Edward Thomas is one of our most highly regarded war poets and yet in the popular imagination is perhaps less well-known; his work has attracted the highest critical acclaim.

Here are some comments:

Because all of his poetry was written after the outbreak of war, it is all, in an important sense, war poetry. Behind every line, whether mentioned or not, lies imminent danger and disruption. Andrew Motion

And from the foreword to the Collected Poems of Edward Thomas (1920)

His face was fair, long and rather narrow, and in its customary gravity wore an expression rather distant and detached. There was a glint of gold in his sun-baked hair. The eyes ... were of a clear dark blue ... the lips were finely lined and wide, the chin square. His shoes were to his stature; the hands that had cradled so many wild birds’ eggs, and were familiar with every flower in the Southern counties, were powerful and bony; the gestures few; the frame vigorous ... His smile could be whimsical, stealthy, shy, ardent, mocking, or drily ironical ... His voice was low and gentle but musical, with a curious sweetness and hollowness when he sang his old Welsh songs to his children. I have never heard English used so fastidiously and yet so unaffectedly as in his talk. Style in talk, indeed is a rare charm; and it was his. You could listen to it for its own sake, just as for its style solely you can read a book. He must have thought like that; like that he felt. There were things and people, blind, callous, indifferent, veneered, destructive he hated, because he loved life, loved to talk about it, rare and racy, old and charactered. He might avoid, did avoid, what intimidated, chilled, or made him self-conscious; he never condescended. So children and the aged, the unfriended and the free were as natural and welcome to him as swallows under the eaves ... What he gave to a friend in his company was not only himself, but that friend’s self made infinitely less clumsy and shallow than usual, and at ease ... Nobody in this world closely resembling him have I ever had the happiness to meet: others of his friends have said the same thing ... Walter de la Mare

De la Mare also wrote:

When Edward Thomas was killed in Flanders, a mirror of England was shattered of so pure and true a crystal that a clearer and tenderer reflection of it can be found no other where than in these poems.

And finally, literary critic, Stan Smith, wrote this of his Thomas’s poetry (‘Edward Thomas’. Faber & Faber 1986):

The war…exists beyond the poems’ edges…

Edward Thomas’s poetry is renowned for its focus on nature and its philosophical bent.

Important Characteristics

  • the desire to seize the moment to treasure and enjoy it: carpe diem (seize the day)
  • the idea that time stands still for the speaker to contemplate nature/existence
  • the solitary figure
  • poems that pose questions
  • the paradox of the speaker’s desire to die in order to experience peace whilst also wishing to experience the living world
  • the unstoppable cycle of life and death, particularly in relation to the seasons
  • the microcosm of the speaker’s experience versus the macrocosm of the world beyond
  • the use of allusion (e.g. ballads, poetry) which may be intended to give a sense of timelessness
  • birds
  • roads and pathways
  • equivocation/ambiguity/indecision

Common Themes & Techniques

  • memory
  • the contrast of extremes
  • admiration of nature
  • past versus present
  • the silent partner/addressee and the one-sided exploration of emotions/thoughts
  • the effects of war, particularly in terms of nature and emotion
  • a comparison of Thomas/the speaker to other men in terms of contrast

Form, Structure and Language

Central to any textual analysis at A Level is the consideration of form, structure and language. Therefore these Edward Thomas PowerPoints focus on these three aspects of analysis.

  • In order to assist with your teaching of these poems in terms of form, structure and language, here follows a selection of literary devices and techniques used by Thomas in the 15 poems and phrases used in the analysis under the three headings. This list is not exhaustive but should give you a good idea about the kinds of techniques which are relevant to each area and which might be taught.

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