In Memoriam (Easter 1915)by Edward Thomas The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood This Eastertide call into mind the men, Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should Have gathered them and will do never again.
To E. T.
by Robert Frost
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 the 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?
Edward Thomas never saw any of his poetry in print, a small volume of six poems under an alias came out shortly after his death in the Battle of Arras in 1917, having enlilsted in the infantry two years prior in 1915. Thomas was a poorly paid hack for most of his life, putting out anything that would pay a modest wage to feed an ever growing family. He wrote mostly criticisms and reviews of other writers work for most of his career, until a year long friendship with Robert Frost unleashed his creative potential, when Frost encouraged him to start writing poetry in the final three years of his life.
I wonder reading Thomas’ poetry if he would be half as admired if he had not died in France in World War I? I don’t mean that as an insult but an honest question. I do not find Thomas’ poetry particularly compelling, in fact I find the poems written about him far more interesting. However I realize it is poor manners to admit you don’t particularly like the poetry of war heroes, being far easier to just accept that the many learned academics who have reviewed him kindly after he died as accurate in their warm regards for his contribution to 20th century literature.
Thomas was a gifted prose writer whose critiques and reviews were witty, biting and insightful. Thomas’ undeniable contribution to American Literature was the push his passionate review of Frost’s 1914 collection of poems titled North of Boston provided, it being the first volume of Frost’s poetry that was met with critical and financial success.
I realize I may need to read more of Thomas’ work to better understand his vibe as a poet. Do you have a favorite E. T. poem? Please share it and tell me why.
Easter Monday (In Memoriam E. T. )
by Eleanor Farjeon
In the last letter that I had from France
You thanked me for the silver Easter egg
Which I had hidden in the box of apples
You liked to munch beyond all other fruit.
You found the egg the Monday before Easter,
And said, ‘I will praise Easter Monday now –
It was such a lovely morning’. Then you spoke
Of the coming battle and said, ‘This is the eve.
Good-bye. And may I have a letter soon.’
That Easter Monday was a day for praise,
It was such a lovely morning. In our garden
We sowed our earliest seeds, and in the orchard
The apple-bud was ripe. It was the eve.
There are three letters that you will not get.