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 Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Thu 01 Mar 2012, 23:18


Thomas is often regarded simply as one of the "war poets" and true enough he died on the western front in 1917. However his poems, written in a short frenetically productive period from 1913 up to his enlistment in 1915, were inspired primarily by his experiences while living in the small rural community of Steed in Hampshire. As an insight into a young man's prescient musings on maturity and mortality they are exquisite in their own right. However they also serve now almost as a snapshot of that specific time and place, an avenue not only into Thomas's mind but the very heart and soul of a place and a life long vanished, the English rural village before war and "modern living" stripped it of its innocence and its uniquely ancient continuity.











The beginning of a poem "When First I Came Here" is quoted in the interview. But it has always been the last few lines of the same poem which have struck me for their maturity (he was still in his mid 20s when he penned them) and for how tragically prophetic they all too soon proved to be in his case.

Just hope has gone forever. Perhaps
I may love other hills yet more
Than this: the future and the maps
Hide something I was waiting for.

One thing I know, that love with chance
And use and time and necessity
Will grow, and louder the heart's dance
At parting than at meeting be
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Fri 02 Mar 2012, 08:54

Many thanks for that, Nordmann. It has had a strangely calming effect on me this frantic Friday morning.

People may be interested to find out more about Edward Thomas here:

http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/thomas

That photograph is haunting - how it has captured the man's sensitivity, but also his cruelty - and the depression.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 19 Mar 2012, 13:18

Just found this beautiful poem by Eleanor Farjeon (she of "Morning has Broken" fame), a friend of Thomas and his wife, written just after his death at Arras.




Easter Monday

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 like 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.


Eleanor Farjeon, 1917

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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 19 Mar 2012, 13:43

I have a mixed feeling about Edward Thomas - I think he is one of the poets who may have peaked in WWI, and if he had survived, anything else would have been anticlimactic (similarly Rupert Brooke). I think a post-war Thomas might have become merely a second Housman in theme and mood.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 19 Mar 2012, 13:58

He peaked prior to WWI, and well prior to it in that his work was all produced in a frenzied two year period before the enormity of what was happening in the world impinged on him. From that point, through his enlisting, and right up to his death he stopped producing poetry and none of his poems address the conflict. In my view he could quite comfortably be listed with the so-called "bucolic poets" in that he was one of the last who prioritised the countryside in his work, not just as a setting but as the absolute object of his attention. I believe this focus would not have changed had circumstances been different and he had been allowed to continue in the vein he was forced to abandon. A second Houseman was not on the cards either - if you read Thomas you notice an absence of idealism in his observation, the opposite in fact. We are deprived of Thomas being humorous, but it is possible that age and a relaxation of his angst might well have produced a second Betjeman. Though I doubt that too.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Tue 20 Mar 2012, 06:53

nordmann wrote:
In my view he could quite comfortably be listed with the so-called "bucolic poets" in that he was one of the last who prioritised the countryside in his work, not just as a setting but as the absolute object of his attention.

Absolutely. But think Sir William's Empson's comment on the Pastoral process - "putting the complex into the simple." Thomas wasn't a war poet at all - or at least he was, but the war was within himself.

The Farjeon poem is indeed beautiful, Nordmann, and one I have never come across before. Thank you for posting it.

Thomas's friendship with EJ was intense - and one that went beyond friendship. They may not have been lovers in a physical sense, but one reviewer of Helen Thomas's collected writings, "Under Storm Wing", says that she was deeply distressed by her husband's relationship with this family friend. She struggled - as the partners of creative and brilliant men often have to - to be tolerant and understanding.

Marriage was not easy for Thomas, and marriage to him was hard. Yet his love for Helen cannot be disputed. "And You, Helen" is the strangest of love poems - it is a personal favourite of mine - a great poem of love, regret and apology.

You may be interested to read the following articles. They contain the full text of the five letters Helen Thomas wrote to Robert Frost after her husband's death. How alike Frost and Thomas were - even in their terrible depressions. I had no idea until I read the articles that *both* had attempted suicide:

http://www.dartmouth.edu/~library/Library_Bulletin/Nov1989/LB-N89-Evans.html

http://www.dartmouth.edu/~library/Library_Bulletin/Apr1990/LB-A90-Evans.html

I've ordered the Matthew Hollis biography. It should arrive tomorrow - I suspect Cromwell will be put on hold for a while.

Just been reading "Ambition". Could have been written for this very morning.

"...and one was racing straight and high

Alone, shouting like a black warrior

Challenges and menaces to the wide sky".

What a superb simile for a bird - or for the poet.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Tue 20 Mar 2012, 08:05

There's so much between the lines in that correspondence - thanks for finding it.

I read Helen Thomas's "memoir" a long time ago and she struck me as foolish on several levels. I've learnt a bit about grief myself in the meantime though and despise that I was so readily dismissive. Kudos to her daughters too. Thomas was well protected by them all, even 40 year after his death.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Thu 22 Mar 2012, 08:14

The Matthew Hollis biography is superb - I spent all day yesterday reading it, and have continued since 4.00am this morning. Highly recommended for all around here who are interested in poetry and life in England on the eve of the Great War.

I wish now I hadn't made trite comments about Thomas's "undoubted" love for his wife, Helen. Sentimental tosh, based on one poem and the incorrect reading of several others that were probably inspired by another woman - the hauntingly beautiful Edna Clarke Hall.

Now I've read a little more about the man's life I can quite understand why anyone would judge that Helen Thomas was "foolish on several levels." She was foolish, both before and after his death. But it *is* perhaps a harsh judgement; it's certainly one that can be made of many women. Was Eleanor Farjeon any less foolish in her relationship with Edward? More on that later.

Helen Thomas's story is surely common enough - a woman clinging to the wreckage of a marriage that seems to have been one of those doomed "carnal" unions that Sir William Cecil spoke of in his sardonic comment that "nuptii carnales a laetitia et in luctu terminantur" (carnal marriages begin in joy and end in weeping). The tears usually begin when the children arrive and the youthful passion departs. I'm reminded of Ted Hughes and that other brilliantly talented depressive Sylvia Plath.

It was agonising to read this:

"Towards his wife Helen he was cruel at these times. Hard silences, harsh words, quiet fury, despair. She learned not to pursue him into his agony but to leave him be, and continue with her daily chores. She would chatter across the silences until she ran out of chatter or he of patience, and either the silence resumed or it would be broken by his angry departure from the house...Often he worked or walked late in the evening and if she waited up with his supper he would rage at her for doing so. He hated her fussing and her pretence that all was well...he was left to berate himself bitterly: 'I am the man who always comes home to his supper."

Robert Frost, when he visited Eleanor Farjeon in 1957 (forty years after Thomas's death), made several extremely unfavourable references to HT, insisting, as he had done before, that Edward had wanted to leave his wife. Reading this from Hollis it hard to disagree - it is unutterably painful:

"One morning she returned from the post office to report that no letters offering him work had arrived for him that day.'Why tell me what is written on your pale wretched face?' he lashed out at her.'I am cursed, and you are cursed because of me. I hate the tears I see you've been crying. Your sympathy and your love are both hateful to me. Hate me, but for God's sake don't stand there pale and suffering. Leave me, I tell you; get out and leave me.'"

Helen was carrying her second child, and after this incident she wrote a letter to her friend Janet Hooton, saying that she hoped both she and the child would die - "I have prayed that I and my babe may die, but we shall not, tho this would free Edward."

So much for my comment about "undoubted" love!

Picasso once said that "there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats." I haven't read enough about Eleanor Farjeon yet; her memoir, "Edward Thomas - Eleanor Farjeon: The Last Four Years", which contains most of Thomas's letters to her, arrived with the Hollis biography. But I'm already uneasy about her. She certainly was not one of the "goddesses" (like Edna Clarke Hall?); could it be that this clever, sensitive, understanding woman was, in her own way, one of the doormats? Despite the intellectual bond with Thomas, she was as unhappy as Helen. This from Jan Marsh's "A Poet for His Country":

"Eleanor's silent, undemanding love, with its implicit faith in him, gave Thomas something of what he ws looking for. To Eleanor he was able to express his doubts and hopes without fear of rejection...it was a relationship without risks, offering sustained support and confidence, both of which he needed."

Mmm - but at what cost to her, I wonder? Eleanor's deep unhappiness is expressed in the almost adolescent lines of her poem describing her agonised waiting for Thomas's letters:


"At first was the time when the silence was only little

And the hope of his letter kept every day alight,

And every time that the post did not bring the letter

The next time burned more bright.



Now is the time when the silence has been so long

That hope does not come with the postman to the door.

I listen still, but I've stopped expecting his letter,

I don't hope anymore."

It continues for another two painful verses - pitiful stuff, I'm afraid, that reminds me of Charlotte Bronte's misery as she also waited for letters from a married man (Constantin Heger whom she loved, as Farjeon did Thomas, with a silent, self-effacing devotion). I originally put "foolish women", thinking of them all, but that is unkind. It's just that when I read of a woman's giving herself over to "silent, undemanding love" I feel impatience rather than sympathy. I've more respect for Plath who stormed out. She had the guts to lash out - sadly, though, at herself. Plath nearly did a Medea too, and killed Hughes's children. No "protecting" him. But in the end she left them behind, calculating, rightly, that that would damage him far more. But misery and depression - as Thomas himself noted - undoubtedly aid the creative process.

And, reading of Eleanor's and Helen's "loving" relationship, I'm not convinced that neither felt jealousy. Eleanor was easily the intellectually superior of the two, but I suspect that, for all her protestations of affection and "gratitude", Helen actually felt a kind of contempt for this clever, original "girl" (HT's own word) - for the thirty-year-old woman whom she knew (Eleanor had told her) was in love with her husband. HT knew Eleanor was admired, respected, needed by Thomas, but she was not desired. Some small consolation in that for Helen, I suppose, as her husband spent hours - days - talking and walking with EJ. Two women - both in love with the same man - pretending to be sweet and civilised and "understanding" with each other. It must have been hell for them all.

However, when I've read more, I may completely change my mind.

Some interesting comments from Hollis on this fascinating triangle, but I've written far too much already and quoted quite enough from Hollis. And all this emphasis on the women is not what the thread is about. Thomas's writing - and his relationship with Robert Frost - is what is really important, and, on a history board, I should be commenting on how the Hollis biography evokes the lost England that Thomas elegised so movingly in the nature poems.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Thu 22 Mar 2012, 16:00

A very interesting post, Temperance. I'll get the book and enjoy reading it I'm sure.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Thu 22 Mar 2012, 17:59

Thanks for the reply, Mathilda (and welcome, by the way).

I very nearly deleted the whole lot, actually - whole post reads like a chapter from "Women Who Love Too Much", or "The Cinderella Complex".

But do get Hollis's book - it's excellent.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Thu 22 Mar 2012, 18:53

Temp, how could you think of deleting this most interesting post!. If I had written I'd probably print and frame it. Not only does it lead one to read the book and read more of the nature poetry but also to sit and think about the trials of marriage that some people suffer - or do I mean inflict on each other? I don't think Picasso was right though. Good partnerships like some Roman Consuls can develop.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Thu 22 Mar 2012, 19:56

Thank you for that, P.

Have you read any of his poetry? Here's Richard Burton reading "Adlestrop":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0J1Ze5QXG8&feature=related

I'll see if I can find links for "I built myself a house of glass", "Rain" and "Aspens" - just for starters.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Thu 22 Mar 2012, 20:15

Priscilla wrote:
I don't think Picasso was right though. Good partnerships like some Roman Consuls can develop.

Well, he was French - no he wasn't, he was Spanish!

Sartre was another who went for the goddess/doormat approach. Silly man. Poor Simone de Beauvoir - pretended she went along with it all, but I bet she wanted to throttle him most of the time.

I agree with you actually - happy partnerships do *develop*, with no need for gods, goddesses, doormats or boot-scrapers. All that stuff gets very tedious once you're past nineteen. (I was a goddess once, you know, for about a week in 1974. Then I got found out. But it was great while it lasted .)


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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Thu 22 Mar 2012, 20:43

High priestess has been bit of a come-down for you, then.

I've seen much worse examples of such disfunctional marriages where he grows more nasty and abusive with the realisation that he's made a mistake from which he now cannot escape (at least not with dignity intact) and she grows steadily more insane as she tries to paper over cracks the size of the Grand Canyon. Intelligence does not help either - in fact a self-awareness and a refined intellect simply sharpens the focus on the mistake one has made.

But to me it appears that Edward and Helen had in many ways begun, as people did once upon a time, to accommodate the gulf between them, though in a manner which people today, for whom divorce is a much more prosaic affair, would be aghast at for its reliance on so many techniques and adopted attitudes injurious to mental health. Whether he saw the war as an opportunity, however drastic, to finally take a step away from the debacle or whether he genuinely followed a sense of patriotic duty and actually regretted that he must leave his wife and children, is hard to know from the correspondence. Helen however seemed in no doubt that he would have wanted to come back to the relationship after serving his time and stuck to that belief throughout her life, possibly in defiance of reality though knowing that she now could never be gainsaid.

What struck me about her though, however blind she may have made herself to the truth, was the consistency of her stance, and all the more admirable a consistency for all that if it was indeed merely a house of cards in her head. If so, it was a house of cards cemented together with an absolute conviction that they were lovers and that she owed it to him to defend and even promote him after his death. There are not many people who can stick to their guns like that through a whole lifetime in the face of constant reminders, and these coming mostly from "old friends", that one is living a fantasy. Even a lie. One has to be mad, one has to be committed to a lifetime of being on one's guard, and one has to be sure of one's motive. I have no doubt that grief was the catalyst in which this final version of the fantasy was forged in Helen's mind, so I cannot fault her.

Having said that, she must have driven these old friends who knew them both and had seen the truth potty as the years went by, but then when you look at these "good friends" maybe they were already halfway there themselves anyway.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Fri 23 Mar 2012, 02:34

Just speaking generally, with little knowledge of Edward Thomas, and none apart from the above of his life, that post is very acute, Nordmann.

Quote :
Intelligence does not help either - in fact a self-awareness and a refined intellect simply sharpens the focus on the mistake one has made.


That must be true, and worse if one person is more intelligent that the other. I recall working in education with a not-very-bright young woman who was married to a clever man (whatever was he thinking of?). It wasn't just the effects on them that was awful but on the children who seemed to have his brains, but lacking any discipline from a mother who didn't know how to impose it. The oldest child was heading rapidly to trouble at the age of 7. I just can't imagine how her husband got through each day, really, knowing what he had to come home to.

While I was reading the earlier posts, I did think that Thomas wasn't even 40 when he died and marriages learn to accommodate some difficulties as people get older and calmer. However, I am not sure that, as Helen became perhaps less sexually interesting to him, Eleanor's intelligence and greater understanding of him wouldn't have made him even less tolerant of his wife.

I don't think much of any analysis of people that sticks them into one of two catagories, so wouldn't take much notice of Picasso's ideas on the subject, if that's as far as he got.

Do men give over to 'silent undemanding love' in that sort of way? Modern men, at least, seem to go for stalking when they can't get what they want, but those are the ones we hear of in the court news. Do others/did others hold onto women despairingly when there is someone else, or their woman seems not to care any more?

By the way, Temperance, you often mention deleting your posts and it has bothered me a bit that that means we lose your wonderful musings; whatever would make you delete the above one which was so full of information and entertainment?

Caro.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Fri 23 Mar 2012, 09:37

Eleanor Farjoen, using a terminology which was prevalent in the Bunty circa 1965, was what I would call "dippy" at that age. Unlike either Edward or Helen Thomas she strikes me as most uncomplicated a person, in fact so uncomplicated almost as to be justifiably termed simple. There is nothing from what I have read which indicates that she ever had a clue at the time regarding either the impropriety (an important consideration at the time) or the effect of her rather adolescent fixation on Edward on either him or his family, or indeed herself. In fact it appears that she never even retrospectively considered her role at this time in any critical light and continued to express with some nostalgia and pride a deep affection for the man which, to the casual listener, must have sounded very suspect indeed (though there is no evidence that her devotion to the man ever went beyond a lyrical one). She even regarded herself as an ally of Helen in the latter's attempts to keep her husband's literary stature in high standing.

I am not aware of how Thomas regarded her however. Perhaps Temp has found mention of this in Hollis's book? Given the man's problems and self-critical nature I would be amazed if he had ever found much solace in such attention, though maybe some of the distraction it afforded him was welcome. But I suspect however much she thought she loved him it could only have been unrequited. Men like him in his position can imagine all kinds of love but are poorly placed to actually love anyone themselves.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Fri 23 Mar 2012, 09:59

Got to go out now, but will respond later.

Thanks for starting this thread, Nordmann - I'm losing myself at the moment in these people's lives.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Fri 23 Mar 2012, 18:17

Caro wrote:
Just speaking generally, with little knowledge of Edward Thomas, and none apart from the above of his life, that post is very acute, Nordmann.

Quote :
Intelligence does not help either - in fact a self-awareness and a refined intellect simply sharpens the focus on the mistake one has made.



Certainly these situations are bad enough for the self-aware and intelligent; but how much worse it must be for an individual who is also burning up with a creativity that must find expression. Such a man - or woman - needs space: they can only live with others if they are *let be*.

Domesticity; the exhausting grind of earning a living; the need to spend (waste?) time doing things "together as a family" - these demands can imprison and eventually destroy a creative person. And creativity thwarted so often manifests as depression and/or cruelty; add guilt to the mix and the whole thing becomes unbearable for all concerned.

Here's Thomas at his worst in 1913, as he struggled to complete "The Pursuit of Spring". Helen had expressed concern that he was exhausting himself. Her anxiety simply sparked his temper:

"Tired is not what I am. I'm sick of the whole of life - of myself chiefly, of you and the children...I despise myself for not putting an end to it."

A year later, Eleanor wrote to Maitland Radford:

"Things there are very bad in every way - worse than I've ever known them. I do not see why he and Helen don't break down utterly. Yet such good walks and talks are possible for him and with him when he's cut off from his family..."

In a later letter:

"...it is a tragic household, Mait. I love them past speaking of, but it's heart-aching."

But Eleanor's sympathies were more with *him* than *them* and so - at the moment - are mine. But that could change. HT's "Under Storm's Wing" arrived this morning, and I do not want to say too much about her until I've read her account of her life with Thomas. My preliminary impression, though, is that Helen was one of "love's martyrs", the "Stand By Your Man" type of woman who can actually be very selfish and dishonest in her "love" - or rather in her needy desperation to *be* loved. But I'm possibly being too harsh. It was 1914, after all, not 2012 and a woman could be just as much trapped in an unhappy marriage as a man - more so, perhaps. But would Helen have left this "abusive" man, even had she been able to? I doubt it, and alarms bell start ringing for me when women write this sort of stuff:

"It is I who am making a home for Edward, the only time I have had it all in my own hands, and I believe it is going to be the happiest home we've had. I know I shall do my best, and my dear boy is trying too...he's tried hard during these last two years to kill my love for him, but it's just the same as it always was and it's my great treasure, the thing that keeps me going, that is my life, that and the children. In my heart I have memories so splendid that I am rich in happiness tho' I spend so very many days of utter misery. Sometimes I think he does not love me any more, and my soul gets into a panic of terror, and then out of the darkness comes some wonderful gleam that gives me new hope, new life, new being and I start again. And in this cottage it's all going to be easier..."

Oh, dear God, is my reaction to that, I'm afraid.

The "dippy" (perfect word) Eleanor next. More follows...


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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Fri 23 Mar 2012, 20:49

I think I was wrong to suggest that Eleanor Farjeon was the doormat type.

I've been reading a little more about her today, and I'm getting to like her very much. The "unease" I felt yesterday about *all* the women in Edward Thomas's life is still there, but there is far more to EJ than I realised. I should have known that of course from the beauty and simplicity of her poem, posted earlier in the week by Nordmann.

I think Eleanor would be the first to agree that she *was* "dippy" - certainly when she first became involved with the Thomas family. As she herself admitted (see quotation below), she was thirty-one, going on eighteen (a very bright *fifteen* is possibly nearer the mark), when she met Edward. But she was a delightful "adolescent" - and Thomas possibly saw in her the ideal intelligent, sensitive and understanding sister he'd never had - just as Robert Frost said he had found in Thomas the brother *he* had never had.

I'm aware that I'm probably quoting too much in these posts, but, if I may, I should like to let EJ speak for herself: her words are honest and revealing. She describes herself with a disarming candour, and speaks frankly in these brief lines about how Thomas viewed their relationship. This, from "A Foreword" to her "Edward Thomas: The Last Four Years":

"When I first met him I was thirty-one, and only just emerging from a fantasy-life into one of natural human relationships...and (I was) as emotionally immature as a girl of eighteen. My undisciplined delight in writing had developed through poetry and music, instead of through life...I wonder now how the sort of person I was could have become a companion to the sort of person Edward was...He counted on me for friendship; and I loved him with all my heart."

nordmann wrote:
I am not aware of how Thomas regarded her however.

She goes on:

"He was far too penetrating not to know this, but only by two words, in one of his last letters from France, did he allow himself to show me that he knew. Our four years were undemonstrative and unfailing. It is important that this should be made clear, and accepted. Surmise and conjecture may sometimes unravel a truth, but oftener lead away from it. A misconception of the nature of our friendship would make Edward Thomas appear to be what he was not. Helen, my brother Bertie, and one or two close friends, had my confidence; Edward trusted me never to give it to him. If I had, our friendship must have come to an end."

The "two words", by the way were seemingly insignificant. Written just two weeks before he died, they occur in this sentence. "It is far worse *for you* and for Helen and Mother, I know". Not much - and surely the words a brother might indeed have written to a much loved younger sister - but Eleanor held onto them for the rest of her life. "In those two words 'for you'," she wrote, " Edward laid by his reserve for the only time in our friendship, and allowed me to know that he knew how much I loved him."

Hollis gives a fascinating and perceptive account of how Eleanor "confided" in Helen. It is an interesting passage:

"As they sat up late at night, Eleanor unburdened her feeling for Edward. 'You know I love him?' 'Yes, Eleanor, I do.' Eleanor delicately offered to withdraw from the Thomases' lives altogether, but Helen would have none of it...'If having you would make him any happier, I'd give him to you gladly,' said Helen. Her comments were kindly meant, but she would never have 'given' Edward to Eleanor or anyone else. For Helen had made a calculation; that so long as she retained Edward's fidlelity then she would, she believed, retain him along with it. She felt sure he would not develop a sexual attraction for Eleanor; that being so, Eleanor would be not only an ally to her, but an asset..."

But the real threat to Helen - and she knew it - was not the virginal, dippy, loveable Eleanor; it was someone quite different: the "older, wiser and more beautiful Edna Clarke Hall." The love poems which I thought were for Helen were - possibly - written for this woman, including - interestingly, given what you say about an inability to love, Nordmann - this lyric in which Thomas questions his capacity to love at all. It's "Those things that poets said" (1916):

"Those things that poets said

Of love seemed true to me

When I loved and I fed

On love and poetry equally.



But now I wish I knew

If theirs were love indeed,

Or if mine were the true

And theirs some other lovely weed:



For certainly not thus,

Then, or thereafter, I

Loved ever. Between us

Decide, good Love, before I die.



Only, that once I loved

By this one argument

Is very plainly proved:

I, loving not, am different."



Confusing. A warning to Edna that he was incapable of love? But then the love poems he wrote in the winter of 1916 do not point neatly to one person, so I could be wrong again about ECH. Need to read more. He had, by the way, been at pains to tell Helen that he was in fact incapable of loving:

"...you know my usual belief is that I don't and can't love and haven't done for something near 20 years. You know too that you don't think my nature really compatible with love, being so clear and critical. You know how unlike I am to you, and you know that you love, so how can I?"

I'm reading about his meetings with Edna now - and yet more of Helen's anguish.

Back later.

PS Caro, thank you for the kind words. I delete because I fret. I usually think I've written too much, and most of it off-topic tripe. I remember an old poster from the BBC - I think his/her name was Shufflin' Peasant - who gave some good advice: type it; post it; forget it.

My version is: type it; post it; delete it.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 07:48

Mmm, may I have a little say here? I knew 'Adlestrop' but had forgotten who had written it - and Thomas's name seemed unknown to me. Then I read that he had been an avid reader of Richard Jefferies - as I had been when young - ah, so now I know something of him. I read several of Thomas' poems yesterday and was struck by the lack of empathy he had with his unpopluated world of nature writing. He was less a creative poet than he was a recorder of what moved him to thought; the same difference as is betweeen the talented dauber and a master.

I was dismayed by earlier posts about EF. She had compassion and I imagine he enjoyed her companionable silence without close confidence - I thought that before I saw the above note she wrote. His wife was probably a twitterer and all the more annoying because whatever she did in her realm of the home she did well. I think Thomas knew that he did not quite press the poetic button. If he had relished Jefferies when young then perhaps 'Bevis' had been an ideal for him as a boy. Certainly he was to me. Bevis was a loner but far from lonely as he was absorbed by the nature about him. Thomas is not absorbed by it - he sees it as a world apart not admitting that our countryside is the result of long human intervention and therefore integrated with it.

Jefferies - so Watson who prefaced the copy I have with me here suggests - he would probably eventually become more admired for his distillation of country people than for his celebrated observations of nature. It was for that that I read him because I was privy to the ploughman, the milkmaid and the poacher and such during my childhood in a remote rural corner. Later, John Moore capture the last of that world well and with humour. Jefferies' humour is a tad heavy, and Thomas is short suited in it. There is no way that he could ever have been a second John Bejmann.

I guess I must read the book now yet it seems like an intrusion into the fabric of a sad relationship woven a man's self dismay and those about him both loving and suffering for it.

As for EF. For forty years I have managed to read her, 'The Glass Peacock" short story to 8-11 year old children at that moment in time when they are writing their Christmas list - a salutory tale and not a dry eye in the house; just silence when I close (with two sentences added of my own, actuall.)

Thomas does not and cannot relate well. He lived in a darkness where a EF was a beam and where his wife was not allowed.

Now I shall stop. Forgive the intrusion. I am no literary critic. Also sentences are jumping about to the wrong place.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 08:47

Intrusion? Please "intrude" more, Priscilla - will be brief this time.

Yes, Thomas's earliest influence was Richard Jefferies - did you know he wrote a biography of him: "Richard Jefferies: His Life and Work" (1909)?

Don't want to launch into boring screeds about how Thomas's work (prose and poetry) actually pioneered "ecocriticism" - no time anyway - but here's a couple of quotations that you may like to ponder:

"Let us get out of these indoor narrow modern days, whose twelve hours somehow have become shortened, into the sunlight and the pure wind."

"The countryman is sinking before the Daily Mail like a savage before pox or whisky...brewers, bankers and journalists...are taking the place of hops in Kent".

Prophetic environmentalism?

But this is probably not a good response to your post, but haven't time to think at the moment. I'm off away from the computer and out into the sunlight and pure wind.

PS "Man seems to me a very little part of Nature and the part I enjoy least."
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 10:18

What I meant to imply was that 'nature' and the wild' for the most part that we know in UK is the result of man's control over thousands of years. Othewise it would be mainly decaying forest and bush thickened headland and probably moor. The swathes of pasture and tree lined behedged lanes that he pondered over were imposed by farmers. "I cannot believe he was the first to dispair about rural 'fings not being like they what they wos. ' The rural elders that I knew as a child moaned on about it as did fishermen on the estuary and people in their high weekend towers.

I ramble when I should be packing, helping with potential buyers streaming through the house and with stuff to collect in town. I really ought pull in my horns!
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 10:19

What I meant to imply was that 'nature' and the wild' for the most part that we know in UK is the result of man's control over thousands of years. Othewise it would be mainly decaying forest and bush thickened headland and probably moor. The swathes of pasture and tree lined behedged lanes that he pondered over were imposed by farmers. "I cannot believe he was the first to dispair about rural 'fings not being like they what they wos. ' The rural elders that I knew as a child moaned on about it as did fishermen on the estuary and people in their high weekend towers.

I ramble when I should be packing, helping with potential buyers streaming through the house and with stuff to collect in town. I really ought pull in my horns!
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 10:28

Priscilla wrote:
I read several of Thomas' poems yesterday and was struck by the lack of empathy he had with his unpopluated world of nature writing. He was less a creative poet than he was a recorder of what moved him to thought; the same difference as is betweeen the talented dauber and a master.

I think Thomas knew that he did not quite press the poetic button.

Priscilla - I'm back, but just for a moment.

I'm puzzling and fretting over your post. I'm sure I'm not understanding the sentences above. I do often get the wrong end of sticks - or sometimes fail to grasp them at all.

Edward Thomas was "a master" - yes? You're surely not suggesting that he was no more than "a talented dauber" are you? Please clarify!

Edit: You've posted something. Oh blow, will send this anyway.

But I really must go.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 10:57

Yes, Temp, I do mean suggest that. He had word skill - as in competent brush stroke, a sense of vision and construction but without the master touch. In painting it is to do with blandness, in Thomas' writing it is to do with lack of empathy with the subject. He doesn't allow it to reach out to touch him. His lack of fame among the uniniated such as myself is further testament.

He was published, he had newspaper columns a sound education and therefore probably contacts to enhance his- and yet I couldn't recall him at all. Many writers start off in deeper marshes and float to the top bouyed on real talent. Frost prpbably thought he was stifled by lack of recognition in Britain. Thomas probably suspected he was stifled by lack of the break through spark of a master.

I have been recently among young people who have such confidence that they will be soon recognised as top designers, artists or journalists that one cringes - one dubious show, print or exhibition, often helped considerable by wealthy families and contacts and their heady ego is going to take a beating. A publisher once said that probably some of the finest writing ever lies in dusty boxes in the shed for want of someone to recognise its worth. Thomas had his chance but did not hit the high spot of his inner ambition which is as good a reason for depression as any. Just an opinion and to be honest, who am I to make such strident remarks?
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 11:27

Once again I'm diving in completely disregarding my lack of knowledge beyond a vague familiarity with some of the poems but there's something about your argument P that rings true. Is this a man who, although as you put it, competent and having a degree of success, knows deep down that he just doesn't have that spark that would elevate him and in an attempt to drown out this understanding is thrashing around for a culprit? And who better to blame than a restricting and inadequate wife? I've seen that too often in other areas, 'I would have been a success if it were not for you dragging me down'.
There's also a strong whiff of codependency here as well as self indulgent, middle class angst but that's probably my personal exasperation with wallowing in misery - is this my aquarian lack of empathy again? I'm so tempted to respond with the archetypal Scottish response - Greet? I'll give you something to greet about.


Quote :
"Man seems to me a very little part of Nature and the part I enjoy least."

Oh dear, what a silly and superficial statement, resonant of "Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile", Post romantic Victorian twaddle and if not possibly evidence of Aspergers then at the very least of self obsessed self disgust. I'm so glad I didn't know these people, talent really doesn't compensate for being a pain in the backside.

With that probably uncalled for rant Lying low
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 11:33

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss Thomas's entire oeuvre. His poems, to me, are hit and miss. But when they "hit" they were moving and memorable. I have the same opinion of a lot of poetry as well as music and painting, and tend to regard the work higher than the artist anyway. If we all discounted a poet's entire output on the basis that he or she produced only one gem then there are a lot of gems that would have been lost to literature.

Having said that, I agree too that part of Thomas's angst stemmed from an understanding that a lot of his poetry was "forced" and artificial, which it was. But then I forgive even that if from such work I glean a single line or sentiment with which I can identify or which impresses me. One could say the same about Wordsworth (or at least I can), but for all the artifice there are still some nuggets worth cherishing and sharing.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 12:08

I have just read all your comments and I am spluttering with rage and frustration.

Read his bloody poems before you dismiss him!

However, I shall say no more - simply have a some tea from my "Keep Calm and Support With Buttresses" William McGonagall mug.

I shall then return to commune with nature - i.e. my compost heap.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 12:20

I have and I haven't.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 12:38

Rage and frustration? - oh dear. Just me, Temp. I did read many poems otherwise I would not have said this. I think the man had a problem with engaging himself with empathy beyond his own sadness.... as entering the forest of the unknown alone in contemplation of death. . is the gist of what I read in one of them. He was so very alone. Had he taken up Frost's caring concern then perhaps it would have been different - but he could not be parted from his muse, could he? New England is not soulful enough.

Of course there are lines and choice of words that work well for him and the reader: is that enough for greatness? I have yet to read Hollis' book but it seems to dwell on relationships and revealing snatches from interesting sources about a very private person. I'm not sure that I will either. here, have a miff and I'll wear the enfolding cloak of shabby opinion - for a whole day if you like.

He probably tried too hard. I am not a fair judge of poetry, I admit because I say this sort of thing about many poets. Don't get me on Shelley.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 17:17

Sorry about the huff. Wasn't a proper huff any way.

It's hard when you've got a suffering, sensitive, artistic soul, you know.

Which Shelley? Not Tracey's mate?
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 18:31

Are yu questioning the quality of huffs we use here now? Hmmpf. The Shelley who made A levels hell for me - that one.... and Spencer!
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 18:33

Davis or Tracy?


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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Sat 24 Mar 2012, 18:47

The young Percy blyss sort of Shelley. The trouble is that I really found him a trial atthe time and many years later came to appreciate his work. So your Thomas may well come in for my appreciation when I am really losing it.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 26 Mar 2012, 10:37

I've been unable to put Helen Thomas's book down. Her writing is uncomplicated (a refreshing change these days); nothing "clever" at all, but a vivid and honest account of herself and her life with Edward Thomas - as she saw it. What a pity this woman did not write more - it could have been the saving of her - and of her marriage. She was an intelligent, perceptive woman, and she clearly needed something else in her life besides housework, fussing over children and martyring herself to her husband's genius (or his talent, whichever you prefer). Odd that I've just typed "perceptive", when she was so obviously unable to perceive the truth about herself and Thomas - but then who am I to presume what that "truth" was? I suspect I'm the unperceptive one. And yes, "constant" she certainly was - but in or to what exactly I'm not sure.

Quite apart from her harrowing account of what it was like living and coping with Thomas, HT's descriptions of what life was like in the England of a hundred years ago makes for fascinating - and painful - reading. Dear God, what we English have lost. Those middle-class, artistic Bohemians were living in a demi-paradise, an Eden (John of Gaunt's cliche, I know, but perhaps here an appropriate one), although they of course didn't know it. You don't know what you've got till it's gone. Theirs was a still unspoilt rural world - no distant roar from a motorway or an A303 for *them*. But, ironically, they all still - not just the Thomases, but that whole arty set (I'm thinking Dora Carrington and friends here) - managed to make a hell of it for themselves.

All those descriptions of idyllic country cottages with flagged floors, ranges and huge gardens - all yours for a rent of 7/6d a week.

And, even though pushed for money, the Thomases still managed to have a house built - here's HT's description. It leaves you gobsmacked - it's like a dream from "Country Living" magazine. This sort of place would cost you an absolute *fortune* these days - even if you could find the skilled workmen who understood what you wanted. Quite beyond the reach of most of us, let alone a young couple:

"Arrived at the lane on the top you had a wider view of the South Downs from Chanctonbury on the east to Butser on the west. And here on the edge of this great plateau four hundred feet above the sea - which on a clear day you could see like a grey mist below the horizon - our house was built.

It rose slowly, for Lupton* himself built it to his own design. In his workshop great oaks - which he himself years ago had chosen as they grew - and which he had seasoned and sawn and planed - were transformed into beams, doors and window frames. Everything for the house that could be made locally was so made; the bricks, the tiles, even the glass were made under Lupton's direction. The great nails that studded the doors, the hinges and the hasps, were forged by our landlord, and he taught us to make the oaken pegs which held the tiles in their place. The children and I used to go up every day to see the gradual development of the house...We saw the great oak arches to support the roof shaped and hauled into their place, and the children walked on the rising walls which were to keep the fury of those hill-top storms from us."

The family moved in and, two pages later, this unhappy woman is writing: "Yet somehow we could not love the house...There was nothing in that exposed position to protect us from the wind, which roared and shrieked in the wide chimneys, nor have I ever heard such furious rain as dashed vindictively against our windows."

It's good writing - a solid house that still could offer her no protection - Ted Hughes couldn't have done better.

*Lupton was a local craftsman.


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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 26 Mar 2012, 11:13

The house did offer her protection. She says herself the wind was reduced to a noise in the chimney and the rain didn't get past the window. What else is a house meant to do? If it was built on high exposed ground it will get the full treatment from the elements. Sounds to me like Lupton did a good job in its construction.

These people often "suffer" from nothing that a good kick up the backside wouldn't cure.

Dippy.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 26 Mar 2012, 11:36

Actually Ted Hughes did do much better. Here's his no doubt appropriately titled "Wind":

http://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/ted-hughes/wind/


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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 26 Mar 2012, 14:39

nordmann wrote:
These people often "suffer" from nothing that a good kick up the backside wouldn't cure.

Dippy.

Your comment is not entirely fair, nordmann, although I understand the impatience both you and ferval express about these people - understand more perhaps than you both give me credit for.

During the years when the likes of the Thomases, their friends in the Dymock group and the far grander Bloomsberries were all leading their anguished, artistic lives in their various Edens (where at least there was always enough to eat), my own grandmother was struggling in a Bootle tenement to raise four boys and to keep some sort of control over her drunken Liverpool-Irish husband. Mind you, my grandfather rather fancied he had an artist's soul - that is, he much preferred drinking and playing his fiddle (very badly) to working for a living.

But they survived - somehow - although I believe she too went dippy in the end.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 26 Mar 2012, 16:05

Forgive my impatience, Temp, I'm not entirely a philistine and I am forever grateful for the work of these artistic souls, but I can get weary of the misery that they can inflict on others in their pursuit of their seemingly all important muse. At what point does this tumble into self indulgence?
To be fair, it looks like Wlliam Tpaz was a pain in the bahookie as well http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/jan/21/featuresreviews.guardianreview2
This bit describing his appearance as Macbeth made me laugh out loud

Quote :
The show consisted of selected highlights rather than the entire play. On one occasion, repeating the duel with Macduff for a third time, by audience demand, McGonagall refused to go down, as obliged by the script, when his opponent ran him through with his sword (Macbeth, V, viii). According to a review in the Dundee People's Journal, Macbeth "maintained his feet and flourished his weapon about the ears of his adversary", continuing to cry, "Lay on, Macduff; / And damned be him that first cries 'Hold'". Damned, rather, be Shakespeare's stage direction that states, "Macbeth slain". Eventually, the reviewer in the Journal wrote, Macduff resolved the matter "in a rather undignified way by taking the feet from under the principal character".
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 26 Mar 2012, 16:17

Ah! Like Peter Sellers as the sepoy shot at from all sides in the opening scene of that hilarious film, The Party. ... and too many Oscar winners in acceptance of an award that makes one wonder if a mistake has not been made after all.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 26 Mar 2012, 16:22

Sorry for the above digression. Before I take to the jet stream homeward bound for a bit, I shall make one last remark here. That self conscious 'other wordly and contemplation of higher things' Poetry reading aloud voice - its one of the attitudes that puts me off listening poetry. And if there is anything worse I suppose it is recordings of poets reading their own stuff - unless its Dylan Thomas.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Tue 27 Mar 2012, 09:56

Ferval - I know you are not a "philistine", anymore than I am a middle-class fruit loop!

I want to pick up on a word you used in your first post above: "co-dependency". I think you were absolutely right to use that word - there was indeed more than a "whiff of co-dependency" in the Thomas household, and, while "dippy" might be the word for the innocent (?) and besotted Eleanor Farjeon, it is not a word I'd apply to Helen Thomas or to the man himself. This couple's problems went far deeper than mere dippiness.

I've just finished the "World Without End" section of Helen Thomas's book, "Under Storm's Wing". It's left me depressed and angry - I think I'd give this book to any woman stuck (that is any woman who *allows* herself to remain stuck) in a relationship with an abusive man. Yes, I concede that Thomas - brilliant, unstable and vicious - *was* abusive, but, dear God, how the women about him "enabled" him, Helen especially. Her story is a classic account of a rageaholic's cruelty to a co-dependent, love-addicted woman. She simply let him get away with it - as these women do - time after time after time. It happens - and happened - all the time; and it has nothing to do with the horrors and restrictions of marriage before emancipation and women working and providing for themselves. You get women like Helen in 2012 - *financially* independent women who may be able to hold down good jobs, but who still act as doormats for their men - just as, a hundred years ago, there were happy, balanced relationships, even though the woman stayed at home and the man "provided". Unhealthy dependency isn't always about money.

I'm sorry to quote again at length, but I think this passage says it all about the "love" triangle of Edward Thomas, Helen Thomas and Eleanor Farjeon. It's part of HT's book that really turned my stomach - left me despairing of them all. Helen is writing about the very first evening Eleanor Farjeon stayed with them:

"...I want him to be happy with Eleanor, until I am sure all is well with him again. It is all mysterious to me why this un-love must be. He can comfort me out of any unhappiness with a word or a kiss, just as with a word he can chill me to death. But my love seems to mock me with its impotence to help him. And yet I know he is relying on me to wait for him till he can come to me.

At supper Eleanor praises my cooking, and Edward is pleased, and he is again gay and the talk flashes between them. I join in now and then, and the talk takes a turn that reminds me of some little village contretemps that has happened the other day. And Edward says sharply, 'Yes, that is you all over, Helen. You try with your idiotic kindness to please everybody, and succeed in pleasing nobody, me least of all.' Eleanor looks up to see if this is a joke, and she finds Edward's face full of anger and bitterness, and mine unhappily bewildered, trying to smile as if it was a joke."

'Can't you see what a fool you make of yourself?' he adds.

Oh, if only I could slip away to leave him in the peace that I so unwillingly disturb. Eleanor's face is full of astonished trouble....Soon we are sitting smoking and talking. They do most of the talking. I sit under the lamp sewing, not knowing whether it is best to try to talk, or what. But all seems to be going well when he says:

'Can't you speak, or are you paying me out?'

So I try to join in, though I am sick with misery. The evening is spoilt, and bed is suggested though it is early yet.

'I'm not going to bed yet,' he says. 'I am going out to walk on the hill to leave myself there or find myself, I don't know which.' "

And off he goes, leaving Eleanor to comfort Helen by telling her that yes, she is in love with her husband. They embrace, and Helen assures EJ, "' If he could love you, Eleanor, I could not help but be the sharer...you ought to be loved, Eleanor...and you love Edward, and, if on the hill-top he finds you it will be right'...Then we speak of him, of his beauty and tenderness, of his work and the fastidiousness of his taste, and his hatred of hypocrisy and jargon and cant. The time goes on into hours. It is late but warm, and the night is bright with moonlight."

Dear God - what are we to make of these outpourings?

A kick up the backside for them all? Yes, perhaps an efficacious remedy for the lot of them, but personally I long to give Edward himself - for all his undoubted brilliance and ability to produce superb poetry - rather more than that. I think I'd have told him to stay up the bloody hill (with or without himself) and not to bother coming back. And a taxi (or 1913 equivalent) first thing in the morning for her. But then perhaps it is I who am the Philistine.

But I still think the poems - most of them - are good.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Tue 27 Mar 2012, 10:25

Temp, I could never consider you a loop, fruity or of any class, just rather more empathetic to the human condition than I am.
These relationships are endlessly fascinating, a kind of gossip at a remove not unlike that in which we all indulge regarding people we know and, I fear, not too far away from the misery memoirs that fill the book sections of supermarkets.
Sometimes I feel that we are just a little too sympathetic towards these abused women and fail to see that they are more than passive subjects of their situation. Damaged self esteem and loss of autonomy are the usual explanations for their apparent submissiveness to their treatment but at least sometimes, and possibly here, there's also a passive-aggressive controlling going on as well.
Quote :
And yet I know he is relying on me to wait for him till he can come to me.
Very revealing don't you think and not just self delusion. They could easily have parted but something in the relationship must have met a need in each other even if it was a kind of emotional sado masochism. I suspect that they deserved each other and at least, by staying together, spared anyone else from having to suffer.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Wed 04 Apr 2012, 16:06

Anyway, just to leave the subject of marital angst and to get back to the poetry - and to history.

Posters may be interested in this poem by Edward Thomas:

http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/item/2970

"Up in the Wind" was actually the very first poem Thomas wrote - using material from his field notebook for October -December 1914. The influence of Robert Frost is obvious - it's Thomas's closest approximation to the Frost "eclogue" in which rural speakers tell their story.

I like the way "Up in the Wind" traces shifting relations between family history and socio-economic history, between landscape and rural work.

And I'm fascinated by the charcoal burners - not a trade I've ever really thought about:

"That's all that's left of the forest unless you count

The bottoms of the charcoal burners' fires -

We plough one up at times."

The White Horse, or the "pub with no name", the highest pub in Hampshire, is still there. It has flourished amid the further socio-economic shifts of our own times. It's now a trendy gastropub, but still does not have a sign. I was surprised that the writer of this article from the Telegraph does not seem to know that the pub he is describing was also the subject of Edward Thomas's poem.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/pubs/3309104/Pint-to-pint-The-Pub-With-No-Name.html

I wonder what Thomas's "wild girl" - and the old smith's widow - would make of the place today? Next time I'm up in Hampshire, I'll definitely try to find the place and go for a good look around.


Last edited by Temperance on Thu 05 Apr 2012, 06:46; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Wed 04 Apr 2012, 17:50

I've found a rather interesting article about charcoal burning in the New Forest. I wonder if NormanHurst knows anything about this?

http://freespace.virgin.net/j.purkis/lonely.htm
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Thu 05 Apr 2012, 10:56

Priscilla wrote:
Yes, Temp, I do mean suggest that. He had word skill - as in competent brush stroke, a sense of vision and construction but without the master touch. In painting it is to do with blandness, in Thomas' writing it is to do with lack of empathy with the subject. He doesn't allow it to reach out to touch him.

I'm still baffled - and, believe it or not, still brooding - over your comments, Priscilla. "Lack of empathy with the subject". Thomas's *nature* poems - lack of *empathy* with his subjects? - and as for the man's love poetry...

Yes, I'm back to love and angst this morning, I'm afraid, mainly because I've been reading all about Edna Clarke Hall, the woman who - I'm convinced (although Matthew Hollis is wisely wary on the subject) - inspired the great love poems Thomas wrote in 1916.

Clarke Hall was an extremely interesting - and unusual - woman. She was a successful artist who had trained at the Slade, and she had exhibited her watercolours annually with Vanessa Bell's Friday Club since 1910. In April 1914 she had a solo exhibition at the Chenil Gallery in Chelsea. Fifty-six works offered, which grossed £147 in sales. She also wrote poetry.

Edna Clarke Hall had met Edward and Helen Thomas in 1900 (Helen expressed some disquiet at the time); she and Edward renewed their acquaintance in 1915. ECH was then living at the Great House near Upminster Common, just a few miles from Hare Hall Camp where Thomas was stationed for his preliminary army training. Edna was unhappily married (her husband spent much of his time in London); and when she met up again that year with Edward Thomas, this artistic, intelligent woman was lonely, unloved and still had the haunting beauty that had so terrified Helen fifteen years before.

Priscilla - if you are around - do read the following poems, all written in 1916: "Like the touch of rain"; "When we two walked"; "No one so much as you"; "After you speak"; "Celandine" and a poem that has been a favourite with me for many years, although until today I had absolutely no idea for whom it was probably/possibly written - "It rains". Can you really say this poetry betrays a "lack of empathy with the subject"?

Whenever he could, Thomas got away from the camp, and he and Clarke Hall managed to spend hours together, walking and talking and collecting wood in the fields and orchards surrounding the Great House, wood with which "they would feed the open fire as they talked of their arts of poetry and painting." The private journals she kept after his death are "teeming with rich, physical and sometimes intimate descriptions of Thomas. She wrote out in full or in part no fewer than fifteen of his poems in her journal - and added many of her own besides."

In 1919 Clarke Hall suffered a complete nervous breakdown. In that year Helen Thomas had writtten an anguished letter to Edna: "Why wasn't I beautiful to Edward? I did so long for your beauty not to take it from him, not to take but to give, to have hair and eyes and mouth and that something else...I remember you so clearly standing for all I longed to have to give him."

We may dismiss Helen Thomas (in our knowing 2012 clinical way) as being just another codependent woman, but gosh her story - with those of the other two women who loved Edward Thomas, "the moon, the mouse and the sparrow" - is heartbreaking. Perhaps only Eleanor Farjeon - dippy as she may have been - emerged relatively unscathed, although having read her sonnets from "First and Second Love", I'm not so sure.

I've lost in the ether a picture of Edna Clarke Hall - will go back now to try to find it.

Nope, the picture I want won't paste.



Edit: Edward Thomas was 39 when he died on Easter Monday (April 9th), 1917. The three women who had been so devoted to him had years and years to get through without him - another lifetime's worth for all three: 50 years for Helen (she died in 1967); 48 years for Eleanor (1965); and as for Edna - she lived on for another 62 years, dying in 1979, aged 100.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Tue 10 Apr 2012, 12:51

Hello Temperance,

This is what I love about History-the continuity and overlapping of it all. These women were all alive during my life time (and perhaps yours) and what changes in society they must have seen (men on the moon etc). Do you know how the other two women earned their living after ET's death? Perhaps they had 'private means' to keep them afloat. Their way of life doubtless contrasted sharply with other women in a similar situation who lived in fear of the workhouse! Also you say a lovely South Downs house 'all yours for 7/6d a week'. I wonder what that amount represents in today's money and the wages of, say, an ag lab, of that time. I should look it up for myself but my garden and allotment are calling to me loud and clear so I'm off to enjoy my little piece of rural idyll.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Tue 10 Apr 2012, 15:58

mathilda wrote:
Hello Temperance,

This is what I love about History-the continuity and overlapping of it all. These women were all alive during my life time (and perhaps yours) and what changes in society they must have seen (men on the moon etc). Do you know how the other two women earned their living after ET's death? Perhaps they had 'private means' to keep them afloat. Their way of life doubtless contrasted sharply with other women in a similar situation who lived in fear of the workhouse! Also you say a lovely South Downs house 'all yours for 7/6d a week'. I wonder what that amount represents in today's money and the wages of, say, an ag lab, of that time. I should look it up for myself but my garden and allotment are calling to me loud and clear so I'm off to enjoy my little piece of rural idyll.

Hi Mathilda,

I'm so pleased you're still around - do hope you'll post some more here - we are not a "stuffy" lot - honest!

I feel just as you do about what you call the "continuity" of things. I was a young woman - careless and thoughtless - when Edna Clarke Hall was approaching her hundredth birthday in 1979. Had I passed by her then (she came to live in Cornwall), I would no doubt in my youthful ignorance have seen no more than a shrivelled, pitiable husk of a woman - probably one confined to a wheelchair - but gosh, what would I give to talk to her today?

She continued to paint and to exhibit, although, sadly, her studio was destroyed in the Blitz of 1940/41. You can still buy some of her rare watercolours today - apparently they go for less than £1,000. Good "investment" or not, I would be (am) tempted!

Helen went to pieces after Edward's death. She descended into a hell described by her daughter as a "terrible lethargy" - that awful state known to those who have suffered full-blown clinical depression. It culminated in a severe, complete - and dangerous - breakdown in the mid 1920s. Writing about it all saved her: her memoirs, "Under Storm's Wing" (title comes from ET's poem, "Interval") and "World Without End" were written as therapy. Helen had, however, at least no real fear of *poverty*: Hollis says that one of the reasons Thomas enlisted in - I think - the Royal Artillery (not sure about this - will have to check) was that he knew that, in the event of his death, the pension for his widow and children would be generous...

Farjeon, of course, became a famous writer of children's fiction: she also found success as a journalist and broadcaster. She never married, but had long "friendships" (probably platonic) with George Chester Earle and the actor, Denys Blackelock.

I'm puzzling at he moment over "Tears", one of Thomas's great poems written on the same day - 8th January, 1915 - as his most famous poem, "Adlestrop":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyvEFCLVbOQ

What does this poem mean? Another example of Thomas's remarkable ability for translating memory into epiphany? But this poem confuses me so much - beauty and violence combined - so ambiguous. That "rage of gladness" - what an astonishing paradox - is it about that seductive English imperial ideology - and the "exultant violence" that sustains it? I don't know - and the hounds - "like a great dragon" (St. George?) or a Welsh image? Totally confused and still mulling it over... Do you like his poetry, Mathilda? What do you (or anyone else?) make of "Tears"?

PS I've checked out prices and things. 7/6d was roughly £28.80 a week (RPI), but £122 compared with rise in average earnings since 1913. Even so, I think a beautiful, William Morris inspired detached house on the top of a hill commanding views of the South Downs *and* the sea, would yield a rental income in 2012 of rather more than just under £500 per calendar month (no DHSS) these days! An agricultural worker, by the way, could hope for a yearly income of around £46. 96 - a teacher got about £176 p.a., a miner £83.63 p.a. and a solicitor £1343 p.a.

PPS Nordmann - don't know if you found Edna's photo floating around in the cellars, or if you read my mind, but thank you for making her image appear in my message above. That *was* indeed the picture of her I tried to paste.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Thu 28 Jun 2012, 07:36

I'm off later today - going up to Oxford for a study day on Thomas (his poetry, not the women in his life ), and then a couple of days walking around his country haunts in Hampshire etc. I'm going to look for the Pub With No Name and the various houses where he and Helen lived and were thoroughly miserable.

Really looking forward to this!

Back next week.
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PostSubject: Re: Edward Thomas - an interview with his biographer Matthew Hollis   Mon 01 Apr 2013, 11:40

In 1913 Edward Thomas embarked on a bicycle trip across the English countryside in which he attempted to once more immerse himself in its qualities and nature after some years in London. He published an account of this experience in one of his rare prose works "In Pursuit of Spring".

BBC Radio 4 has just completed a three-part programme written and presented by naturalist Matthew Oates which retraces Thomas's journey and examines the countryside as a basis for lyrical interpretation and expression as well as Thomas's own personal contribution and legacy to the long tradition of nature-inspired poetry in English literarure.

BBC Radio 4 - In Pursuit of Spring (episodes 1 to 3)
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