Edward Thomas was born in Lambeth, Surrey, England in March of 1878. He was the son of Phillip Henry Thomas, a civil service clerk, and Mary Elizabeth Thomas. Thomas was the oldest of six sons born to the couple. Much of his young life was spent in Wales and Wiltshire. As a young boy he attended Belleville School and St. Paul’s School in London.
Early Life and Education
In 1898 he started at Lincoln, College, Oxford where he studied history. It was around this period of time that he decided he was going to spend his life as a writer. Thomas published his first book, The Woodland Life, in 1896. It contained a collection of essay about walking. He also met and married Helen Berenice in 1899 and finished at Oxford in 1900.
Thomas’ father hoped that his son would enter into his own field, that of civil service. Thomas wanted to obey his father’s wishes, even preparing for the civil serve examination. He did not pursue this career though. Thomas also found work as a book reviewer and later worked for the Daily Chronicle as a reviewer of contemporary poetry, criticism and country books. He was making very little a week, forcing him to take on more work and taking away time from his own creative writing practice.
Early Literary Career
The following years saw the Thomas family move more than five times. They also had two daughters, Myfanwy and Bronwen. Thomas also published a number of volumes, including biographies of Richard Jefferies in 1909 and Algernon Charles Swinburne in 1912. While these biographies were his own work, they did not provide him with the creative outlet he needed and his health suffered. Before the start of World War I he wrote The Happy-Go-Lucky Morgans in 1913 and In the Pursuit of Spring in 1914.
Steep Village and Robert Frost
It was during this period that Thomas grew close with poet Robert Frost, whose family had moved into a nearby home. They spent a great deal of time together, walking and inspiring one another in their works. It is thought that Frost’s poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’ came from these quiet walks through the countryside.
The landscape of the surrounding Steep Village was deeply influential on Thomas’ work. Frost’s presence was also a powerful force. He influenced Thomas to begin writing poetry. Thomas reciprocated Frost’s support by positively reviewing his volume North of Boston. He wrote his first poems in 1914. One of the first, ‘Up in the Wind’ was published that year. Another work, ‘Adlestrop’ made famous the railway station of the same name in Cotswold.
At the start of the First World War, having been further inspired by Frost, Thomas enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles. This enlistment was completely voluntary. His position as a married man would have exempted him from being drafted into the service. Today, some believe that after receiving a copy of ‘The Road Not Taken’ Thomas took the poem personally and quite seriously. It may have been the deciding force in his choice to enlist.
He was sent to Hare Hall Camp in Romford, Essex. He soon became a Lance Corporal. One of his many fellow officers was the well-known war poet Wilfred Owen. During the months that Thomas was at Hare Hall he wrote prolifically. He finished more than forty poems within a ten month period. These are included in a two-year period during which he wrote more than 140 total pieces of verse. Thomas’ work is noted for its first person perspective. His narrators are often in a state of flux, moving from place to place, unsure of what they are doing or where they are going.
Death and Legacy
In 1916 Thomas started training as an Officer Cadet with the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was soon commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. Again, he volunteered and was sent to France. He was stationed at in a number of different towns including Dainville and Arras. It was in Arras that he was killed on April 9, 1917. At the time it was stated that the cause of his death was a shell blast. Information was later uncovered revealing instead that he was shot in the chest. He was buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery Agny.
After his death, fellow poet W.H. Davies wrote ‘Killed In Action (Edward Thomas), published in 1918. Thomas’ widow wrote about her life married to the poet in her two-volume autobiography As It Was and World Without End. Thomas’ life and literary works are commemorated in Poets Corner of Westminster Abbey in London.