Monday, 3 March 2008

Edward Thomas and Robert Frost

Today is Edward Thomas's 130th birthday. As we have seen on Poet-in-Residence (scroll sidebar), he was one of the ten million killed in the so-called 'war to end all wars', as the French leader Clemenceau phrased it.
Thomas began writing his poetry at the age of 36 and wrote 143 poems. His first collection was published posthumously.
Robert Frost, born 4 years before Thomas, lived to be almost 89. One of Frost's most famous poems was inspired by Edward Thomas,- his friend and 'accessory' as Frost called him.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost (1874 - 1963)

The road that Edward Thomas took led in 1917 to Aras and away from Frost, and it was a cruel road covered with 'blood and beer bottles' as his diary entry testifies. It was the last road that Thomas saw as he manned his machine gun. But maybe, as Poet-in-Residence imagines, as he lay there battle-weary, firing those last rounds into the smoke-filled distance, he had time to recall his own 'fair' and 'less traveled' road. Frost and P-i-R sincerely hope so.


Yes. I remember Adlestrop -
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop - only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Edward Thomas (1878 - 1917)


  1. Two of my favourites - thank you!

  2. thanks gigi,
    the 2nd poem is very poignant - by some miracle, both my grandfathers somehow survived the senseless slaughter of the Somme - otherwise I wouldn't be here to tell the tale!

  3. Thomas was not a machine gunner - but at the time of his death was an Artillery Gunner acting as Forward Observation Officer, directing his Artillery Battery by observing their 'fall of shot' in support of the troops in the first advance of the Battle of Arras. He was very brave.

  4. Hafoddave,
    many thanks for your comment, especially coming as it does on St. David's Day!
    I'm humbled when I think of the bravery of Thomas and others.


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