Edward Thomas was known during his lifetime as a critic, essayist and writer of books about the countryside. Born in London, his happiest days as a youth were spent either wandering over the commons of South London or with relatives in the countryside near Swindon. Wiltshire was to remain his favourite county.
As a schoolboy, Thomas was encouraged to write by James Ashcroft Noble, who had recognised the boy’s talent and was himself a distinguished man of letters and a neighbour. At Noble’s home, Thomas met and fell in love with Helen Noble, whom he subsequently married while still an undergraduate at Oxford University. After gaining a second-class degree in History, he decided to pursue a career as a writer, having been encouraged by the publication of some nature essays and especially his first book, The Woodland Life, while he was still a student.
That decision, opposed by his father, led to years of poorly paid prose writing, both books and journalism. Life was a struggle for Helen, the three children and himself. Undoubtedly, this contributed to sporadic depressive illness. Nevertheless, his prose work established him amongst the foremost critics of the day.
He was moving towards the writing of poetry when, in 1913, he met and became close friends with the American poet Robert Frost, who further encouraged him to write verse, which he commenced in December 1914. Into the next two years, he crammed all his verse writing. Before he saw his poetry in print under his own name, he was killed at the Battle of Arras on Easter Monday 1917. Since then, Thomas’s reputation as a poet has increased greatly and, perhaps as important, his posthumous influence on the development of English verse has been crucial. Poets as diverse as WH Auden, Philip Larkin and Derek Walcott have acknowledged their debt to him.