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Edward Thomas (1878–1917) called himself ‘mainly Welsh’. He grew up in London, but developed a passion for Nature. Hating the economic forces that had destroyed agricultural communities and expanded cities, Thomas absorbed, as his poetry shows, the literary and folk traditions of the English countryside.
After studying history at Oxford, he lived in rural southern England, particularly Steep in Hampshire. He supported his family by writing reviews, country books, biography and criticism. Overwork caused (sometimes suicidal) depression and creative despair. This self-styled ‘hurried & harried prose man’ could not find a ‘form that suits me’. Yet books such as The South Country (1909) and In Pursuit of Spring (1914) fertilised the poetry which – prompted by Robert Frost – Thomas began to write in December 1914. An influential poetry-reviewer, Thomas had praised Frost’s North of Boston as ‘revolutionary’. And its ‘absolute fidelity to the postures which the voice assumes in the most expressive intimate speech’ clarified his own artistic direction. Thomas's poem ‘The sun used to shine’ celebrates the poets’ friendship, but also suggests Thomas’s darker inspiration – the Great War. Although over-age, he enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles (July 1915). He was killed at Arras (April 1917) before his first collection, Poems, appeared.
Edna Longley's edition of his poetry, The Annotated Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2008), has established the most authoritative text of his work, and has the most comprehensive notes and critical apparatus of any edition.