Team Edward Thomas, comprising a group of nine brave souls who volunteered for the experiment and have been reading and discussing Now All Roads Lead to France, Matthew Hollis's biography of the last years of Edward Thomas's life, have not been idle behind the scenes.
The book has opened innumerable reading trails for many of us, digressions through Helen Thomas's memoir Under Storm's Wing giving us completely new perspectives on her life now that we have more knowledge of Edward... explorations of the lives of some of the women with whom Edward had very close friendships, including the poet Eleanor Farjeon and the artist Edna Clarke Hall. Other biographies and diversions into collections of letters and other memoirs have come onto the radar too, and Fran has topped it all off for us by taking advantage of just about every location she finds herself in, unearthing an Edward Thomas connection and sending pictures.
Fran's father, Harold, who has just celebrated his ninetieth birthday and has also been on a walking holiday in the Lake District recently, is a retired British Rail architect. Into his eighties Harold took up calligraphy as a hobby (Fran and I do like to keep our respective octogenarian fathers busy) and he had already, by chance, done a beautifully illustrated and hand bound copy of Edward Thomas's poem Adlestrop...our group's chosen working name.
Harold's exquisite illustrations have enchanted us and I am very grateful to Harold and Fran who have agreed I can post them here for you all to see.
The Team Edward Thomas project was all a bit of an experiment, but it seems to have worked and I know that I feel extremely fortunate to have been a part of it all because it somehow encapsulates what can be achieved... take one blog + one book + a group of enthusiastic readers, light the blue touch paper and off we go.
As we near the end of our shared journey with Now All Roads Lead to France, it has been a good time to reflect on what the book has done for me.
I feel I am nearer to the truth about a life that had been previously wrapped in some rather airy fairy romantic notions about a war poet tragically taken before his time and leaving us this wonderful legacy of words... well to an extent that is true, but my impressions are now tempered with the harsher and sometimes less palatable realities of Edward Thomas's life and loves. I won't reveal more because having finally sent our questions about the book off to Matthew Hollis, he may be addressing many of those issues in his responses which I will post here in due course.
This week a group of us (and we will be taking all of you along virtually of course) will be meeting up at Faber HQ in London to talk with Matthew in person... Nancy is flying over from the US to be there, so it will be our first and last gathering to talk about this book. Full report and pictures to follow of course.
I have come full circle and am back with the poems and not just Adlestrop, and remain grateful for the fact that, thanks to a combination of circumstances and friendships, Edward Thomas did allow that poetic grace to surface and make itself known.The poems really do reward close attention and I am getting a real feel for them now.
My current favoured one...
An acre of land between the shore and the hills,
Upon a ledge that shows my kingdoms three,
The lovely visible earth and sky and sea
Where what the curlew needs not, the farmer tills:
A house that shall love me as I love it,
Well-hedged, and honoured by a few ash-trees
That linnets, greenfinches, and goldfinches
Shall often visit and make love in and flit:
A garden I need never go beyond,
Broken but neat, whose sunflowers every one
Are fit to be the sign of the Rising Sun:
A spring, a brook's bend, or at least a pond:
For these I ask not, but, neither too late
Nor yet too early, for what men call content,
And also that something may be sent
To be contented with, I ask of Fate.
I have also emerged with a much clearer understanding too of the important context of the poems on a timeline, straddling the Georgian poets and their inclination for tradition and nostalgia, via the Imagists and their precise clarity through to the Modernists spear-headed by T.S.Eliot, who just broke all the rules because that's what rules were for.
Meanwhile the redoubtable Fran again, off to France to visit family a few weeks ago, made sure that her route took her to Agny War Cemetery and a visit to Edward Thomas's final resting place on behalf of all of us.
Fran's moving account of that visit with her pictures will be on here tomorrow.