Edward Thomas circa 1905. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Philip Edward Thomas
Born March 3 1878(1878-Template:MONTHNUMBER-03)
London Borough of Lambeth
Died April 9 1917(1917-Template:MONTHNUMBER-09) (aged 39)
Pas-de-Calais, France
Pen name Edward Thomas, Edward Eastaway
Occupation Journalist and poet
Nationality British
Genres War poetry

Philip Edward Thomas (3 March 1878 - 9 April 1917) was an Anglo-Welsh poet and prose writer.



Thomas is commonly considered a war poet, although few of his poems deal directly with his war experiences. Already an accomplished writer, Thomas turned to poetry only in 1914. He enlisted in the army in 1915, and was killed in action during the Battle of Arras in 1917, soon after he arrived in France.


Thomas was born in Lambeth, London, into a mostly Welch family. He was educated at Battersea Grammar School, St Paul's School, and Lincoln College, Oxford. Unusually, he married while still an undergraduate and determined to live his life by the pen. He then worked as a book reviewer, reviewing up to 15 books every week.[1] He was already a seasoned writer by the outbreak of war, having published widely as a literary critic and biographer, as well as a writer on the countryside. He also wrote a novel The Happy-Go-Lucky Morgans (1913).

Thomas worked as literary critic for the Daily Chronicle in London, and became a close friend of Welsh tramp poet W.H. Davies, whose career he almost single-handedly developed.[2] From 1905 Thomas lived, with his wife Helen and their family, at Elses Farm near Sevenoaks, Kent. Thomas rented a tiny nearby cottage for Davies and nurtured his writing as best he could. On one occasion Thomas even had to arrange for the manufacture, by a local wheelwright, of a makeshift wooden leg for Davies.

Even though Thomas thought that poetry was the highest form of literature and regularly reviewed it, he began seriously writing poetry only in late 1914.[1] Living at Steep, in East Hampshire, he initially published some poetry under the name "Edward Eastaway".

By August 1914, the village of Dymock in Gloucestershire had become the residence of a number of literary figures including Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfrid Gibson, and American poet Robert Frost. Thomas was a visitor at this time.[3] The railway station at Adlestrop was immortalised in a well-known poem by Thomas after his train made an unscheduled stop there on 24 June 1914, shortly before the outbreak of World War I.[4]

War serviceEdit

Thomas enlisted in the Artists' Rifles in July 1915, despite being a mature married man who could have avoided enlisting. He was promoted Corporal and in November 1916 was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was killed in action soon after he arrived in France at Arras on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917. Although he survived the actual battle, he was killed by the concussive blast wave of one of the last shells fired as he stood to light his pipe.[5]

Thomas is buried in the Military Cemetery at Agny in France (Row C, Grave 43).[6]

Family Edit

Thomas was survived by his wife, Helen, his son Merfyn and his two daughters Bronwen and Myfanwy.

After the war, Helen wrote about her courtship and early married life with Edward in her autobiography, As it Was (1926); later she added a second volume, World Without End (1931). Their daughter, Myfanwy, claims the books were written by her mother as a form of therapy to help lift her out of a deep depression to which she succumbed following the death of Edward. My Memory of W.H. Davies was published in 1973. Under Storm's Wing was published in 1997 and is a collection of writings including the two earlier autobiographies along with various other writings and letters.


Thomas's poems are noted for their attention to the English countryside and a certain colloquial style. A short poem of Thomas's serves as an example of how he blends war and countryside throughout his poetry:

In Memoriam

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.


Edward Thomas memorial stone

Edward Thomas memorial stone, hillside near Steep. Photo by Suzanne Knights. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Close friend W.H. Davies was devastated by Thomas's death, and his commemorative poem "Killed In Action (Edward Thomas)" was included in Davies' 1918 collection "Raptures".[2]

On 11 November 1985, Thomas was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner.[7] The inscription, written by fellow Great War poet Wilfred Owen, reads: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."[8]

Thomas is also commemorated by memorial windows in the churches at Steep and at Eastbury in Berkshire.

East Hampshire District Council have created a "literary walk" at Shoulder of Mutton Hill in Steep dedicated to Thomas.[9] which includes the memorial stone erected in 1935. The inscription includes the final line of his essays: "And I rose up and knew I was tired and I continued my journey."

As "Philip Edward Thomas poet-soldier" he is commemorated with "Reginald Townsend Thomas actor-soldier died 1918" (who is buried at the spot) and other family members at the North East Surrey (Old Battersea) Cemetery.

Thomas was described by poet laureate Ted Hughes as "the father of us all."[10]

In popular cultureEdit

  • Many poems about Thomas by other poets can be found in the books Elected Friends: Poems for and about Edward Thomas, edited by Anne Harvey, and Branch-Lines: Edward Thomas and contemporary poetry, edited by Guy Cuthbertson and Lucy Newlyn.
  • In his 1980 autobiography, Ways of Escape, Graham Greene references Thomas's poem "The Other" (about a man who seems to be following his own double from hotel to hotel) in describing his own experience of being bedeviled by an imposter.
  • Edward Thomas's Collected Poems was one of Andrew Motion's ten picks for the poetry section of the "Guardian Essential Library" in October 2002.[11]
  • In his 2002 novel Youth, J.M. Coetzee has his main character, intrigued by the survival of pre-modernist forms in British poetry, ask himself: "What happened to the ambitions of poets here in Britain? Have they not digested the news that Edward Thomas and his world are gone for ever?"[12] In contrast, Irish critic Edna Longley writes that Thomas's Lob, a 150-line poem, "strangely preempts The Waste Land through verses like: "This is tall Tom that bore / The logs in, and with Shakespeare in the hall / Once talked".[13]
  • In his 1995 novel, Borrowed Time, novelist Robert Goddard bases the home of the main character at Greenhayes in the village of Steep, where Thomas lived from 1913. Goddard weaves some of the feeling from Thomas's poems into the mood of the story and also uses some quotes from Thomas's works.
  • Will Self's 2006 novel, The Book of Dave, has a quote from The South Country as the book's epigraph: "I like to think how easily Nature will absorb London as she absorbed the mastodon, setting her spiders to spin the winding sheet and her worms to fill in the graves, and her grass to cover it pitifully up, adding flowers — as an unknown hand added them to the grave of Nero."
  • The children's author Linda Newbery has published a novel, "Lob" (David Fickling Books, 2010, illustrated by Pam Smy) inspired by the Edward Thomas poem of the same name and containing oblique references to other work by Thomas.
  • Woolly Wolstenholme, formerly of Barclay James Harvest, has used a humorous variation of Thomas' poem Adlestrop on the first song of his 2004 live album, Fiddling Meanly, where he images himself in a retirement home and remembers "the name" of the location where the album was recorded. The poem was read at Wolstenholme's funeral on 19 January 2011.


  • "The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet."



  • Six Poems (as "Edward Eastaway"). Pear Tree Press, 1916.
  • Poems. London: Selwyn & Blount, 1917; New York: Holt, 1917.
  • Last Poems. London: Selwyn & Blount, 1918.
  • Collected Poems. London: Selwyn & Blount, 1920; Seltzer, 1921
    • enlarged edition, Ingpen & Grant, 1928; London: Faber, 1979.
  • Two Poems. Ingpen & Grant, 1927.
  • Poems (edited by R. George Thomas). Oxford University Press, 1978.
  • Edward Thomas: A mirror of England (edited by Elaine Wilson). Paul & Co., 1985.


Short fictionEdit

  • Rest and Unrest. London: Duckworth, 1910; New York: Dutton, 1910.
  • Light and Twilight. London: Duckworth, 1911.
  • Celtic Stories. Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1911; New York: Clarendon, 1913.
  • Norse Tales, Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1912.
  • Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds (fairy tales). London: Duckworth, 1915.
  • A Pilgrim, and other tales (short stories and essays). Tuttle, 1992.
  • The Ship of Swallows : A selection of short stories (edited & introduction by Jeremy Hooker; preface by Myfanwy Thomas). London: Enitharmon, 2005.[14]



Collected editionsEdit

  • The Prose of Edward Thomas (edited by Roland Gant). Falcon Press, 1948.



  • The Letters of Edward Thomas to Jesse Berridge: With a memoir by Jesse Berridge. London: Enitharmon Press, 1983.
  • Letters to America, 1914-1917. Edinburgh: Tragara Press, 1989.
  • Letters to Helen: And an appendix of seven letters to Harry and Janet Hooten. Manchester, UK: Carcanet, 2000.

Except where noted bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[19]

Audio / videoEdit

"Rain" By Edward Thomas Poem animation00:58

"Rain" By Edward Thomas Poem animation

  • Edward Thomas (cassette). London: British Council Audio-visual Unit, 1964.
  • Edward Thomas (LP). London: Argo, 1974.

Poems by Edward ThomasEdit

  1. Adlestrop
  2. The Word

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 Abrams, M. H. (1986). The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 1893. ISBN 0-393-95472-2. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Stonesifer, R.J. (1963), W. H. Davies - A Critical Biography, London, Jonathan Cape. ISBN B0000CLPA3
  3. Dymock Poets Archive at University of Gloucestershire Archives
  4. The poem "Adlestrop" by Edward Thomas
  5. France: First World War poetry at
  6. Commonwealth War Graves Commission. "Casualty Details: THOMAS, PHILIP EDWARD". Debt of Honour Register. Retrieved 2008-02-02. 
  9. Walking in East Hampshire at
  10. The timeless ldscape of Edward Thomas, from The Telegraph, at
  11. Motion, Andrew (2002-10-19). "Guardian Essential Library: Poetry". Books to furnish a room... and enrich a mind (Guardian News and Media).,12532,814699,00.html. Retrieved 2008-02-02. 
  12. Coetzee, J. M. (2002). Youth. London: Secker & Warburg. pp. 58. ISBN 0436205823. 
  13. Longley, Edna (2005). "The Great War, history, and the English lyric". In Vincent Sherry (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the First World War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 67. 
  14. Search results = au:Jeremy Hooker, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Jan. 25, 2014.
  15. British Country Life in Spring and Summer: The book of the open air (1907), Internet Archive. Web, June 22, 2014.
  16. Rose Acre Papers: including essays from 'Horae Solitarie' (1910), Internet Archive. Web, June 22, 2014.
  17. Search results = au:John Dyer, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 22, 2016.
  18. British Butterflies, and other insects (1908), Internet Archive. Web, June 22, 2014.
  19. Edward Thomas 1878-1917, Poetry Foundation. Web, Dec. 17, 2012.

External linksEdit

Audio / video
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