Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas
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Edward Thomas was perhaps the most beguiling and influential of First World War poets. "Now All Roads Lead to France" is an account of his final five years, centred on his extraordinary friendship with Robert Frost and Thomas's fatal decision to fight in the war. The book also evokes an astonishingly creative moment in English literature, when London was a battleground for new, ambitious kinds of writing. A generation that included W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Robert Frost and Rupert Brooke were 'making it new' - vehemently and pugnaciously. These larger-than-life characters surround a central figure, tormented by his work and his marriage. But as his friendship with Frost blossomed, Thomas wrote poem after poem, and his emotional affliction began to lift. In 1914 the two friends formed the ideas that would produce some of the most remarkable verse of the twentieth century. But the War put an ocean between them: Frost returned to the safety of New England while Thomas stayed to fight for the Old. It is these roads taken - and those not taken - that are at the heart of this remarkable book, which culminates in Thomas's tragic death on Easter Monday 1917.
on that day alone on French trenches that were first blown apart, then lit up by flame-throwers and finally mopped up by storm troopers. A hole was punched in French lines three miles deep, though continued resistance would ensure that the battle would rage for a further ten months. It would be the longest single campaign of the war, costing a quarter of a million lives. Notes 1. See Alison Thomas, 115–16; ECH2 [21–30 May 1919]. 2. ECH2 [c.16–24 Sept. 1919]; ET–ECH, c.16 Nov. 1900; HT–ECH, 24
Feb. 1919; ET–ECH, c.16 Nov. 1900, Berg. 3. ECH2 [c.1–19 Jan. 1920]. 4. ECH2, 21 May 1919. 5. ECH1 [15–21 March 1919]. 6. ET–GB, 11 Feb. 1916; see FNB 80, 26 Nov. 1915 (‘This is no case of little right or wrong’); ET, ‘This is no case of petty right or wrong’, 26 Dec. 1915, SP, 9; LP, 77. 7. ET–EF [post dated 30 Dec. 1915], 178. 8. ET–RF, 2 Jan. 1916, 115; ET, ‘I may come near loving you’, 8 Feb. 1916, CP1949, 189; TSE–MG, 30 May 1949. 9. ET–RF, 2 Jan. 1916, 114–15. 10. ET–EF
omit it when the time came to prepare his book. But his lack of satisfaction would simply drive him on, and he would return to his study the following morning and make a start on an entirely new poem. * For the next four days Thomas climbed through the hanger woods to his study to begin a new poem with each new day. ‘November’, his second, was, like his first, developed from a rough prose paragraph that he had jotted down in his notebook days before, but it was a piece quite unlike the first in
In Frost’s words: ‘Thomas and I had become so inseparable that we came to be looked on as some sort of literary Siamese twins in a literary scene, with a spiritual bond holding us together.’ With the American’s retreat home, that bond would now be tested to the full, in what must have been a private agony for Thomas. Frost had brought him inspiration and humour, kindness and sympathy and understanding; he had listened with patience to his complaints, he had encouraged him in his marriage and had
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.5 Noble, charismatic, wise: in the years since its composition, ‘The Road Not Taken’ has been understood by some as an emblem of