Sunday, March 4, 2012

My hero / Edward Thomas by David Constantine

Edward Thomas, circa 1912. Photograph: EO Hoppe

My hero: 

Edward Thomas

by David Constantine

'Thomas has been a kind and implacable friend to me'

Saturday 4 December 2010


began reading Edward Thomas in a cold winter 40 years ago. I found the blue hardback Collected Poems secondhand on Durham market, and by the fire in our strange habitation under the castle mound, nobody else at home, I read him at once, entire, knowing ever more certainly, poem by poem, that I loved him, he would be with me for life, I would learn from him.

Like other Romantics, Thomas got his poems most characteristically by walking. He was a man who walked away solitary into the wind and the rain when anxiety and the black melancholy were upon him; or who might tramp by your side, mile after mile, companionable, and never say a word; or be with you, as he was with Robert Frost, talking, listening, pausing at a gate, a gap, a stile, and so in the rhythm of a long walk and in the attentive to and fro of a conversation you would come nearer and nearer, both of you, to some important understanding.

At the heart of writing, it is always a matter of truth or lies, and anyone in that vocation wants companions, living and dead, who, when you glance their way inquiringly, will warn you by a look if you are edging away from the truth into the many ways of telling lies. Thomas has been one such kind and implacable friend to me. Having his own true tone of voice, he acts like a tuning fork in the ceaseless effort to hit and hold your own.

The dead move and change as the living do. You may think you know them through and through but then, after a lapse of time (in which you have aged), they startle you again. Just the other day, out of context, on a card, not in a book, these lines filled me with a new rush of gratitude: "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 . . ."


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