Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 491
Edward Philip Thomas was born in London, the eldest of six boys. Both of his parents were Welsh, and Thomas always had an affinity with the principality, spending much time there during his childhood, although the landscapes of his poetry are predominantly those of the south of England. Thomas’s father was a stern, unyielding man who had risen by his own efforts to a social position far above that which might be expected from his poor background. Having succeeded in elevating himself, he was naturally very ambitious for his eldest son, and Thomas received an excellent education, attending St. Paul’s School, Hammersmith (as a contemporary of G. K. Chesterton and E. C. Bentley, among others), and going on from there to Jesus College, Oxford.
Shortly before going to Oxford, Thomas met Helen Noble; it was one of the momentous events in his life. Both he and Noble had very advanced ideas for their time; they were already lovers while Thomas was still an undergraduate. They discussed their future lives together and how they would bring up their children in accordance with Richard Jeffries’s theories of freedom and the open-air life. Noble herself said, “We hated the thought of a legal contract. We felt our love was all the bond there ought to be, and that if that failed it was immoral to be bound together. We wanted our union to be free and spontaneous.” In the spring of 1899, Noble discovered that she was pregnant and was rather appalled to discover that Edward himself, as well as her friends in the bohemian community in which she lived, thought that they should be married. Noble’s family were shocked to learn of her pregnancy, insisting on a hurried marriage and refusing to help the young couple in any way. Thomas’s family was more sympathetic, allowing Noble to live with them and helping Thomas while he worked toward his degree.
Once he graduated, the need to earn money to support his family became pressing, and determined not to become submerged in the drudgery of an office job, Thomas solicited work from publishers. Until the time that he joined the Artists’ Rifles, Thomas supported himself and his family by writing. They were always poor, and he often reproached himself bitterly because he had no regular source of income.
Writing became a chore to him, something to be done merely for the sake of the money. In 1912, he suffered a breakdown brought on by overwork. At about that time, also, he met Frost and formed a close friendship with the American poet. Thomas was among the first to appreciate Frost’s poetry, and Frost encouraged Thomas to try his hand at writing poetry himself; Thomas gradually gained confidence in his ability to say what he wanted in poetry. When he was killed by a bombshell in the spring of 1917, what might have become a considerable voice in English poetry was tragically silenced.
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