‘Old, worn new’: celebrating Edward Thomas

Carcanet Press are hosting a celebration of the poet Edward Thomas at Manchester Central Library on Wednesday 14th November, to coincide with the launch of a new Carcanet book, Edward Thomas’s Poets, edited by Judy Kendall. The book contains poems and letters by Thomas, giving an insight into the process of poetic composition, alongside work by other writers who influenced and inspired him. I am a huge fan of Edward Thomas and will definitely be buying a copy of what sounds like an extremely interesting book. Keep an eye on www.carcanet.co.uk for more news about the book and event.

Having worked as a hack all his life, Thomas was inspired by the American poet Robert Frost in 1914 to turn his hand to poetry. He was killed at Arras just two and a half years later, in the spring of 1917. In the short period in between he produced an amazing body of poems. His writing is deceptively simple, beautiful and sometimes haunting. Possibly because he sensed that he would have only a short time in which to write, he seemed to go straight to the heart of the thing – the feeling, the mood, the experience, the encounter – every time. I love his poem ‘Words’, in which he calls humbly on ‘you English words’ to choose him, as a poet, through whom to speak – words that are

strange and sweet
And familiar,
To the eye,
As the dearest faces
That a man knows,
And as lost homes are:
But though older far
Than oldest yew, –
As our hills are, old, –
Worn new
Again and again;
Young as our streams
After rain:
And as dear
As the earth which you prove
That we love.

I can’t think of another writer who could use so few words so well to convey his love of the English language, of human life, and of the natural world.