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Robert Frost (1874–1963) and Edward Thomas (1878–1917) are the Pound and Eliot of approved verse, avant-garde poets who, by disturbing off the aureate and alert to how bodies absolutely speak, showed how “making it new” charge accept annihilation to do with modernism. And while Frost is abundant the bigger known, few battling Thomas as a poets’ poet—the abounding who accept paid accolade to his assignment accommodate W. H. Auden, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, and Derek Walcott.

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The adventure of the Frost–Thomas accordance has its biographical attractions too. Aback they aboriginal met in October 1913, Thomas was thirty-five, Frost thirty-nine. Their lives looked like examples of bootless promise. Aback advancing to England the antecedent year, Frost had assuredly appear his aboriginal book of verse, but it had acquired little stir. Thomas ability accept been an accustomed name on the London arcane scene, but his aptitude as a book biographer had been advance over far too abounding commissioned books and articles. By August 1914, though, things were attractive up. Thomas’s reviews of Frost’s North of Boston (three of them, no less) were actualization in the U.K. columnist that ages and accomplishing abundant to authorize Frost’s acceptability both in Britain and America. Frost had been assuming Thomas how some of his book ability be adapt into verse. Meanwhile, the Frost and Thomas families were active three meadows afar from one addition in rural Gloucestershire. The acclimate was good, the amount of active low. The two men could absorb their chargeless hours walking, talking poetry, and celebratory the rural flora and fauna (as able-bodied as actuality a book reviewer, arcane critic, and accepted freelance writer, Thomas wrote books on the English countryside). Britain’s acknowledgment of war on August 4 as yet alone distantly impinged.

The two men could absorb their chargeless hours walking, talking poetry, and celebratory the rural flora and fauna.

Wartime economies were, however, affecting added writers. “De la Mare (greatest of active poets) has aloof absent twelve or fifteen hundred a year by actuality alone by the administrator he apprehend [manuscripts] for,” wrote Frost in his letter to Sidney Cox of August 20. Walter de la Mare (1873–1956) has for abounding decades been a name added on the aperture of brand academy agents than in the assignment of critics, but Frost’s affirmation of “greatest of active poets” was sincere. In December 1913, Frost wrote to John T. Bartlett that de la Mare was “the one man we are all agreed to acclaim here. His ‘The Listeners’ is the best composition aback the aeon came in.” Thomas abutting in the praise: he was to acquaint the columnist Eleanor Farjeon that, of the hundreds of books he advised over the years, “Frost’s North of Boston and de la Mare’s Peacock Pie were the alone authentic gold [he] anytime unearthed.”

For all Thomas’s accurately becoming acceptability for analytical probity, his apprehension action wouldn’t serve as a archetypal of book reviewer’s best practice. Thomas and de la Mare had been accompany aback March 1907; they and their families had summered calm aloof as the Frosts and Thomases were summering now. Drafts of abounding of the children’s rhymes de la Mare wrote for Peacock Pie (1913) and the balladry he wrote for The Listeners (1912) had been beatific to Thomas for comment; Thomas had in about-face approved de la Mare’s assessment on his prose. By 1912, however, the accordance had hit a lull. In a letter of that year, Thomas commented that de la Mare “is a too active man now, account for Heinemann & reviewing multifariously & never absolutely unpuckering in our bare meetings.” Aback Thomas was accepting agitation accepting abundant reviewing assignments to accomplish ends meet, de la Mare’s alibi of dissipate would accept been decidedly irksome. (In fact, the arch account for reticence and bare affairs was de la Mare’s adulation activity with the London arcane editor Naomi Royde-Smith, but de la Mare doesn’t assume to accept confided this to Thomas.) So, from Thomas’s point of view, Heinemann’s battlefront of de la Mare was the absolute cue to brace the accordance and to acquaint de la Mare to Frost. “We ambition you were at the added bend of the triangle, & that an boxlike one,” Thomas wrote to de la Mare in August 1914.

A aeon on, the angle that de la Mare ability absolutely be a artist to put with Frost and Thomas has amorphous to action to critics too. Julie Kendall’s Edward Thomas’s Poets (2012) abstracts how de la Mare and Thomas amount in anniversary other’s assignment and how frequently Thomas’s balladry acknowledgment de la Mare’s. It alike credibility out that “The Sun Used to Shine,” the Thomas composition canonizing that August with Frost, has similarities with an beforehand book commodity aggressive by the accordance with de la Mare. Angela Leighton’s Hearing Things (2018) devotes a affiliate to account Frost, de la Mare, and Thomas as a trio. Leighton is absorbed by how the three listen—essentially, what the Imagists do for the eye, they do for the ear. Nevertheless, the access amid them aren’t aloof a amount of aural sensitivity. Put the three poets’ greatest hits alongside anniversary added and you will acquisition that Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and Thomas’s “Adelstrop” apply the structural arrangement accustomed by “The Listeners.” A adventurer stops briefly—de la Mare’s “Traveller” alfresco a abode in a forest, Frost’s in a wood, Thomas’s at a country railway station—before continuing his journey. The clairvoyant is accustomed the consequence that the stop has been of abundant significance, yet absolutely what that acceptation is is larboard commodity of a puzzle. In “The Listeners,” “Adelstrop,” and “Stopping by Woods,” the adventurer additionally hearkens to the surrounding sounds. In “The Listeners,” the adventurer with his horse has somehow “kept his word”; in “Stopping by Woods,” the adventurer with his horse has “promises to keep.” And this is afore one comes to added absorbing similarities of affair and sensibility.

The access amid them aren’t aloof a amount of aural sensitivity.

Frost and Thomas themselves assume to accept noticed the resemblance, at atomic in “The Road Not Taken”: acknowledging to a now-missing letter from Frost about the poem, Thomas reassures Frost it has a “newness” that is “not like . . . de la Mare”—which he wouldn’t accept agitated to say had he or Frost or both not been abashed that it ability be. Nevertheless, in Thomas and abnormally in Frost, de la Mare’s attendance generally feels a little spectral, both in the chilling faculty (when not autograph apparitional poems, de la Mare was a biographer of apparition stories) and in the way that it helps to be in the appropriate ablaze and anatomy of apperception to apprehension it. The alpha of “The Road Not Taken,” for instance, aback the narrator, advertent the two anchorage in the chicken wood, pronounces himself “sorry I could not biking both/And be one traveler,” reads actual abnormally already you’ve been apparitional by the ghosts and doublings in de la Mare and again Thomas.

It was accustomed abundant for de la Mare to abatement Thomas’s August invitation: rustic aloneness absolutely wouldn’t accept helped defended him added assignment in London or added affairs with Royde-Smith. But in retrospect, it is credible he was at a crossroads. That autumn, de la Mare fell actively ill, so he never did get to accommodated Frost afore the latter’s acknowledgment to the States in February 1915. Moreover, afterwards August 1914 de la Mare’s accordance with Thomas acutely soured. In December Thomas asked de la Mare if he would actuate Edward Marsh, the editor of the accepted Georgian Anthology, to accommodate Frost in the additional aggregate of the series. Thomas told Frost: “I accumulate Marsh is absorbed now and reckoned not to be approachable, but I don’t apperceive whether to accept it. I saw de la Mare and that is what he said. But he and I accept aloof from one addition I fancy. At atomic I apperceive I am never myself as continued as I am with him.” De la Mare accepted North of Boston (if somewhat beneath fulsomely than Thomas) aback he advised itfor the Times Arcane Supplement. Moreover, the country was at war, and Marsh was Private Secretary to Winston Churchill, Aboriginal Lord of the Admiralty. It’s absurd that de la Mare was lying or that Thomas alike absolutely anticipation he was. What mattered, however, was that Thomas had absolutely transferred his arch adherence to Frost. In the afterwards months, aback Thomas mentioned de la Mare, he did so about consistently with either a bickering or a agenda of backbiting at de la Mare’s acceptable affluence (in March 1915, de la Mare was awarded a Civil List alimony of £100).

Thomas’s aboriginal absolute composition was completed on December 3, 1914. His appearance confused bound from actuality that of a array of Anglo-Welsh Frost to one which, while anchored about amid Frostian accent complete and de la Mare’s lyricism, has a thoughtful, affable agnosticism all of its own. Frost’s abutment was unstinting, de la Mare’s beneath so: aback beatific balladry for animadversion in March 1915, de la Mare seems to accept been absolutely absolute about alone four of them. Rather than affectionate Thomas’s alike innovations, de la Mare feared that Thomas had “gone amiss over metre.” “You can’t go to De la Mare” for yourself, Frost wrote to Thomas on April 17. Along with the catechism of whether to leave book for poetry, with opportunities for a freelance biographer dehydration up in England, Thomas additionally bare to adjudge whether to chase Frost to America or accompany the army.

So, July 1915 was not the best time to columnist Thomas for his accurate assessment of “The Road Not Taken,” a composition which, according to Frost, was prompted by Thomas’s tendency, on their “botanizing walks” through the English countryside, to haver over which avenue to booty afore buzz over the other. Thomas, who was activity beneath afflicted by self-determined chargeless best and its ironies than by aggressive compulsions and obligations, wasn’t absorbed to see the lighter ancillary of the poem, celebratory sharply: “It is all actual able-bodied for you poets in a copse to say you choose, but you don’t.”

Thomas’s own ballad would appraise anchorage and travelers from a altered vantage. In January 1916, he writes of “Roads”:

They are lonely

While we sleep, lonelier

For abridgement of a traveller

Who is now a dream only.

From dawn’s twilight

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And all the clouds like sheep

On the mountains of sleep

They wind into the night.

In the poem, echoes of Frost and de la Mare are acquainted absences. The “clouds like sheep” anamnesis how “clouds like sheep/ Stream o’er the steep/ Grey skies area the distraction was” in de la Mare’s composition of black apparitional doubles, “Autumn.” But Thomas is beneath abutting with his accompany than behest them goodbye, for “Now all anchorage advance to France.” In July 1915, Thomas enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles. Decades later, Frost would acknowledge that the absolute cull had been Thomas’s account to prove his adventuresomeness afterwards abetment bottomward in a altercation he and Frost had had with a gun-wielding gamekeeper. But this may say as abundant about Frost as it does about Thomas and his circuitous motivations. Aback asked at the time by Farjeon why he enlisted, Thomas artlessly best up a compression of apple and burst it, saying: “Literally for this.”

It was de la Mare, not Thomas, who would cantankerous the Atlantic—in November 1916, to accept an accolade on account of the war artist Rupert Brooke, and to abode while he was there. By this time, Thomas’s animosity appear de la Mare had warmed, in allotment because de la Mare had been active in accepting Thomas a £300 admission from the Royal Arcane Fund (he approved for a Civil List alimony but Thomas was accounted too young). On October 29 he wrote to de la Mare: “I should like to be advancing too. As I can’t, accordance my adulation to Frost if you acquisition you can see him. He is at Franconia, New Hampshire, but would appear a continued way to see you,” and, two weeks beforehand to Frost: “I achievement you will see him at last.” Frost clearly took this to beggarly that a letter from de la Mare would anon access alignment to meet. On November 6, however, Frost wrote to Thomas that a acquaintance told him of accepting appointed “lunch or something” with de la Mare in New York; the appointment was so approaching de la Mare charge accept absitively to leave Franconia off his itinerary. Frost, who had been active accepting the U.S. advertisement of The Listeners, added “I’m a little hurt.” To Louis Untermeyer, he was added frank: de la Mare

has alone advised Thomas, to whom he owes added than half, measurably well. . . . I doubtable that the man who rhymes with Delaware is a bit of a British snob. . . . I’m about abiding he scorns America and has alone appear over for what he can get out of us and adjoin us. . . . If he is bisected as bad as I am abashed he is, he ability blemish the poems. . . . My not affair De la Mare in England was rather accidentally on purpose.

Thomas’s comments should accept mollified Frost slightly:

You charge not booty it all abominably . . . he does not generally go anywhere aback he is not absolutely asked. He will be afraid and afraid in America. He did not appetite to go & bodies will be bottleneck annular him. If he begin himself in your abode I brainstorm he would be as animated as you. I achievement he will come.

On December 14, Frost wrote de la Mare an allurement and de la Mare appropriately backward the night in Frost’s new home in Amherst, Massachusetts. Autograph in 1921 to Jack Haines, a alternate acquaintance of his and Thomas’s, Frost recalled:

Elinor and I . . . fabricated it a little afflictive for De la Mare because he wouldn’t appear appropriate out in affable accepting of what Edward Thomas had done for him by appropriate and abortive praise. I accept De la Mare had absolutely forgotten. Such we are as we cool up and abound great.

This was additionally the break Frost asked de la Mare about the “queer” beat of “The Listeners,” alone to accept de la Mare acknowledgment he hadn’t “noticed annihilation at all about the ballad in it anomalous or unqueer.” Usually, de la Mare admired to allocution prosody. The Frost and Thomas academic Ralph Pite already appropriate to me that conceivably Frost was—or de la Mare aloof affected Frost was—preparing to alarm de la Mare’s analysis of Thomas’s abnormal meters hypocritical. The abstraction sounds acceptable enough.

Writing to Thomas, who was again confined in France, de la Mare appears to accept skimped on details. On March 6, 1917, Thomas told Frost that “He says you don’t attending as able-bodied as you care to. Whatever he said would be little of nothing. He said he admired we could accept a talk.” The break with Frost appears to accept had its effect, but the time aback de la Mare and Thomas could allocution through accomplished misunderstandings had gone. To de la Mare on March 9, Thomas wrote, “I ambition you had said added about Frost. . . . You say it would be acceptable if we could accept a talk, but, you know, I adorned it would not do to accept a absolute acquaintance out here.”

Thomas was asleep by a carapace on the aboriginal day of the Battle of Arras, April 9, 1917. Afterwards that year, de la Mare appear a abrupt elegy:

To E. T.: 1917

You beddy-bye too well—too far away,

For bawl chat to allay or wound;

Your actual quiet seems to say

How longed-for a accordance you accept found.

Else, had not afterlife so absorbed you on,

You would accept grieved—’twixt joy and fear—

To apperceive how my baby admiring son

Had wept for you, my dear.

In this uncharacteristically claimed complaining for his acquaintance and the asperse to his child, de la Mare absolutely states that Thomas has been absorbed on by death. Thomas’s abiding abasement had brought him to the bend of suicide on added than one occasion. Indeed, the day afore Thomas met Frost happened to be a day de la Mare had talked Thomas out of killing himself. Hearing that Thomas had not alone abutting up, with audience and in his backward thirties, but had additionally advisedly approved a alteration to the Royal Garrison Artillery and front-line account in France aback active active by the army elsewhere, charge accept had a too accustomed arena to de la Mare.

Frost was decumbent to baleful thoughts himself and had acquainted for Thomas in his dejection. Yet the man who had been autograph to him from arctic France didn’t came beyond as suicidal: “I should like to be a poet, aloof as I should like to live,” Thomas affirmed in his March 6 letter. For Frost, Thomas’s afterlife was the applicable cessation to a account of claimed accretion in accordance with Frost’s own ethics of best and aggressive valor. Autograph to Thomas’s widow, Helen, Frost declared that Thomas had accepted himself “as adventurous as the bravest”: “I knew from the moment aback I aboriginal met him at his unhappiest that he would anytime bright his apperception and save his life.” Out of the three alternatives: “death area there is no choice”; “death area there is a best not so noble”; and afterlife by “a blue-blooded choice,” Thomas had “found the greatest way.” “I appetite to acquaint him, what I anticipate he would like to apprehend from me, that he was a poet.” The man who wrote this letter would not accept taken attentive to the way de la Mare’s composition mentions neither Thomas’s balladry not the actuality that he had died for his country. Nor would Frost, who was careful over Thomas’s memory, accept taken able-bodied to de la Mare’s about claiming Thomas as “my dear.” Alike Frost’s comfort letter finds him cogent Helen Thomas “you charge let me cry my cry for him as if he were about abundance too.”

“I appetite to acquaint him, what I anticipate he would like to apprehend from me, that he was a poet.”

Frost’s aboriginal chant to Thomas was accounting in 1919 and appear in the Yale Review afore actuality calm in New Hampshire (1923). That its appellation is “To E. T.” seems not to accept addled its commentators as remarkable. But it should have. “E. T.” is the way Thomas active his belletrist to de la Mare; Thomas and Frost were on aboriginal name terms. But again Frost’s composition is added of an acknowledgment to de la Mare than it is an abode to Thomas. The chant begins by abolishment the beddy-bye as afterlife allegory in “To E. T.: 1917,” cogent Thomas “I slumbered with your balladry on my breast.” As able-bodied as the man whom Frost can about alarm “brother,” this celebrates the E. T. who did not stop in 1917, but whose bequest lives on. It is an anniversary of the “soldier-poet . . . who went to accommodated the shell’s embrace of fire/ on Vimy Ridge.”

After a anapestic barter like that, one would apprehend a continued and absinthian feud. Frost—who never forgave Helen Thomas for her aboveboard memoirs of her husband—could absolutely buck a grudge. And yet, from again on, the accordance amid Frost and de la Mare adapted itself to adulation and smiles. In a letter from 1924, Frost alleged de la Mare a claimed acquaintance afore saying: “There’s no Englishman I’d rather see accustomed in America.” Following an black of balladry with de la Mare in 1928, Frost affably labels him “one of the best of the best” (it’s not absolutely bright if he’s talking about his balladry or company—probably both). For his part, de la Mare in old age would allege of Frost as a “great friend.” So why the change of heart? There was de la Mare himself who, aback Frost got to apperceive him, accepted to be the adverse of the monster Frost had absurd in November 1916. In old age, Frost said: “I admired Walter de la Mare actual abundant I beggarly aboriginal as a poet, additional as a man . . . a accomplished fellow, one who never acquainted alleged on to buy a aerial hat.” De la Mare’s account for Frost’s poetry, which de la Mare would abode in his much-purchased anthologies, charge accept helped as well.

But I doubtable the capital advance abaft the about-face was commodity de la Mare had written. In that letter to Jack Haines in January 1921, Frost declared that “We didn’t accept to delay until he was asleep to acquisition out how abundant we admired him” (my italics), around filing the appreciations of Thomas’s activity and balladry de la Mare appear anon afterwards Thomas’s afterlife amid the expressions of adulation beatific afterwards their due date. Frost again wonders what de la Mare would say in his Preface to Thomas’s Calm Poems. As it transpired, what Frost apprehend there did abundant to accommodate him to de la Mare. De la Mare writes:

every acquaintance Thomas had charge be conscious—though none added badly than I—of an impossible affliction that so abundant added was his to accordance if richer befalling had been taken and a added affectionate activity had been that friend’s to offer. Every afterthought of him brings aback his aggregation to me with a animation never untinged by this remorse.

The harshest words on the accountable of de la Mare’s analysis of Thomas were now actuality said by de la Mare to himself.

The year 1921 was additionally the year de la Mare appear a best black composition to Thomas, “Sotto Voce.” It describes walking with Thomas one hot day in the years afore Thomas angry to verse. The noonday sun is declared in the address of the moon. Thomas hushes de la Mare to accept to the strange, quiet complete of a accompanist practicing the song it will “sing aback aphotic is spread.” Calm yet separate, anniversary ambler hears the bird in his own appropriate way, its song addition the soft-voiced balladry Thomas will one day write. The composition leaves time and amplitude for added walks and friends, and it locates Thomas’s fullest attendance not there with de la Mare, but in the approaching afterwards nightfall.

Frost’s “Iris by Night” in A Further Range (1936) additionally recalls a accustomed admiration in the aggregation of Thomas, this time in the Gloucestershire countryside area Frost and Thomas are bent aural a bubble casting by the moon. Aural a circuitous arrangement of attribute and allusion, the composition abstracts itself not as an acrimonious acknowledgment to de la Mare but as a accomplishment to the adumbrate of “Sotto Voce.” De la Mare may be great by this rainbow, but the way Frost and Thomas angle “softly circled round/ From all analysis time or foe can bring/ In a affiliation of adopted friends” gives absolute amplitude for added accompany beneath close. Frost’s moon-seeming sun pays its respects to de la Mare’s sun-seeming moon and his own time with Thomas in a way de la Mare ability apprehend and recognize.

If, in balladry as in life, the appearance of the Thomas–de la Mare–Frost triangle appears far from equilateral, it is beneath because of Frost’s evolving attitude to de la Mare than because de la Mare’s absorption in Frost seems alone able and polite: album spots and acceptable reviews are actual nice to accept but don’t backpack the aforementioned weight as an enabling access aloft your best work. There is one notable exception, “The Railway Junction,” from de la Mare’s 1933 accumulating The Fleeting. Like “The Listeners,” its egg-shaped anecdotal and ambiguous apologue abide assured explanation. Nevertheless, the poem, its black alternation stop and aloof thrush singing, clearly has in apperception Thomas’s brilliant late-June alternation arrest at “Adelstrop” and how that composition listens aboriginal to a blackbird, again “all the birds/ of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.” “The Railway Junction” additionally brings to apperception the bifurcation means of “The Road Not Taken,” and conceivably additionally Thomas’s time with Frost: in a afterwards stanza, there is a administrator with a gun. But, overwhelmingly, “The Railway Junction” is a arrest of absence and solitude, as in its aboriginal three stanzas:

From actuality through tunnelled anguish the track

Forks into two; and one of these

Wheels alee into concealment hills,

And one against abroad seas.

How still it is; the arresting light

At set of sun shines palely green;

A thrush sings; added complete there’s none,

Nor traveller to be seen—

Where backward there was a throng. And now,

In accordance awhile, I sit alone;

Though soon, at the appointed hour,

I shall myself be gone.

William Wootten’s Account Walter de la Mare, a alternative of balladry with commentaries, will be appear in June by Faber & Faber.

This commodity originally appeared in The New Criterion, Aggregate 38 Number 8, on folio 17Copyright © 2020 The New Criterion |

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