Thursday 21 February 2008

My Husband, The Poet

Number 19 in the 50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About is a double-whammy. Actually, since the 1930s these books haven't been published separately, as far as I'm aware, so hopefully I shan't be done for false advertising or anything.

Step forward, Helen Thomas. No, not my aunt (though I do have a very nice aunt of that name) but rather the widow of poet Edward Thomas. Y'know, the 'Adelstrop' one. After Edward was killed in the First World War, she wrote As It Was, an
autobiographical (though pseudonymical) portrait of their courtship and marriage, up to the birth of their first child. She wrote it cathartically, and was only approached with the idea of publishing a while later (1926). This she did, and followed it a few years later with World Without End (1931), which started where As It Was left off, and continued until David (Edward) leaves for war.
What beautiful books! Helen's writing is the very opposite of pretension - but she is a natural born storyteller. She raises a family, moves through several small house, joins and leaves communities. Very little that I can see or analyse why she is so good, but these books lilt along with bathos and pathos and every sort of -thos. The final paragraph had my crying:

A thick mist hung everywhere, and there was no sound except, far away in the valley, a train shunting. I stood at the gate watching him go; he turned back to wave until the mist and the hill hid him. I heard his old call coming up to me: 'Coo-ee!' he called. 'Coo-ee!' I answered, keeping my voice strong to call again. Again through the muffled air came his 'Coo-ee'. And again went my answer like an echo. 'Coo
-ee' came fainter next time with the hill between us, but my 'Coo-ee' went out of my lungs strong to pierce to him as he strode away from me. 'Coo-ee!' So faint now, it might be only my own call flung back from the thick air and muffling snow. I put my hands up to my mouth to make a trumpet, but no sound came. Panic seized me, and I ran through the mist and the snow to the top of the hill, and stood there a moment dumbly, with straining eyes and ears. There was nothing but the mist and the snow and the silence of death.
Then with leaden feet which stumbled in a sudden darkness that overwhelmed me I groped my way back to the empty house.


Throughout Helen's writing, Edward/David doesn't come off as the best husband, but what saturates these books is Helen's passionate, loyal and unshaking love for him - the sort of love which would seem a bit far-fetched in fiction, but is obviously true here. Such simple books, but will move you a huge amount, I guarantee it.

I thought they'd gone out of print, but managed to find a new edition called Under Storm's Wing, which has the two novels alongside some photographs, letters and memoirs. Haven't looked at the letters and memoirs yet, but I await them with pleasure. They can only add to the touching honesty with which Helen Thomas has written simple, beautiful, affecting works.


  1. They sound utterly beautiful and read wonderfully well.

    How large is it sensible to let one's tbr pile become?

  2. That is a lovely paragraph you quote. I have been thinking a lot about what makes good writing and as you say it is hard to analyse -- but easy to find examples, of which this is definitely one.

  3. You should be a salesman as, without reading anything other than this post, there was a big lump in my throat and Under Storm's Wing was added to the "must buy" list. Definitely one to be added to the tbr pile even if it falls over as a result.

  4. Mary C tried to post a comment, and couldn't, so I've done the honours for her (and I'm sure she's being modest!):

    As part of my English course at Teacher Training College I had to 'do' a poet, and write a 5,000 word essay on the influence of he or she. I chose Edward Thomas, but during my research I got so swept up with the enigmatic Helen, the man himself got very neglected. She was truly a woman out of her time. I'm sure she and Edward openly lived together before marriage etc etc. I haven't thought about her for twenty years, but I'm spurred to do so now. The essay by the way was rubbish. I think I managed 9/20

  5. Can I take credit for the recommendation, or had you already stumbled across this little gems of your own accord?
    Ohh, and did you know her daughter Myfanwy has published an autobiography too ("One of These Days)? Though I've yet to read it so it might be piss-poor...

  6. OH yes, you can absolutely take credit, Epsie! Sorry, I meant to mention you in the review. Must track down the Myfanwy book. Btw, have you received my letter? Not sure when I sent it...

  7. Hehe having posted that last night, guess what was waiting in the post box this morning? Penned by thine own fair hand...a pleasure that brightened up a snow-covered day in a school where heating is, for some unknown reason, shunned everywhere but the staffroom...

  8. He wrote two poems stating that he could not love her, knowing how much she deserved to be loved. He may have needed to admit this to himself, but if he was aware that she would one day read them it was a terribly cruel thing to do.

  9. Monoranj Sharma25 July 2011 at 08:59

    That is the kind of love that we should establish on earth rather than live in constant dread like personalities in Sontag's "The Way We Live Now".


I've now moved to, and all my old posts are over there too - do come and say hello :)

I probably won't see your comment here, I'm afraid, but all my archive posts can also be found at