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This article is taken from PN Review 170, Volume 32 Number 6, July - August 2006.

Edward Thomas and the Appeal of Secular Spirituality David Gervais


                                             ...the breeze
That hinted all and nothing spoke.
                                                        ( 'I never saw that land before')

Edward Thomas's poetry is so well loved, by readers and poets alike, that it is possible to speculate that its popularity stems from more than just its intrinsic literary quality. He sometimes seems to punch above his weight. If his poetry seems especially congenial, as it does to so many English readers, it is perhaps because it offers them a kind of alter-native home, a spiritual geography that they are happy to see displacing their actual one. He may not be constrained by nostalgia himself but it is easy to see how his South Country might satisfy the nostalgia of a later generation. We need there to be limits to the man-made and what limits could be more inviting or less binding than those his poems propose? His quietly archetypal England posits no cataclysm, as in Jefferies' After London, no rejection of the status quo such as confronts us in D.H. Lawrence, but only a musing openness to nature, the gentle vigilance of the solitary naturalist:

Standing upright out in the air
Wondering where he shall journey, O where?
                                                       ( 'The Signpost')

Such a quest has no ulterior motive and yet is more credible than Housman's 'blue remembered hills'.

There are, of course, metaphysical issues inherent in Thomas's retreat from the city to the country but, ...


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