Local Hero – Edward Thomas

March 30, 2017

With 2017 declared as the ‘Year of Literary Heroes’, SDNPA’s Nick Heasman takes a look at how the South Downs’ landscapes influenced the work of poet Edward Thomas, who died on 9 April 1917.

…Fast beat
My heart at sight of the tall slope
Of grass and yews, as if my feet
Only by scaling its steps of chalk
Would see something no other hill
Ever disclosed.

There is a rhythm to the work of Edward Thomas that makes me feel as if I am striding the chalk hills of the South Downs with him, slightly out of breath and probably a few paces behind.

In recognition of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, 20 years since the first Harry Potter book and a number of other milestone anniversaries, Visit England has declared 2017 to be a ‘Year of Literary Heroes’. This year also marks 100 years since the death of one of my heroes, Edward Thomas, who left us on 9 April 1917.

A poet Ted Hughes called “the father of us all,” Thomas lived in Steep, Hampshire in the years before the WWI. This area, now in the South Downs National Park, influenced much of his work.

The experience of walking was more than just a hobby for Thomas, it was his medicine. He understood that in moving he was almost standing still – as he stepped in time with the changes in the landscape that surrounded him.

The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet,
The only sweet thing that is not also fleet

In his work Thomas described his insatiable drive to ‘go on and on over earth’ offset by a desire to ‘settle for ever in one place’, to find some normality in a pastoral life in the foothills of the Hangers.

A house that shall love me as I love it,
Well hedged, and honoured by a few ash trees

Sadly Thomas’ life was not a rosy world of romance and fun. He was plagued by depression but hoped that through his walking his wellbeing would be improved, or he’d at least find some respite.

And I rose up, and knew that I was tired, and continued my journey

Find out more about the life and works of Edward Thomas at Petersfield Museum from this April.  Get involved with Visit Britain’s Year of Literary Heroes