Poet to Poet: Edward Thomas’s Letters to Walter de la Mare

Judy Kendall
Publication Date: 
Monday, September 3, 2012
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"... gives a fascinating insight into Thomas's transition from prose hack to major poet." – The Guardian

"This marvellous book about the thankless, frustrating task of, well, keeping on keeping on. But, frankly, what else can a poor poet ever do?" – The Tablet

"Poet to Poet, a well-edited edition of the letters Thomas wrote de la Mare. Reading these letters leaves one realizing yet again the measure of Thomas' prodigious talent and of the man himself" Washington Times

This book offers still more insight into the highly influential writer and poet Edward Thomas through his correspondence with Walter de la Mare: 318 letters from between 1906 and 1917, of which only three have been previously published. They are presented in an accessible, enjoyable but scholarly volume.

The letters provide new and crucial evidence about Thomas’s poetic processes and the start of his mature poetry. They also show the mutual support the two poets enjoyed; and give new information on the closeness of the Thomas and de la Mare families. They include some beautiful natural descriptions and track Thomas’s progress as a reviewer and writer. The physical spacing in the letters provides evidence of often hurried and tired writing but also of a sensitivity to what is not said, to pauses, to rhythm, which prefigure his poems. His idiosyncratic handwriting also underlines key ideas about poetic composition and illuminates his understanding of his journey from prose writer to poet – topics of great interest to Thomas scholars. Poet to Poet offers a moving epistolary account of the developing personal and poetic relationship of both poets, with biographical revelations, and increased understanding of their influence on each other and key points relating to their poetic processes.

The letters are arranged chronologically, and are divided into three sections which illuminate Thomas and De la Mare’s relationship: 1906-09 The Reviewer and the Poet; 1910-13 Two Writers; 1913-17 Two Poets. Each section has a short introduction highlighting general points of interest and change in their epistolary relationship. The book includes a transcriptor’s preface, brief biographical information on the two poets, suggestions for further reading and an index. The Introduction highlights essential points from the letters, in particular revelations about both poets’ writing processes, how Thomas’s criticism of De la Mare’s verse informs his own, information on their relationship and details of de la Mare’s character.

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Review from The Tablet

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We have, alas, just one side of the correspondence - the letters sent by de la Mare to Thomas were destroyed - but they are exhilarating for all that. Thomas emerged as a major poet in the very last years of his life, and these are therefore, for the most part, the ever breathlessly impatient letters of a jobbing writer whose task it is to earn a living for his growing family by writing book reviews for whoever will print his hectically written words, and to author book after book of grinding prose about other writers, the English countryside and almost anything else - he wrote about one million words in all, the editor of this book estimates.

At the outset of the correspondence, it is Thomas who is the better-known writer, and then, little by little, the balance shifts and, in part thanks to Thomas' own generosity in securing for de la Mare a Civil List pension, it is de la Mare who is being showered with accolades by the literary establishment.

This is a marvellous book about the thankless, frustrating task of, well, keeping on keeping on. But, frankly, what else can a poor poet do?

The Tablet 20th October 2012

22/10/2012 - 11:38