Helen and Myfanwy Thomas
I’ve been reading this as an introduction and another perspective to Now All Roads Lead to France - Matthew Hollis’s account of the last 5 years of Edward Thomas’s life, when he began to write poetry seriously and enlisted in the war that was to kill him with such casual cruelty.
Helen Thomas’s memoir is a personal and passionate account of her relationship with the poet - how they met as teenagers, and became lovers in spite of their parents’ disapproval. Her frank accounts of their youthful, innocent love making in the open air are quite beautiful, marking her out as a writer of talent in her own right.
They married (secretly) while Edward was still at Oxford, because she was pregnant and, although she was happy to live in a free relationship, Edward wanted to protect her reputation. It was hard for the two young people. Edward Thomas found it difficult to get enough free-lance writing work as an essayist, reviewer and hack biographer. He suffered from depression and often had to go away and live by himself, leaving Helen to cope with the children alone.
He fell in love with other women, or they fell in love with him - Eleanor Farjeon was one - and, although Helen skims over this - it must have been hard for her to cope with. Behind her careful sentences there lurks the suspicion that there were times when ET wished that he was free and single and not burdened with the task of supporting a wife and three children. But Helen’s account asserts that they loved each other profoundly and this held them together, like trees strongly rooted in the ground, whatever storms were blowing in the branches.
Helen writes of ET’s friendship with Robert Frost, who encouraged him to write poetry seriously - though it was never commercially published while he was alive. The good thing about this edition (bought second hand) is that some of the letters between ET and Robert Frost are included in a separate section.
The poem ‘To Helen’ was, apparently, written for her and given to her the night Edward Thomas left for France. He died, not in action, but quietly smoking his pipe outside the observation post, when a shell whistled past him so closely, the blast stopped his heart.
Now to read Matthew Hollis’s biography which, I suspect, since both Helen and her children are long dead, may tell a slightly different story.