A gasp-out-loud-line, that’s what I just unexpectedly read, and before spending another moment on this text, I’m drawn to post this line to you.
Because you’ll gasp too.
You know what I mean—gasps like shocks that fly from powerful writing. Sometimes you’re out in the world when they gush; you lift your eyes from the book, all shy and embarrassed because you read it while waiting for a bus in a crowded shelter in the rain, or in a busy Starbucks standing at the cash till.
The line is from a passage I read about the Welsh poet Edward Thomas (1878-1911).
Thomas modelled his poems on his friend Robert Frost whose poems he called revolutionary because they lacked the exaggeration of rhetoric. “But they are bound together and made elements of beauty by a calm eagerness of emotion.”
Easter Sunday 1917 found Thomas in Arras, France. He wrote his wife: “You would have laughed to see us dodging shells today.” The next day, April 7, 1917, he was killed.
Why did I gasp? How could I not gasp? What must it have been like for his wife to receive this letter in the post perhaps while planning his funeral? Or while answering the door to uniformed news of his death? Did he really ever suppose she would laugh?
Apparently, Thomas was chronically depressed until he went to the trenches. He died at 39 having published only six poems, all of which continue to live today.
One question more, another one that must remain unanswered: How was Thomas’s melancholy cured by war? Perhaps he ought to have been on a suicide watch instead of dumped into a trench, this man who spoke of revolution in poetry.
It was Frost who encouraged him to put down his prose pen and write verse instead. He liked the shy, bird-loving Welshman and said “The Road Not Taken” was inspired by Thomas’s frequent dreaming over what might have been.