War Poet Manuscripts
The National Library of Wales has recently purchased at auction, in London, with the generous support of the Friends of the National Libraries, a small but important group of papers relating to the poet, writer and soldier Edward Thomas (1878-1917). The items were all at one time in the possession of his friend, the Gloucester lawyer Jack Haines (1875-1960).
Pride of place goes to a school exercise book containing multiple manuscript drafts of two of his very earliest poems ‘The Mountain Chapel’ and ‘Birds’ Nests’, dated 17 and 18 December 1914 respectively, only a fortnight after Thomas first began writing poetry. These are significant for being among only a handful of his poems for which no autograph copies or drafts were previously known and gives researchers, for the first time, the opportunity to gain a greater insight into Thomas’s development as a poet.
The volume also contains a draft of a slightly later poem ‘House and Man’, which itself has the distinction of being among his very first poems to be published, in the journal Root and Branch (1915).
Among the other papers are a manuscript book review dating from 1903, which is apparently unpublished; two letters from Thomas to Jack Haines; and a significant letter to Haines from Edward Thomas’s widow, Helen, containing a frank description of the relationship between her, Edward and his close friend and fellow poet Robert Frost.
Pedr ap Llwyd, Director and Deputy Chief Executive and Librarian of The National Library of Wales said:
“This is a significant purchase and an important addition to our Edward Thomas archive. Once again we are extremely grateful to the Friends of the National Libraries for their generosity and support which allowed us to acquire the papers”
Edward Thomas was born and raised in London, of mainly Welsh parentage. He was already well established as a writer and critic when, in early December 1914 and with Robert Frost’s encouragement, he made his first concerted attempt at writing poetry. The one hundred and forty-four poems ascribed to him were nearly all written in the following two years, during which time he also enlisted in the war effort. Thomas was killed by an artillery shell on 9 April 1917, during the Battle of Arras.
The manuscripts are a valuable addition to the National Library’s already significant collection of manuscripts and papers of Edward Thomas, which include manuscript drafts of many of his poems, correspondence with his wife and others, and his diaries, among them his 1917 War diary.
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