REVIEW by Jem Poster

NWR Issue 99

Poet to Poet: Edward Thomas' Letters to Walter de la Mare

by Judy Kendall (ed)

Edward Thomas’ correspondence with Walter de la Mare began in 1906 with a formal request to include some of de la Mare’s poems in a forthcoming anthology. Although five years younger, Thomas was at that time the more prominent literary figure, already well established as a reviewer, essayist and writer on English and Welsh topography. De la Mare was still struggling to find his voice, and a living, as a poet and writer of fiction.

De la Mare’s side of the correspondence is lost, perhaps a casualty of the bonfire that consumed so many of Thomas’ papers shortly before he went out to serve with the Artillery in France, but de la Mare evidently treasured the letters he had received: even insignificant notes were preserved, and it’s probable that the sequence, now in the Bodleian Library, is more or less complete. It’s an important part of the library’s substantial Thomas archive, and editor Judy Kendall and transcriber Piers Pennington deserve our gratitude for making it available to a wider readership.

Spanning more than a decade and closing with a grimly upbeat report sent from the Front a few weeks before Thomas’ untimely death, the letters allow us to chart the development of the relationship between the two men and, not unrelatedly, the progress of their respective careers. The tone grows perceptibly warmer as the professional connection deepens into friendship, but in the early part of the correspondence, Thomas can sometimes seem high-handed in his responses to his friend’s work. ‘I won’t have “dew-bediamon’d”,’ he writes at one point in his brisk critique of a group of de la Mare’s poems; and while the specific judgement is absolutely right, the note of schoolmasterly intransigence may well suggest a more general assumption of superiority...


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