During the First World War, the American poet Robert Frost persuaded the young British writer Edward Thomas to take up poetry.
In 1896, Thomas had compiled and published his first book, The Woodland Life, a collection of essays about his long walks in the countryside. Thomas suffered from depression. In The Wild Places (2007), Robert Macfarlane describes Thomas’s excursions as “rituals of relief, in the hope that these might abate his suffering, and that he might out-march the causes of his sadness.”
Thomas published his first poem in 1914, the blank-verse dialogue “Up in the Wind” and helped establish Frost’s reputation in Britain by writing a rave review of his collection of 17 poems North of Boston when it appeared that same year.
In July 1915, Thomas joined the Artists’ Rifles and was sent to Romford, Essex, where he was promoted Lance Corporal and instructed trainee officers, including the poet Wilfred Owen. In September 1916, Thomas began training as an Officer Cadet with the Royal Garrison Artillery and by November he was commissioned.
Second Lieutenant Thomas volunteered for service overseas and was sent to northern France. On 9 April 1917, the first day of the battle at Arras which saw 150,000 casualties, Thomas was killed by a shell blast and later buried in Agny military cemetery. Among 140 poems composed during the war years, “October” was dated 1915:
“The green elm with the one great bough of gold
Lets leaves into the grass slip, one by one, –
The short hill grass, the mushrooms small milk-white,
Harebell and scabious and tormentil,
That blackberry and gorse, in dew and sun,
Bow down to; and the wind travels too light
To shake the fallen birch leaves from the fern;
The gossamers wander at their own will.
At heavier steps than birds’ the squirrels scold.
The rich scene has grown fresh again and new
As Spring and to the touch is not more cool
Than it is warm to the gaze; and now I might
As happy be as earth is beautiful,
Were I some other or with earth could turn
In alternation of violet and rose,
Harebell and snowdrop, at their season due,
And gorse that has no time not to be gay.
But if this be not happiness, -– who knows?
Some day I shall think this a happy day,
And this mood by the name of melancholy
Shall no more blackened and obscured be.”