Now All Roads Lead to France – Matthew Hollis
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (5 Jan. 2012)
Now all roads lead to France
And heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead
Returning lightly dance:
Roads – Edward Thomas
It’s a book about the final years of Edward Thomas, covering the rise of Georgian Poetry, modernism, war poetry, Dymock and Robert Frost.
It also covers the question of his punctuation. I don’t know about you but in some of Thomas’s verse, like the quote at the top of the page, the punctuation seems at variance with the natural rhythymn of speech. This is intentional, though my personal feeling is that it doesn’t improve the piece.
The “Georgian” refers to George V and was meant to show the modernity of the new poetry as it emerged from the time of Victoria. It may have done at the time, but it always makes me think of George III. The fact that the modernists took over after the war also tends to make the Georgians look old-fashioned, despite their intentions.
You’ll need to read the book to get the full details – Matthew Hollis is much better at explaining than I am.
To summarise, as the war came, Thomas was a well-known (and over-worked) literary critic and a difficult husband. He moved to Dymock to be amongst the poets who had congregated there and under the influence of Frost (who had come to England to advance his poetry career) started writing poetry. After much soul-searching, he joined the army, bacame an instructor and, instead of staying in the UK instructing, applied for a commision and went to France . I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I say it didn’t end well.
Hollis covers a lot of ground in this book, and does so in depth. Despite this it’s almost always interesting and moves along at a decent pace.
The exception to this is several of the passages dealing with the theory of poetry. However, they aren’t long and don’t hold things up too much. That’s what happens when you have a book about poets written by a poet – the style is good, the information is well handled and you get all the passion you could ask for. But you do get a bit too much discussion of poetry.
It’s an excellent book, with an interesting in-depth view of Thomas’s poetry career and family life set within the literary life of the UK in the lead up to the Great War. You can read it as history or biography or literary criticism.
If you get a chance do read it. I mean, how often do you hear me being this enthusiastic about a book?
Of course, if you aren’t interested in the Great War or poetry, it might not be the book for you.
Photo of books – it fills a space.