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There must be a heaven for Edward Thomas.

A HEAVEN MUST exist because there has to be a place for the soul of Edward Thomas. No divinity could call itself just if it did not have such a place. When Thomas died in France in 1917 he had been writing poetry for less than four years, but in that time he had produced some of the most memorable and beautiful poetry of the English countryside. Just for that accomplishment alone he should have a celestial seat up there with Milton and the others.

I’m not the first poet to imagine a heaven for him, of course. P J Kavanagh in his poem “Edward Thomas in Heaven” considered the option years ago. But Kavanagh couldn’t conceive of a heaven that could accept a Thomas “gay and certain” and “assured”. For him “It would be mere loss/To be welcomed in by an assured Edward Thomas”, a poet who was no longer “Snuffling and puzzling” over things and thus compelling us to listen to his words. For Kavanagh the indecisiveness and lack of joy were of the essence of Thomas and thus his poetry.

It may be that when Kavanagh wrote this he did not know the full extent of the depression that Thomas suffered, aggravating, if not giving rise to, the lack of assurance he often exhibited. I wasn’t aware of it myself until I read Matthew Hollis’s Now All Roads Lead To France, an account of the poet’s last years. Thomas would often absent himself from wife and children for days, weeks, months even, to avoid inflicting his misery and bad moods on them. Depression can turn even the most gentle of men into bitter and cruel monsters. On a number of occasions Thomas seriously contemplated suicide.

Would Kavanagh have cut him more slack if he had known this? I don’t know. A lot depends on how much you believe the depression contributed towards the creation of the poetry. I think it most certainly played an important part in it but I also think it proved more of a detriment than anything else.

So I think Edward Thomas deserves a heaven not just for his marvellous poems but also as an eternal break from his torment. I imagine him able to relax there now, still afflicted with the indecisiveness his friends knew so well and which Frost made fun of in his poem “The Road Not Taken”. I can see him wandering the great gardens of heaven, wondering what lies in the shadows beyond the asphodels and amaranths where the blackbirds are singing, continually surprised at finding himself in a land that bears a powerful resemblance to England (but without the gamekeepers) and still amusing his walking companion, who must assuredly be Robert Frost again, by dithering over which path to take in the yellow wood.

Michael Blackburn.

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