“Always write things that you know. Don’t write out of your head, but about something you have experienced, and if you write simply and truthfully it is bound to be interesting.”
Those words were spoken by Edward Thomas, poet, to Helen, his wife. She took him at his word when she wrote ‘As It Was’ and ‘World Without End’ and she proved that his words were so very, very right.
The names have been changed (though a key has been provided in recent editions) but the story is true.
‘As It Was’ tells the story of their meeting, their courtship, their marriage, and the birth of the first child. It is an utterly real story, told by a woman who has both the understanding and the words to communicate that understanding.
Lives lived long ago come alive on the pages: the beginning of a love affair, the growth of a relationship, life’s trials and tribulations, the world they live in, the countryside they love …
I couldn’t help being drawn in, I couldn’t help being moved.
“I was a plain girl, morbidly conscious of intellectual and physical deficiencies. I had often cried bitterly in the thought that no man could ever love me, and that my longing for children would never be satisfied. I had so persuaded myself of this that it never entered my mind as a possibility until that moment when David took my hand.”
‘World Without End’ was written some years later and it moves the story forward.
It moves through years of marriage, the birth of more children, the uncertainties of a writer’s life, the coming of war. The marriage was not easy, but the love endured.
“We cannot say why we love people, There is no reason for passionate love. But the quality in him that I most admired was his sincerity. There was never any pretence between us. all was open and true. Often he was bitter and cruel, but I could bear it because I knew all. There was nothing left for me to guess at, no lies, no falsity. All was known, all was suffered and endured; and afterwards there was no reserve in our joy. If we love deeply we must also suffer deeply; for the price for the capacity for ecstatic joy is anguish. And so it was with us to the end.”
The end came much too soon: Edward Thomas was killed at the Battle of Arras in 1917.
The final paragraph, the final parting broke my heart.
” I put my hands up to my mouth to make a trumpet, but no sound came. Panic seized me, and I ran through the mist and the snow to the top of the hill, and stood there a moment dumbly, with straining eyes and ears. There was nothing but the mist and the snow and the silence of death. Then with leaden feet which stumbled in a sudden darkness that overwhelmed me I groped my way back to the empty house.”
I’m aware that I have quoted much but said little. That’s because Helen Thomas’s words make my own seem woefully inadequate.
I have read extraordinary writing, utterly timeless and yet truly of its time, and it has left me lost for words in the very best of ways.