I would like to stay with the subject of love a moment longer. I have been thinking about a couple of things written by Edward Thomas. In February of 1916, Thomas was in the army, but he was still stationed in England. He periodically sent drafts of his poems to his wife Helen. He sent her some poems which mentioned love, and she expressed concern that the poems were about another woman. On February 24, Thomas wrote to her:
"As to the other verses about love you know that my usual belief is that I don't and can't love and haven't done for something near 20 years. You know too that you don't think my nature really compatible with love, being so clear and critical. You know how unlike I am to you, and you know that you love, so how can I? That is if you count love as any one feeling and not something varying infinitely with the variety of people."
R. George Thomas (editor), Edward Thomas: Selected Letters (1995), page 119.
Of course, this must have been a difficult passage for Helen Thomas to read. But it would have been out-of-character for Thomas to have written anything but the truth to her.
On April 9, 1916 -- exactly a year prior to his death at the battle of Arras -- Thomas wrote the following untitled poem:
And you, Helen, what should I give you?
So many things I would give you
Had I an infinite great store
Offered me and I stood before
To choose. I would give you youth,
All kinds of loveliness and truth,
A clear eye as good as mine,
Lands, waters, flowers, wine,
As many children as your heart
Might wish for, a far better art
Than mine can be, all you have lost
Upon the travelling waters tossed,
Or given to me. If I could choose
Freely in that great treasure-house
Anything from any shelf,
I would give you back yourself,
And power to discriminate
What you want and want it not too late,
Many fair days free from care
And heart to enjoy both foul and fair,
And myself, too, if I could find
Where it lay hidden and it proved kind.
Edna Longley (editor), Edward Thomas: The Annotated Collected Poems (2008).
The final two lines are classic Thomas, and are an excellent instance of something that I have remarked upon before in connection with his poetry (and that of Frost and Larkin): the giving and then the taking away. Or, to use Larkin's fine observation about Thomas's poetry (which, again, I have mentioned before): "The poetry of almost infinitely-qualified states of mind."