Hampshire is marking not one, but two, major literary anniversaries in 2017.
Jane Austen has been a household name for almost two centuries and interest in her, and her books, is only likely to increase as Hampshire prepares to commemorate the 200th anniversary of her death county-wide, through a year-long schedule of events and exhibitions (http://janeausten200.co.uk).
The 100th anniversary of the death of poet, essayist and novelist, Edward Thomas, meanwhile, means that Hampshire will be able to contribute one of the most significant chapters to VisitEngland’s “Year of Literary Heroes” in 2017.
Philip Edward Thomas is widely regarded as a war poet, although few of his poems deal directly with his own war experiences. He believed that poetry was the highest form of literature and regularly reviewed it, but he only became a poet himself (amidst much prompting by his close friend and fellow poet, Robert Frost) at the end of 1914 when living at Steep in Hampshire, while writing under the name of Edward Eastwood.
Thomas’s poems are noted for their attention to the English countryside and “a certain colloquial style”. His career as a poet, sadly, proved very short-lived. He enlisted in the British Army in 1915 to fight in the First World War and was killed in action during the Battle of Arras on April 9 1917, soon arriving in France.
On November 11 1985, Thomas was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner. The inscription, written by fellow poet Wilfred Owen reads: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”
Thomas’s reputation as a poet has increased greatly over the years and his posthumous influence on the development of English verse has been notable. Poets as diverse as WH Auden, Philip Larkin and Derek Walcott have all acknowledged their debt to him. Thomas was also described by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes as “The father of us all”.
Other memorials to Thomas, meanwhile, can be found in Hampshire at Steep Church where two windows are dedicated to the local poet; and – more dramatically – high up in the South Downs, on Shoulder of Mutton Hill, where The Poet’s Stone was erected in 1937.
A well-marked literary walk created by East Hampshire District Council leads walkers to the memorial stone bearing the inscription from the final line from one of his essays: “And I rose up and knew I was tired and I continued my journey.”
This is in an especially hilly and beautiful part of Hampshire – often known as Little Switzerland. And the four-mile circular walk has stunning views of the South Downs, an area was the inspiration for poet Edward Thomas. Also on the trail are The Red House, his home from 1909 to 1913, and Steep Church containing the engraved windows commemorating the centenary of his birth. Further details can be found at http://www.visit-hampshire.co.uk/things-to-do/edward-thomas-circular-walk-p236531.
Anniversary highlights will include: a special memorial concert as part of the Petersfield Musical Festival (March 17); exhibitions of Thomas-inspired works at Petersfield Museum (April 4-22) and the Petersfield Physic Garden (April 4-September 30), part of a multi-site exhibition of works inspired by writers entitled ‘Inspired by the Word’; an Edward Thomas literary-historical display at Petersfield Museum (April to June); and an exhibition of photographs by and of Edward Thomas at Petersfield Museum (May to June).
With good train links to Portsmouth and London from Petersfield, Steep itself is an ideal base for exploring not just East Hampshire but further afield. Buses link Steep to Petersfield and then to Winchester, Alton and Midhurst.
Tourist information about Hampshire can be found at http://www.visit-hampshire.co.uk.
[EdwardThomas image ©Cardiff University Library Special Collections & Archives]