One of the best-known photographs of Edward Thomas (1878–1917) was taken a century ago this year. It is a studio portrait: Thomas is seated but leaning forwards, his chin resting on the knuckles of his folded hands. A white light falls from right of frame, lending a lustre to his hair, a glint to his eyes and a glitter to the signet ring on his left little finger. His features are fine, fawnish and in focus; his tweed jacket and shoulders disappear backwards into a blur. Unsettlingly, Thomas’s gaze is not directly outwards, but angled steadily away at something behind and to the right of the camera. When I first saw the photograph, I wanted to glance over my shoulder and glimpse what it was that had so drawn Thomas’s attention.
Thomas is now remembered chiefly as a poet, but he made his reputation with series of travelogues, essays, biographies and natural histories (In Pursuit of Spring, The Icknield Way and The South Country being among the most famous). The poetry came late in his life, beginning in the winter of