by Edward Thomas
Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flowers of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.
Thomas wrote all his poetry in a three-year burst of creativity between 1914 and 1917. He had enlisted in 1915 and embarked for France at the beginning of 1917. On Easter Monday, 1917, the first day of the Arras Offensive, Thomas paused for a moment to fill his pipe. He was killed by a shell that passed so close to him that the blast of air stopped his heart. His wife Helen was told that he died without a mark on his body. This was the story that was believed for many years. A letter from his commanding officer discovered years later revealed that he had been “shot clean through the chest”.
The Canadian artist Tom Thomson (1877-1917) was drawn to the wilderness of his native Ontario. In 1914 he started work as a fire fighter, ranger and guide in the Algonquin Park. He found that work did not leave him enough time to paint so his employment was intermittent. Like Edward Thomas he produced his most significant work in those three years 1914-1917. He died just before his 40th birthday in the summer of 1917 in mysterious circumstances. He took off on a canoeing trip on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park on July 8, 1917. His body was discovered in the lake eight days later. The medical examiner and coroner both concluded he had drowned accidentally.
Thomson’s death has been the cause of considerable and enduring speculation. Was it an accident, suicide or murder?
How did Tom Thomson die in the summer of 1917?
Was landscape painter Tom Thomson shot by poachers, or by a German-American draft dodger? Did a blow from a canoe paddle knock him unconscious and into the water? Was he fatally injured in a drunken fight? Did he end his life out of fear of being forced to marry his pregnant girlfriend? –
THE MANY DEATHS OF TOM THOMSON Separating Fact from Fiction by Gregory Klages 2015
Here is his painting Winter Thaw 1914