There were six of them – but only two went to war
It must be inspiring to have poets around when war breaks out when their wisdom is needed most, even if they're unlikely to appear on a recruitment poster.
There were six "Dymock poets" and in 1914 they'd meet near the Forest of Dean village of Dymock in north Gloucestershire, where Lord Beauchamp's gamekeeper once spotted them in the woods with notebooks and assumed they were spies.
Only two went to war – Edward Thomas, 36, (who wrote Adlestrop) and his friend Rupert Brooke, 27, who'd become famous for writing, "If I should die, think only this of me:/That there's some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England." Both died in the war.
Another, Lascelles Abercrombie, was 33 and found "unfit for military service" although his apparent disability was unknown to Brooke, who wrote from the Aegean just before his death saying, "Come and join us."
Oase bio press pump and filter sets now half recommended retail price. 6000 now £199, 10000 now £249 these sets include pump, filter, uv clarifier, hose pipe and clips www.blagdon-water-gardens.co.uk
Contact: 01934 316673
Valid until: Friday, February 14 2014
American Robert Frost had moved to Britain but by early 1915 was safely back in America ready for his 40 honorary degrees (his age on leaving), the Today in Literature website attributing to him this not exactly Churchillian quote: "There is room for only one person at the top of the steeple and I always meant that person to be me." England wasn't his country and no one expected family men to fight, despite the Commonwealth War Graves Commission noting one soldier who was mentioned in dispatches and killed in battle, aged 67.
John Drinkwater, 32, was another who didn't fight and whose marriage meant he couldn't be conscripted.
Later, safely behind the lines with an entertainment unit in France, he read his poems to soldiers, perhaps including Cotswold Love, published the year Thomas was killed by an exploding shell, the second verse ending, "And not a girl goes walking/Along the Cotswold lanes/But knows men's eyes in April/Are quicker than their brains."
The sixth Dymock poet, Wilfrid Gibson, 35, had the best of both worlds by never being a soldier but managing to be remembered as one – one of 16 "Great War poets" commemorated in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner. The Friends of the Dymock Poets' pointing out: "When reading them it is hard to believe that at this time he had not been involved personally in the war" due to "poor eyesight". His brave-sounding poem Back begins: "They ask me where I've been/And what I've done and seen."
In Comrades Gibson wrote: "They buried me in Flanders/Upon the field of blood" – buried in pork scratchings and pints at his local Gloucestershire pub, more likely.
He would live to the age of 83, until May 26, 1962, the day Acker Bilk's Stranger on the Shore topped the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Gibson's poem The Going about Rupert Brooke ("He's gone./I do not understand./I only know/That as he turned to go/And waved his hand/In his young eyes a sudden glory shone:/And I was dazzled by a sunset glow,/And he was gone") would have been even sweeter had a soldier's sister written it.
The village the Dymock poets made famous is described passionately by the Friends of the Dymock Poets whose website helps you explore the area.
It describes May Hill as "wonderfully mysterious. The clump of Scots pine trees on top of what looks like an upside down soup plate make the hill a visible landmark from all over Gloucestershire and Herefordshire – but as you approach it, it disappears."
What happened there, I suspect, because everyone knows that hills don't disappear, is that a couple of them wrote it after a heavy night in one of the pubs they recommend – The Yew Tree Inn or The Glass House Inn (a "true local", according to BeeryBeck on the Beer in the Evening website in 2009.
It is groups such as the Friends of the Dymock Poets that keep history alive, and into the bargain do the public a service by keeping it as truthful as poets themselves are expected to be, even if it means not everyone secretly remembering the Dymock poets as six men but, really, only two.