Nothing but Rain


Edward Thomas joined up to fight of his own free will. He was just starting to come into his own as a poet when he was killed. This poem of mine refers to two of his poems, ‘Rain’ and ‘Words’, two poems I have loved for years.

In this poem, from The Five Petals of Elderflower, I have wishes for him but for every other person killed in war. World War One, like all wars, was indiscriminate in its killing: ‘poets and painters and musicians,
labourers and farm hands, thinkers and doers’ all perished, along with those killed by their own side who had become too traumatised to fight, conscientious objectors, who deserve to be admired for taking a stand, but who also suffered from poor treatment and even imprisonment in many cases.

The great war deprived me of three great uncles. Two were killed in France: Nicholas Lawler and Frederick Coyne, and James Lawler survived the war but died in his 50s as a result of bad health caused by being gassed. He walked with a stick and only had sight in one eye. As a child growing up it never occurred to me why I only had great aunts.

I was moved to see Nicholas Lawler’s name on the Theipval monument, but next time I go on a battlefields tour I hope to find Frederick’s grave. Nicholas’ body was never found.

This poem is for all of them.


Nothing but Rain

The window pane is streaked and spotted.
The beech hedge offers little comfort to birds.
Water puddles in the road, car headlamps sheen.
The bird feeder bobs on the almond branches.

Edward Thomas wrote about rain like this,
that drenched and seeped through fustian uniform.
He sheltered in a shed and heard rain drum
on the corrugated iron room, in such despair

as he’d been able to assuage by tramping
fields and woods where he lived in England.
No such warmth for him now, days or weeks
away from death, in a war that wasted

poets and painters and musicians,
labourers and farm hands, thinkers and doers
as trenches filled with mud and blood.
Even the weather was against them.

Rain is still as wet, and drips into poems
like this one, but each one after his
calls out in fellow feeling, as if his Rain
and ours is the same, as if shelter would come

and safety, and warmth and life, like mine
by this coal fire, time for his English words,
to flock into his mind with feathery lines,
so he could once more sing of birds.

Angela Topping



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8 responses to “Nothing but Rain

  1. mavisgulliver

    Such a tragic waste of life and talent brought even closer by
    your poem.

  2. Brings an immediacy to those who died in that conflict and subsequently.

  3. Merryn Williams

    Dear Angela,That is a lovely poem – and I know whereof I speak;  I have had to plough through so many dreary verses about mud, blood and poppies.  This one really does incorporate the spirit of Edward Thomas.  Alison Brackenbury has also written about him and her poems ‘from Steep’ are in the new War Poets Journal, not printed yet.  My grandfather was a reluctant soldier in the Great War, and my great-uncle was killed at Gallipoli.  So many great-uncles who never had time to have children of their own.      By the way let me know if you are visiting Westgate again!      Write on,                          Merryn

    • Merryn, you are very kind. I don’t get to Oxford very often unless someone asks me to read poems down there. War Poets journal sounds interesting and of course I know Alison. Luckily my dad was the wrong age to fight in either war but my maternal grandfather fought in both and survived. My husband’s granddad volunteered at 15 but was rumbled and sent home.