A Kind of Greek
- BuyA Very English Hero: The Making of Frank Thompson by Peter Conradi
Bloomsbury, 419 pp, £18.99, August 2012, ISBN 978 1 4088 0243 4
Preliminary sketches for the great canvas of the Cold War were already under way in the Balkans in the summer of 1944 when Frank Thompson was executed. Bulgaria was a member of the Axis and Frank, older brother of the historian E.P. Thompson, was on a mission in the country for Special Operations Executive: the idea was that anti-Nazi partisans should be encouraged and supported in their efforts to stir up trouble, as their neighbours the Yugoslav partisans were doing, and keep German units too busy to deploy elsewhere. Frank was 23 when he fell into the hands of government forces. He had been parachuted into eastern Serbia six months earlier to link up with a band of Bulgarian fighters and accompany them across the border: it was a life of hiding, running and holing up in a hinterland far from the world of his fellow army officers.
[*] E.P. Thompson introduced his father’s memories of Tagore in the LRB of 22 May 1986. Basil Davidson wrote about SOE in the issue dated 22 August 1996. Arnold Rattenbury reviewed Beyond the Frontier in the LRB, 8 May 1997.
Vol. 35 No. 6 · 21 March 2013
From Seán Haldane
Jeremy Harding falls into the trap of dismissing Frank Thompson as a poet, while admiring him as a man (LRB, 7 March). Poor Thompson. Had he survived, Harding writes, ‘his postwar poetry would have gathered dust in a box in the Thompson family loft.’ Yes, Thompson’s poems could be ‘Georgian’ in the sense of being pastoral and understated (like those of Edward Thomas), but putting aside comparisons with the likes of Auden, or those – Harding mentions Durrell, G.S. Fraser and Keith Douglas – who fought in the war and ‘went on to win a reputation’, I think he wrote durable poems. How about ‘Leisure Love’:
Because I was cool when the angry dogstar struck us,
You threaten to leave for more responsive fires.
Well? I have seen too much of blackthorn by moonlight
To be so wholly the fool of my desires.
Because I stalled. At that high engine-speed
My driving wheels seized up and would not move.
I have walked too long through water-meadows in summer
To be so serious about love.
I’m still uncertain about the truth of living.
From so many answers I must yet find one
That slots in easily and needs no oiling.
And even then my search will not be done.
But one thing’s clear. Your formula will not suit me.
The heat’s destruction was not for you and me.
There is still the challenge of cowslips under hedges.
There is still the critical murmur of the sea.
Vol. 35 No. 7 · 11 April 2013
From Samuel Reifler
I love the LRB – no facetiousness intended. In what other publication in the 21st century (outside the jihad) could you find an essay (Jeremy Harding writing about Frank Thompson) which concludes that it is better to have died young and bravely for a good cause than to have lived a long life as a bad poet (LRB, 7 March)?
Rhinebeck, New York