Thompson’s social consciousness is evident in his poetry as early as 1940 (when he was still at school) and remained the dominant feature in all his writing until his death in 1993. His major prose works—studies of William Morris and William Blake, and a history of the English working class—were written out of a need to understand the “big picture” of political and literary history. Editor Inglis provides a select bibliography and helpful introductory essay, in which he characterizes Thompson as an “old-fashioned, English radical of letters” and calls him “the writer of the Cold War.” In his public work Thompson waved the banner for social justice, yet he understood poetry to be “the ultimate technique for telling truths about the soul in all its nakedness.” Although there is polemic in the poems, the naked soul is often visible, as in “My Study”: “Even the little dogmas do not bark. / I leave my desk and peer into the world. / Outside the owls are hunting. Dark / Has harvested the moon. Imperial eyes / Quarter the ground for fellow creaturehood: / Small as the hour some hunted terror cries. / I go back to my desk. If it could fight / Or dream or mate, what other creature would / Sit making marks on paper through the night?”
Although Thompson’s reputation may ultimately rest on his prose writings, his poetry is a pertinent reminder that poetry can address major social and political themes without forfeiting its ability to speak to—and for—the eternal verities of the human heart.