World War I and poetry

This video from Britain about World War I says about itself:

The Somme – Lions Led By Donkeys

Documentary about the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. A number of excellent interviews from old soldiers.

By John Green in Britain:

Well versed in the realities of first world war

Monday 25th January 2016

Everything to Nothing: A History of the Great War, Revolution and the Birth of Europe by Geert Buelens (Verso, £20)

EUROPEANS plunged like lemmings into the engulfing abyss of WWI under the influence of “the massage of propaganda, the gospel of terror,” as Polish poet Anatol Stern observed in 1914.

That perception is typical of this very different and fascinating take on the conflict, reflected in the outpouring of writing amid the tumult and chaos.

The war opened up new imaginative possibilities for exploring personal tragedy and the extremes of human experience.

Poetry, particularly, took centre stage, both as a means of propaganda and for manipulating sentiments but also as a means of portraying a scarcely communicable horror.

Buelens undertakes a cultural history of the war through the writings of those caught up in the maelstrom, from the point of view of poets from all the European countries involved, including Anna Akhmatova, Rupert Brooke, Guillaume Apollinaire and many less well-known writers.

He provides a panorama of those short but intensive four years from 1914-18 through the eyes of those poets who charted its course but also imagined its aftermath and encapsulated the human Calvary in a way that no traditional history, however good, could do.

The author draws on an amazing range of poets to weave a comprehensive picture of the psychology of the immediate pre-war period and the premonition of the chaos, nihilism and nationalism as well as a yearning for change.

These poets, in the main, were actual participants and describe the war’s raw reality, unlike the onlookers and outsiders who could afford to squander their patriotic rhetoric and appeals to romantic sacrifice while others were obliged to squander their blood.

The French poet Paul Valery wrote: “The illusion of a European culture has been lost.” How right he was.

Despite the ideals of pre-war socialists throughout Europe that working men and women of all nations would stand together and refuse to slaughter each other, a short time later they followed their governments like lambs to the abattoir, cocooned in the heady patriotic fervour of national anthems and swirling banners.

This book undoubtedly represents a unique approach to the history of the war but without a political and economic context it can of course provide only a literary reflection on it, without offering any analysis.

6 thoughts on “World War I and poetry

  1. Pingback: World War I Somme bloodbath, 100 years ago | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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  3. Northern France, April 9: [2017] Two English poets killed on the same day

    Two English poets are killed in fighting in northern France, less than 20 miles apart from one another. Edward Thomas, the better-known figure, dies during the first day of the bloody Battle of Arras.

    R.E. Vernède perishes after being wounded by machine gun fire leading an advance near Havrincourt. Vernède had earlier been wounded during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Vernède is best known today for his War Poems, And Other Verses (1917).

    Thomas is also remembered as a war poet, although he had enjoyed a successful career as a literary critic and only turned to poetry in 1914. The American poet Robert Frost, then living in Britain, had encouraged Thomas to write poetry, and his famed “The Road Not Taken” was apparently inspired by walks he took with Thomas and the latter’s indecisiveness.

    By this time in the slaughter of World War I, a large number of writers and painters had been killed in combat, including British writer H. H. Munro (better known by the pen name Saki), British poet Rupert Brooke, American poet Alan Seeger (the uncle of Pete Seeger), French novelist Henri-Alban Fournier (better known as Alain-Fournier), Czech poet František Gellner, German painters Franz Marc and August Macke, Italian painter and sculptor Umberto Boccioni and French artist and sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Dozens more writers and painters would die.


  4. Pingback: Passchendaele, World War I bloodbath of poets and other soldiers | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  5. Pingback: Poet Mayakovsky in theatre play | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  6. Pingback: British World War I poet Isaac Rosenberg | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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