A blog for Senior Project 1 about sonnets and trenches
Pro Patria Mori
Saturday, April 09, 2016
Lord Kitchener Wants You, one of the most famous recruitment campaigns of
the Great War and inspired later imitations with Uncle Sam and Smokey Bear.
Your King & Country Need You
A dead Archduke, tension from colonial issues, Balkan wars, and Belgian
independence has lead to His Majesty requesting you to join the British Army
in fighting against the Germans. By the end of the Great War, almost 1 out of
4 men in the United Kingdom will have joined the British Army. Half volunteers,
Of these men were a number of Britain's poets. In the trenches, they documented
their experiences in their art and were published in newspapers back home as
the war marched on. Their work, a preservation and expression of the
patriotism, death, home, disillusionment, and horrors found during this war.
These poems come about in a changing world. Queen Victoria passed away 13 years
ago, and with her, an era of restraint, classes, and eminence of British
The past decade of King Edward VII's reign has seen shifting politics as
liberal parties gain standing in what had been conservative houses of British
government. There's a growing awareness of the condition's of women and the
working class as suffragists and laborers enter more into the political
discourse. The Empire is still powerful trading empire, but the economies of
the United States and Germany are growing rapidly. British elite are often
choosing travel and leisure over entrepreneurship.
Art is shifting from an interest in the romantic and classic to the natural
forms in Art Nouveau, becoming known as whiplash for dramatic wavelike curves.
Impressionism from France and had integrated into British art, but Modernism
like Cubism from France, Futurism from Italy, and Expressionism from Germany
Photography is starting to be taken as art, but much of what exhibited is
Fashion moved from tight-lacing, thin-waist figure, to a S-bend figure and
pigeon chest, and then to early brassieres and girdles instead of corsets,
straighter silhouettes, sportswear, and tweed suits.
Technology has brought about new forms of rapid and mass transit. Louis Blériot
had crossed the channel by air.
Olympic-class ocean liners have been built, and suffered a tragic disaster.
Herbert Austin had started producing thousands of British automobiles.
Yet, this changing world and new century will be violently upturned shortly.
70 million military personal will fight a war defined by attrition in trenches,
genocide, industrial mobilization, and poison gas. Many of the nations involved
will have dramatic revolutions afterwards. Concepts like "crimes against
humanity" and international organizations focused on peace by collective
security will come about.
A new generation will come of age. Between two American novelists, Gertrude
Stein will tell Ernest Hemingway, "All of you young people who served in the
war. You are a lost generation..." This disoriented and hopelessness of a Lost
Generation is told in the art of those left standing after the war. People
scared by death and warfare, pessimistic of the world.
The people in this war are in a moment of vivid, violent, and aggressive
change for the world. 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians will die
over the next 4 years. Among the 800,000 British military casualties will be
many of Britain's poets. Mostly young men lost to a miserable war. They write
first hand of the drastic and deadly transition into the modern world. Some
wrote of the honor and glory in war, others described the terrifying reality.
In the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, there are 16 poets memorialized who
severed in the Great War, inscribed with the Wilfred Owen quote "My subject is
War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity." The following posts on
this blog will examine these poets and their poems from the Western Front.
Rupert Brooke - Died April 23, 1915 (Age 27)
Charles Sorley - Died October 13, 1915 (Age 20)
Edward Thomas - Died April 9, 1917 (Age 39)
Isaac Rosenberg - Died April 1, 1918 (Age 27)
Wilfred Owen - Died November 4, 1918 (Age 25)
For King & Country.
Saturday, April 16, 2016
Photograph of Brooke by
Rupert Brooke was born August 2, 1887 to William, a schoolmaster, and Ruth
Brooke in Rugby, Warwickshire.
Brooke's writing of renaissance theater won him a scholarship to King's
College, Cambridge where he was a member of the Cambridge Apostles
, an intellectual society, and was president of the Cambridge University
, a liberal political voice within the university. At Cambridge, Brooke
befriended a number of future Bloomsbury
members, a group of intellectuals working around Bloomsbury, London.
Besides being known for his writing, Brooke also was admired for his looks.
William Butler Yeats, an Irish poet, describe him as the "handsomest man in
England," and Virginia Wolf, writer and Bloomsbury member, boasted about skinny
dipping with Brooke.
In 1912, Brooke had a mental breakdown from the end of his relationship with
Katherine Laird Cox caused by jealousy. After rehabilitation in Germany, Brooke
would travel to the United States and Canada, writing back to the Westminster
Gazette and breaking more hearts. His writing gained the attention of the First
Lord of the Admiral, Winston Churchill, and was commissioned into the Royal
Navy Volunteer Reserve as a Sub-Lieutenant.
Brooke's poems in the navy often have an idealistic depiction of war, like
and The Soldier
. In The Soldier, Brooke glorifies his potential death for his country. That
his body, and the land it becomes, belongs to England and makes 'rich earth'
'richer' due to his experienced English air, water, and sun. Though, it's
interesting to think of the line as "blest by sons
of home," as Brooke
had lots of admiration from friends, colleagues, and superiors. He goes on to
say his heart has no evil since England gave him positive thoughts, and he
returned positive thoughts. That England would continue to be a peaceful,
gentle heaven of pleasant sights, sounds, and people. All this, to describe
death during wartime. Brooke speaks of laughter, flowers, gentleness, and the
sun in relation to death and war, in a what would be titled The Soldier. The
Soldier shows some very Victorian themes, like the romantic ideals of war and
enthusiastic patriotism. Ideas that would clash with gruesome horrors of the
Great War and following pessimism for the future. Though, for as unrealistic a
depiction of death in war Brooke describes, his own death would seem to be as
peaceful and ideal as what he wrote in his poem.
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Brooke died at 4:46 pm on April 23, 1915 of Sepsis from an infected mosquito
bite while with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. He was buried at 11 pm
in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros. Musician, friend, and fellow
shipmate, William Denis Browne chose the site and wrote:
...I sat with Rupert. At 4 o’clock he became weaker, and at 4.46 he died, with
the sun shining all round his cabin, and the cool sea-breeze blowing through
the door and the shaded windows. No one could have wished for a quieter or a
calmer end than in that lovely bay, shielded by the mountains and fragrant with
sage and thyme.
Browne would be killed in action on June 4, 1915 during the Gallipoli Campaign.
Friday, April 22, 2016
Sorley in uniform.
The next British war poet we'll talk about wrote very differently from our
previous poet, Rupert Brooke. Charles Sorley was born May 19, 1895 to
philosopher and professor William Richie Sorley in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Sorley attended Marlborough College in Wiltshire, England. There, he found a
fondness for cross country running, particularity in the rain. The strict
Protestant principals Sorley was raised with would stay with him into college,
even volunteering punishment for breaking school rules. Before Sorley would
have attended Oxford College on scholarship, he spent time in Germany and
attended University of Jena until the war broke out.
After British declaration of war, Sorley was detained in Trier, Germany, but
later released and instructed to leave Germany. When Sorley arrived in England,
he volunteered for the British Army and would be sent to the Western Front.
Sorley joined as a lieutenant, but would advance to captain within a month.
Staples of Sorley's life will show up as recurring themes in his writing. Like
rain in Barbury Camp
, To Germany
, and The Song of the Ungirt
, or religion in All the Hills and Vales Along
. In contrast to poets like Brooke, Sorley's tone is
noticeably less nationalistic. In To Germany
and Such, Such is
, Sorley writes German soldiers as equals in death and tragedy.
Sorley's depictions of death are less idealistic than Brooke's, calling death
a "empty pail" compared to Brooke's "richer dust."
Sorley describes conflict as futile in To Germany
, writing Britain and
Germany blindly fighting, and in Such, Such is Death
as "So poor, so
manifestly incomplete." The "bright Promise", a promise similar to Brooke's,
in Sorley's poem is "withered long and sped." This pessimism becomes a theme
in continuing poems during the war, and in art afterwards. The tone comes from
the conflict Sorley and others experienced in the trenches, and perhaps part of
why Brooke as a sailor had a vastly different views on the war.
Such, such is Death: no triumph: no defeat:
Only an empty pail, a slate rubbed clean,
A merciful putting away of what has been.
And this we know: Death is not Life, effete,
Life crushed, the broken pail. We who have seen
So marvellous things know well the end not yet.
Victor and vanquished are a-one in death:
Coward and brave: friend, foe. Ghosts do not say,
“Come, what was your record when you drew breath?”
But a big blot has hid each yesterday
So poor, so manifestly incomplete.
And your bright Promise, withered long and sped,
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead.
Sorley was killed in action on October 13, 1915 of a sniper shot to the head
during the Battle of Loos. Sorley's last poem, 'When You See Millions of the
Mouthless Dead', was found in his bag after his death. Without a known grave at
the end of the war, he was commemorated at the Loos Memorial.
When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you'll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, “They are dead.” Then add thereto,
“Yet many a better one has died before.”
Then, scanning all the o'ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.
Friday, April 29, 2016
Thomas circa 1905.
Our previous poets were both young and early in their literary careers, lost
before their prime. Conversely, our next poet did have an accomplished literary
career, rather as a critic and novelist than as a poet. Before the war, he was
married with three children, an unlikely candidate to enlist into the British
Army. Peculiar that he would end up as a war poet, but let's look at what drove
him to the Western Front.
Edward Thomas was born March 3, 1878 in Lambeth, Surrey to a Welsh family.
Thomas' father was a railway clerk who Thomas had an adversarial relationship
While in St. Paul's School in London, Thomas met James Noble, a literary
journalist, who encouraged Thomas' literary interests and would help Thomas'
publish his first novel. Thomas attended Lincoln College, Oxford where as an
undergraduate he married Noble's daughter, Helen Noble. After college, Thomas
steadily produced an incredible amount writing, including: book reviews,
biographies, criticism, and fiction. Over the course of Thomas' career, Thomas
befriended American writer Robert Frost, who by 1912 relocated his family to
Thomas and Frost were close friends who frequently took walks together and even
planned to live near each other in America. Thomas started writing poems on
Frost's insistence, but initially published them under a pseudonym.
A path in Dymock Woods, where Thomas and Frost would have taken their walks
CC BY-SA 2.0
After Frost returned to New England, Frost sent Thomas an early copy of The
Road Not Taken
Frost intended to poke fun at the indecision Thomas showed on their walks.
Frost mentioned that Thomas was "a person who, whichever road he went, would be
sorry he didn’t go the other." But the poem is often read more seriously as a
traveler who takes responsibility and forges their own path. The poem was
personal to Thomas, and did not take it lightly. To Thomas, the poem was a stab
at his confidence from someone who keenly knew his flaws, leaving him feeling
like a fraud as a writer and a coward in his indecision.
By July, Thomas enlisted in the British Army, even though he was 37 years old,
a husband, a father, and an establish writer. Thomas did not volunteer solely
over the poem, but was significant in informing Thomas' decision down a path of
irreversible events. At the time, Thomas was conflicted about the war, but felt
pressed to take action after reading the poem.
In Thomas' Rain
, the rain is "washing me cleaner than I have been /
Since I was born into solitude." Not "Washed by the rivers" like we read in
Rupert Brooke's The Soldier
, but that the rain has "dissolved"
everything except Thomas' will to die. When we read Charles Sorley's Such,
Such is Death
, death is an "empty pail" and the notion that 'death in
battle was meaningful' was a "bright Promise, withered long and sped." Thomas
writes that "Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon," but from Thomas'
tone, this is not honor in Brooke's sense. But seems more of a release from
pain, and certainly not empty in Sorley's sense. There is a sense of
helplessness in Thomas similar to Sorley, but is more explicitly experienced
more before death rather than after. We see this change in writing from Brooke,
to Sorley, to Thomas. Brooke romanticize war and nationalism. Sorley has lost
idealism and is acute to German soldiers. Thomas is in despair and solitude.
How these writers are changing in style and expression is a touchstone to the
dread of the war and a precursor to art's evolution into modernism. Themes of
melancholy and detachment will continue through past the war, and will prompt
artists to reject establishment and forge modern art.
Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into solitude.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:
But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying tonight or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead,
Like a cold water among broken reeds,
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be towards what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint.
Thomas was killed in action on April 9, 1917 at the Battle of Arras from a shot
through the chest.
To soften the blow, his widow Helen was told he died from a concussive shell
blast stopping his heart. Thomas was buried at the Agny Military Cemetery in
Pas de Calais, France.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The sun used to shine while we two walked
Slowly together, paused and started
Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked
As either pleased, and cheerfully parted
Each night. We never disagreed
Which gate to rest on. The to be
And the late past we gave small heed.
We turned from men or poetry
To rumours of the war remote
Only till both stood disinclined
For aught but the yellow flavorous coat
Of an apple wasps had undermined;
Or a sentry of dark betonies,
The stateliest of small flowers on earth,
At the forest verge; or crocuses
Pale purple as if they had their birth
In sunless Hades fields. The war
Came back to mind with the moonrise
Which soldiers in the east afar
Beheld then. Nevertheless, our eyes
Could as well imagine the Crusades
Or Caesar's battles. Everything
To faintness like those rumours fade—
Like the brook's water glittering
Under the moonlight—like those walks
Now—like us two that took them, and
The fallen apples, all the talks
And silence—like memory's sand
When the tide covers it late or soon,
And other men through other flowers
In those fields under the same moon
Go talking and have easy hours.
Saturday, May 07, 2016
Self-portrait by Rosenberg.
Previously, we've covered a variety of poets. Their poems describe large
concepts to solitary scenes, and from glory to horrors felt in war. Though some
themes will carry to our next poet, an aspect of their writing will be
something new we've haven't covered yet, and important to the way we see the
Issac Rosenberg was born November 24, 1890 in Bristol, Gloucestershire to a
family of Jewish immigrants.
When Rosenberg was seven, his family moved to Stepney, a Jewish ghetto in the
East End of London.
On a good conduct award, Rosenberg was allowed to take classes at the Arts and
Crafts School while attending Baker Street Board School in Stepney. By
fourteen, Rosenberg left Baker Street Board School and started an
apprenticeship with an engraver in Central London. While an apprentice,
Rosenberg attended evening classes at Birkbeck College. By 1911, Rosenberg had
saved enough to withdraw from his apprenticeship and attend the Slade School of
Fine Art at University College, London. In 1914, Rosenberg was concerned that
his chronic bronchitis would be aggravated by the wet British weather and moved
to Cape Town, South Africa. After recovering, Rosenberg returned home seeking
work as an artist. Unable to find stable work, Rosenberg enlisted in the
British Army in 1915. Rosenberg ceded half his military pay to be payed out to
Rosenberg in uniform.
Rosenberg was critical of the war before he arrived to the Western Front. In a
letter, Rosenberg says "I never joined the army for patriotic reasons. Nothing
can justify war. I suppose we must all fight to get the trouble over." Themes
of God, Old Testament, and Jewish heritage is found in Rosenberg's writing in
France. Alongside these grand themes, there are also small moments found in a
poppy flower or a louse. Our previous poets described either abstract scenes
like Ropurt Brooke or Charles Sorley, or very minimal settings like Edward
Thomas alone with the rain. In Rosenberg's Break of Day in the Trenches
the scene starts with a myopic focus on a poppy flower, but pans out to a view
of war on the french countryside. Rosenberg's moment with the poppy is
interrupted by a rat, and satires it's 'traitorous' behavior. Yet, the moment
moves to a realization of the proximity of the German soldiers and notes that
the rat would likely live longer than the healthy British soldiers. Rosenberg
describes the war torn French countryside and death ridden skies, back down to
poppies growing on top the graves of soldiers.
Rosenberg's attitude is similar to Sorley and Thomas, but his words create a
strong visual along with the emotion of living in the trenches. It's important
that ordinary British citizens we're reading these poems as the war was
happening across the channel. The emotions and visuals helped tell the tale of
the Western Front back home, informing how people should feel about the war.
Media is important to how people will perceive war, and first hand accounts of
the horrific new breed of war were published in mass. Poet's stories have been
preserved to continue to inform us about that frame of time and the people
pictured in it. These poems were important to journalism of their time, and
our understanding of history now.
The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver—what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe—
Just a little white with the dust.
On March 28, 1918, Rosenberg sent his last letter containing Through these
Pale Cold Days
before arriving on the front lines. On April 1, 1918,
Rosenberg was killed in action in Fampoux, France. Rosenberg's self-portraits
are now kept in the National Portrait Gallery and Tate Britain in London.
Through these pale cold days
What dark faces burn
Out of three thousand years,
And their wild eyes yearn,
While underneath their brows
Like waifs their spirits grope
For the pools of Hebron again—
For Lebanon's summer slope.
They leave these blond still days
In dust behind their tread
They see with living eyes
How long they have been dead.
Saturday, May 14, 2016
Plate from 'Poems by Wilfred Owen' by
So far, we've covered a number of poets with a variety of writing styles and
experiences of the Great War. One of the aspects of their poetry we haven't
covered is their technical expertise. For this post, our poet is incredibly
skilled in meaningfully structuring their poems.
Wilfred Owen was born March 18, 1893 near Oswestry, Shropshire to Thomas Owen
and Susan Shaw.
Owen's parents lived with Edward Shaw, Susan's father, in his comfortable,
spacious house. Susan's family had been affluent in her adolescence, but had
lost much of their wealth by now. When Edward passes in 1897, Owen's parents
sell the house and move to start a modest life in Birkenhead, Merseyside.
There's tension between Owen's parents, each feeling constrained by the
marriage. Thomas, a former seaman, limited to a boring, poor occupation of a
railway station master. Susan limited in pursuing academic and economic
ambitions. Owen was raised Anglican and a devout believer in his youth. Passing
the matriculation exam, but without honors, Owen was unsuccessful in obtaining
a scholarship to London University, the only way Owen could afford to attend.
Owen worked as a lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden near Reading,
Oxfordshire. While at Dunsden, Owen assisted in the care of the poor and sick
in the parish and was able to attend some classes at University College,
Reading. Owen became disillusioned with the Church of England in it's failure
to care for the underprivileged. Two years later, Owen returned home due to a
respiratory infection from the damp, unheated room at the vicarage. At home,
Own's father encourages Owen to find steady work, yet Owen wants to pursue a
artistic career. Once Owen is recovered, he leaves to teach at the Berlitz
School of Languages and later tutor for a Catholic family in Bordeaux, France.
Nearly a year after Britain entered the war, Owen leaves France for England to
enlist into the British Army.
Siegfried Sassoon in uniform.
While fighting on the Western Front, Owen would experience a number of
traumatic experiences. Eventually, Owen will be diagnosed with neurasthenia
(shell shock) and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland.
At Craiglockhart, Owen would edit Hydra
, the hospital journal, teach at
Tynecastle School, research for the Edinburgh Advocates Library, and play in
the community orchestra. Owen meets fellow soldier and poet, Siegfried Sassoon,
who would encourage Owen to further indulge in writing poetry. Sassoon known at
this time for his letter Finished with the War: A Soldier’s Declaration
and throwing his Military Cross in the river Mersey.
Rather than court-martial, Sassoon was found unfit for service, diagnosed with
neurasthenia, and sent to Craiglockhart. After their meeting, Owen would write
the majority of his poems. Owen's poetry would pull from his experiences in the
trenches, France, and the vicarage. One of the forms Owen was quite skilled in
writing was sonnets.
A sonnet is a fourteen lined poem that follows a specific structure and rhyme
An Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet has two parts, the eight lined octave and six
The octave introduces the conflict of the poem and follows a a b b a a b b
rhyme scheme. The sestet provides a comment or resolution to the octave
and has a variety of rhyme schemes. The volta (the turn, rhetorical shift, or
dramatic change) is the beginning of the sestet, coinciding with the change in
rhyme scheme and literary direction.
An English (Shakespearean) sonnet has four parts, three four lined quatrains
and a two lined couplet.
English sonnets follow a abab cdcd efef gg
rhyme scheme. The third
quatrain or couplet summarize the earlier quatrains and contain the volta,
offering a new view or dramatic twist.
In Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth
, we see theories from both Italian and
English sonnets. The poem is formatted into quatrains and a couplet, yet it's
also broken into an octave and a sestet. The first two quatrains in the octave
and couplet follow Shakespearean rhyme scheme. Yet, the third quatrain in the
sestet follows the rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan octave. The octave introduces
the scene of soldiers dying amidst the chaotic conflict, and the sestet
concludes their story with their funeral service. The octave and sestet handle
death very differently, between the octave's "die as cattle" and the sestet's
honest morning. There's a stark contrast between the deafening noise in the
octave and the silence in the sestet. Yet, both are connected by similar rhyme
schemes and themes of a funeral. The third quatrain in the sestet referencing a
Petrarchan octave suggests that the sestet doesn't really conclude the
conflict. The funerals aren't going the conclude the war. That uneasiness leads
into the Shakespearean volta in the couplet focusing on a civilian scene,
the end of the day and closing the blinds. British civilians can retire to the
comfort of their homes and draw the blinds to the outside world. In one of
Owen's letters to his mother, there's a bitter tone towards to those “who might
relieve us and will not.”
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Owen was killed in action on November 4, 1918 while crossing the Sambre-Oise
Canal. The Armistice ending the war would be signed one week later, the same
day Owen's mother would be informed of her son's death. Owen was buried at the
Communal Cemetery in Ors, France.
From Owen's draft of the preface to a collection of war poems he hoped to
publish in 1919. It is also quoted in the Great War poets memorial in Poets'
Corner, Westminster Abbey:
My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.
Friday, May 20, 2016
Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red
exhibit at Tower of London commemorating every 888,246 British and Colonial
military fatality with a ceramic red poppy.
CC BY 3.0
The past posts have covered a number of British poets who served in the
Great War and their poetry. Some of their poetry had themes of nationalism
and romanticism. Others explored the horrors of war and disenfranchisement
with inherited values. Their poetry were documents of their experiences on
the Western Front, published to citizens back home, and save for us today.
Their poetry was useful in a number of ways.
These poems give a view into the trenches of the Great War, for history
today or journalism then. Industrialization had changed the landscape of
the world, and made the Great War a first of it’s kind. In a changing world
without certainty, the horror of the war shocked people and left them without
hope. With empty promises of glory and honor, people questioned the values
handed down to them from previous generations.
. Ernst was an early surrealist and veteran of the Great War.
Previously, we’ve mentioned the quote of Gertrude Stein popularized by
Ernest Hemingway. “That is what you are. That’s what you all are … all of
you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.”
This aimlessness and disbelief of the people informs the art following the war.
From Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, “‘Listen Jake… don’t you ever get the
feeling that all your life is going by and you are not taking advantage of it?'”
And from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, “Thirty — the
promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know,
a thinning briefcase of enthusiasm, thinning hair.”
Not only are there themes of despair and pain, but there is also a questioning
of traditions. Namely, a strict adherence to aesthetics.
We see striking art movements creating the new modern art.
The despair and loss of faith in these poems did foreshadow modern art,
but the poems inform more than art. Remembrance Day is a memorial of British
and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Great War.
Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom is November 11 in accordance with the
signing of the armistice in 1918. The remembrance poppy used in commemoration
on Remembrance Day is inspired from In Flanders Filed by John McCrae.
The poem has visuals of the poppy flowers in the French countryside.
The title of Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est references the line
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori from the lyric poem Odes by
Roman poet Horace.
The line translates to It is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country and
know as the Old Lie. The concept of honor and glory in war is centuries old,
and contemporary in modern nationalism. As war is still an important part of
our world, remembering the costs and experiences of war is meaningful in
our handling and attitudes of conflicts.
The field poppy, Papaver rhoeas, the remembrance poppy is based on.
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
CC BY-SA 2.0
† - supplementary examples
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.