Mike Canoy

Recent CS Grad from WWU

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CSCI 491: Dulce et Decorum est

A blog for Senior Project 1 about sonnets and trenches

Enlist Now Rupert Brooke Charles Sorley Edward Thomas Isaac Rosenberg Wilfred Owen Pro Patria Mori

Enlist Now

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. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

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, half conscripted. [1] 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. [2]



Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

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 dominance. [3] 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. [4] 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. [5] Impressionism from France and had integrated into British art, but Modernism like Cubism from France, Futurism from Italy, and Expressionism from Germany are controversial. [6] Photography is starting to be taken as art, but much of what exhibited is American. [7] 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. [8] Technology has brought about new forms of rapid and mass transit. Louis Blériot had crossed the channel by air. [9] Olympic-class ocean liners have been built, and suffered a tragic disaster. [10] Herbert Austin had started producing thousands of British automobiles. [11]



Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

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. [12] 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. [13] 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. [14]

Rupert Brooke - Died April 23, 1915 (Age 27) [15]
Charles Sorley - Died October 13, 1915 (Age 20) [16]
Edward Thomas - Died April 9, 1917 (Age 39) [17]
Isaac Rosenberg - Died April 1, 1918 (Age 27) [18]
Wilfred Owen - Died November 4, 1918 (Age 25) [19]

For King & Country.

Rupert Brooke: The Soldier

Saturday, April 16, 2016



Photograph of Brooke by Sherrill Schell. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Rupert Brooke was born August 2, 1887 to William, a schoolmaster, and Ruth Brooke in Rugby, Warwickshire. [1] Brooke's writing of renaissance theater won him a scholarship to King's College, Cambridge where he was a member of the Cambridge Apostles [2] , an intellectual society, and was president of the Cambridge University Fabian Society [3] , a liberal political voice within the university. At Cambridge, Brooke befriended a number of future Bloomsbury [4] 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. [5] 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. [6]

Brooke's poems in the navy often have an idealistic depiction of war, like The Dead [7] and The Soldier [8] . 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.

The Soldier

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: [9]

...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.

Charles Sorley: Such, Such is Death

Friday, April 22, 2016



Sorley in uniform. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

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. [1] 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 Runners, or religion in All the Hills and Vales Along and Expectans Expectavi. In contrast to poets like Brooke, Sorley's tone is noticeably less nationalistic. In To Germany and Such, Such is Death, 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." [2] 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

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

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.


Edward Thomas: The Sun Used to Shine

Friday, April 29, 2016



Thomas circa 1905. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

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. [1] Thomas' father was a railway clerk who Thomas had an adversarial relationship with. [2] 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 Britain. [3] 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 together. Philip Halling / CC BY-SA 2.0

After Frost returned to New England, Frost sent Thomas an early copy of The Road Not Taken in 1915. [4] 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. [5] 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

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. [6] 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.

The Road Not Taken

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

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.


Isaac Rosenberg: Break of Day in the Trenches

Saturday, May 07, 2016



Self-portrait by Rosenberg. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

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 war.

Issac Rosenberg was born November 24, 1890 in Bristol, Gloucestershire to a family of Jewish immigrants. [1] When Rosenberg was seven, his family moved to Stepney, a Jewish ghetto in the East End of London. [2] 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 his mother.



Rosenberg in uniform. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

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.

Break of Day in the Trenches

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

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.


Wilfred Owen: Anthem for Doomed Youth

Saturday, May 14, 2016



Plate from 'Poems by Wilfred Owen' by Sherrill Schell. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

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. [1] [2] 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. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

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 [3] and throwing his Military Cross in the river Mersey. [4] 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 scheme. [5] An Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet has two parts, the eight lined octave and six lined sestet. [6] The octave introduces the conflict of the poem and follows a a b b a a b b a 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. [7] An English (Shakespearean) sonnet has four parts, three four lined quatrains and a two lined couplet. [8] 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.”

Anthem for Doomed Youth

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: [9] [10]

My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.


Pro patria mori

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. Andrew Davidson / 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.



Murdering Airplane (1920) by Max Ernst . Ernst was an early surrealist and veteran of the Great War. Wikipedia / Public Domain

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.” [1] 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?'” [2] 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.” [3] 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. [4] 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. [5] 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. [6] 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.

Dulce et Decorum Est

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.



The field poppy, Papaver rhoeas, the remembrance poppy is based on. Björn S... / CC BY-SA 2.0

In Flanders Fields

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.


† - supplementary examples [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]