In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads the work of a forgotten war poet
The poetry of Wilfred Owen is the most widely-studied writing about the First World War, written by a man who experienced the fighting first-hand. Poets like T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound – who, unlike Owen, were part of modernism as well as being modern – didn’t experience the horrors of the trenches themselves, although they both wrote about the war afterwards. Eliot’s The Waste Land is full of war imagery, while Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley contains one of the most brilliantly angry and impassioned diatribes about the war’s sheer waste of life to be found anywhere in modern literature.
Owen is loosely associated with the Georgians, a group of poets writing in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of war, whose most famous member was probably Rupert Brooke, another soldier-poet who lost his life in the war. It’s easy to divide ‘war poets’ up into Read the rest of this entry
On a remarkable war poem by D. H. Lawrence
Although he is better-known as a novelist, D. H. Lawrence also wrote a great deal of poetry. ‘New Heaven and Earth’, a long poem he wrote in 1917 during the First World War, captures Lawrence’s anger and despair over the destruction of the war, and might be regarded as a forerunner to greater (and longer) poems written by Lawrence’s fellow modernists, such as T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.
New Heaven and Earth
And so I cross into another world
shyly and in homage linger for an invitation
from this unknown that I would trespass on.
I am very glad, and all alone in the world,
all alone, and very glad, in a new world
where I am disembarked at last.
I could cry with joy, because I am in the new world, just ventured in.
I could cry with joy, and quite freely, there is nobody to know. Read the rest of this entry
On a little-known poem of the First World War
Marjorie Pickthall (1883-1922) was Canadian, although she was born in London. She was regarded by some as the greatest Canadian poet of her generation, and her short poem ‘Marching Men’ is a moving religiously inspired response to the sacrifice being made by thousands of men every week in the First World War.
Under the level winter sky
I saw a thousand Christs go by.
They sang an idle song and free
As they went up to Calvary.
Careless of eye and coarse of lip,
They marched in holiest fellowship.
That heaven might heal the world, they gave
Their earth-born dreams to deck the grave. Read the rest of this entry