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 well-known children’s rhyme
We continue our short pieces about star-related poems today, following on from yesterday’s post about Emily Dickinson’s star-poem. ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ is a well-known children’s poem, and yet, like many well-known things, how well do we actually know it? Who wrote it, for instance? And who can recite the second verse of the poem? Is it a poem, or a song? Clearly these matters require a little investigation and analysis to become fully clear. But first, a reminder of ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ – and we mean the full version, not just that famous first verse.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon, Read the rest of this entry
In this week’s Dispatches from the Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle celebrates Dickens’s forgotten history book for children
A Child’s History of England (1851-3) occupies a unique place among Dickens’s works. The only one written specifically for children, and the only book-length work of history he wrote, it is the most neglected of all his books, and has long been overlooked by both critics and readers. There has been no scholarly edition of A Child’s History of England published by any of the leading publishers, and few studies of Dickens’s writing – even his non-fiction writing – provide any sustained analysis or treatment of the book. Critical opinion has generally been unfavourable: epithets including ‘puerile’ and ‘weak’ have been used to describe it. G. K. Chesterton’s tart dismissal has been echoed by the succeeding generations: ‘It is indeed A Child’s History of England, but the child is the writer and not the reader.’
But this does not altogether explain why it has attracted such scant critical attention ever since it was published. In many ways it can be used to shine considerable light on Dickens: on his political and religious attitudes, his prejudices, and his sympathies. Why the neglect? This question is posed by John Gardiner, in one of the few pieces of criticism to consider A Child’s History of England. Read the rest of this entry