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T. E. Hulme’s War Poem: ‘Trenches: St Eloi’

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle celebrates the poet and thinker who died 100 years ago this week

On 28 September 1917, T. E. Hulme was killed in action in Oostduinkerke in Flanders. Hulme’s death, as Robert Ferguson records in his biography, The Short Sharp Life of T. E. Hulme, was particularly brutal: he suffered a direct hit from a large shell which literally blew him to pieces. What was left of him was buried in West-Vlaanderen, Belgium where he is described in the war graves records as simply ‘one of the war poets’.

In some ways, this is a decidedly inapt description of Hulme. His entire poetic output was slim – including verse fragments it stretches to no more than 20 pages – and he wrote all of his poetry in the years preceding the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. But the poems he did write helped to forge a new form and style for English poetry.

T. E. Hulme was a larger-than-life figure in virtually every way. Standing at over six feet tall, with a ruddy complexion, a willingness to argue with anyone (or, indeed, Read the rest of this entry

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A Short Analysis of Keith Douglas’s ‘Vergissmeinnicht’

A summary of a classic WWII poem

Keith Douglas (1920-44) described his poetry as ‘extrospective’, a neat coinage designed to dovetail with the more usual introspection of much English poetry. Douglas, who was killed during the invasion of Normandy on 9 June 1944, aged just 24, is now regarded as one of the greatest British poets of the Second World War, and ‘Vergissmeinnicht’ is one of his most celebrated poems.

Vergissmeinnicht

Three weeks gone and the combatants gone
returning over the nightmare ground
we found the place again, and found
the soldier sprawling in the sun.

The frowning barrel of his gun
overshadowing. As we came on
that day, he hit my tank with one
like the entry of a demon.

Look. Here in the gunpit spoil
the dishonoured picture of his girl
who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht.
in a copybook gothic script. Read the rest of this entry

Ford Madox Ford’s ‘Antwerp’: The First Great Modernist Poem of WWI

In this week’s Dispatches from the Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle explores a modernist war poem by an overlooked writer

As it’s Refugee Week, my thoughts have turned to poetry about refugees – such as Auden’s ‘Refugee Blues’ and the lines from the Elizabethan play Sir Thomas More (which may have been penned by Shakespeare) about the plight of refugees in Tudor London. Modernist poetry, too, treated the plight of refugees during and after the First World War, and one of the first poets to do so was Ford Madox Ford, better known now as a novelist.

Ford was still known as Ford Madox Hueffer at the start of the First World War, but anti-German sentiment in Britain would see him ditch the Germanic surname, much as John Betjemann became Betjeman in an attempt to offset the overly Teutonic look of his name. His name is largely known nowadays because of his novels The Good Soldier (which sounds as though it’s about the war but isn’t) and Parade’s End (which is about the war and is actually four novels in one). But he also wrote much else besides, including collaborations with his friend Joseph Conrad (such as the science-fiction romance The Inheritors) and historical novels that prefigure Hilary Mantel in their impressionistic approach to capturing Tudor detail (see his The Fifth Queen (Vintage Classics) trilogy about the doomed young bride of Henry VIII, Catherine Howard). Ford also wrote poems, although these are not much read any more and are of variable quality. But at least one of his poems deserves to be dusted off and read because it’s one of the earliest modernist poems about the First World War. T. S. Eliot called it ‘the only good poem I have met with on the subject of the war’. Read the rest of this entry