A reading of a classic war poem
‘Strange Meeting’ is one of Wilfred Owen’s greatest poems. After ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ it is one of his most popular and widely studied and analysed. Siegfried Sassoon called ‘Strange Meeting’ Owen’s passport to immortality; it’s certainly true that it’s poems like this that helped to make Owen the definitive English poet of the First World War. As Owen himself put it, the poetry is in the pity.
It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.
Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,—
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell. Read the rest of this entry
A commentary on a short WWII poem
The poem ‘War Poet’ was written by Sidney Keyes (1922-43), one of the most famous English poets of the Second World War, in March 1942 and published the following year, the year of his untimely death. Curiously, the day Keyes was born, 27 May 1922, was the exact same day that the actor Christopher Lee entered the world. Lee outlived Keyes by over 70 years, and it’s odd to think of the two men as exact contemporaries. Keyes was commissioned into the Queen’s Own West Kent Regiment and sent to Tunisia in March 1943, where he was killed, one month before his 21st birthday.
Of all Keyes’s war poems, ‘War Poet’ is perhaps the most famous – a short lyric of just a dozen lines of powerful polemic. Here is the poem, followed by a brief analysis of its language and imagery.
I am the man who looked for peace and found
My own eyes barbed.
I am the man who groped for words and found
An arrow in my hand.
I am the builder whose firm walls surround
A slipping land.
When I grow sick or mad
Mock me not nor chain me: Read the rest of this entry
In this week’s Dispatches from the Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle considers Drummond Allison, a poet who died in the Second World War
‘Lost Generation’. That was the name Gertrude Stein gave to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and their contemporaries, men who’d lived through the Great War. Of course, many writers were lost in the war themselves, killed in action while still in their twenties (or younger): Isaac Rosenberg, Charles Hamilton Sorley, Wilfred Owen. But the Second World War also produced its own lost generation: born just after the First World War and destined to perish in the Second. Of that generation, it would be those poets who survived the Second World War, or who were excused active service for health reasons, who would go on to achieve wider notice: Charles Causley, Richard Wilbur, and, most of all, Philip Larkin. Yet although Sidney Keyes and Alun Lewis died before, perhaps, their full potential could be realised, Keith Douglas, as I’ve previously observed, was a great poet even by the time he died aged 24 during the D-Day campaign. Drummond Allison was also a very accomplished poet by the time he died, aged just 22, while fighting on the Garigliano. Yet next to Allison’s, Douglas’s small measure of fame looks positively stratospheric. Read the rest of this entry