the war poets

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“The man who really endured the War at its worst was everlastingly differentiated from everyone except his fellow soldiers”, Sassoon wrote in Memoirs of an Infantry Officer. Robert Graves was prepared to say Goodbye to All That in his contentious 1929 memoir of the war, but Sassoon and Blunden never would. “My experiences in the First World War have haunted me all my life”, Blunden confessed the year before he died, “and for many days I have, it seemed, lived in that world rather than this.” These letters are inevitably suffused with the war, not merely in recollections but also as a ready source for jokey metaphors. “The battalion is going over the top at 3 but there’s plenty of time for me to share in this big push”, Blunden characteristically writes of a forthcoming cricket match, and as late as the 1960s he refers to a government tax rise as a “gas attack”. The war also continued to define them as writers. The literary fate of those poets who survived the war was in some ways little different from those who died in it: despite long careers and many later volumes of verse, both Sassoon and Blunden are chiefly remembered as War Poets.

more from Peter Parker at the TLS here.

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