the soldier poets of the First World War

479deb7e-5ebc-11e4_1106741kSean O'Brien at the Times Literary Supplement:

One of the worst experiences for soldiers in the trenches seems to have been the sense that landscape itself had been dissolved and unwritten by the continuous bombardment known as drum-fire, and replaced by what David Jones called “the unformed voids of that mysterious existence”. Place, ground to stand on and comprehend, took on especial importance in a war of attrition. The places from which the war poets came, and to which they looked back, were often as bloodstained as Otterburn – Wilfred Owen’s Romano–Welsh border, Jones’s half-legendary Welsh interior, Siegfried Sassoon’s Sussex where the Normans invaded, and Rupert Brooke’s more generalized England, dulled, as apparently it seemed to him, by the long post-Napoleonic respite from direct military threat.

Wild Northumberland would have appealed to Julian Grenfell (1888–1915), who lived for the hunt and who in peacetime also felt an aristocratic liberty physically to attack those of whom he disapproved. In Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the poets knew, Max Egremont writes that, at Oxford, Grenfell “chased a Jewish millionaire undergraduate round the quad with a stock whip and beat up a cab driver who overcharged him”. He viewed the battlefield as an extension of his estate, as Keith Douglas’s “Sportsmen” would later bring the amateurism of the hunt to tank warfare in North Africa.

more here.

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