War Poetry Essay Questions

Other important soldier-poets include Edmund Blunden, Ivor Gurney, Robert Graves, Edward Thomas, David Jones, Francis Ledgwidge, and Isaac Rosenberg, and of course the golden-haired young man whose ‘begloried’ war sonnets they all opposed and yet one who haunts their work: Rupert Brooke.More than any other genre – fiction, memoir or film – it is the poetry of the trenches, as represented by a small group of ‘anti-war’ soldier-poets, that has come to dominate First World War memory.First World War poetry looks before and after the war, joining past and future, and combatant and civilian zones; it speaks in varying cadences not just of combat, but also of life at large – of beauty, longing, religion, nature, animals, intimacy, historical change, poetic responsibility, Europe and Englishness, race, democracy and empire, or what it is for women to have ‘years and years in which we shall still be young’ A constant tension in writings on First World War poetry is whether the accent should fall on war or on poetry, on cultural history or on literary form.

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The poetry of the First World War is often regarded as peculiarly ‘English’, but many of the soldier-poets had a conflicted relation to ‘Englishness’: Sorley was Anglo-Scottish, Rosenberg and Sassoon (on his father’s side) were Jewish, Ledwidge was Irish, while Owen, Jones and Thomas could trace their recent family history to Wales.

Moreover, war poetry was produced across Europe, by poets as diverse as Giuseppe Ungaretti, Georg Trakl, Guillaume Apollinaire and Anna Akhmatova, and further afield from countries such as Australia and New Zealand, Canada, India, the West Indies and Turkey.

Similarly, combatant, non-combatant and women’s poetry operated within a larger poetic field and shared common ground.

For many scholars, the very term ‘war poetry’ is problematic: indeed, a ‘war poem’ contains much besides the war.

Say only this, ‘They are dead.’ Then add thereto, ‘Yet many a better one has died before.’ Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you Perceive one face that you loved heretofore, It is a spook. Sorley’s poem operates on that fine threshold where poetic form and personal tragedy meet.

The eeriness of the image is enhanced by the poignant circumstances of the poem’s posthumous discovery.

And of all the literary genres, it was one that remained most tightly cling-filmed around an event, and conjured up the iconic images – trenches, barbed wire, gas, rats, mud.

The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss has argued that the substance of myth ‘does not lie in its style, its original music, or its syntax, but in the story which it tells’.

One of the achievements of war poetry has been to democratise poetry itself.

Its centrality in the school curriculum means that, for many, it represents their first encounter with poetry – and not just in Great Britain.

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