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Old 01-27-2013, 06:31 PM   #16
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Yes, that poem by John Magee is beautiful - I remember reading it at school. Of course it was a very different experience from that of Sassoon, Owen and Graves, as he was in the air force in WW2 I believe.
Yes, he died as a result of a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire during World War II. He was only 19 yrs old. Apparently a trainer from Cranwell and his plane collided so his death was accidental rather than in combat like you would expect in war. He died on December 11, 1941 just a few days after Pearl Harbor.
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Old 01-27-2013, 07:05 PM   #17
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They say that in the army
the coffee's mighty fine
It's good for cuts and bruises
and tastes like iodine

Oh, I don't want no more of army life,
gee mom, I want to go home.

...

Disillusionment with the glory of war seems to be as timeless as the feeling that precedes it. We are born suckers, as a whole. I love that some part of our culture goes towards presenting that message, but despondent at how little effect it has. We are not the rational beings we think we are.
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Old 01-27-2013, 10:45 PM   #18
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The real disillusionment with war came about with the invention of photography. Prior to that people who weren't there couldn't really see what the men who fought saw. And about that same time advances were made in embalming so that rather than being buried on the field where they fell they might have a chance of being returned home for burial. It's hard to see the 'glory of war' when you can see the human cost in vivid images. I watched a documentary about Universal pictures and Lon Chaney the other night where some people pointed out that Chaney was really playing disabled war vets who due to advances in medicine had survived wounds that would at one time have been fatal.
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Old 01-28-2013, 08:24 AM   #19
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Yes, that poem by John Magee is beautiful - I remember reading it at school. Of course it was a very different experience from that of Sassoon, Owen and Graves, as he was in the air force in WW2 I believe.
Yes, I agree--it is quite beautiful.

Here's one which deals with an airman in WW1 which perhaps reflects that sense of futility we associate with "The Great War".

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death by William Butler Yeats

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

All Poetry gives the following background to the poem:

"The Irish airman in this poem is Major Robert Gregory (1881-1918), only child of Yeats’s friend Lady Augusta Gregory. He was killed on the Italian front. In elegizing him, Yeats focuses on the “lonely impulse of delight” that drove him to enlist in the British Royal Flying Corps and distinguishes his heroic solitude from patriotic duty and other common motivations."

Last edited by fantasyfan; 01-28-2013 at 08:30 AM.
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Old 01-28-2013, 05:08 PM   #20
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I didn't know that poem - thanks for putting it up for us, fantasy fan.
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Old 02-07-2013, 03:27 PM   #21
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I got the Delphi Complete works of Wilfred Owen for Kindle--a wonderful buy. While reading the introduction, I came across more material about the friendship of Sassoon and Owen. Owen regarded the older poet as his mentor and the person who caused the dramatic shift in his portrayal of war. Many of the manuscripts of Owen have comments and suggestions by Sassoon. Further it was Sassoon who first brought out an edition of his friend's poetry--available in Project Gutenberg.

When Sassoon learned that Owen felt it his duty to return to the Front, he became furious and even threatened to stab Owen in the leg to prevent this happening. The result was that Owen left for the Front secretly--and died only a week before the Armistice.
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Old 02-07-2013, 09:48 PM   #22
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And I seem to remember from reading Harold Owen's memoir of his brother, that the telegram advising Wilfred's death was delivered to his parents at noon on 11 November.

How cruel is that, when they would have been so relieved to think their sons were both safe.
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Old 02-10-2013, 09:30 AM   #23
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I'll quote and respond first, and then try to find something interesting left to say of my own!

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Originally Posted by Bookpossum View Post
I found one of the most powerful of the poems to be the one called "Reconciliation":

<snip>

I find it interesting, the contrast between the rabid anti-German feeling that seemed to be so common among the civilian population during WW1 (here in Australia too by all accounts) and the fellow-feeling felt by many of the British and allied soldiers for their German counterparts. They were all suffering together in a hell created by their respective leaders.
I can't resist quoting a very popular American anti-war song from 1915:

"I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy.
Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,
To shoot some other mother's darling boy?"

But when the US entered the way in 1917, the lyricist followed up with another ditty:

"It’s time for ev’ry boy to be a soldier
To put his strength and courage to the test
It's time to place a musket on his shoulder
And wrap the Stars and Stripes around his breast"

Sigh.

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I share your feelings about the war poetry of Owen. Personally, I think that Owen's poetry is generally more moving because his very real anger is modulated by a sense of deep pity.
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shame on me, I've never read Owen, so I can't compare, but I do agree with the rawness of Sassoon's poems, which I quite like. One aspect of his writing that struck me considerably is the fact that his verses rhyme, and at least to my ear this increased considerably the dramatic effect, in the sense that the strident contrast between the "singsong" and the content of the verse adds to their grimness.
I see Sassoon as both harking back to the pastoral poetry that just preceded the war while helping invent a new form of poetry: in your face and sarcastic, not at all subtle, invoking both pastoral scenes and glory, and raw anger. Thus he's between Rupert Brooke and his "Thanked be God who has matched up with this hour" and "swimmers into cleanness leaping" (I'm quoting these bits from memory, so a word or two may be off) and the more polished Owen. The crudeness works for me. Here's just two lines that got me, from "Counter-Attack": "And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud, Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled." It would have been interesting to see how Brooke's poetry evolved (or not) if he had survived the war longer and experienced the Western Front.

I also wonder if Sassoon's struggles with his homosexuality contributed to the tinge of bitterness; certainly the death of a man he loved which is referenced in his poem to Robert Graves is part of it. Just as an aside, I think even if I didn't know he was gay I'd be able to infer it from his poems. References to wives at home seem perfunctory; it's the relationships with other men that engage his emotions. This was true of all the servicemen to an extent, not only did shared experiences (which were hidden from those at home) bind them, it was also an age that admitted closer, quasi-romantic attachments to other men (especially for those who had been to public school). However, with Sassoon it seems like more than lingering schoolboy emotions. Owen presumably also was gay, we don't know how much angst it caused him as his family destroyed all his personal papers relating to his sexuality.

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Yes, that poem by John Magee is beautiful - I remember reading it at school. Of course it was a very different experience from that of Sassoon, Owen and Graves, as he was in the air force in WW2 I believe.
Magee is more in the Brooke tradition and I remember Reagan's quoting that poem in the aftermath of the Challenger disaster. For WWII air force poetry I think Jarrell's incomparable Death of the Ball Turret Gunner is both more real and the true heir to Sassoon:

"From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose. "

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advances were made in embalming so that rather than being buried on the field where they fell they might have a chance of being returned home for burial.
Largely for that reason, the policy of the British government in the Great War (I don't know about others) was that soldiers be buried where they fell. I contrast this both to the American experience in Vietnam, where the last shot of the evening news was the corpses being offloaded at Andrews Air Force Base, and how during subsequent engagements in the Gulf the government prohibited such images being broadcast.


So many wrenching poems have been quoted already that I'm going to limit myself to one, "Before the Battle":


"MUSIC of whispering trees
Hushed by a broad-winged breeze
Where shaken water gleams;
And evening radiance falling
With reedy bird-notes calling.
O bear me safe through dark, you low-voiced streams.

I have no need to pray
That fear may pass away;
I scorn the growl and rumble of the fight
That summons me from cool
Silence of marsh and pool
And yellow lilies is landed in light
O river of stars and shadows, lead me through the night.


June 25th, 1916."

Solidly in the pastoral tradition, but the date tells it all. His evocation of country quiet was written during the week-long, 24-hour a day bombardment of the German position before the start of the Battle of the Somme; the noise could be heard as far away as London. Knowing that, to me it reads less of the standard glory and why we're doing this and more of a man hanging on with his last nerve.
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Old 02-11-2013, 01:32 AM   #24
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Terrific post, issybird - thank you for your insights, especially on the Sassoon poem you quoted.

I hadn't come across the WW2 poem you quote, and agree with you on its rawness and truth about the whole brutal business of war. John Magee was being beautiful and lyrical, but of course he died in a training accident and I think (but am not sure) never experienced the horrors of battle.

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Old 02-11-2013, 07:47 AM   #25
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Issybird, that is such a very insightful post which certainly enhances my understanding and appreciation of Sassoon's poetry. I've never really noticed Sassoon's roots in the pastoral which you so effectively demonstrate.



I do sometimes wonder if Brooke had lived to experience the same horrors as Sassoon and Owen whether he would have shared their dark vision.

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Old 02-11-2013, 01:59 PM   #26
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Issybird, that is such a very insightful post which certainly enhances my understanding and appreciation of Sassoon's poetry. I've never really noticed Sassoon's roots in the pastoral which you so effectively demonstrate.
couldn't have put it better - great post Issybird!
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Old 02-11-2013, 06:12 PM   #27
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P'shaw, you lovely people. I was late and only had to respond to such very insightful posts; everyone else had done all the heavy lifting. Thank you, very much, for your kind words.



I'll comment on a personal level that it's less usual for an American to be taken by the Great War; our Civil War and the Second World War seem to have captured more of my countrymen's imaginations, probably becaue WWI didn't exact the same toll, physical and emotional, as it did on the European and ANZAC and other combatants. But the Great War grabbed me and hasn't let go. And next year will be the centennary! It seems so close, in comparison to our Civil War, say, which was the same hundred years before my childhood and seemed like ancient history when I was growing up.

Excuse my ramblings, please!
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Old 02-14-2013, 10:29 AM   #28
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P'shaw, you lovely people. I was late and only had to respond to such very insightful posts; everyone else had done all the heavy lifting. Thank you, very much, for your kind words.



I'll comment on a personal level that it's less usual for an American to be taken by the Great War; our Civil War and the Second World War seem to have captured more of my countrymen's imaginations, probably becaue WWI didn't exact the same toll, physical and emotional, as it did on the European and ANZAC and other combatants. But the Great War grabbed me and hasn't let go. And next year will be the centennary! It seems so close, in comparison to our Civil War, say, which was the same hundred years before my childhood and seemed like ancient history when I was growing up.

Excuse my ramblings, please!
I know what you mean. Though I wasn't born til 1970 I find it interesting that the Civil Rights movement had so much going on in the 1960's when just 100 yrs before North and South were fighting the actual Civil War. I also think it's almost a contradiction to call an internal conflict a 'civil war' as it almost makes it sound as if it's a minor disagreement, but the term has stuck for so long I don't see it changing any time soon either.
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Old 03-19-2013, 09:12 PM   #29
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This is all a bit after the event, as it were, but I thought you might be interested even so.

I have just listened to a very interesting discussion about Siegfried Sassoon from a BBC podcast. It was first broadcast on 7 June 2007 and you will find it in this collection.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/iotc

Beware though - there are some terrifically interesting-sounding programmes in here (including one each on the Odyssey and the Aeneid for those who took part in those discussions). I may have to give up sleep in order to find the time to listen to everything that I would like to hear!
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Old 03-20-2013, 10:52 AM   #30
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This is all a bit after the event, as it were, but I thought you might be interested even so.

I have just listened to a very interesting discussion about Siegfried Sassoon from a BBC podcast. It was first broadcast on 7 June 2007 and you will find it in this collection.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/iotc

Beware though - there are some terrifically interesting-sounding programmes in here (including one each on the Odyssey and the Aeneid for those who took part in those discussions). I may have to give up sleep in order to find the time to listen to everything that I would like to hear!
Thanks Bookpossum. If you use firefox you can go to the archives and use Downthemall to download the archive rather than having to do each link by hand. Looks like some interesting discussions there.
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