THE WAR POETRY WEBSITE
Three extracts from Minds at War
These three extracts amount to one and a half pages
from the nine and a half page introduction to
Of course, most of the poets showed no grasp of power politics, the relentless pressure of arms industry economics and propaganda, no understanding of causes or cures for the war. They spoke simply as human beings caught up in bewildering and shocking events. As human beings they recorded their experiences and moral responses. They spoke of the problems of modern warfare conducted by "advanced" and "civilised" nations.
The poets' words are a warning, unheeded and unanswered. Since their time warfare has "progressed," becoming more technological, more cruel, more destructive. A man on a battlefield at the end of the twentieth century counts for even less than the soldier of World War One. He is merely the software of battle. (John Keegan's expression.)
3. Some poets wrote their poetry partly out of an anger with the press and the distorted, cosy pictures the press created of the soldiers' lot. Sassoon condemned the Northcliffe press and in his poem, Fight to the Finish, fantasized about returning soldiers bayonetting the "Yellow-Pressmen." Owen's plea for the truth was probably a reaction against "press-lies", and his poem, Smile, Smile, Smile, was written in direct response to an article in the Daily Mail.
A desire to respond to what the poets believed were the attitudes of civilians, was another stimulus to their poetry - evident, for example, in the bitter didacticism of Owen's Dulce et Decorum Est and Apologia pro Poemate Meo. "Cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns," he moans in the last verse of Insensibility. Sassoon rails against, "the callous complacency of those at home," and the "smug-faced crowds."
The war poets, as all poets, brought, to everything they wrote, their education, their life experience, their character . . . They wrote in the context of momentous events and intense national feelings. But more importantly, poets wrote mainly in response to personal experiences . . .
David Roberts, Editor, Minds at War
Copyright © 1996, 1998, 1999 David Roberts, Saxon Books.
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