A War of Individuals: Bloomsbury Attitudes to the Great War

By Jonathan Atkin | Go to book overview

5

Writers in uniform

In our search for reflections of aesthetic response to the Great War across barriers of experience, the soldier, poet and author Richard Aldington is a good example of John Galsworthy's identification of the human spirit under the pressure of a seemingly mechanised military existence (the 'herd of life'). Aldington also represents a further category of experience of the war; that of the recognised writer, artist or poet on active service and Aldington here introduces a series of creative men who actually donned uniform at some stage (not always willingly) and fought at the front.

Chapters 2—4 have examined the importance to some individuals, both male and female, of experiencing the war at closer quarters in order to enable them to grasp more accurately intimate knowledge of the conflict, unavailable from second-hand sources (especially the jingoist elements of the British press); a knowledge which could back-up their individual humanistic and aesthetic anti- war emotions and, in some cases, be used to inform their art. The American poet Harriet Monroe, reviewing Richard Aldington's poetry collection Reverie in 1918 wrote that:

The poet accepts war, as he might accept a cyclone, in anguish and bitterness of spirit but without revolt. He feels no élan, no conviction of war's necessity or righteousness, but he takes his place in the ranks and does his part with a grim and resolute stoicism. And out of his despair, out of his hunger for beauty, comes a lyric note clearer and richer than anything we have heard from him since those earliest poems, and an exaltation of spirit as noble and impassioned, and perhaps more humane. 1

John Galsworthy wrote of the artist's attempts to whisper above the noise and power of a hurricane, and Richard Aldington used a similar analogy in his celebrated novel of the Great War, Death of a Hero, in which the character George (a soldier) describes the war as, 'a sort of impersonal, natural calamity, like a plague or an earthquake'. 2 Although Death of a Hero did not appear until 1929, Aldington had entered the war with a literary background. By the summer of 1914, he was a published poet and listed as an assistant editor of The Egoist. His first volume of poetry, Images, was published in 1915 as he and his wife, the poet Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), perhaps seeking to distance themselves from the effects of the war, moved from Kensington to the more rural

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