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A Critical History of English Poetry

By Herbert J. C. Grierson; J. C. Smith | Go to book overview

Chapter Forty
TWENTIETH-CENTURY POETRY

(2) THE WAR YEARS, 1914-1918

THE outbreak of war in 1914 stirred many young soldiers to poetry, not to glorify its pomp and circumstance, still less to write hymns of hate, but to express their new-found sense of the beauty and dearness of the homeland which they might never see again. Much of this war-poetry, born as it was of a temporary mood of exaltation, was evanescent, like the poetry men make when they fall in love; but Mr. Robert Nichols and Mr. Robert Graves were born poets, and the former's At the Wars and the latter's Rocky Acres express the feeling we have tried to describe in language that is likely to endure. These two survived to write much poetry after the war in other moods. Another true poet who survived the war was Mr. Maurice Baring. But who can estimate what English poetry lost by the deaths of Charles Sorley, Wilfred Owen, Julian Grenfell, Francis Ledwidge, Rupert Brooke, and Edward Thomas, and who knows how many others, inheritors of unfulfilled renown? The extraordinary promise of Sorley Marlborough Poems was cut short before he was twenty-one. Grenfell, the English patrician, and Ledwidge, the Irish peasant, both turned to Nature for solace in the din of war, Grenfell with calm trust--

The fighting man shall from the sun
Take warmth, and life from the glowing earth;

Ledwidge with lingering looks cast back on the old days of peace--

But it is lonely now in winter long,
And, God, to hear the blackbird sing once more!

Brooke and Thomas, unlike these three, were already writers of established reputation. Nothing in Brooke's life became him like the last few months of it. He had outgrown the flippancies of youth

-542-

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