Poets of la Guerre; Pour la Patrie: French Poets Jean Cocteau (Inset Right) and Blaise Cendrars (Far Right) Survived World War I

Daily Mail (London), November 18, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Poets of la Guerre; Pour la Patrie: French Poets Jean Cocteau (Inset Right) and Blaise Cendrars (Far Right) Survived World War I


Byline: Charles Legge

QUESTION Did France have any war poets of the calibre of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon?

AT LEAST 43 recognised French poets and authors served in the French army in World War I, one of the most famous being Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), who served at the front in 1914 in the volunteer ambulance corps.

Pierre Drieu La Rochelle (1893- 1945) was a poet, novelist and essayist, decorated for leading a bayonet charge at Charleroi, Belgium, in August 1914. He published his war experiences in a slim volume of poems entitled Interrogation in 1917.

Wilhelm de Kostrowitzky (who used the pseudonym Guillaume Apollinaire) was born in Rome on August 25, 1880, and served as a volunteer in the French army in 1915, first in the artillery and later, as a lieutenant, in the infantry.

He was wounded in the trenches, awarded the croix de guerre and invalided out of the army. Influenza and war wounds led to his death just before the Armistice. His war poetry was published in a volume entitled Calligrammes in 1918.

Frederic Sauser, better known as Blaise Cendrars (1887-1961), was an influential writer in poetry's modernist movement.

He signed up with the Foreign Legion on July 29, 1914, and saw active service on the Somme, at Frise in Grenouillere and the Bois de la Vache. In one of the bloody battles in Champagne in 1915, Blaise lost his right arm on September 28 and was invalided out of the army.

He wrote of his experiences on the Western Front in La Main Coupee (The Severed Hand) and J'ai Tue (I Have Killed).

In J'ai Tue, he wrote: 'We were holding our position which was separated from the German position only by a few sandbags. It would easily have been possible to impale oneself from our trench on a bayonet in the other trench.'

Steve Smith, Guild of Battlefield Guides, Worstead, Norfolk.

QUESTION Apart from Paula Radcliffe, who is the greatest athlete never to have won an Olympic medal?

TO MY mind this was the great Cuban boxer Angel Espinosa.

Despite standing at just 5ft 3in, Espinosa was lightning quick and had a ferocious punch.

He went on to dominate the Eighties at junior-middleweight and middleweight, capturing the 1986 World Amateur Boxing Championships.

Sadly, he never won an Olympic medal due to Cuba's boycott of the 1984 and 1988 Olympics.

To add insult to injury, in 1988 Henry Maske of Germany won gold having been beaten by Espinosa on their three previous meetings.

When he finally appeared at the Olympics in 1992 he was well past his prime. He was beaten by a Polish boxer, Wojciech Bartnik, in the lightheavy division, who he would have destroyed four years earlier.

G. Taylor, Cardiff.

U.S. ATHLETE Steve Scott was one of the greatest milers of all time. He held the U.S. mile record, of 3min 47.69sec, for 25 years until it was broken last year.

He also had the distinction of having run more recorded sub fourminute miles 136 than any man in history. When Sebastian Coe set a mile record of 3min 48.95sec in Oslo on July 17, 1979, Scott finished second with a time of 3min 51.11sec.

Scott won the 1,500 metres at the 1980 U.S. Olympic trials, but did not compete at the Moscow Games due to the U.S. boycott. He would have been the main threat to Coe and Steve Ovett there.

His greatest success came at the inaugural World Athletics Championships in Helsinki, Finland, in 1983, when he won a silver medal behind Steve Cram in the 1,500 metres. At the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and the 1988 Games in Seoul, he finished 10th and 5th respectively in the 1,500 metres.

Another candidate is Steve Prefontaine, the man who helped inspire a running boom in the Seventies. Known for leading from the front, he fell tantalisingly short of a medal at the 1972 Munich Games in the 5,000 metres, where he was leading with just a lap to go but finished fourth.

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Poets of la Guerre; Pour la Patrie: French Poets Jean Cocteau (Inset Right) and Blaise Cendrars (Far Right) Survived World War I
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