Academic journal article Military Review

RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH-American Poems of the Great War

Academic journal article Military Review

RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH-American Poems of the Great War

Article excerpt

RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH-American Poems of the Great War, Mark W. Van Wienan, ed., University of Illinois Press, Champaign, 2002, 368 pages, $44.95.

We owe the future

the past, the long knowledge

that is the potency of time to come.

These words from the poem At a Country Funeral, by Wendell Berry, are included in the wealth of obscure poetry that English professor Mark W. Van Wienan presents in the anthology Rendezvous With Death-American Poems of the Great War. This poem underscores an explicit U.S. response to "the push and pull of political commitments" of a society coming to grips with a war that irrevocably ended the last vestiges of international isolationism. In this anthology, Van Wienan expands on his earlier work, Partisans and Poets: The Political Work of American Poetry in the Great War (Cambridge, New York, 1997).

Before America declared war against the Central Powers, it had inherited Britain's Kiplingesque belief that the Great War was being waged for the survival of the entire civilized world. Yet, many Americans were noninterventionists, or outright pacifists, believing that the country should not support the Allies until the rights of the oppressed at home were satisfied.

Whatever modern readers determined about the aesthetic and literary quality of these poems, a high percentage of them tethered debates surrounding U.S. intervention to women's suffrage, international socialism, civil rights, workers quality of life, the cause of world peace, and militarism. Therefore, this poetic out-pouring must be seen in its cultural and social context, for how else can Americans today make sense of poems supporting such causes or calling for patriotic knitting, food conservation, or expressing simplistic "jingoism" and angry polemics? …

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