Olivia’s Bridge to the Blog

Today in class we talked a lot about the dichotomies in the poem August 1914. It made me think about discussions we’ve had in the past about the mechanization of human beings in war, and the way this hurts people. Does Cannan’s poem show this theme as well through her juxtapositions? Do any of the other poems we read for today share this theme, or common war trope? What do these poems share with the novels we’ve read so far? I wonder what Paul or Nellie would think of some of the more patriotic pieces… I can almost see Tosh fist-fighting Kipling in my mind…

Something we touched on in class that interested me was Dr. Scanlon’s discussion of the government recruiting poets to write patriotic work, and the Hardy poem addressing the role of poetry and the role of the poet in wartime and in general. I was wondering what everyone thought of this. Do you think writing is an adequate way to fight, whether for or against war? Is writing a form of resistance at all, or  as the speaker in the Hardy poem is, something to be shamed for, an idleness when action is needed?

I would argue that ideology is important in war and poets/writers can help to shape a public ideology. The more the public supports a war, the longer the government can perpetrate it (think Vietnam). However in this day and age where poetry is read less and less often, does the poet have an impact on influencing current events and wars? Is a writer who encourages war and colonialism (I’m looking at you Kipling) just as culpable as the politician who declares war, or the soldier who kills, or the colonizer?

After I read each poem we were assigned I asked a simple question, that I think might be interesting to think about. Was this poem for or against the war? Does the poem support it in a wholehearted, jingoistic fashion? Does the poem show the war as a necessary evil? Does the poem denounce the war? What is the purpose of the poem? Poems don’t exist in a vacuum. Words don’t exist in a vacuum. They have a cause and effect. Did these poems have a political purpose, a financial purpose, a patriotic one, etc.?

I know I threw a lot of questions out at once, but there’s a lot to think about with our latest bundle of readings!

Olivia’s Bridge to the Blog

So in class today we talked about a lot of interesting ideas and themes from the stories and poems we read. One area that interested me was our discussion was the Aldington story. I think we all found this story to be captivating, with the gothic elements Dr. Scanlon brought up, but also in the way it explores what we have all discussed wanting to see. We didn’t get to see Paul go home, or Nellie either. We leave them to their own ends. We don’t know if Paul would have become an anti-war activist, or if Nellie could have worked to recover from the shell the war condemned her to. In the Aldington piece we get to experience what it’s like for a soldier reintegrating into society. Hard, haunting work. Lieutenant Hall doesn’t get killed in battle, but the lack of post-war resources, the absolute misunderstanding of him and fellow soldiers by those back home, these are all effects of the war. We get our glimpse of a soldier returning home, but he is not quite able to escape the trauma and aftershocks the war. The war kills him just at killed Paul, and I can’t help but think at least Paul went in peace. Would Paul have experienced something similar to Hall if he had gone home? Would he have been able to reintegrate? Clearly some soldiers managed it despite the odds stacked heavily in their favor. Should reintegration even be the goal, if it will lead to more cases like Lieutenant Hall?

Another topic I wanted to bring up was one of the poems we read for last class but didn’t get to, “They”. I think it tied together well with our discussion of religion and religious critique evident through several of the works we’ve read, including Sassoon’s poetry. Reading this poem along with “The Redeemer” makes clear Sassoon’s critique of the use of religion and faith towards war propaganda. We have some truly fantastic, sarcastic lines in these poems that make that goal clear. We have the Bishop’s assurance, “their comrades’ blood has bought/ New right to breed an honourable race” ( Sassoon 4-5). After this assertion Sassoon goes on to say how one soldier has “lost his legs” another has “gone syphilitic” or “shot through the lungs” in the second stanza. This is hardly the heroic brave deaths soldiers were promised in the War Propaganda is they enlisted. What does Sassoon’s negation of the religious, patriotic war narrative do here? I think it attempts to embarrass folks like the Bishop, who explain away horrors with the simple, unsatisfying and rather patronizing line “‘The ways of God are strange!'” It also shows how Sassoon holds similar ideals to later modernists, as he questioned religious hegemony and absolute as they often did.

“They” was my favorite poem we read for this class so far, and I wonder if you guys agree with me, that it absolutely shredded the popular religious dogma and ideology at the time, the ideas we talked about today of divine right, and God being on the side of the British. If this poem was published during war time I would be shocked, it’s outright blasphemous…

War Poem from a different era because I’m Like That

So we’ve mentioned a few times how war books have similar tropes, especially  comparing WWI to Vietnam, “The Things They Carried” to “All Quiet”. This made me think of a poem by W.S Merwin (I think about the collection this is from, The Lice, once a day) written in response to the absurdity of war, the destruction, the hyper-nationalism rampant during the Vietnam War era similar to the period around WWI. It felt relevant to our discussion of patriotism during the Great War, if anyone is interested!

When the War is Over

When the war is over
We will be proud of course the air will be
Good for breathing at last
The water will have been improved the salmon
And the silence of heaven will migrate more perfectly
The dead will think the living are worth it we will know
Who we are
And we will all enlist again

I would recommend the collection this is from to anyone btw! Especially in our current times it has come back around in its relevance.