Show and Tell

File on Sassoon from UK National Archives, including his letter denouncing the war:


Wilfred Owen’s official return to England and medical board forms, UK National Archives:

Owen awarded the Military Cross, UK National Archives:

Sean’s Bridge to the Blog

In class today we focused on Owen, specifically his use of the religious in “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young” and some of the formal elements in “Dulce et Decorum Est.” One thing that I wish we touched more on was Owen’s portrayal not only of war, but nationalism/the nation as an idea or concept.

I bring up this topic because in the famous final lines of “Dulce et Decorum Est,” Owen does not make a statement about dying for your country in WWI specifically. Rather, his statement is more general, saying (translated) “It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country.” If he wanted to, he could have expressed his frustration about WWI itself and the reasons why he saw this particular war as egregious (as he did in the “The Parable of the Old Man and the Young”). However, by choosing not to do so, we can assume that Owen thinks it is never “sweet and honorable to die for one’s country,” no matter the circumstance. This, of course, goes against the prevailing narrative that dying in service of one’s country is the most honorable thing one can do (e.g. “The Charge of the Light Brigade”). If we assume that this is what Owen intended (and not that he used the lines just so that he could directly invoke Horace), the most obvious question is – why? If it was not because WWI was uniquely horrific, why does Owen have such a distaste for ever dying for one’s country? Or, as is certainly possible, am I reading too much into this? Is Owen’s reasoning tied only to the nature of WWI itself? Does he spend the majority of the poem describing, in nauseatingly vivid detail, the experience of a WWI soldier in the trenches because his opinion is only meant to be read as a response to WWI? Or, does he do so because he believes it to be the most way to get his message across?

I think a potential answer to these questions can be found in an Owen poem that we did not talk about in class today, “Smile, Smile, Smile.” To commit the heresy of paraphrase, the poem is about a group of soldiers reading an issue of an English newspaper and lamenting about all of the propaganda that it is spreading. One such piece of propaganda comes at the end of the quoted article, saying “‘The greatest glory will be theirs who fought, / Who kept this nation in integrity.'” (16-17). Immediately following this we read,

“Nation? – The half-limbed readers did not chafe / But smiled at one another curiously / Like secret men who know their secret safe. / (This is the thing they know and never speak, / That England one by one had fled to France, Not many elsewhere now, save under France.)” (18-23).

Here, it seems to me that Owen is suggesting that they (the soldiers) are England itself and that those at home have no right to speak of the “nation” of England because they are no longer a part of it. In some ways this seems compatible with sentiments such as Rupert Brooke’s “If I should die, think only this of me: That there is some corner of a foreign field / that is for ever England” (From “The Soldier,” 1-3). Yet, Owen’s sentiment is also vastly different. For Owen, the soldiers are not an extension of England, or fighting for England, they are England. Or, perhaps, there is no longer any England at all. Maybe England can only exist under the confines of France, because that is where the war is. To be honest, I’m not sure. The more I think about these lines the more interpretations I come up with. All of this is to say that Owen’s idea of the nation, especially when it is at war, is far from the convention at the time. And I think this view of the nation (whatever it is) can be used in order to read the ending of “Dulce et Decorum Est.” Perhaps Owen is so against dying for one’s country because his view of what a nation actually is has tainted his view of patriotism/nationalism. Does any of this make sense? What other readings can you come up with for these poems and their relation (or lack thereof) to each other? Did I miss Owen talking about nation in a different poem? Are there any other Owen poems that can be used in order to explain his supposed general distaste for dying for one’s country? Have his experiences in WWI changed his opinion on what it means to be a nation? Have I been thinking too much about the artificiality of the nation because of my postcolonial literature class? Hopefully some answers come as we stumble across this semester’s bleak ending.

Word Count: 800

Armistice Articles

The Black Scottish WWI Soldier

World Leaders in Paris; Macron Rejects Nationalism

WW I Planes Fly 100 Years Later

Armistice Ceremonies in France in pictures

German and French Leaders Mark Armistice Together

British Royals Attend Ceremony of Remembrance

The Courage and Folly of WWI (pics)

American Family Memories of WWI

The Caribbean Honors its WWI Soldiers

Canadian Remembrance (pics and song)

Blog Post on Centenary (plus song)

For My Owen Lovers

I read this piece over the weekend about marking the 100th anniversary of Wilfred Owen’s death. Mary Borden also gets a shout out.

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I think (just generally) we look at war as this abstract thing that happens when in reality I don’t think it is. People send other people into war.

In class today, we repeated the question, “Is this enough?” Was it enough to offer up the coffee? Was it enough for the narrator to lie to the blind man? What is enough?

Focusing in so much on this question really got me thinking about the juxtaposition presented in the text that we all seemed to be missing. Yes, the narrator may have been offering some form of salvation to the man, but at the same time, the very nature of her job is to bandage the wounded and send them back into war. Fix them and send them to die. We’re faced with this huge dichotomy. How can we choose to see something as a sign of warmth and salvation, and shield ourselves from the inherent coldness presented?

Is the nurse’s actions a sign of humanity? Or does it just function as a way to even the playing field?

Further (and to relate this question to some of the other texts we’ve read this semester), it seems as though war literature forces us, as consumers of their messages, to view war un-abstractly. We saw this  in All Quiet with the suggestion of getting only the people in power to fight as well as in some of the other books we’ve read.

I guess my question is, were the nurses actions meant to restore this faith in humanity or was it intended as sarcasm? Are we meant to view war abstractly as an entity that just happens? Or not? Are we supposed to see war as inevitable? Or as something we have a hand in continuing? How much of a hand do we actually have in continuing war?

Coffee is My Routine

I am more than just a book person (RE: WWI Meet Riverby, Riverby Meet Basically My Whole Class). I am also a coffee person. Gertrude Stein said it best:

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.”

And speaking of coffee and Stein, here I am, sitting lazily in my apartment, typing this post when I should be proposing sociological research ideas, drinking coffee from my Stein cup. I’ll insert the lovely photo shoot my mug and I had just moments before, below.

Why do I call this mug my Stein mug, you may ask? Well my friend, do I have an answer for you. Gertrude Stein was an avid art collector. According to this article from The Culture Trip,

“Stein was one of the first Americans in Paris to respond with enthusiasm to the 20th century modernist revolution in European art.”

She was also a close friend of Picasso. This mug reminds me of Picasso. There you have it.

But why all the talk about Gertrude Stein on a Literature of The Great War blog? I’m glad you asked.

We’ve talked a lot in class about how war books and war poems are often excluded from the modernist collection of texts, but in a lot of the books and other pieces we’ve read so far this semester I’ve seen major modernist influences. Especially that of Gertrude Stein.

In her piece Patriarchal Poetry (here is a PDF if you’re interested in reading it Stein-Patriarchal-Poetry) Stein uses major repetition. We tried reading the piece aloud in my Modernist Poetry class with Dr. Scanlon in the spring of 2018 and let’s just leave at…it was difficult.

In a lot of the works we’ve read this semester we’ve seen similar uses of cyclical language and repetition. Pieces will mention one specific phrase and repeat them at the end of the paragraph or will repeat over and over again (very VERY Stein-ian) the sounds they heard be them cannons, guns, or screams. We see it pretty evidently in Not So Quiet with the “do your bit” lines (just check out pages 570-571 of Gertrude Stein’s Patriarchal Poetry) as well as some of the other pieces.

It was this placement of the texts we’ve been reading alongside Stein’s own work that I began to grapple with the idea of coping and routine that we’ve been discussing in relation to Mary Borden’s The Forbidden Zone.

The people in Borden’s text have no normal, or rather, they have a new sense of normal brought on my the war. But there is no way such a transition would have gone over well initially. Much like when any big event or change occurs in our lives, we seek out routine. We seek out structure. I wonder if in Stein, but more related, in the texts we’ve been reading throughout the semester, this strategy of repetition was used as a supplemental form of coping. If it was purposeful in nature, or completely accidental? Is there a reason such information is not presented in more forthcoming ways if it was purposeful?

I personally don’t believe in accidents. My absolute favorite person ever said it herself,

“Omissions are not accidents.” -Marianne Moore

I believe this strategy was employed thoughtfully and purposefully and in such a way as to make us be as confused by the War as we can sometimes be by the texts it helped produce.

Also PSA:

Don’t forget that tonight at 4 PM in the digital auditorium of the ITCC the English Department and PRISM are co-sponsoring a panel on queer writers featuring Professors Finkelstein, LaBreche, Foss, Scanlon, Haffey, Richards and Barrenechea.

(Dr. Scanlon said she was going to talk about Stein so…uh…you know…go to this)

Symbolism of Flowers in Poetry

For the poems we have for tomorrow, one, in particular, caught my attention: “Tri-colour” by Robert Service. Not knowing if we will talk about it tomorrow, and also knowing myself and the high probability that I will forget by the time tomorrow comes, I thought I would put a little something here on the blog.

I am hugely into the symbolism of flowers and elements in literary works! Every element and every flower has a meaning and I think that poets and writers know this too and pick which ones they use very meticulously.

In “Tri-colour” we get the poppies, the cornflowers, and the lilies.

We’ve talked about poppies before and how they are symbolic of the war. Jordan even made a separate blog post earlier in the semester about the art installation of poppies (which I conveniently linked here, so if you haven’t seen it, go look at it!) I’m sure you all know what a poppy looks like but here is a picture just in case. It is obvious why Service uses the poppies as the soldier’s blood. Poppies are symbolic of sleep, especially deep sleep, which if any of you have seen the Wizard of Oz you should be familiar with the poppy field scene. Poppies, because of both WWI and WWII are now considered the flower of death and remembrance. Also, poppies have a meaning of innocence and peace within death which is why poppies use to be used at funerals, including funerals for soldiers.


Then there are the cornflowers. I love cornflowers! They are these really cool blue-purple flowers that remind me of the flowers in Horton Hears A Who (yes I know it is actually a clover, but it’s all the same). Many people will recognize cornflowers from the sides of country roads or in wildflower fields. Cornflowers are one of the national flowers of Germany, which if you think about Germany in the context of the war is kind of crazy. While the meaning of cornflowers don’t really line up with how I think they are being used in this poem, it is still super interesting. Cornflowers are the flowers of wealth, prosperity, fortune, friendship, but in France, cornflowers became the symbol for the Armistice.
Next are lilies. Now, the thing with flowers is each color,  or variant, of them, stand for something else and lilies come in different colors.  So white lilies symbolize purity and chastity and are linked to the Virgin Mary, while other’s are linked to friendship, devotion, sympathy, wealth and prosperity. While the poem never specifies which color of lily is being talked there is a generic symbol for restored innocence after death, which is why lilies are known as a funeral flower.

I find it super interesting how each of the flowers relates to death in some way, how even the shapes and colors of them are used as images of dead men. The poppies as the blood, the cornflowers as eyeballs which I don’t think I can ever unsee now, and lilies as headstones.

Florence: The Schedule

Friends, the schedule has been updated on Canvas and HERE.

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