No Glory

November 7, 2013 § 2 Comments

In trying to tackle the subject of the First World War in poetry, I’m finding that, despite clear political convictions about this, things become are becoming emotionally muddy. While I hope I would have had the courage to have conscientiously objected to any participation in the conflict, I can admit that, at best, I don’t know what my response would have been; in fact, given the pressures that were brought to bear on young men about their social and moral responsibility to sign up, I reckon I might well have gone.

Whether or not this would have been the case, I can certainly say that, from this distance, the grievous nature and outcome of that war are more readily evoked by contemplation of ‘the fallen’ than from the stories and testimonies of conscientious objectors. Reading David Jones’ In Parenthesis, his association of the casualties at the front with the Celtic legends of the ‘sleeping ones’ – Arthur and other heroes, lying beneath their mounds – and the inference that in them lies the salvation of the people, promotes a romanticism which goes against the vision of chaos, destruction and futility that he so successfully articulates.  The poems through which we encounter the First World War, however critical a stance they take, posit the centrality of the fallen soldier: and whether we see this in terms of noble sacrifice or politically-driven slaughter, death in battle takes top spot in our culture’s emotional hierarchy of need – with survivors below them (whatever horrors they consequently live with), and refusers very much at the bottom.

Our responses today are much more equivocal: yet the dominant narrative, while perhaps broader (the families left behind, the silences of those returning, the change in attitudes), still tends to avoid consideration of the effects of war on those that refused to fight.  The same seems to hold for poetry.  In the run-up to 2014, the allure of battle – whether at Ilium or on the Western Front – is clear.  We weigh the pity of war with our dead.

 

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§ 2 Responses to No Glory

  • OliverM says:

    Hi Rob – I just wanted to say that I enjoyed this post a lot and agree re the conflicting emotions raised. I’d also be interested to hear when your (further) war poetry was ready to be shared…

    • Rob says:

      Thanks Oliver.

      Visited the Imperial War Museum in Salford on Wednesday actually and made a poem out of the experience which I’ll post soon.

      The other war poetry has been in abeyance lately, with others reading it – but hope to return to it in due course.

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