ENGLISH POETRY OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR by John H. Johnston

ENGLISH POETRY OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Professor Johnston's talents as a scholar are strong; he is painstaking, he knows his period, he has done his homework; his talents at picking unprovocative subject matter and peppering it up, however, are slight. At least that's the impression this leaves. It is a long, over-lingering look which initially separates the men from the boys Rupert Brooke and other ""heroic"" Georgians are the boys; Sassoon, Owen, Blunden and saac Rosenberg are the men: they fought in the Somme Offensive and knew what was what), and then goes on to consider the postwar reflections and/or resurrections of Herbert Read and David Jones. The trouble throughout is not only contingent on the choices (for surely, aside from Owen and Jones, who here is really first rate?), but contingent also on the nature of modern war itself and the appropriate, authentic aesthetic response. A tragic event which is considered only in terms of personal misadventure ceases to be tragic."" So speaks the professor. On the one hand, righteous romanticism, glorious llibility; on the other, the literature of disillusion: the front line confessionals, the barbed wire deaths. And yet either way, piecemeal positions: nothing is profound, nor profoundly moving. ""My subject is War and the pity of War"", said Owen. ""The Poetry is in the pity."" But what he pointed to, knowingly or not, was the crack-up of consciousness, the chaos of civilization. As precursors to Eliot and Auden, Brecht and Benn, these poets are of interest, but the interest is limited, and the professor's study while quite illuminating in parts, as a whole is inevitably limited too.

Publisher: Princeton Univ. Press