THE ENGLISH POETS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR by John Lehmann

THE ENGLISH POETS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A short, sensible, but extremely limited survey. Lehmann gets in everyone worth mentioning (Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Graves, Blunden, Rosenberg, along with many lesser lights), and rates them evenhandedly. But he's treating a broad subject in a narrow compass, and the end result is more a catalogue raisonnÉ than a full-blown critical commentary. Lehmann breaks down his material into two periods, from the outbreak of World War I to 1916 (around the Battle of the Somme), and from 1916 till the Armistice. The poets of the first period tended toward patriotism and idealism; in the second, they grew more bitter and despairing--and found themselves increasingly alienated from the civilian world they were defending. ""Coming back from leave,"" Lehmann notes, ""many in fact welcomed the return to what was to them real existence: danger, death, mutilation and the ruined landscapes of the fighting areas."" Lehmann also points out two obvious but essential features of the war poets--their intensely literary bent (they all seem to have had books in their knapsacks and echoes of the classics in their heads) and their frequently homoerotic feelings for their fellow-soldiers. Apart from these generalizations, Lehmann mostly confines himself to brief items of biographical interest, a few quotations for each man, and a hasty ""appreciation."" This often leaves him--as when he's about to cite a longish passage from Blunden's ""Third Ypres""--saying things like, ""Particularly effective are the following lines:"" and no more. Still, he does serve up generous helpings of the best writers (notably Owen and Rosenberg), and he's enriched his text with 58 illustrations (photos, paintings, posters, etc.) that help bring the subject to life. A book for beginners, but a good one.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1982
Publisher: Thames & Hudson--dist. by Norton