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MUSE OF FIRE by Michael Korda Kirkus Star


World War I as Seen Through the Lives of the Soldier Poets

by Michael Korda

Pub Date: April 16th, 2024
ISBN: 9781631496882
Publisher: Liveright/Norton

A fresh look at World War I, which has been largely “defined in our minds by its poetry.”

Korda, author of Clouds of Glory, Ike, and many other works of history and biography, delivers a captivating account of six soldier poets: Rupert Brooke, Alan Seeger, Isaac Rosenberg, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen. Spectacularly handsome and flamboyant, Brooke belonged to the progressive generation that rejected Victorian prudery and was more open to progressive ideas. He went to war with enthusiasm, like most of his class, and died before disgust set in. An American living in Paris in 1914, Seeger enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. Later poets recorded the horrors of war, but Seeger was one of the last to celebrate its glory: “And it was our pride and boast to be / The instruments of Destiny.” Readers may recognize two survivors, Graves and Sassoon, from their postwar writings, as well as Owen, who was recognized by many as the greatest of the war poets before his death days preceding the armistice. Rosenberg, the son of an impoverished Russian immigrant Jewish family, had his talent recognized from childhood, winning prizes, honors, and patronage but little income. He enlisted in 1915, possibly because he needed money. Remaining a private, he suffered miserably and wrote his best poetry before being killed in April 1918. Alternating between the early lives of his subjects and their experiences in the trenches while delving into their poetry might be disorienting, but Korda is an expert, so his intertwining narratives intersect in illuminating ways. Readers will enjoy his portrayal of the early-20th-century British poetry establishment, where everyone seemed to know everyone else and mutual support was the rule. The book includes a generous selection of photos and illustrations.

Poets and war are a winning combination in the hands of a seasoned historian.