At times wonder if devotees of War Poetry over-estimate its literary importance. Recently found an anthology titled ‘Vintage Verse-An Anthology of Poetry in English’ edited by Clifford Bax from 1944. The range of poetry included starts with work from 1290 leading through the centuries to T.S.Elliott.
The only poet who served during the Great War that is included herein was Rupert Brooke, with one poem ‘The Hill’ ( written in 1910). The only poem which has any reference to the Great War is Thomas Hardy’s ‘In Time of the Breaking Of Nations’ from 1915.
On a similar note, delighted to find that HD ( Hilda Dolittle) anthology ‘Sea Garden’ from 1916, now available to read on line. Also interested to note the lack of interest in war as the subject of poetry contained therein. HD was American who had lived in Britain since 1911. Her husband, fellow Imagist poet Richard Aldington volunteered for military service in June 1916 ; he had little choice, the Military Service Act of 1916 had been extended to permit the conscription of married men on 25th May 1916. HD then became assistant editor of ‘The Egoist’ magazine in absence of her husband. Richard Aldington was a notable ‘war poet’ and author of the novel ‘Death of a Hero’ (1929).
Richard Aldington biographer Vivien Whelpton kindly advises:
“But there is a long poem which is specifically about the war – ‘The Tribute’, which appeared in The Egoist in 1916 and a private publication in 1917, but was not ‘properly’ published until 1924 in the collection entitled Heliodora. The ‘tribute’ is to Aldington and all those who are fighting. (‘O youth the cities have sent/To strike at each other’s strength,/It is you who have kept her [Beauty] alight.’”
‘Sea Garden’ was published in September 1916 . Now available here.
Project Gutenberg- Sea Garden
The anthology seemed to have incorporated poetry that HD had written over three years. ‘The Wind Sleepers’ is one of the most impressive contributions-copied below.. True to the Imagist style of refusing to use any word that does not contribute to the presentation of the work, it is stark to the point of bleakness. There is a sense helplessness; perhaps connected to the Great War, also the turbulence of the writer’s own inner life.
The Wind Sleepers
than the crust
left by the tide,
we are stung by the hurled sand
and the broken shells.
We no longer sleep
in the wind—
we awoke and fled
through the city gate.
tear us an altar,
tug at the cliff-boulders,
pile them with the rough stones—
we no longer
sleep in the wind,
Chant in a wail
that never halts,
pace a circle and pay tribute
with a song.
When the roar of a dropped wave
breaks into it,
pour meted words
of sea-hawks and gulls
and sea-birds that cry
Continuing the theme of whether Great War sea poetry which seems removed from the sense of conflict. There is also D H Lawrence’s ‘The Mystic Blue’ from 1916. To D H Lawrence the sea contained the mystery of death. Perhaps a cryptic reference to the new weapons such as mines and U boats but overall this poem doesn’t immediately connect to the poetry that is most associated to 1916.
The Mystic Blue clr gif
Out of the darkness, fretted sometimes in its sleeping,
Jets of sparks in fountains of blue come leaping
To sight, revealing a secret, numberless secrets keeping.
Sometimes the darkness trapped within a wheel
Runs into speed like a dream, the blue of the steel
Showing the rocking darkness now a-reel.
And out of the invisible, streams of bright blue drops
Rain from the showery heavens, and bright blue crops
Surge from the under-dark to their ladder-tops.
And all the manifold blue and joyous eyes,
The rainbow arching over in the skies,
New sparks of wonder opening in surprise.
All these pure things come foam and spray of the sea
Of Darkness abundant, which shaken mysteriously,
Breaks into dazzle of living, as dolphins that leap from the sea
Of midnight shake it to fire, so the secret of death we see.
Vivien Whelpton’s website Vivien Whelpton
Hilda Doolittle websites Hilda Doolittle