It’s an automatic association in my mind. When I think of World War I, I think first of poetry. No war is as closely connected to poetry as “the war to end all wars,” the war that truly inaugurated the 20th century. And it is the English poets of war, and especially the ones who died in the war – Rupert Brooke, Charles Sorley, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, and more – who have shaped our understanding of the experience of that war.
What I didn’t realize was that the poets of World War I weren’t confined to Britain. The French wrote poetry about the war, as did the Germans and the Belgians (it’s estimated that the Germans alone were writing an average of 50,000 poems a day during the war years). And the Austrians and Italians. The Hungarians. The Russians. Even the Serb Gavrilo Princep, the young assassin of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, wanted to become a poet.
And these poets, including those in Britain, weren’t writing in a vacuum; they wrote within the context of social and philosophical currents that had been building before the war and were transformed during the war years and after. The war elevated poets and poetry to a significant position in virtually all European countries. As the Belgian scholar Geert Buelens writes in Everything to Nothing: The Poetry of the Great War, Revolution and the Transformation of Europe, “As European nations rediscovered their souls, they also rediscovered poetry.”
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.
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