Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Poetry, World War I, and Armistice Day

Sunday marks the 100thanniversary of the end of World War I. The war that was supposed to be over by Christmas (of 1914) lasted four-and-a-half years. Ten million military personnel and almost seven million civilians died. The Habsburg, Romanov, and Hohenzollern empires ended. The Russian Revolution started, with millions more killed over the next four to five years. Even the victorious nations in Europe faced dire financial conditions, broad disillusionment, and the loss of a generation because of the war.

Poetry changed as well. People’s understanding of the war was partially shaped by poetry, and the patriotic poems of the first year of war like Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier” and Alan Seeger’s “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” gradually gave way to poems like Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth.” 

And the form of poetry changed during the war. While most war poems followed traditional and formal forms, it was in 1915 that Poetry Magazine published T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” considered by many to have inaugurated the birth of modernism in poetry. It was perhaps no coincidence that Eliot was a transplanted American living in war-time London when he wrote the poem.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Painting: Mustard Gas, oil on canvas by John Singer Sargent (1919); Imperial War Museum. London.

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