Today is Remembrance Sunday, each year honour is paid to the members of the Armed Forces who have served their country and we pay respects to the fallen who have given their lives in defence of our freedom. It is at this time we naturally turn to the War Poets as we reflect on the devastation of war and the scarifies made. One of the most popular poems is ‘The Soldier’ by Robert Brooke.
In 1914 Brooke volunteered for service in the First World War, joining the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve based in Antwerp where there was a lull in fighting which proved fruitful as he produced his best-known poetry, the group of five war sonnets entitled “Nineteen Fourteen” written in late 1914, these sonnets express the hopeful idealism and enthusiasm which Britain first entered the war. Like the first sonnet, “Peace,” the third and fourth sonnets are both titled “The Dead,” but it is the second of the two that has enjoyed more critical acclaim. Brooke paints death as a positive, pristine state. For Brooke, death is like an infinite frost that “leaves a white / Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,” Finally, Brooke ends the sonnet sequence with “The Soldier,” his most famous poem where he imagines his own death. On Easter Sunday in 1915, it was read out aloud in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, Brooke’s death, three weeks later insured that his name would always be intertwined with the war sonnets and the War Poets.
However, after the staggering number of deaths the British incurred during trench warfare in 1916/1917, such patriotic feelings were viewed as naïve. Later poets, such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves captured the terror and tragedy of modern warfare see a previous post on Graves here: https://wordpress.com/post/poetisatinta.wordpress.com/1056
Wilfred Owen’ poem ‘The Last Laugh’, was drafted in February 1918 (as ‘Last Words’) but only published after Owen’s death in November 1918, one week before the Armistice. Although not his most famous poem by any means, ‘The Last Laugh’ is one of his most stark and direct. It is a powerful example of the destructiveness of war, and how nothing can help those who are unlucky enough to get caught up in the mass carnage of such a war.