Wednesday, November 16, 2011

English Interlude

For the next 30 days or so I'm going to be doing a little bit of reading every day from the Norton Anthology of English Literature (20th Century). There are 30 slips of paper in my old (I should say aged so it doesn't sound like I have an Old Milwaukee hat) Milwaukee Brewers hat; each slip has a name of a writer. . .and so on and so forth. (See earlier note).

Today I read the surprisingly great WWI poems of Ivor Gurney and Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918), having read the surprisingly great WWII poems of Keith Douglas and Charles Causley yesterday. I say surprisingly great because the topic itself usually overwhelms this kind of poem, and, 65-95 years on, they seem pretty well-worn and (understandably) maudlin.

But these poems are very specific and represent, according to the anthology, the working class, grunt infantry perspective as opposed to the better-known, and pretty good poems of Wilfred Owen, which are from an officer's perspective.

Here's a memorable description of a rat in a trench, from Rosenberg's poem "Break of Day in the Trenches."

"Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life [. . .]"

And now for my daily draw: W.H. Auden. Looks like I'm headed back to WWII.

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