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Old 05-06-2017, 03:12 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Default W. W. I

I have been thinking a lot about WWI lately as it relates to history and poetry. I thought I would post, as book-ends to the war, Larkin’s “MCMXIV” and Hardy’s “And There Was a Great Calm” (1918).

It’s interesting to have Mr. Modern Larkin writing about the beginning of the war and the Victorian hold-out Hardy writing about its end. If we want the middle of the war, we can look to Wilfred Owen, who died only a few weeks before Hardy wrote his poem.

MCMXIV

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.


And There was a Great Calm

1
There had been years of Passion--scorching, cold,
And much Despair, and Anger heaving high,
Care whitely watching, Sorrows manifold,
Among the young, among the weak and old,
And the pensive Spirit of Pity whispered, "Why?"

2
Men had not paused to answer. Foes distraught
Pierced the thinned peoples in a brute-like blindness,
Philosophies that sages long had taught,
And Selflessness, were as an unknown thought,
And "Hell!" and "Shell!" were yapped at Lovingkindness.

3
The feeble folk at home had grown full-used
To "dug-outs," "snipers," "Huns," from the war-adept
In the mornings heard, and at evetides perused;
To day--dreamt men in millions, when they mused--
To nightmare-men in millions when they slept.

4
Waking to wish existence timeless, null,
Sirius they watched above where armies fell;
He seemed to check his flapping when, in the lull
Of night a boom came thencewise, like the dull
Plunge of a stone dropped into some deep well.

5
So, when old hopes that earth was bettering slowly
Were dead and damned, there sounded "War is done!"
One morrow. Said the bereft, and meek, and lowly,
"Will men some day be given to grace? yea, wholly,
And in good sooth, as our dreams used to run?"

6
Breathless they paused. Out there men raised their glance
To where had stood those poplars lank and lopped,
As they had raised it through the four years' dance
Of Death in the now familiar flats of France;
And murmured, "Strange, this! How? All firing stopped?"

7
Aye; all was hushed. The about-to-fire fired not,
The aimed-at moved away in trance-lipped song.
One checkless regiment slung a clinching shot
And turned. The Spirit of Irony smirked out, "What?
Spoil peradventures woven of Rage and Wrong?"

8
Thenceforth no flying fires inflamed the gray,
No hurtlings shook the dewdrop from the thorn,
No moan perplexed the mute bird on the spray;
Worn horses mused: "We are not whipped to-day";
No weft-winged engines blurred the moon's thin horn.

9
Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;
There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;
Some could, some could not, shake off misery:
The Sinister Spirit sneered: "It had to be!"
And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, "Why?"
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Old 05-06-2017, 03:17 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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Ah, the Larkin is wonderful. Although I love Hardy, I don't think that is one of his best. Better, I think (although not written about WWI, it clearly applies to it, and all wars), is this:

"Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

"But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

"I shot him dead because —
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although

"He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
Off-hand like — just as I —
Was out of work — had sold his traps —
No other reason why.

"Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown."
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Old 05-06-2017, 03:21 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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I am impressed that Hardy, who was in the middle of it, fully understood the implications of "The Great War," "The Chemists' War:"

"old hopes that earth was bettering slowly
Were dead and damned. . ."
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Old 05-06-2017, 05:02 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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I too especially like the Larkin. His lines:

"And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses"

can't help but remind me of Adlestrop:

BY EDWARD THOMAS

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

NB written or at least published in 1917.
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Old 05-06-2017, 05:16 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Whereas Larkin's closing line "Never such innocence again" reminds me of Yeats: not just "The ceremony of innocence is drowned", but also

"All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born",

from "Easter, 1916".
Interesting to hear these voices -Thomas, Yeats - coming through the Larkin. I suspect the Thomas meant a fair bit to him, think of the end of "The Whitsun Weddings".

Cheers,
John
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Old 05-06-2017, 05:41 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aaron Poochigian View Post
I am impressed that Hardy, who was in the middle of it, fully understood the implications of "The Great War," "The Chemists' War:"

"old hopes that earth was bettering slowly
Were dead and damned. . ."
The implications ... do you mean that he foresaw the next one, Aaron?
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Old 05-06-2017, 05:42 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Isbell View Post
I too especially like the Larkin. His lines:

"And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses"

can't help but remind me of Adlestrop
You're right, John. Hard not to think of that.
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Old 05-06-2017, 05:44 PM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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Also, just wondering idly - do American readers understand the significance of (and the rightness of ) "The Oval or Villa Park"?
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Old 05-06-2017, 06:57 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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To me, there's a bit of a class distinction there.
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Old 05-07-2017, 01:16 AM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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David, I meant that Hardy recognized WWI was an epoch-making event--the West's assumption that civilization was improving with the passage of time was no longer tenable. Twentieth century history certainly did go on to blow that assumption to bits. The war marked the beginning of "the Modern": http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/30/opinio...rt-modern-wwi/

The author argues that Victorian art was not adequate to express WWI's chaos, so Modernism stepped in.

Last edited by Aaron Poochigian; 05-07-2017 at 01:24 AM.
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