From decomposition to dissolution: a reading of Thomas Hardy’s war poems
From decomposition to dissolution: a reading of Thomas Hardy’s war poems
Even though Hardy’s war poems are scattered over two collections and range from the late Victorian age to the eve of Modernism, they do not reflect the climate of justification and glorification of war of the imperialist age. On the contrary, this reading of a sequence of war poems aims to show how Hardy utterly divests warfare of its glorious imperialistic connotations, in order to uncover its core of folly and waste.
The object of this analysis is a section of eleven texts composed on the occasion of the Boer War of 1899-1901, and later included in Hardy’s second collection, Poems of the Past and the Present, published in 1901.1 Hardy is writing in the wake of the Victorian tradition, in which poets like Tennyson (and subsequently Kipling) treat the theme of death on the battlefield by using a wide range of metaphors and periphrases, while seldom actually treating it as a violent and brutalizing event. The approach of the Victorian poet, in general, is to keep a distance between language and object, and even when the poems are not in the least propagandistic, they still remain aloof from the matter-of-factness of fighting and dying in battle. To give just one example of this kind of imagery, we can read some lines from Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, written in 1854, during the Crimean War: “Boldly they rode and well,/ Into the jaws of Death,/ Into the mouth of Hell/ Rode the six hundred.”.2 In attempting to express war as a poetic theme, the Victorians draw on the idioms and representational techniques inherited from a certain rhetoric of heroism to be found in some of the Romantic poets (Byron’s oriental romances, for example). Thus, the presence of dying bodies or of corpses in Victorian poems is always numerically limited, linguistically camouflaged and textually contained. War is usually reported from a far-away territory, and this physical distance dulls its sounds and makes its wounds dimly discernible. This extraordinary remove from its object makes the poem a perfect work of art, aimed at mirroring itself, rather than mirroring war.
When approaching Hardy’s war poems, we at once notice a mingling of several contrasting voices which distinguishes them from the monochord approach typical of most war-poetry of the age. The much debated issue of the political side the poet took—whether in favour of patriotism and imperialism, as a few texts such as “Men Who March Away”3 seem to show, or against military actions, as most of the poems seem to suggest—does not in the least impinge on the evidence that these lines deal with the reality of war and its disastrous consequences, rather than dwelling on a linguistic limbo of verbal irresponsibility, made of abstract feelings and political or philosophical ideals.4 Hardy’s own interspersed comments on this issue mark the distance between his stance and that of his contemporaries, but it is Edmund Gosse who points out the quality of realism which informs his poetics: “You are the only poet, up to date, who has said anything worth singing. They all make the blunder of trying to translate our emotion into rhetoric, whereas in this period of suspense rhetoric [. . .] is monstrously out of place.”5
My categories are thematic rather than chronological, and I do not pretend to diagram specific cause-and-effect relationships between Hardy’s war poems and the poetics of modernism. No doubt modernist poets incorporate lessons they had learned from pre-war poets into their lexis and imagery: for instance, Wilfred Owen reaches backward to an ancient tradition to produce the bitter effect of his “Dulce et Decorum Est” of 1917. Likewise, war itself taught the poets lessons as well: T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is commonly understood as reproducing the sounds and images of trench warfare and its aftermath. What I am interested in tracing is not the particulars of those exchanges but the patterns that emerge as appropriate to both the experience of war and the experience of a world shaken in its beliefs already at the end of the 19th century.6 Reading Hardy’s poems, in fact, one can sense that both soldiers and artists seem gradually to have experienced an anticipation of the disconcerting climate of modernism—for example, in the process of destabilization and re-creation of a poetics of death in war. If, as Ruskin and his romantic precursors indicated, identity is location, then imperialism has made the geography of Englishness a geography of displacement.7 We can read some instances of this feeling of displacement in Kipling’s poems on the Boer War, in particular in “Bridge-Guard in the Karroo”, where dystopia is imaged as the onset of darkness: “And the darkness covers our faces,/ And the darkness re-enters our souls” (59-60), and more explicitly in “The Dykes”, where the nihilistic incipit— “All that our own hearts bid us believe we doubt where we do not deny” (3)—reaches a climax of dystopia in the final line: “[. . .] our own houses show as strange when we come back in the dawn!” (40).8
War has always been a violent, crude and brutalising event, but what might appear plain matter of fact to the contemporary artist and reader, was far from being acknowledged by intellectuals or accepted by the reading public in 1899.9 Therefore, I will try to analyse the ways in which Hardy turns an issue that was, aesthetically speaking, almost taboo, into a poetic object that expresses in explicit and realistic terms the “inexorable senseless tragedies”10 of war. As a matter of fact, from a historical point of view, after the Indian Mutiny of 1857 England underwent a process of profound transition from an essentially mercantilistic theory of imperialism, in which the colonies were represented as little more than factories or shopfronts, to an epistemology of Empire in which they were troped as England’s outlying counties. In 1859, the Parliament’s decision to relieve the East India Company of responsibility for the government of India along with the post-Mutiny determination to award Queen Victoria an ‘Oriental’ title, contributed to the reinvention of the Empire as the topos where India and England became one.
Far from adhering to this policy of camouflaging war under a veil of integration, the very first poem of the section, “Embarcation”11, defines it as “the selfsame bloody mode” (6) chosen by the nations to carry out their plans, and the soldiers are portrayed simultaneously “yellow as autumn leaves, alive as spring” (9). This antithesis duly introduces one core theme that will be developed later—the terrestrial nature of the human being, who is always portrayed in his moments of decay, by means of images of waste and decomposition. This opening text leaves no doubt as to the speaker’s standpoint, which is explicitly revealed in the last line, where he anticipates the weeping of the soldiers’ relatives, as they follow the smiling good-bye.
Just as in a narrative sequence, “Embarcation” is followed by “Departure”, and with the physical distancing of the boats from the docks there emerges a “keen sense of severance” (5) of the soldiers from their homeland. These men have not reached the battlefield yet, but they already look different: not only are they belittled by the growing distance (3), but they are also degraded in their dignity as human beings, in that they can no longer exert their free will, and are imaged as nothing more than “puppets in a playing hand” (10). “The Colonel’s Soliloquy” deals with another aspect of man’s metamorphosis, the changes brought about by time and experience. The speaker feels very different from the time when he was a young soldier, and the alteration is caused not only by the suffering produced by old wounds and new wrinkles, but rather by a feeling of inadequacy and fear at leaving his wife alone, a woman who, in her old age, suffers greatly from the severance. Thus, with the second appearance of the wife’s timid ‘tears’ (30), the section approaches the issue of the psychological violence of war and of the suffering of the beloved.
“The Going of the Battery” is a poetical sketch tinted in grey hues: the soldiers’ wives are faced with the concrete aspect of war, and stare at the “great guns” (9), “upmouthed to the night” (10) but “blank of sound” (12). The silence of the guns is superseded by the final coming of haunting “voices” (25), whose metonymic identity calls back the absence of the beloved. After an epigrammatic poem on the affixing of the lists of killed and wounded—“At the War Office, London”, where death in war is mercilessly defined as “scheduled slaughter” (8)—, the text “A Christmas Ghost-Story” enacts the first instance of death seen as the physical process of decomposition. Far away from his homeland, “A mouldering soldier lies” (2); the crude image is intensified even more by what follows—“Awry and doubled up are his gray bones,” (3)—thus reaching a climax of physical distortion which mirrors a reversal of the superior dignity of the soldier, the Roman miles gloriosus, into an unarmed, wasted corpse. Even though the following lines introduce the image of Christ crucified (7), to whom the dead soldier might be compared in his sacrifice, the close of the poem deprives him of this connotation by metonymically defining him as just one of the “twenty-hundred liveried” of the army, and finally by stating in peremptory terms the absurdity of “the Cause for which He died” (12).
Hardy’s battlefield closely resembles a wasteland of physical and spiritual desolation, where the hollow noises of artillery resound on a surface as barren as the eve of the battle, but also as crowded with dead bodies as the day after. The text hinges on the semantic field of decomposition, no longer conceived in the traditional meaning of pastoral regeneration, but rather as the disfigurement and progressive annihilation of the human being. Thirty years later, in 1930, Mary Borden would describe a French territorial regiment straight from the trenches in these terms: “And they were all deformed, and certainly their deformity was the deformity of the war. They were all misshapen in the same way. Each one was deformed like the next one.”.12 Along with the concept of deformation, here the writer hints at the concept of war as a process of levelling and dispersal of the soldiers’ individuality. Alive or dead, the soldiers at war are all similar, or even all the same, and therefore non-referential.
This concept leads us to a fundamental poem in the sequence, “Drummer Hodge”, where Hardy brings forth and develops to its utmost extent the metaphor of death as decomposition, along with powerful connotations of alienation and existential uneasiness. The incipit is abrupt in its matter-of-factness:
They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined—just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around;
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.
These lines point out the two Leitmotiven of Hardy’s war poems: the first is the lack of dignity underlying life and death at war, which is remarkable in the choice of the anonymous pronoun ‘they’ and in the action of violently ‘throwing’ a bare body into the ground, as if to get rid of it quickly, with no care for its state of utter defencelessness against physical agents. This disturbing picture leads to the second level of the metaphor of death—that is, to the soldier’s dislocation from his homeland and the consequent alienation from the landscape that surrounds him. Drummer Hodge does not recognize his surroundings as a suitable burial place, because the sky above him shows nothing but “foreign constellations” (5) and “strange stars” (12); at the end of these turn into anthropomorphic “strange-eyed” (17) constellations, which seem to look at him as if to question his identity.
The feeling of dislocation becomes acutest in the statement that even the burial’s own landmark—that is, the physical sign which should serve to determine the identity of the dead soldier—is in fact something anonymous and foreign to Hodge, a “kopje-crest” (3). In this text the language itself is alien both to Hodge and to the British reader, in that there are four occurrences of South African toponyms spread over eighteen lines,13 set against one isolated instance of the “Wessex” (8) homeland. The irony of the poem is that Hodge does not know why he was doomed to die in a foreign land: “Yet portion of that unknown plain/ Will Hodge for ever be” (13-14). The process of uprooting that leads to dislocation and alienation culminates in a final assertion on the inevitability of the soldier’s fate. Hodge’s body will not be brought back home, and will undergo a metamorphosis into a physical part of that alien land. Far from echoing a positive myth of regeneration, this finale seems to hint at a condition of existential stasis, a kind of eternal damnation which awaits whoever enters the “lurid”14 and “slimy” territory of war.
This metamorphic process, which unveils a state of utter imprisonment in an intermediary condition between physical death and annihilation of the soul, reminds me of the opening section of The Waste Land:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.15
As Michael Levenson has persuasively argued: “the eye here sees from the point of view of someone (or some thing) that is buried. In what other circumstances would snow act as cover?”, and then he concludes: “the opening of The Waste Land looks at spring from the point of view of a corpse [. . .] Only here is a corpse that has not died, that retains a little life. We recall that the title of this opening section is ‘The Burial of the Dead’ and already we have a fierce irony. These buried are not yet dead.”16
When we relate Eliot’s viewpoint to Hardy’s, we can see that post mortem existence is not a phantasmal chimera, but rather one of ‘life’s little ironies’ we can come across in his canon. As we carry on with the sequence, indeed, we come across a similar condition. In “A Wife in London” the poet enacts an extremely interesting experiment on the difference—or rather Derridean différance—between a literary and a chronological sequence of events. A soldier’s wife first receives a telegram that bears the news of the death of her husband, but the day after she receives a letter from him which emotionally defies death, stating all his plans for a future of which, in fact, he has already been deprived.17 In the end death wins over memory, and this soldier, even though represented only by means of his handwriting, must undergo a process of decomposition, and the very hand that wrote the letter, “the worm now knows” (15).
This process of corrosion and blurring of one’s identity would be epitomised during the Great War with the creation of the Field Service Post Card, a stereotyped kind of letter on which the soldier could only add his name and a few details, choosing among very strictly formulated options. What is interesting to note is that the heading of the post card would bear the following peremptory instruction, duly underlined: “If anything else is added the post card will be destroyed.”18. This would happen in November 1914, and the ruling idea seems to be that of infinite replication and utter uniformity, but Hardy, in 1899, anticipates much of this approach. The absence of a blank space in which to convey one’s personal experience sets a fixed representational boundary, and in so doing it keeps the imaginative horizon of the addressee within protected limits.
“The Souls of the Slain”, the most fully articulated poem in the sequence, develops at length Hardy’s philosophy of life, death and ‘after death’ in wartime. The first two stanzas build up a picture of nocturnal stasis; the suggestion of total immobility, however, is strongly counteracted by the “everlong motion/ Of criss-crossing tides.” (11-12). Then, in the third stanza there suddenly appears a surreal picture of some indeterminate swarm of flying entities (18) which hover from the sea nearing the coast. The definition that follows stresses the incorporeality of these presences by means of two synonymic expressions:
A dim-discerned train
Of sprites without mould,
Frameless souls none might touch or might hold
Once again, death has deprived men of a physical identity, rendering them all alike and only dimly visible. Nonetheless, stanza five specifies that these are the “souls of the felled” (26) in the Boer War, who are struggling to reach home and take hold again of their former mould. From this moment on, the indeterminate swarm disbands, and every soul expresses his will to know about his new memorial status in the minds of the beloved.
The verdict is clear: military glory weighs far less than the “old homely acts” (69), and those who cannot count upon an affective memory will get no individual mould, no memorial identity; on the contrary, they will die a second and final death, the death of memory. This allusion to an apocalyptic second death19 will be made explicit in “The To-Be-Forgotten”,20 a poem included in the same collection where the dead despair of the chance of living long in memory: “our future second death is near;/ When, with the living, memory of us numbs,/ And blank oblivion comes!” and especially in the final climax of annihilation: “Theirs is a loss past loss of fitful breath/ It is the second death.” (6-8, 15-16).
Stanzas XIV-XV of “The Souls of the Slain” enact this fatal doom by dividing the group into two branches and by imaging a final death by water for those who will not be remembered:
Those whose record was lovely and true
Bore to northward for home: those of bitter traditions
Again left the land,
And, towering to seaward in legions,
They paused at a spot
Overbending the Race—
That engulphing, ghast, sinister place—
Whither headlong they plunged, to the fathomless regions
Of myriads forgot.
Again, in this final apocalyptic image I read a prolepsis of the “Death by Water” section of The Waste Land, where death is not only by water but like water—an element through which one swims and which possesses no shape, only the principle of motion. Eliot undoes the whole metaphor of time as a vector ending in death not just by reversing the direction of time’s arrow, but by imagining death as a space into which time flushes, oceanlike: “Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,/ Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell” (312-14). On the one hand, we can feel a Bergsonian persistence of memory, which only dribbles away into forgetfulness two weeks after death; on the other hand, death seems to seep out of its container, disrupting verb tenses, the connection between consciousness and the body. It is evident that both texts try to delineate a territory between life and death, a conception of the self which is still partially existent, but no longer able to access his identity:
[. . .] I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing
For Eliot there is no speech, no vision, no knowledge, yet some fragile minimal consciousness allows the speaker to describe the experience in retrospect. Both in Hardy and in modernist works, corpses decompose and then sprout, fluctuate in and out of consciousness, appear to sleep and to speak. They appear camouflaged as pieces of the material world, but then emerge and declare themselves separate from the landscape. Corpses prompt multiple and elaborate responses, demand further interpretation, prove themselves infinitely susceptible to metaphor. In other words, neither in Hardy’s nor in modernist language does death represent the final dissolution, in that the past melts only partially in the waters of oblivion. The image of an ocean crowded with overwhelming presences which claim a new identity might symbolize the human psyche, where the submergence of the souls of the forgotten epitomizes the speaker’s fear of being repressed or dissolved into oblivion.
The “Song of the Soldiers’ Wives and Sweethearts” closes full circle on the picture of the soldiers’ homecoming. In spite of the lightness of the song form and the joyful portrait of merry women rejoicing in the happy ending of the adventure, Hardy inserts two lines which point out once again the absurdity of war as butchery: “Men gave their lives—even wearily,/ Like those whom living tires” (23-24). This fundamental concept works as trait d’union towards the final text, devoted to the agony of “The sick Battle-God”. After a brief historical excursus on a few episodes in which the Battle-God was invoked and presided over Great Britain, its imposing figure begins to fade and turn into something far less positive, since “crimes too dire/ Did much to mire his crimson cloak” (23-24). At the end, he appears deprived of his substance, a “shade” (20) that looms “as if in ancient mould” (38). Thus, the “lurid Deity” (42) of war is stripped of his royalty, and just like the soldiers who die on the battlefield, he too must perforce give up his superior dignity in an act of final dissolution. This metaphorical act of progressive vanishing mirrors Hardy’s conviction about the necessity of a change of attitude towards war:
Oh, yes, war is doomed. It is doomed by the gradual growth of the introspective faculty in mankind—of their power of putting themselves in another’s place [. . .] Not to-day, nor to-morrow, but in the fullness of time, war will come to an end, not for moral reasons, but because of its absurdity.21
In conclusion, if we focus on the aesthetic principles which inform these poems, we cannot fail to notice that, even though Hardy himself had no direct experience of war, he tried all the same to fill the gap between high ideal and harsh reality, first of all by adopting a new vocabulary, stripped down, concrete, and pitched in tense opposition to the abstractions that hitherto had constituted the verbal conventions of war. His crude, bare images point out a number of ways in which the myth of war simplifies a situation that was not simple at all.22
Secondly, the problem of the dislocation of the poet from the battlefield, rather than weakening the poem, turns it into a process of dissolution of the concept of border, either as fragile delimitation of an Empire, or even as border of the self—specifically, the soldier’s self. The poet investigates dislocation in terms of exile from home and loss of certainties, but also in terms of doubt about a post mortem existence. In the same way, he talks about death in simple terms, sometimes resorting to archaic symbols, such as the theme of the return to dust, and at other times by mingling religious with pagan iconology. Yet what is innovative in his approach is the fact that physical decomposition becomes the surface expression of a cruder and more degrading spiritual deconstruction, inasmuch as the soldier, being used as a weapon, loses his dignity and carries on his existence like an exile in a foreign land, waiting to be cast off by a violent and meaningless death.
Throughout these poems war emerges as a distorting mirror which moulds existing shapes—the shape of the world, of national borders, but also of national identity and of time—into something much more complex, and anticipates, painfully and erratically, some of the shapes that will be developed by modernist artists. But more than anything else, war is a synonym for ‘corpselessness’, for the physical disappearance of an indefinite number of bodies. The metaphors of empty spaces, both at home—where a wife waits in vain for a husband to come back—and at the front, where shell explosions can disintegrate a human being, so that nothing remains of him, bring forth the issues of the physical decomposition and mental dissolution of the vestiges of memory. Thus, the empty space left by a dead soldier becomes the birthplace of a new awareness of the difficulty of remaining alive in the minds of the beloved, and finally reaching the third and final level of dissolution. Even a memorial existence undergoes the threat of being mercilessly swallowed by the waters of Lethe, the river of oblivion.
This process will be made explicit by Hardy in “The Death of Regret”, a ‘satire of circumstance’ which uncovers an existential irony in the analogy between the mental crumbling of the memorative object and the physical dissolution of the corpse: thus, “the long valued one who died yonder” is doomed to “waste by the sycamore” (23-24).23 In the contact of death with memory, the spaces of the dead and the living overlap; in Heidegger’s words, the In-der-Welt-Sein leads to the Dasein; even though the world of the dead is temporally as well as spatially distant, the soldiers are simultaneously absent and present. And like those who do not stop to consider that the ashes of the dead once housed passions and ideals, we should not read war poems without fully realizing the extent to which they handle these ashes. Hardy’s poetry is an endless return to these bones, or rather to the dust of a man who—in his opinion—was losing his body, his soul, his dignity and his identity in the waste land of the post-Victorian world.24 And like the children who unknowingly speak the language of the dead, I believe that when we read modernism we are only dimly aware of some of its origins in the poems of Thomas Hardy.
1 J.O. Bailey relates the circumstances preceding the war and the Hardys’ feeling of dismay: “Before 1899, British and Dutch settlers in South Africa contended not only for land but for control of gold and diamond mines. Dreams of South Africa united under the British Crown were contested by President Kruger of the South African Republic, who undertook to squeeze British settlers out of the country. [. . .] Forecasting war, in February 1899 Emma Hardy wrote to Rebekah Owen: ‘The battles will be on a huge scale that’s certain -& a terrible ending it will have. But the Boers fight for homes & liberties—we fight for the Transvaal Funds, diamonds, & gold! Is it not so? . . .Why should not Africa be free, as is America?’ (letter held by the Colby College Library).” See J.O. Bailey, The Poetry of Thomas Hardy. A Handbook and Commentary, Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 1970, p.114.
2 “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, vv.23-26, in The Oxford Book of War Poetry, John Stallworthy ed., Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1984, p.115.
3 “Men Who March Away” is a poem composed in September 1914 for The Times Literary Supplement, and later included in the section Poems of War and Patriotism in the collection Moments of Vision, issued in 1917.
4 Among many other similar comments, Hardy peremptorily states: “War is a fatality. It has nothing to do with either reason or intelligence.” From a conversation with M. Frederic Lefevre about World War I, in 1925, quoted in J. Bailey, op.cit., p.117.
5 Letter of Edmund Gosse to Hardy of 25 October 1899, now in the Dorset County Museum and quoted in J.O. Bailey, op.cit., p.116.
6 Hardy’s existential pessimism is strongly informed by Herbert Spencer’s post-Darwinian concepts of ‘evolution’ and consequent ‘devolution’, that is, of a process of unavoidable cultural decline and decadence. See Herbert Spencer, First Principles, New York, Appleton, 1896, pp.558-59.
7 See Ian Baucum, Out of Place. Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1999, pp.219-23.
8 J. Stallworthy ed., op. cit., pp.156-60.
9 See I. Baucum, op. cit., pp.41-74.
10 These are Philo Calhoun’s words on Hardy’s tragic expectations about the doom of the departing soldiers: “Hardy had no friend or kin embarking that day [. . .]. Nevertheless, his sensitive nature was absorbing not only all heart-aches of parting, but all the inexorable senseless tragedies which were in store for many of those who stood on the docks with him.” From “An Old Architect’s Last Draft”, p.61, quoted by J.O. Bailey in op. cit., p.115.
11 All quotations and references to Hardy’s poems are taken from The Variorum Edition of the Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy, edited by James Gibson, London, Macmillan, 1979. The section War Poems is on pages 86-99.
12 Mary Borden, The Forbidden Zone, Garden City, New York, Doubleday-Doran, 1930, p.27.
13 In Dutch ‘kopje’ means ‘down’, whereas ‘veldt’ means ‘grazing land’ and ‘karoo’ means ‘uplands’.
14 There can be no doubt about Hardy’s political standpoint when we look at the concordance of the war poems and notice, for instance, the widespread presence of the adjective ‘lurid’ in close connection with war.
15 The Waste Land, vv.1-7 in T.S. Eliot, Selected Poems, London, Faber and Faber, 1954, p.51. All subsequent quotations are taken from this edition.
16 Michael H. Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism: A Study of English Literary Doctrine 1908-1922. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986 (first ed. 1984), p.172.
17 We must consider that the habit of writing home for soldiers was quite unprecedented, since the Education Acts of 1870 and 1876 made the army that sailed for South Africa the first literate army in British history.
18 See Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory, New York, Oxford University Press, 1975, pp. 183-86.
19 See Revelation 20:14.
20 J. Gibson ed., op.cit, pp.144-45.
21 William Archer, Real Conversation Between Thomas Hardy and William Archer St. Peter Port, Toucan Press, 1979, I, p.317.
22 In The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell talks about the tension between capitalized abstractions like Heroism and the concrete details of trench warfare: “The Great War took place in what was, compared with ours, a static world, where the values appeared stable and where the meanings of abstractions seemed permanent and reliable. Everyone knew what Glory was, and what Honour meant. It was not until eleven years after the war that Hemingway could declare in A Farewell to Arms that ‘abstract words such as glory, honour, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.’ In the summer of 1914 no one would have understood what on earth he was talking about.” See P. Fussell, op.cit., p.21.
23 J. Gibson ed, op.cit., p.395.
24 On the issue of a post-mortem safeguarding of dignity for the soldiers see the documents collected by Laurence Stallings, where, for instance, the photograph of a shattered body is appended by the allusive caption: “This was a man”. Laurence Stallings ed., The First World War: A Photographic History, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1933, p.148.