Columbia Library columns (v.27(1977Nov-1978May))

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  v.27,no.2(1978:Feb): Page 14  



Edmund Blunden's Ghosts

MIRIAM J. BENKOVITZ
 

' °^DMUND BLUNDEN \\-as slow to write a ptose account
■^ of his experiences in the war of 1914-1918; but having
.  ^/ once written it as Undertones of War, he could not let
 

it be. Poetry came more readily for Blunden: "Festubert, 1916,"
"The Late Stand-to," "Third Ypres," and othets. In that respect,
he was like many of his contemporaries. Rupert Btooke (possibly
the last English poet to believe in the "romance and chivalry of
war"), Siegfried Sassoon, Richard Aldington, Wilfred Owen and
Isaac Rosenberg (both killed in battle) produced poetry literally
in the trenches, within sight and sound of artillery attack. But
writing a prose narrative was another matter. Just as Richard
Aldington made mote than one false start in composing Death of
a Hero, his first and finest novel, one about the war, and actually
wrote it ten years after the war, so Blunden tried as early as 1918,
shortly before the war ended, and succeeded only ten years later
and half a world away from E.ngland in writing Undertones of
War, a volume which includes an extensive prose statement and
a small selection of poems.

Blunden's first attempt to record his wartime expetiences in
prose is called De Bella Germanica. It is filled with zeal and un-
evaluated detail, but before "Rabbit" Blunden, as his mates called
him, had set down even half his career as a soldier, he abandoned
the book. He did so, according to his brother George, because of
the "unnerved state into which the Country fell towards the end
of 1918." That may be the reason, but Edmund Blunden was dis¬
satisfied with his wofk. He said that when he began it he had
"dtifted into a backwater"; and he criticized it later as "noisy with
depressing forced gaiety then very much the rage." In any case,
the incomplete book lay gathering dust until two years after its au-
thot had published Undertones of War, when in 1930 his brother
  v.27,no.2(1978:Feb): Page 14