Memories of War
CAROL Z. ROEHKOPE
In the Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey there is a memorial
to the sixteen British soldier poets whose works have perhaps
been the single greatest influence shaping our perceptions of
the Great War, 1914-1918. One of these poets, Edmund Blunden,
writing years later in War Poets 1914-1918, singled out only a few,
notably Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen,
"from all degrees and ranks of versemen" as "dynamic" and com¬
pletely worthy of our attention. Blunden took self-effacement even
further in his chapter on Sassoon, in which he dismissed himself as a
mere "verse-writer" who by the end of 1916 "was almost a poet of
the shell-holes, of ruin and of mortification."
The word "almost" is a clue to Blunden's modest assessment of
his own poetic gift. Clearly, the authorities—the many literary his¬
torians as well as the editors of the countless anthologies of war
poetry who included Blunden among the poets to be honored in
the War memorial—disagreed. Nevertheless, Blunden is still far less
well known today than some of his contemporaries and seems to be
passing through one of those eclipses that sometimes envelop the
most distinguished writers in temporary obscurity.
As a student of literary history, Blunden would surely understand
that his current semivisible status in the world of letters is likely to
be transitory, a vagary of the clash between the experimentalism of
other twentieth-century writers and his own profound traditional¬
ism. Not for Blunden the tinkering with language and verse forms
and dissonance that made some of his contemporaries famous.
Instead he chose the older, familiar forms that had served so many
Opposite: The memorial to the British soldier poets of the
First Wodd War, in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey,
unveiled on November II, 1985, honors sixteen poets
including Edmund Blunden.