The poets and the world war: "Dreamers" by Siegfried Sassoon

Sigfried Sassoon (1886 - 1967)
For the second time we choose a poem by Sigfried Sassoon. Last time it was Sick Leave. Today poem, always from The War Poems, is probably not so popular but it represents a way to introduce and to launch a promising and unexplored topic, that could be developed into many directions (new books and studies, researches both in the literature side but also the scientific and medical side of the story, etc.): the dreams of the First World War soldiers and their dreamlike activities. And the title itself is unquestionable: Dreamers. The turning line of the poem is the eleventh, where it says they are "Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats", before leaving you with the normality of the final images, so normal and gray like the images taken from everyday life in the trenches. Two normalities overlapping, war time and peace time, creating a shocking and racking sense of disbelief welded by a clockwork rhyme scheme.


DREAMERS


Soldiers are citizens of death's gray land,
  Drawing no dividend from time's tomorrows.
In the great hour of destiny they stand,
  Each with his feuds, and jealousies, and sorrows.
Soldiers are sworn to action; they must win
  Some flaming, fatal climax with their lives.
Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin
  They think of firelit homes, clean beds and wives.

I see them in foul dug-outs, gnawed by rats,
  And in the ruined trenches, lashed with rain,
Dreaming of things they did with balls and bats,
  And mocked by hopeless longing to regain    
Bank-holidays, and picture shows, and spats,    
  And going to the office in the train.



(Published in the hospital paper, the Hydra, 1 September 1917.)

Special Exhibition Images of the Great War: European Offensives 1914-1916 Opens March 29 at National World War I Museum and Memorial

- Press release -
(Once again thanks to Mike Vietti for sharing this information with World War I Bridges)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The onset of World War I brought about unparalleled advances in technology and heightened global relations, while leading to a permanent alteration of the human perspective. As a result, new perspectives on music, literature and art emerged. Images of the Great War: European Offensives 1914-1916, a new special exhibition at the National World War I Museum and Memorial, showcases an array of artwork from the early European theatre (beside image: Attaque de bersaglieri italiens contre les troupes autrichiennes sur les hautes et âpres montagnes de l'Isonzo by Cesare Tallone).

Opening Tuesday, March 29, Images of the Great War: European Offensives 1914-1916 presents art from the first two years of World War I, highlighting two differing styles of art from the period. Many of the works in the exhibition are representative of the modernist movement arising from the war, detailing the fighting in abstract terms. Conversely, much of the art of the time presents the war from a realistic perspective, harkening back to 19th century styles.

“The influence of World War I on artistic expression of the time was enormous,” said National World War I Museum and Memorial Archivist and Edward Jones Research Center Manager Jonathan Casey. “Images of the Great War gives us the opportunity to connect the absolute global impact of the conflict to the cultural and artistic representations it inspired.”

The exhibition features art from eight different countries: France, Britain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Turkey and Switzerland. Works range from those created by professional artists of the time as well as sketches done by soldiers on the front line. Much of the pictorial art included in the exhibition is similar to what was seen by the wartime masses through the illustrated press, and played a large role in determining public perception of the war (beside image: Chute d'avion by Evert van Muyden).

“By sharing this magnificent exhibition organized by Brown University and The President Woodrow Wilson House the Museum is advancing its mission of providing special exhibitions that educate, engage and inform,” said National World War I Museum and Memorial President & CEO Matthew Naylor. “The Great War’s impact on the world is endless and these manifestations through art allow us yet another avenue to experience its effects.”

The exhibition was organized by Brown University Library and The President Woodrow Wilson House, a National Trust Historic Site, Washington, D.C., curated by Peter Harrington & Stephanie Daugherty and sponsored by the Abend Family Philanthropic Fund.

The exhibition, located in the Research Level Gallery at the Museum, runs through Oct. 9, 2016.

The National World War I Museum and Memorial holds the most diverse collection of World War I objects and documents in the world and is the second-oldest public museum dedicated to preserving the objects, history and personal experiences of the war (beside image: Infantryman asleep in cave shelter by Anton Sussman).


Media interested in covering any of the Museum’s offerings should contact Mike Vietti at 816-888-8122 or mvietti@theworldwar.org.

The poets and the world war: "Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries" by Alfred Edward Housman

A. E. Housman (1859 - 1936)
In The Oxford Handbook of British & Irish War Poetry the editor Tim Kendall remembers Kipling's letter addressed to James Barry dated 21 Dec. 1935 in which he describes the below poem by Alfred Edward Housman as "the high-water mark of all War verse. […] Only eight lines but absolutely perfect”. This poem first appeared in "The Times" on the 31 October 1917 to accompany an article about the anniversary of the Battle of Ypres. What is particularly interesting is the theme of this poem: not the usual heroism, not great values moving and livening the lines of the poem but simply the fact of being mercenaries and, in other words, it's all about money. But at the same time this is not about money. At the end, this is not a poem about the motivation coming from the money and from the desire of glorification: "What God abandoned, these defended, / And saved the sum of things for pay." Speaking about Tim Kendall we would like to remind you also about the interesting interview that he kindly released to us still available at this link.


EPITAPH ON AN ARMY OF MERCENARIES


These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling,
And took their wages, and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.