Jane Hill’s Reading Question for March 24

  • The poem “1914” by Rupert Brooke (Pages 104-106) is unusually optimistic or positive about the war, describing it in religious tones that one would more likely find in pre-WWI descriptions of ‘good and moral wars’. Is there any value to be found in this perspective about the war, and if so, what?
  • Isaac Rosenberg was born in 1890 to a poor Lithuanian, Jewish family that had to flee due to the harsh Russian occupation. Rosenberg then was raised in England and became a noted poet and artist before the war began. He was a strong pacifist and lacked any feelings of patriotism, and he faced a great deal of anti-semitism in the Allied army. In Rosenberg’s poem “Break of Day in the Trenches” (pages 137-138) the focus is on a rat with “cosmopolitan sympathies” as it rushes back and forth between the British and German trenches. What does the rat mean in the context of this poem, and how does Rosenberg’s unique background seem to shape this perspective? What are your responses to the ideas and views presented?
  • The poem “1914” by Rupert Brooke and the poem “1916 seen from 1921” by Edmund Blunden stand in sharp contrast to each other in terms of tone and feelings about both the Great War and war in general. “1914” is overall more optimistic, viewing war as a holy and righteous cause worthy of the pursuit of all who are virtuous, while “1916 seen from 1921” talks about the war as a tragic obligation that has destroyed a great deal. Brooke died in 1917, while Blunden lived until the 70s. How is it that the same historical situation produced such different views in different men in the same situations? Are both of these poems valid in their points, or is one or the other more or less valid than the other. Is there something to gain by reading these two works together, and if so what?
  • In the excerpt from “In Parenthesis” by David Jones, a consistent pattern of repeated sounds and phrases is used, such as “the rat of no-man’s-land” going “scrut,scrut,sscrut” or the repetition of the word “nor” in the final section. What emotion does this consistent style evoke in the reader, and are there other stylistic techniques used by Jones that you’d want to comment on?

Some songs about the Great War

Something I thought would be good to share are some songs from/about the Frist World War that have affected me in one way or another.

The first song is “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye,” a song about an Irish veteran returning home from the home, missing both physical and spiritual parts of himself as he’s completely run down by the war. It ends on the theoreitcally optimistic note that, although he’s missing an arm, a leg, his innocence, and will likely be begging for food for the rest of his life; he still is alive, so that’s something.

The second song is a reading of “In Flanders Fields,” probably the most famous poem of the War. The poem itself probably needs no introduction, but here is a link to it regardless.

The third song is “Wo alle Straßen enden,” a song disputedly attributed in part to a German soldier in WWI, although I feel like it hits the feeling of utter hopelessness quite well. A very fitting song for All Quiet on the Western Front, as it describes this hopelessness from a German perspective with the knowledge of the impending losing of the war in mind.

The fourth song is “Green Fields of France,” a Scottish folksong written in the 1970’s about the narrator considering the grave of a soldier who died in 1916, and wondering if the soldier left anyone behind when he died or if he was properly honored. The narrator then starts wondering if the war was fought for anything at all.

The fifth and final song I wanted to share in this post is “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” and it’s one of my favorite songs about the war and a song that almost always make me cry. It’s a play on the classic ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) song Waltzing Matilda, a song played often in the ANZAC army bands and a marching song of the era. And the Band Played is hardly about the original subject matter of Waltzing Matilda, as And the Band Played focuses on the experience of an Australian Conscript sent to fight in the meatgrinder of a campaign known as Gallipoli. Eventually, this conscript return homes short a leg, with nobody to go home to and considers how pointless the whole war was. Waltzing Matilda is used to help the theme of being lied to by those in power to die in this war. To make it short, it’s a very good song.

I hope you all enjoy (or maybe that’s not the right word) these songs and get something out of them. I’d love to know y’alls thoughts on them!