Thomas Hardy, “And There Was a Great Calm”

I was asked to add my own final reading, so here it is.

Katia’s Reading Questions for February 10th

  1. “Repression of War Experience” is one of now several portrayals we’ve seen of a narrator struggling with mental health in relation to the Great War, but it’s the first we’ve seen in metered poetry, as opposed to Smith and Aldington’s prose. How does the existence of meter as a force that structures the poem interact with the narration of the post-war mind, which is arguably a fundamentally unstructured thing? How might the change in form from prose to poetry impact a reader’s experience of this subject? 
  2. “The Redeemer” and “Christ and the Soldier” both portray men who appear to be Jesus Christ in contact with the war, but the two portrayals are very distinct. Notably, the symbology of the crown of thorns is explicitly divergent between the two. What kinds of differing or parallel images do the two poems paint regarding Christ in relation to soldiers and the Great War? How might this tie into Sassoon’s more overarching views on England, or on religion? 
  3. Sassoon varies the tone of his poetry and the voices imbedded into it a great deal; the dialogue-centered, sardonic “They” and “The General” exist alongside dense, highly-detailed, visually-oriented narration, such as the voice that narrates “Counter-Attack” and “A Night Attack.” What are the differing purposes or effects of these styles, or other poetic styles Sassoon assumes? Is there a particular advantage (or disadvantage) that one of these approaches might hold in writing about the war for a particular audience?

“Words, Words, Words—they do not reach me.”

Paul says this about the books on his shelf at home (173), buttttt I am really excited to track it as a major theme throughout the book. The inadequacy of language is something we continuously see Paul struggle with, on the front and at home. At the front: “Attack, counter-attack, charge, repulse — these are words, but what things they signify!” (129). And “Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine-guns, hand grenades — words words, but they hold the horror of the world” (132).

At home, though, this struggle is emphasized. We can see clearly that Paul is split between these two worlds—the western front and the home (or lack thereof) front. I know we talked at length about this in class, but I wanted to bring it to the blog. To me, It was one of the most compelling sections in this week’s reading. When Paul’s mother is saying goodnight to him, there is a clear division between what Paul wishes he could say and what he actually says. All of it is terrible and heartbreaking and so sad I am once again nauseous reading it, but to just pull one example, take this exchange: “‘And be very careful at the front, Paul.’ Ah, Mother! Mother! Why do I not take you in my arms and die with you. What poor wretches we are! ‘Yes Mother, I will’” (183).


In the 12:30 class, we used this passage to start to generate a list of ways Paul is split, or broken in two. We have: parent (specifically mother) Paul vs. child Paul, maternal vs. violent Paul, and broken vs. performative Paul. Maternal in the sense of pretty consistently thinking of others and caring for them before himself. And performative meaning that Paul performs this calmness as a way to protect himself and those he loves from the broken madness he really feels.

I’m wondering (hoping, PLEASE) if anyone wants to add to/expand on this list of Broken (to use Bonnie’s word) Paul. How else is he broken? What are other ways we can map this conflict in Paul? and bonus: how does language complicate these divisions?