Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew
2014 marks the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of what many believed would be the war to end all wars. And while the First World War devastated Europe, it inspired profound poetry – words in which the atmosphere and landscape of battle are evoked perhaps more vividly than anywhere else.
The poets – many of whom were killed – show not only the war’s tragedy but the hopes and disappointments of a generation of men. In Some Desperate Glory, historian and biographer Max Egremont gives us a transfiguring look at the life and work of this assemblage of poets. Wilfred Owen with his flaring genius; the intense, compassionate Siegfried Sassoon; the composer Ivor Gurney; Robert Graves who would later spurn his war poems; the nature-loving Edward Thomas; the glamorous Fabian Socialist Rupert Brooke; and the shell-shocked Robert Nichols all fought in the war, and their poetry is a bold act of creativity in the face of unprecedented destruction.
Some Desperate Glory will include a chronological anthology of their poems, with linking commentary, telling the story of the war through their art. This unique volume unites the poetry and the history of the war, so often treated separately, granting readers the pride, strife, and sorrow of the individual soldier’s experience coupled with a panoramic view of the war’s toll on an entire nation.
As curator of this anthology, Egremont usefully and succinctly sets each year of poems in the historical progress of the war and in the biographical context of the hopes, ideals, experiences and emotions of their makers. At first hand we mark the making of them as men and follow the shifting terms of their visions. This is what it was like for them to be there in the mud and blood of the front line (The Times)This is not simply another anthology of the 'best' poetry of the Great War... but an attempt to tell the story of the war through its poets and explore their development through the impact of the conflict on their writing (Spectator)Elegant and convincing . . . an exceptionally thoughtful treatment of 11 complicated men. He lets poignant vignettes take the place of familiar descriptions of the trenches' horrors . . . Egremont reminds the reader that the poems record not one amorphous war but 11 individual conflicts. (The Scotsman)No other five-year period in our history has burned such a deep and powerful scar into our literature. Max Egremont is well qualified to deal with this phenomenon . . . His book is a comfortable cross between a descriptive survey and an anthology . . . Egremont's fine and evocative book is a reminder of what we have lost, besides the lives of our warrior poets. (Standpoint)An absorbing account of the war as experienced by eleven poets (Sean O’Brien TLS)Haunting and beautiful, the work of poets such as Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen continues to fascinate almost 100 years after the war began. . . In his new book, Some Desperate Glory, historian Max Egremont tells the stories of these half-forgotten poets (Ruth Styles Daily Mail)Elegant and convincing . . . Egremont's [Some Desperate Glory] is an exceptionally thoughtful treatment of 11 complicated men. He lets poignant vignettes take the place of familiar descriptions of the trenches' horrors-from Thomas, on his last night of home leave before his death, tenderly carrying his wife upstairs to bed wrapped in his greatcoat and whispering to her 'all is well between us for ever and ever" to Owen's keen distress as the 'universal perversion of Ugliness' that somehow intensified the death he was surrounded by. Above all, Egremont reminds the reader that the poems record not one amorphous war but 11 individual conflicts (Michael Prodger Evening Standard)
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