Siegfried Sassoon in London; Edward Heron-Allen Takes Tea in Tunbridge Wells

Siegfried Sassoon arrived in London at 7 this morning, a century back, to begin the traditional “last leave” before posting abroad. Having only two days and a few hours to spend in London, he set immediately to work having fun, never mind any fatigue from a day of hunting yesterday, followed by an overnight trip from Ireland.

He lunched with his two most important advisors/advocates, Robbie Ross and Eddie Marsh, and went from there to what sounds like a rather long and heavy-hitting sort of concert (anti-German feeling still not running high enough to keep Beethoven’s 5th off the bill), and then back to Ross for dinner. After dinner, Sassoon met with Dr. W.H.R. Rivers, his Craiglockhart savior. But, alas, he wrote nothing of this meeting beyond the bare record–“Sherston” skips the London trip before picking up the diary when he goes abroad, and, wearying, perhaps of the second big biographical push, Siegfried’s Journey doesn’t fill in the blank but merely sends us back to Sherston (who, as we have just learned, is cribbing from Sassoon’s diary) for the coming months… So, because there is little to go on and, also, perhaps, in tacit agreement with Sassoon’s own evident judgment that this brief stay in London interrupts the narrative of his adventures to little effect, even so stalwart a fictionalizing soul as Pat Barker omits this bit of Sasson’s journey as well…[1]

 

Edward Heron-Allen is almost a comically apposite opposite to the younger-than-he-seems, sensitive, amiable, fond-of-presenting-himself-as-ignorant Sassoon: a fussy, elderly/middle-aged, effusive polymath, Heron-Allen has a mind of great discernment, a talent for making adversaries, and not much poetry about him… And, amazingly, today, as Sassoon complicates his present life with his multiple-looking-backs, Heron-Allen looks forward to his own biography–still not yet written, alas.

How is life as an infantry subaltern in a pretty country town? Believe it or not, it is making this eminent Victorian more content with his Englishness…

…This morning I had to get up at 6.15 am, in the darkness of a grey wet morning (the weather is really ‘chronic’) and had breakfast at 7am, though it was too early for coffee or toast. Still–I am acquiring a belated taste for tea! My future biographer will say ‘He took to drinking tea, which he had hitherto detested, at the age of 56’…

…they have route marches on Saturday and glad I was that I was Orderly Officer for they march about 12 miles before 12 noon (parade at 9 am) and the officers have to wear full packs and service equipment. I must get out of that, or reserve my rights to turn back when I give out.[2]

Although I have an innate distrust for anyone who publishes books on palmistry or tries to persecute blustering writers on personal grounds, I also have an instinctive affection for anyone who dotes on the work of their future biographers… so it all evens out…

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Diaries, 211.
  2. Journal, 150-1.

Ivor Gurney in a Nutshell; Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon Eat, Drink, and Mock Merrily; Herbert Read the Very Model of the Modernist Company Commander

A day, today, of striking contrasts. First, Marion Scott seems to have asked Ivor Gurney for some biographical details, presumably for some task related to the publication of his Severn and Somme, which she has single-handedly seen into the press. He responded with a charmingly inexact potted bio:

26 October 1917

Details of the Life and Crimes of the private named Gurney.

Gloucester Cathedral 1900…

Head boy sometime

I have forgotten when I got the Scholarship (I have asked Mrs Hunt to tell you.)
Stanford — Composition
Mr Waddington (whom I like very much) for Counterpoint…

Also the Westminster Board.

Mr Sharpe (a good man) for Piano…

Centre-forward for Kings School

Owner of the “Dorothy” (defunct)

2nd best batting average
3rd best bowling — last term of school

crack platoon shot July 1917

Author of “Severn and Somme”
and a further unborn imbecility.

Army Feb. 9th (?) 1915

Proficiency pay. C[onfined to].B[arracks]. every now and then. Sang Widdecombe Fair
blushingly at Albert Nov: 1916

Wounded Good Friday night — or rather on the Sat:
Gassed (?) at Ypres.[1]

 

A few miles away in Edinburgh, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon spent the day together. It was something of a last hurrah,[2] since Owen’s Medical Board–not to mention Sassoon’s make-up Board–is looming on the horizon. But it was a low-key last hurrah, centered on two things dear to combat soldiers: food and laughter. Owen will write, tomorrow:

I am so happy with Sassoon. Spent all day with him yesterday. Breakfast, Lunch, Tea & Dinner, chiefly at the Conservative Club…[3]

Sassoon provided the chief amusement:

After a good dinner and a bottle of noble Burgundy had put us in good spirits, I produced a volume of portentously over-elaborate verse, recently sent me by the author. From this I began to read extracts—a cursory inspection having assured me that he would find them amusing.

The extracts included bizarrely eccentric lines such as

When Captain Cook first sniff’d the wattle
And love Columbus’d Aristotle…

Which left Owen “surrendering to convulsions of mirth in a large leather-covered armchair.” Before joining Owen in this surrender, Sassoon managed to get as far as:

What cassock’d misanthrope
Hawking peace-canticles for glory-gain,
Hymns from his rostrum’d height th’epopt of Hate?

O is it true I have become
This gourd, this gothic vacuum?[4]

Very bad poetry is funny, it’s true…

 

Herbert Read, however, is a serious-minded Modernist, and, in today’s letter to Evelyn Roff, he writes… well, perhaps from the heart, perhaps to impress, perhaps some of both. But he certainly becomes the first poet here to quote an abstract contemporary poem in lieu of describing what his latest tour in the line was like–in lieu of Dante, Bunyan,  or the Bible. It’s also, for us, a remote crossing of paths: the poem he quotes–almost accurately–is by the important Modernist H.D., wife of Richard Aldington (and current hostess of D.H. Lawrence).

We have had a terrible time–the worst I have ever experienced (and I’m getting quite an old soldier now). Life has never seemed quite so cheap nor nature so mutilated. I won’t paint the horrors to you. Some day I think I will, generally and for the public benefit.

This casual-but-major statement of intent, with Read’s habitual mix of studied rationality stretched thin over his ambition, is especially noteworthy if we follow his train of thought. It makes very good sense, of course, to go from horror to the hope of writing to the question of what writing the war might accomplish… which would be some sort of attempt to bridge–or at least signal across–the yawning gulf that separates combat veterans from civilians. Very good sense: but I feel as if we don’t often see these two thoughts nakedly next to each other, and in this order. Sassoon feels the gulf and then writes in anger and in ways which are neither didactic nor conciliatory; Read wants to write, and then thinks of the gulf…

I was thoroughly ‘fed up’ with the attitude of most of the people I met on leave–especially the Londoners. They simply have no conception whatever of what war is really like and don’t seem concerned about it at all. They are much more troubled about a few paltry air raids. They raise a sentimental scream about one or two babies killed when every day out here hundreds of the very finest manhood ‘go west’.

…and then he comes back to the anger. This we saw as long ago as 1915, but it is getting worse.

And yet Read pulls up short again, and turns, doing an unusual sort of somersault back over the gulf. He will describe war, but he will use the words of a civilian and a woman–a woman moreover in a position analogous to the letter’s addressee: both are women in England with long experience in waiting for the next letter, and fearing the next telegram.

Of course, everyday events are apt to become rather monotonous. . . . but if the daily horror might accumulate we should have such a fund of revulsion as would make the world cry ‘enough!’ So sometimes I wonder if it is a sacred duty after all ‘to paint the horrors’. This reminds me of a poem I’ll quote–by one of our moderns and a woman at that.

Another life holds what this lacks,
a sea, unmoving, quiet—
not forcing our strength
to rise to it, beat on beat—
a stretch of sand,
no garden beyond, strangling
with its myrrhlilies—
a hill not set with black violets
but stones, stones, bare rocks,
dwarf-trees, twisted, no beauty
to distract—to crowd
madness upon madness.

Only a still place
and perhaps some outer horror
some hideousness to stamp beauty,
a mark
on our hearts.

H.D.

Perhaps the quotation has too much of the gesture about it–“See, I read women!”–but it’s not impossible to read it as whole sincere. This is a novel way of reaching out to Roff, across the gulf, and implying that she is to be considered an honorary combatant, able to understand something of its horror and not get hysterical about “a few paltry air raids.” And even if it is working hard to emphasize their connection, it’s not a bad quotation at all: the poem, with its horror and ruinscape and madness, is quite a good fit for the Salient in 1917. Which, I suppose, could be said of a lot of Modernist poetry, especially for those readers who might find the Christian framework of the old standby descriptions of Hell or the Slough of Despond off-putting…

In any event, Read is not just the impressively intellectual and in-touch boyfriend, here: he is also, to a surprising degree, given the emphasis on accumulating horrors, a happy warrior. This is not as uncommon a combination as we might think–Sassoon is the most obvious analogue, of course, but we might also remember gentle Roland Leighton‘s thirst for a decoration–and Read should, even in a somewhat preening letter, be given credit for facing up to the apparent contradiction.

War is horrible, but he’s enjoying himself; it’s more than can be borne, but he’s bearing it quite well:

My military progress continues… I  am now commanding a company… I thoroughly enjoy my despotism… I have got a fine lot of lads though they are fastly decreasing in numbers… they are a gallant crew: we have more decorations in our company than in any other in the battalion. I got four Military Medals today out of seven for the battalion. And damn proud of it we all are…

My subalterns (notice the ‘my’–sort of possessive pride) are quite a good lot…

The day grows long, so instead of transcribing the characters-of-the-company piece which closes the letter, I will merely summarize his band of brothers. They are much what we would expect: the quiet old guy of thirty or so; the sturdy, pretty-eyed optimist; the boastful but efficient sportsman; and, most promising, the “young rake of the cockney variety”…[5]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. War Letters, 226-7.
  2. But not as much as Sassoon remembers it to be, since he seems to confuse/conflate two memories, including aspects of their next evening out in this description, or vice versa...
  3. Collected Letters, 503.
  4. Siegfried’s Journey, 64-65. See also Hibberd, Wilfred Owen, 278-9. The unfortunate author was one Aylmer Strong; Sassoon presented Owen with the volume.
  5. The Contrary Experience, 112-14.

A Triple Testament in Verse From Edward Thomas; Bimbo Tennant to the Staff; Rowland Feilding is Back

Edward Thomas finished his cycle of “Household” poems today, a century back. We’ve read his poem to his elder daughter, Bronwen, and he has now also written verses for his other children, Merfyn and Myfanwy.

If I were to own this countryside
As far as a man in a day could ride,
And the Tyes were mine for giving or letting,–
Wingle Tye and Margaretting
Tye,–and Skreens, Gooshays, and Cockerells,
Shellow, Rochetts, Bandish, and Pickerells,
Martins, Lambkins, and Lillyputs,
Their copses, ponds, roads, and ruts,
Fields where plough-horses steam and plovers
Fling and whimper, hedges that lovers
Love, and orchards, shrubberies, walls
Where the sun untroubled by north wind falls,
And single trees where the thrush sings well
His proverbs untranslatable,
I would give them all to my son
If he would let me any one
For a song, a blackbird’s song, at dawn.
He should have no more, till on my lawn
Never a one was left, because I
Had shot them to put them into a pie,–
His Essex blackbirds, every one,
And I was left old and alone.

Then unless I could pay, for rent, a song
As sweet as a blackbird’s, and as long–
No more–he should have the house, not I:
Margaretting or Wingle Tye,
Or it might be Skreens, Gooshays, or Cockerells,
Shellow, Rochetts, Bandish, or Pickerells,
Martins, Lambkins, or Lillyputs,
Should be his till the cart tracks had no ruts.

Edna Longley points out that this poem shares the same sense of rural-reverie tending toward whimsy that appears in both poems to his daughters, yet is also both more pointed and more troubled. There is the question of “rent” here, and the smile provoked by such avidly loving bird-murdering might be a slightly queasy one. Not to mention the bit about the possession of the house…[1]

And for Myfanwy, the youngest, Thomas both strays furthest into fantasy and goes straightaway home to their house in the village of Steep. Farthest–but not so far: the place-names in these poems are, apparently, real old English place names, places that can–or could, in those pre-rural-development days of a century back–be visited. So what’s for Myfanwy?

What shall I give my daughter the younger
More than will keep her from cold and hunger?
I shall not give her anything.
If she shared South Weald and Havering,
Their acres, the two brooks running between,
Paine’s Brook and Weald Brook,
With pewit, woodpecker, swan, and rook,
She would be no richer than the queen
Who once on a time sat in Havering Bower
Alone, with the shadows, pleasure and power.
She could do no more with Samarcand,
Or the mountains of a mountain land
And its far white house above cottages
Like Venus above the Pleiades.
Her small hands I would not cumber
With so many acres and their lumber,
But leave her Steep and her own world
And her spectacled self with hair uncurled,
Wanting a thousand little things
That time without contentment brings.

And lastly, his wife Helen. Thomas wrote the final poem of the sequence today, a century back. There are echoes of the same nature-enthusiasm and cycle-closing references to the theme of whimsically willing the world to his children. Yet Helen’s poem is very different, too. We might have suspected that all this bequeathing, despite its near-lightheartedness, conceals both guilt about a failure to provide in the past (emotionally, financially) and worries about future absences. Thomas now addresses these issues–and his wife–directly.

And you, Helen, what should I give you?
So many things I would give you
Had I an infinite great store
Offered me and I stood before
To choose. I would give you youth,
All kinds of loveliness and truth,
A clear eye as good as mine,
Lands, waters, flowers, wine,
As many children as your heart
Might wish for, a far better art
Than mine can be, all you have lost
Upon the travelling waters tossed,
Or given to me. If I could choose
Freely in that great treasure-house
Anything from any shelf,
I would give you back yourself,
And power to discriminate
What you want and want it not too late,
Many fair days free from care
And heart to enjoy both foul and fair,
And myself, too, if I could find
Where it lay hidden and it proved kind.

The lyric poet cannot but be self-centered, and the idea of the depressed, emotionally distant, difficult husband magnanimously granting his wife her “self” is another superficially heart-warming sentiment that leaves the cockles rather more chilled than warmed. This poem, read as evidence about the state and history of their marriage, seems troubling, perhaps even manipulative. Hasn’t Thomas recently been taking long walks with another woman?

But I don’t want to read it that way. Nor do I want to read mitigating circumstances–their shotgun marriage, his mental health–into the record. It’s just a poem, written by a camp-confined soldier-poet who is thinking of his family.

Or we might even consider it a poem, unstuck in time, from the poet to his (notional) wife. And as such, it’s very, very sad. He’s taken her life from her–unhappily, unwillingly–and he would give it back, with his love, with his own self… if he knew it, and where it was, and… if he were truly kind.

 

So never mind about losing track of Bim Tennant. I’ve found more letters, and they report that he has returned to France now to accept a staff job–in part, he privately opined, because his properly Guardsmanlike and unironically Asquithian abhorrence of the safety and regimental-separation of staff work has been temporarily overcome by another family concern: his mother is heavily pregnant (!) and he does not want to cause her worry. So the staff it is:

. . . I got here this morning and everyone has been very nice to me. I am to be A.D.C. to General Fielding, and help with anything that requires it. I worked in the Office this afternoon looking people up in the Army List, and entering their particulars into an enormous ledger… The General is very nice. No news as it has been a quiet day.

The news, when it does come, will be pretty amusing. Let’s just say that staff work will not be grueling for our Bim. Nor is he likely to inform his “darling ‘Moth” that copying names “into an enormous ledger” might not be spectacularly fulfilling work.

And here, by the by, is a list of what Bimbo has been reading while his leave, which had been extended due to a bout of flu:

De la Mare’s “The Three Mullah Mulgars,” “The Republic of Plato” in the Golden Treasury Series, translated by Davies and Vaughan; Samuel Rogers’ “Table Talk…” “Poems of Memory and Hope,” by Newbolt, and the collection of verse that is called ” A Thousand and One Gems.”

In the latter anthology Tennant marked “The Battle of Agincourt ” by Michael Drayton, several bits from Henry V, and… wait for it…  Milton’s “Lycidas.” He also marked two poems entitled “Immortality,” and ” Intimations of a Previous Existence,” and read through the proofs of “a privately printed volume… being at this time in preparation,” namely his own letters, which we have been reading.[2]

 

Finally, today marks the return to France of Rowland Feilding, who has been in blighty since November, recuperating from an injury incurred in the war zone… when he crashed his bicycle. He’s had an attractive crossing, at least…

April 9, 1916. Harfleur

We got here a little before one yesterday afternoon, after the 5-mile march from the landing-stage at Havre. The sea was like glass, and the scene was very picturesque and rather spectral as our ship lay to outside the great submarine net, waiting for darkness before setting out. The sun sank into the horizon a gorgeous red, and was followed by the flashes of signals from the destroyers and other craft which surrounded us, while the searchlights played upon the sky, looking for German aeroplanes….[3]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. See Longley, The Annotated Collected Poems, 285-8.
  2. Edward Wyndham Tennant, 180-6.
  3. War Letters to a Wife, 71.

Siegfried Sassoon on Leave; Edward Thomas Between a Love Lyric and a Hard Place; The Afterlife of Charles Sorley II: Unquiet Graves; Kate Luard is Losing One Patient, While Another Struggles On

A strange day, today, of poetic discoveries, lengthy disquisitions, and exquisite avoidances.

First, Edward Thomas. I haven’t been certain how to handle the odd overlaps–and silent interstices–of his many writings, and now things get complicated. There are letters a-plenty, but he has also been writing poems–including, for the first time, love poems. And he has been, for three months now, carrying on something very close to a love affair with Edna Clarke Hall.

The two had met sixteen years before, when both were already married, and already unhappy. There had been an attraction–a fairly intense attraction–some get-togethers, with others present, and, then, nothing more for fiftreen years. Edna now lived, now, a century back, and as hap happened to hap, within walking distance of Hare Hall Camp. She had two children, but she was lonely–her husband spent the week in London, working as a barrister and directing charities that cared for the children of prostitutes. Thomas turned up one day in November, and the friendship was rekindled. They began meeting for walks and wide-ranging talks–Clarke Hall was a successful painter and an amateur poet–and for… well, who knows what else.

There has been no scandal, but Thomas does not discuss the relationship in his letters. Were the meetings “innocent?” Or were the two already emotionally or sexually intertwined? We don’t know, and we won’t know–it’s not even clear whether they met only a few times or regularly, for months. If it really was an “affair” (although, again, there is a region of connection–and infidelity–that swells for miles on either side of the thin line of sexual betrayal) then it is hardly likely that Thomas would write to his circle of friends about it. They were all men who knew his family, who had heard him lament not only his incompatibility with his wife but his poor treatment of her. All except for Eleanor Farjeon, who loved him but had nevertheless been accepted by Helen Thomas as a family friend and fellow unrequited lover. Another strange complication. But anyway: no letters about Clarke Hall, yet.

And by the same token, as this relationship suddenly, er, blossoms anew, Thomas could hardly not have written poetry about it. He had written very little that could be described as love poetry, until, suddenly, last week, “Those Things That Poets Said,” which despairs of love’s future, and “No One So Much As You,” which certainly does not. There was even a playful poem on Valentine’s Day which certainly sounds like the sort of thing a courting, flirtatious poet would write.

She is most fair,
And when they see her pass
The poets’ ladies
Look no more in the glass
But after her.

On a bleak moor
Running under the moon
She lures a poet,
Once proud or happy, soon
Far from his door…

There’s the straight goods. But Thomas is wily, slippery. Here’s the last stanza:

She is to be kissed
Only perhaps by me;
She may be seeking
Me and no other; she
May not exist.

A coy glance to the lover, and a rude gesture to the biographical critic…  But back to the second poem. It begins:

No one so much as you
Loves this my clay,
Or would lament as you
Its dying day.

You know me through and through
Though I have not told,
And though with what you know
You are not bold.

None ever was so fair
As I thought you:
Not a word can I bear
Spoken against you.

Who was this to? What was it about? Today’s letter to his wife may be a gentle laugh and shake of the head. But we are suspicious folk, and it smacks rather of painful reading…

Thursday 24 February 1916 Hare Hall, Gidea Park, Romford

Dearest

Fancy you thinking those verses had anything to do with you. Fancy your thinking, too, that I should let you see them if they were. They are not to a woman at all. You know precisely all that I know of any woman I have cared a little for.

This is probably quite true–or can be meant as completely true, in the moment. Thomas was neither a fink nor a coward, and he had made a point of discussing the original relationship with Clarke Hall with his wife Helen. He even openly discussed a more distressing infatuation with a schoolgirl. So they do discuss their problems, and his attractions to other women. But has he mentioned, yet, the return of Edna?

And however truthful he may have been so far, the letter continues with a curveball. (A googly? Apologies for national idiomatic lapses.)

They are as a matter of fact to father. So now, unless you choose to think I am deceiving you (which I don’t think I ever did), you can be at ease again. Silly old thing to jump so to conclusions. You might as well have concluded the verses to Mother were for you. As to the other verses about love you know my usual belief is that I don’t and can’t love and haven’t done for something near 20 years. You know too that you don’t think my nature really compatible with love, being so clear and critical. You know how unlike I am to you, and you know that you love, so how can I? That is if you count love as any one feeling and not something varying infinitely with the variety of people.

I’m just going to leave that last paragraph alone. There’s a whole marriage there, decades of misery, probable blind-spots and half-truths, and either a tongue-in-cheek avoidance of the issue or an unbearable condescension and shutting-down of the woman who has stood quite a lot from him over the years. Either way, it’s too much for this blog… So let’s sweep this all under the rug for now, o.k. Edward?

Thank Bronwen for her letter and give her a large kiss.

We are all fairly deep in snow today. I got one snowball in the ear but luckily only on the flesh of the ear…

I am all yours Edwy[1]

 

Two short notes to cleanse the palate:

T. E. Hulme is going after Bertrand Russell again in The New Age today (available here), but I am happy enough to admit a lapse of interest in this almost-completed political-philosophical run.

And our Siegfried is on leave, due to have arrived in London this morning at Waterloo at 10 a.m. He will spend the night tonight, a century back, with his Uncle Hamo Thorneycroft, the sculptor and friend of Thomas Hardy. Thence he will go to the family home, Weirleigh, where he must see his mother–for the first time since the death of Uncle Hamo’s namesake, Siegfried’s brother, Hamo Sassoon.

 

And now, ladies and gentleman, Robert Graves, in the grip of a new and most significant enthusiasm.

24 February 1916

My dear Eddie

I am sorry to hear that you never got my long letter written in January all about how much I loved Georgian Poetry, and kindred subjects. An eight sheet letter gone west! And I’ll never be able to recapture my first fine, careless rapture after the first reading of the splendid book which is perhaps the most treasured possession I have out here…

If you think this is laying it on thick, well: it gets thicker. Graves is awfully young, sometimes. He may believe that he is being reasonably complimentary instead of obsequious, and even if this is a miscalculation, the fawning is interspersed with Graves’s gawkily appealing (sometimes in the “can’t… look… away…” sense) overconfidence. He writes that he loves “nearly every piece in it… and most of all Rupert‘s ‘Heaven’ and ‘The Great Lover’ and ‘The Soldier’ and all the rest.” And yet he intersperses criticisms of Masefield and Bottomley.

Here’s the thing, though: this letter comes not so much to praise Eddie Marsh as to sound the gong of his impending burial. Well, that’s over-dramatic. But still, Graves isn’t writing to thank a mentor for guidance but rather to pass on a recommendation of his own:

I’ve just discovered a brilliant young poet called Sorley whose poems have just appeared in the Cambridge Press (Marlborough and Other Poems, 3s. 6d.) and who was killed near Loos on October 13th as a temporary captain in the 7th Suffolk Regiment. It seems ridiculous to fall in love with a dead man as I have found myself doing but he seems to have been one so entirely after my own heart in his loves and hates, besides having been just my own age and having spent just the same years at Marlboro’ as I spent at Ch’house. He got a classical scholarship at University College, Oxford, the same year as I was up and I half-remember meeting him there.

“Half-remember?” This seems more of a wishful crossing of paths than even half a memory of one. Would it be possible to run down the lists of who sat for which scholarship exam on which day? Perhaps… but 1913 was so long ago.

In any event, Graves is very serious in his enthusiasm for Sorley’s new book, writing “Don’t you like this:” and then copying out for Marsh almost the entirety of All the Hills and Vales Along. He follows this up with opportunistic literary criticism:

He seems to have been under Rupert’s influence rather in his method. Listen:

Victor and vanquished are a-one in death:
Coward and brave: friend, foe. Ghosts do not say,
“Come, what was your record when you drew breath?”
But a big blot has hid each yesterday
So poor, so manifestly incomplete.
And your bright promise, withered long and sped,
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead.

Well, perhaps, perhaps not. Sorley loathed Brooke, and this, the second of his “Two Sonnets,” is unusual, not a typical example of Sorley’s tragically early “late” style. Graves, however, is smitten with the story of Sorley as much as the poetry. Or at least its stark outline.

He wrote that out here in June: he came out, like me, in May.

What waste!

Graves’s next subject is of course his own work. He brags a bit about having become a competent lecturer, repeating the familiar line about “how to keep happy, though in the trenches.” But what he really want to talk about is poetry. He is confident that he will soon have a book of verse in print, and he proposes–or tells Marsh that he has proposed to Monro–the new catch phrase ‘C’est la guerre‘ as a title. The phrase has

been consecrated by countless instance of French and Belgian fortitude in trouble and is perhaps the best-known expression in all the allied armies. It has a laugh and an apology in it and expresses just what I want, an explanation–an excuse almost–for the tremendous change in tone and method and standpoint which you must have noticed between the first and last parts of the verse-cycle, a hardening and coarsening and loss of music.[2]

It does seem like a good title–but it does not seem as if publishers are as sanguine as Graves. Still, things are moving: only yesterday, Robert’s father, Alfred Perceval Graves, who has been handling his son’s poetic affairs, noted that Marsh had arranged to see some of Robert’s poems printed in the Westminster Gazette–and claimed credit for revising them.[3]

So enthusiasm, and even a bit of rivalry, with Charles Sorley, now three months dead. Graves’s more or less flatly incorrect idea that Sorley was influenced by Brooke is nonetheless revealing: Graves is not the only person to read Sorley’s poems in the modest volume prepared by his parents, but he will be both an important advocate for Sorley’s work and something of a disciple. Brooke is dead, and he has a death-grip on the popular image of war poetry. But Sorley has sketched out the path away from such gauzy, inspirational, empty-calorie war poems, and Graves is eager, now, to help make that path a well-traveled highway.

 

Before we get to today’s piece of not-that-short short fiction, an update from the recent tribulations in Kate Luard’s hospital. Sister Luard had taken a moment early this morning to write an exultant note about the nearly miraculous improvement shown by one of her patients–the long-hopelessly ill but tenacious “Medical boy”–after steady doses of Atropin. Later in the day, she wrote again.

Thursday, February 24th

The world is still fast bound in frost and snow and we have some very sick men in. The poor boy in the Medical succeeded in dying this afternoon after a hideous illness of a fortnight.

One patient sinks, and another rises.

The Flying boy is better, thank Heaven. The drip treatment is doing wonders with his leg, and he is getting over the shock…

Don’t look up “The Drip Treatment” if you don’t really want to know.

But I think it’s worth breaking in again to note just how unique Luard’s position is, here. She is betwixt and between: behind the front lines, yet far from safe; not a civilian but not a soldier either; not quite as old as young soldiers’ mothers, but too old to be a sister or a sweetheart. And it’s that last one that’s really new–who do we have that can sympathize with both the clueless mothers and their sweet, suffering children?

When I showed him the bit in the C. in Chief’s communiqué about him in The Times to-day he said: ‘If mother sees that I expect she’ll feel bucked.’ Poor Mother–she writes such jolly letters to him, which he insists on my reading to him–anxious one day because he hasn’t written, and relieved the next because he has. Evidently she thinks each day he may have to be looked for or not have come home…[4]

 

And since it’s been a nice short post, let’s include an entire story–or “sketch, rather”–written by Noel Hodgson today, a century back. No need to read it, of course, but it’s a pretty good piece. It’s in the “trench veteran explains the life to the folks at home” vein, and it anatomizes one of the everyday stressors of trench duty, the dangerous drudgery of the working party. This is the sort of work that got Roland Leighton killed.

There is mud, and muddled communications, a heavy front-load of bureaucracy for a young subaltern and dangerous physical loads for his men. This is a relatively cheerful piece, balancing realism with the implicit requirement to show high morale in adversity among the common British soldiers… but it makes clear the misery of these fatigues.

The sketch is notable, too, for certain claims that will become typical of Great War first-person writing, whether explicitly autobiographical or fictional. One of these is the simple, yet gratingly paradoxical “you–you to whom I am writing–cannot know what it’s like.” Well, Hodgson puts it better: “Now begins one of those lamentable progresses of which no conception can be gained by anyone who has not made them.” And yet you are writing, and we are reading, and we are not doing so to be at one with out hopeless ignorance across an experiential gulf of time and space… Also, Hodgson will not be the last writer to reach for Bunyan, and describe no man’s land as a “slough of despond.”

The Working Party

The Brigade begins it, always. To us—“resting” in close billets comes a message, over the wire to our Orderly Room. It is a humble edifice of sandbag and brick, our Orderly Room, built with an eye to efficiency rather than to beauty, and measuring twelve feet by sixteen. Inside it this afternoon are a red-hot brazier, the regimental sergeant-major, the Orderly Room sergeant and his clerk, a dog, the telephonist on duty, with his relief asleep on the floor, and seated on a ration box that cheerful tyrant, the adjutant. All of them, except the sleeper and the dog, are smoking, the brazier in particular, and the atmosphere has attained a richness not known in civilian society. The telephonist has been conducting one of the unintelligible discussions pertaining to his kind for some minutes. This results in a pink paper being laid before the adjutant. Which reads;—

“O.C. 9th Devonshires,—You will find the following fatigues, 100 men and 2 officers to report to Lieut. Exe; R.E., at Hubert cross-roads at 6 p.m., 50 men and one officer to report to O.C. 2nd Aberdeen Highlanders at 6.30 p.m.

Y. Zedd, Capt., —th Inf. Bde.”

The adjutant presses down the tobacco in his pipe, “Parade states, Richards.” The sergeant hands him a bunch of papers, after a brief study of which he begins to write swiftly on a message pad.

Ten minutes later a second pink form is borne into the Headquarters of D Company; a batman hurries from
Headquarters and rouses a sleepy company-sergeant-major from his bunk, who crosses to Headquarters, and re-issuing shortly afterwards, lays hold on his orderly sergeant, with the result that Privates Jones, Smith, Robinson, and their fellows are warned by their respective section-commanders to “parade at 5.45 in fighting order and capes for working-party.” In the Army the “little fleas have lesser fleas” is reduced to a science, and is known as de-centralisation of command. Note that we say working-party—we are not conscripts, and “ fatigues ” are for prisoners, not for decent soldiers.

It is ten minutes to six, and fifty men, shrouded in the long capes which are the best gift the Government has ever made to their soldiers, are drawn up on the road, while a small rain filters down upon them. Presently in the growing dusk appears a subaltern, armed with an electric torch and a broom handle. The voice of the sergeant-major rings out, “Parade, ’tchun,” and the fifty men click into immobility. Turning sharply on his heels the sergeant-major salutes, “Working party present, sir; fifty men under Sergeant Grant.” “Thank you, sergeant-major,” says the subaltern, returning the salute, “we shall be back about midnight; warn the cooks.”

He turns to the line of cloaked figures . . . with a rattle of equipment and splash of boots in mud, the party moves off. On either side of the road are innumerable shell holes, most of which are relics of a notable offensive, during which this suffering country underwent twenty hours of the most appalling shell-fire in the history of the war. All along two miles of road are shattered houses, broken carts, ruined barns, and the countless potholes half filled with water, where the German shells burst on that fierce day. But at present all is peace, and the men step out cheerily with a cheerful noise of converse, in spite of mud and rain, till they arrive at a crossroads in the centre of a ruined village, where the completest chaos since the Fire of London appears to be in progress. The ration-parties of four regiments, four hundred men on working-party, two dozen limbered wagons, half a Field Company of R.E. are seething here, and two indefatigable R.E. officers and a M.P. Sergeant work like heroes to forestall confusion—and succeed. By eight o’clock all will be clear and orderly again.

“I think,” says our subaltern, “a short cut is indicated; advance in single file—left wheel,” and he leads the way among the heaps of blasted masonry, through the rent graveyard where a gaunt crucifix stands unshaken and protestant among the desolation, out on to a rough and broken road. The rain has ceased, and a strong breeze is driving ragged cloud-drifts over the fitful moon; one of the periods of quiet that often occur at night has settled upon the line, and even the whicker of spent bullets is not heard. Pipes and cigarettes are put out for safety’s sake, as we know how accurately the enemy has this road marked down, and at any moment a whirlwind of shells may punish a careless act. But to-night we are in luck and peace lasts till the party arrives in the reserve trenches, where two companies of the Aberdeens are stationed. Here the party is halted under cover of a bank, while the subaltern goes off to report. Soon he returns with adjutant of the Aberdeens, who shows him his task, the transportation of a vast pile of “doorsteps” to the front line. “Doorsteps” are contraptions of corrugated wood, seven or eight feet long and twenty inches wide, used for flooring muddy trenches.

These would more generally be referred to as “duckboards.”

The subaltern measures the heap with his eye; “two men to each doorstep,” he orders, and theleading couple lay hold on their burden. “One man can carry a doorstep,” suggests the adjutant. “Yes, but he can’t swim with it,” is the prompt reply, as the second pair lift their timber from the pile. The adjutant agrees, laughing, “Well, it’s your funeral, any way.”

Now begins one of those lamentable progresses of which no conception can be gained by anyone who has not made them. The trenches being water-logged the advance is over the open; the open ground happens to be a marsh, in which at every step the water flows in over the boot-tops; intersecting it are numerous ditches, some bridged by a narrow plank, some not at all, in which lurk some four or five feet of mud and water. Across this slough of despond staggers the long file of carriers, expanding and contracting like a concertina. The leading man falls down, dropping his end of the doorstep with a jerk that nearly dislocates his companion’s neck; into them bump the next pair and halt abruptly, with the result that doorstep No. 3 hits the rear member of the couple a severe blow on the back of the head. This happens all down the line, and a crackling fire of profanity accompanies it. Performing miracles of agility with his broom handle the subaltern gets the procession on the move once more. Naturally, each pair wait till their “next-ahead” has moved, with the result that they lose half-a-dozen yards, and by the time all are under way the line extends for two hundred yards. Then doorstep No. 7 falls, and when it is retrieved. No. 6 is already disappearing in the darkness. Immediately arises a plaintive wail of “Steady in front; not so fast, which ultimately reaches the subaltern’s ears. He halts the head of the column and ploughs back in the slough till he finds No. 7, to whom he addresses an admirably terse invective, and then joins up the broken centipede. Up-to-date they have advanced a bare four hundred yards and have been eighty minutes on the job. The first ditch how bars their progress, an affair of eight foot width, of which the banks are more treacherous than sloping ice, spanned by a single ten-inch plank, itself covered in mud. Privates Burns and Clatworthy, bearing the first doorstep, decide unanimously that any attempt to cross in couples will be disastrous. In the absence of the officer who is blasphemously regulating traffic in rear, they think it will be a sound plan to throw the doorstep over first and then cross singly. “One, two, three—’eave,” and a soggy splash announces the arrival of the doorstep on the further bank, Messrs. Burns and Clatworthy cross in high content, and discover to their dismay that the doorstep is not to be found.

“What’s up?” comes the hoarse query of Private Wood, with No. 2 doorstep. “ T’ blanky thing’s lost i’ the muck,” is the wrathful reply. “Damn fool,” says Wood dispassionately, and puts down his doorstep and sits on it. The subaltern now arrives fuming, and the errant timber is dug up, coated in slime, to the intense disgust of Burns and Clatworthy, and the grim satisfaction of Private Wood. Now is apparent the use of the long broom-handle, which is held by Sergeant Grant and the officer banister-wise beside the plank, to prevent the men falling off. One man does contrive to fall off, but only goes in waist deep. “Who’s yon?” asks Sergeant Grant fiercely, as the lamentable figure is hauled out like a cork from a bottle. “When Ah’ve gotten this—mud off me Ah’ll be Deakin,” is the gloomy response. “You’ll be deekin’ (looking) to find yer ain feet, laddie,” a Hibernian voice in rear proclaims, and a subdued laugh rumbles out of the darkness.

A cheerful bit–and notice how non-violent this piece has been. Is this the “live and let live” we have heard about, or does the working party not present a decent enough target to German machine-gunners in the front and reserve lines? Well, it doesn’t matter, for–in another very typical invocation of the strangely oblique relationship between the laboring infantryman and the dogs of war–it’s the artillery, pursuing its inscrutable motives, that decides whether danger and death will interrupt this slog.

So the pilgrimage continues, with infinite labour and little incident except on one occasion when a Boche gunner, finding time heavy on his hands, fires two shells on, to the Hubert cross-roads. Some signaller in the vicinity rouses a neighbouring battery, and a sudden bark from behind our trenches is followed by four wicked red snaps of shrapnel over some German billet far away. This is the policy of retaliation, which is an excellent policy for all except the person retaliated on, who is invariably entirely innocent of the original aggression. As a rule it is a case of “visiting the sins of the gunners upon the infantry.” On this particular occasion there must have been some Boches within the scope of our response who were hurt by our promptness, for no less than three salvoes burst soon after in the region of the reserve trenches of the Aberdeens. The British gunners, possessing ammunition and feeling piqued, promptly laid a barrage on to the German support line and caught a large wiring party on the hip. Our subaltern, taught by experience, passed back an order for all his men to drop their doorsteps and lie on them. Events fully justified his caution, for brother Boche began to traverse the Aberdeens’ front trench with machine-guns, and to plop a large number of trench-mortar canisters into the space between the front and the support lines. At length the hostility died down, and both sides turned to the laborious task of conveying their wounded back to the dressing stations.

Again: cheerful, with no narrator’s voice to lament or complain or point out foolishness. This is a grunt’s-eye-view setch, and if the grunt’s complaining is only of the cheerful British working man’s sort, well, then all is well with His Majesty’s Armies.

And yet it is very clear here that these men have been sent out to a job without the higher-ups taking any interest in their welfare. If their subaltern was new, or a fool, or too interested in courage and face, they would have taken heavy casualties. There is no heroism here but finishing the task, and the only answer to enemy fire is to lie down in the mud and hope for survival. “Passive suffering,” which will one day be a phrase invoked in the debate about Great War poetry, is clearly already a proper theme for even implicitly pro-war-effort fiction. How could it not be?

The carrying party rises stiffly and prepared to take up their burdens.

* * * *

At half-past twelve there may be descried on the road that runs between the crump-holes, a party of fifty men and an officer tramping homeward to the strains of “Turn the dark cloud inside out, till the boys come home.” Cheery little cigarette-ends gleam in the darkness, and the subaltern is smoking what was once a fine specimen of Fribourg and Treyer’s art in pipes. They are soaked to the waist, but the night is over and the day is approaching when no man can work—because the Boche sees him—so why be gloomy? Moreover, soup is in sight, and rum.

Into the ruined farm they swing, and halt smartly. “Left turn—by the right—there will be soup and rum issue at once—dismiss.” The men turn to the right, salute, and fall out in a babel of sound. From the cookhouse appear two men haling a steaming dixie, and the subaltern fetches from Headquarters a large stone jar. In the centre of the billet is a glowing brazier; steam of soup mingles with steam of drying trousers; blankets are unrolled and boots removed. In the doorway the subaltern measures out the 1-64 of a gallon of rum, to which each man is entitled, into a tiny mug, and each in turn tosses it off with “good health, sir.” The youngest soldiers cough and splutter at the raw spirit to the infinite diversion of the old hands, who ask them, “What’s your number?” well knowing what will be the result of an attempt to reply. Last of all the subaltern drinks his tot. “Good-night, boys, you worked very well,” and off he stumps to Headquarters, where his servant is ready for him with hot tea and dry breeches. The mail is in with several letters, which he reads while drinking his tea before the dying fire. Then a couple of blankets, bundle of straw, and Lethe, dreamless and deep.

In the Orderly Room the adjutant, sticky-eyed and blinking, is writing: “Work report. A party under Sec.-Lieut. Smith carried from Old Line to Orkney Terrace.”

It is over—till to-morrow night.

February 24th, 1916.[5]

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Letters to Helen, 81.
  2. In Broken Images, 39-40.
  3. Richard Perceval Graves, Robert Graves, The Assault Heroic, 143.
  4. Unknown Warriors, 43-44.
  5. Verse and Prose in Peace and War, 51-9.

An Invocation of Robert Nichols; Edward Thomas Enjoys His Shrunken Horizons; Vera Brittain on the Fruits of Labor and the Danger of Brooke; “Dads” Congreve is on the Attack

We shall soon have a new poet in France. Robert Nichols (Winchester, Trinity [Oxford]) is fairly typical of our New Army subalterns: twenty years old at the outset, gently bred, poetical–and certain that his destiny must bring him into the great combat of the age. Nichols is of the mildly Romantic/rebellious subset of Public School Boys, however–a self-styled pagan in the manner, perhaps, of Rupert Brooke–and he was not physically robust. But he was determined to join the army, so, like Siegfried Sassoon, he made good use of a horsey local major. The same retired officer who doubted his ability to march with the infantry gave him a crash course in horsemanship and then smoothed his way into the horse artillery, and by the end of August Nichols had been commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery, a member of Kitchener’s First Hundred Thousand.

New artillery units were equipped more slowly than infantry units, and required much more extensive training to get into fighting shape. Naturally, Nichols remembered this as an idyll:

That year of training is the happiest I have so far experienced. I had everything (save one) the heart could possibly desire–the sky over me, beautiful horses, loyal companions in the men, an officer whom I intensely admired as my major, a definite and, in its way, noble creed–for I never thought of killing: if ever I thought of the future I was merely certain that I should be killed.

A common certainty, and one born as much of childhood reading as from the increasingly dire news from the front. In a way, this is as good a one-sentence recapitulation of the New Army subaltern’s first-year mindset as we could ask for: happiness and horses and comradeship in the open air; hero-worship and tragic Romantic certainties.

Such a first year also provided a great deal of time for writing, and Nichols breaks a bit from the familiar mold of the poetickal subaltern in his early success–he has gotten himself published before getting himself into battle.[1]

 

Invocation

Courage born of Fire and Steel,
Thee I invoke, thee I desire
Who constant holdst the hearts that reel
Beneath the steel, beneath the fire.
Though in my mind no torment is.
Yet in my being’s hazard mesh
There run such threads of cowardice
That I must dread my untrue flesh.
Therefore possess me and so dower
The sword’s weak spot that the true blade
May not in least nor direst hour
Betray the spirit unafraid.

This poem appeared today, a century back, as something of a harbinger: The Times has seen fit to publish a special “War Poems Supplement,” which put Nichols among such famous names as Robert Bridges, the reigning Poet Laureate, and our two pole-star elders: Hardy (‘Song of the Soldiers’ [i.e. ‘Men Who March Away‘) and Kipling (‘For all we Have and Are’). There are younger men, too, names familiar (Walter de la Mare) and more familiar still: Julian Grenfell‘s Into Battle is, of course, re-published as part of the collection.

It can hardly stand out, this “Invocation,” among such august company. But it should. Older men–non-combatants–must cede much of their enormous literary authority when it comes to describing the feelings of the warrior. (And the glorious dead occupy an entirely different category of influence.) If there is a young man in uniform standing humbly in the rear of the literary horde, shouldn’t the stout men of the fore-front open up their ranks and permit him to advance?

Which is why it’s important that Nichols does not make the mistake that Brooke did (so say I, and Edward Thomas, and Charles Sorley, although pretty much everyone else still loved it…) and proceed directly from pre-martial introspection to the prettily-posed contemplation of death, with no real combat-questioning in between.[2]

 

Nichols considers his own death, but instead of indulging in an almost masochistic savoring of the prospects of  martyrdom, he squarely addresses the challenge that will be posed before death might come–the test of combat itself. It’s a formal poem in rather stilted diction, but it’s also honest and comprehensible: I want to be brave, and I intend to be, but I fear the weakness of the flesh.

 

Speaking of Brooke, and Brookeishness, Vera Brittain is indeed having second thoughts. But first–having committed much of herself to the tedium and unpleasantness of war work–she is pleased to report hard-won words of encouragement.

Monday August 9th

I was paid a little reward to-day for all the work I have done at the hospital. When Nurse Olive & I were doing Smith she said she had saved him up for me to help her because she likes me to help her best, she then  said “We do miss you when you go off, it’s just like one of us. No other V.A.D. has been much use to us before! In fact we could get on much better without the majority of those who have been here!” I was pleased, naturally, as I suppose it shows a certain amount of adaptability and is at any rate getting near a proof of my dictum that a person of real intellect can do anything he or she chooses.

It’s the turn from the emotional and physical demands of nursing to the thought of intellectual promise that does it, I think:

…I had been subconsciously hoping that Roland would not see or hear too much about the Rupert Brooke poems because I knew all that they would make him feel. He could do as good work himself–and though I would not draw him back now if I could, yet when I think of his abilities and possibilities and of how his wonderful youth and life and personality may be shot into nothingness any day, any hour, I get fiercely angry at the waste of it. It is true that this kind of machine war is a trade.[3]

This is passing strange, given that she has several times recommended the poems to Roland. Forgetfulness? Dawning realization and a guilty conscience? Odd.

And as for the idea that the war is a “trade” and thus unworthy of the sacrifice (that Brookean word) of the brightest of bright young things, well. Perhaps it’s true, but why should this, of all the terrible dawning realizations about the war, be a cause for despair? It could even be made light of: Charles Sorley has (mostly) shelved his poetry and hidden his intellectual lights under a bushel, but, as we have seen, he is quite capable both of making light of all this tedium and labor and of seeing Brooke’s achievement for what it is.

Oh you are clever, Roland and Vera, but young, perhaps. Younger than Sorley, although the same age. Looking backward, it is hard to understand why Vera would keep crying up Brooke only to worry that his fame would discourage Roland. And yet, their relationship has always been marked by a bit of sparring–flirtation through intellectual challenge. Can that be part of what is going on? Vera has seemed devoted, almost submissive in many of her recent letters. But she will neither surrender her right to intellectual enthusiasms nor her commitment to supporting–with tactical goading, if necessary–Roland’s future intellectual achievements.

 

And in London, today, Edward Thomas of the Artists’ Rifles catches up on his correspondence.

My dear Robert

I am a real soldier now, inoculated and all. My foot has come round & I am rather expecting to go right through my 3 or 4 months training & already wondering what regiment I shall get a commission in. It seems I am too old to get a commission for immediate foreign service. That is, at present. They are raising the age by degrees. As things are now I should spend at any rate some months with my regiment in England, perhaps even find myself in one only for home service. But I want to see what it is like out there.

That last sentence is a bracing reminder that this project is not–not yet, at least–utterly off course. Edward Thomas should have other things on his mind–and he does. Or did. The months-long agonizing at the turning of the two paths was harrowing, but, now that he is in uniform and under drill and discipline, the immediate worries about family and livelihood have faded, and–as we will read in a moment–the edge is off his new poet’s hunger to achieve recognition. In their place he recognizes (and, writing to Frost, is able to honestly admit) the same simple desire foregrounded in the writings of so many younger men. It’s war. It’s the great event of the age. It’s the stuff of… all my my boyhood reading, all my youthful self-questioning. I want to see what it’s like out there.

It has made a change. I have had 3 weeks of free evenings & haven’t been able to get my one surviving review written. The training makes the body insist on real leisure. All I am left fit for is to talk & cleaning my brass buttons & badge. Not much talk… The men are too young or the wrong kind, mostly…

I stand nearly as straight as a lamp post & apparently get smaller every week in the waist & have to get new holes punched in my belt. The only time now I can think of verses is on sleepless nights, but I don’t write them down. Say Thank you…

The letter turns to a discussion of mutual friends and literary acquaintances, and of what they are doing with their time now. It’s not so subtle, is it? Thomas is no braggart, and no pitiful measurer-by-other-mens’-reputations either. But now the means of measurement have changed. He respects other literary men based not on what they have recently written but on whether or not they have chosen to volunteer. Several men that he now mentions are overage, but others have simply chosen not to answer Kitchener’s call. There is only Masefield–like Thomas, he is married, well into his thirties, and supporting children–who has chosen full-time hospital work, and Hulme, the one soldier that Thomas mentions here. (Thomas knows that he has been to France, but not yet, apparently, that he was wounded and has returned.)

Excusable, certainly: the war has intruded upon life, and life choices are now lording it over mere writing. Thomas implies that he has let himself be swept along, once again, onto the easier path, the path now being travelled by thousands: “You are not going to tell me I ought to have had the courage not to do this.”

No. But I’m not best pleased that, in this very same letter, he is a bit snide about the loyal, loving, and ever-helpful Eleanor Farjeon, describing her as “distributing herself about the country–as usual”–even as he writes her the usual sort of breezy, confiding letter.[4]

In this, Thomas gives Farjeon much the same impression of his new state of physical and mental simplicity. The relief of service, or servitude?

My dear Eleanor

…I am now beginning to wonder what regiment I shall get a commission in. But I shall hardly get to camp in much less than a fortnight. So we ought to meet in town…

How can you walk in this weather? I never knew it so close and these patent-leather-lined caps don’t improve it… I have conspired with God (I suppose) not to think about walks and walking sticks or 6 months or 6 years hence. I just think about when I shall first go on guard etc. I simply can’t do my one review.

Yours ever Edward Thomas[5]

Thomas is not writing, and were he to scribble down those late-night verses, they would not discuss Fire and Steel and Death. For now he chooses simply to march–not walk–and to avoid all thought of what may come after.

 

We’ve been in England often enough, these past few weeks, and the Dardanelles as well. But, fatuous or not, the war of position grinds on in the bleakest bits of Belgium. The 6th Division launched a pre-dawn attack this morning, a century back. The objective was, once again, the Hooge crater, retaken by the Germans not two weeks before.

It’s no longer such a small army, but it can still feel like one. In operational command of the assault was “Dads”–Major General Sir Walter Congreve. Billy will be seeing him tomorrow, to discuss the family trade as it pertains to the mine-shattered, corpse-strewn wasteland of the southern salient. We will hear details of the assault then.

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Charlton, Putting Poetry First, 39.
  2. I have no evidence that anyone reading this blog enjoys my Monty Python references, but it has just occurred to me that Rupert Brooke's poetic arrival might well be imagined, from an elevated critical viewpoint, as looking much like that of the Judean People's Front Crack Suicide Squad.
  3. Chronicle of Youth, 231-2.
  4. Elected Friends, 88-9.
  5. Farjeon, Edward Thomas, 154-5.

Good News on Julian Grenfell; The Afterlife of Rupert Brooke IV: Vera Brittain Recommends Certain Sonnets; Lady Feilding Has Been Caught Two-Telling Her Parents; Robert Graves Approaches the Line

Lady Desborough’s diary today brings good news:

18 May  To Hosp w/ W & Ca 8.45. Julian very good night, saw him…  he said “So much better.”[1]

 

There is some relief–if from less acute agony–for Vera Brittain today as well:

Tuesday May 18th

Roland’s letter came this morning at last. I was relieved to see he was in billets. Most of the letter was taken up with a technical explanation of his position–his battalion is on the at-present-quiescent part of the front, between the battles of the North & South. But it is just possible that they will be sent to Ypres or some other danger-spot…[2]

Between, that is, the German push around Ypres and the Anglo-French attempt to advance on the German-held salient in Artois. But she needn’t worry, especially: both offensives, as a matter of fact, are now petering out

Writing back, Vera mentions a new enthusiasm. Here, Roland, are some poems that fit the bill–they are, after all, pretty and romantic and warlike and sad:

Have you read any of the War Sonnets of Rupert Brooke–the most promising poet of the younger generation, who enlisted in the Navy when the war broke out & died at Lemnos a few weeks ago–to the great grief of Literature & the whole world? I must quote one or two because I know you will like them.

And so she does. What could be more appropriate, really, than converting his sonnets–patriotic and yet dramatically self-regarding, even sacrificial–into a supplementary communication between young lovers? Although I do wonder whether Roland will be slightly off-put by this ever-so-slight triangulation of infatuation:

Somehow I feel that Rupert Brooke must have been rather like you. It is not yet possible to buy his poems in print, though of course there is a greater demand for them than there probably would ever have been if he had not died so tragically. Throughout them all there is a strangely prophetic note of his coming fate–which he seems to see with sad & grave foreboding, & yet to regard it with courage & hope too.[3]

This I will leave alone. Do I wish that Vera Brittain had immediately rapped out a criticism of the War Sonnets’ shortcomings, as Charles Sorley did not long ago? Yes I do. Did I cringe (along with her tutor, no doubt) when she brought up Brooke during a reading of Blake and Milton? Sure thing. But then I am reading less as a sharp critic (that would be Sorley, or Edward Thomas) than as an advantaged retro-spectator. Very few of even the mightiest young British versifiers have yet developed the distrust of Brooke’s eloquence that will follow on the work of the best “trench poets.” It’s a good reminder that it’s wrong to read with later judgments in hand.

And yet. Taking the future out of the historical judgment is not the same thing as surrendering contemporary, century-back judgment to the thematic demands of the moment.

Vera Brittain’s reading here is heavily contextual. She makes little comment about the sonnets themselves–“courage and hope,” sure, but that’s not saying a whole lot. They are noteworthy, it seems, because of Brooke’s “tragic” fate, the destruction of his “promise,” and the “strangely prophetic note.” But what if his fate wasn’t tragedy but bathetic misfortune, if the strangely prophetic note could be rationalized, rather cynically, as a combination of depression and a willingness to bank on one’s own demise (lucky guess!) and if much of the “promise” is already a judgment inflated by its termination and “tragic” interpretation… die young and leave a good-looking corpse and see if you can get yourself a completely unbiased, as-if-anonymous (how’s that? and how’s that going, Edward Thomas?) critical assessment.

Here, as a supporting exploration of this hydra-headed problem of biographical/historical/literary criticism, is the retrospective judgment of Eric Linklater, a schoolboy enthusiast who has already been turned down as a volunteer (we will follow him as best we can once he successfully enlists in 1917), and will remain for some time passionately and romantically pro-war:

Nowadays it is difficult to believe that Rupert Brooke, with a voice suddenly inspired, spoke for a whole generation; and young people deride the mere thought of it. Truth, however, is independent of belief, and derision might be silenced if Rupert Brooke’s old-fashioned patriotism were given a modern name. If, for example, it were called ‘protest…’

In 1914 protest was louder, more general, and much angrier… it was, however, all directed against the insufferable pretensions of the German Emperor and the brutal behavior of his marching armies. Indignation was fierce and popular, and everyone was delighted when Brooke, raising it to higher plane, identified it with patriotism, and simultaneously made patriotism righteous.[4]

 

We have a fun letter today from Dorothie Feilding, whose little experiment in story-splitting has gone awry. She’s been caught spinning the same yarn as light comedy to mom and existential horror to dad. Could this be why she opens with a fake-out?

Furnes May 18th

Mother deah–

I will tell you the worst at once: I’ve come to beg!

Was that kind? What if Lady Feilding, senior, waiting by the post box, opens this letter and sees those first few words and thinks only of how Dorothie may have somehow got the news first, that perhaps her brother or her father, oh god, are they…

Well, perhaps not. I suppose Dorothie did open with a silly drawling salutation, so perhaps I’m being a bit of a wet blanket to suggest that she deliberately unsettles her mother. Dorothie goes on:

You told me when I was home you would give me something towards my keep as being just as useful as keeping Belgian refugees–well–if you haven’t changed your mind I’d be most grateful. For one thing I have also quite run out of cash, will you please post me £5 of own money in French notes if poss, for various expenses, all I have in the world today is 1/6 in German money that belonged to a German before last Sunday’s attack…

Continuing the letter later (and/or tomorrow), she plays dumb about the fact that she played down a near miss in a letter to her mother while simultaneously telling her father the full story.

I also got your message from Da about ‘Dorothie’s marvellous escape’. I am bursting with interest & want to know all about it please, why or which?…

That’s quick work for a letter to get out to Egypt, back to England, and out to Belgium. I think she realizes what she did–she’s about to deflect any maternal indignation with pathos and flattery–and I think she did it because it can be difficult to never confide, to always be breezy and brave, even after the fact. So she reached out to Da, but without quite explaining the situation, and he has gone and told mother dear that Dorothie had a narrow escape…

Oh Mother dear I wish to God we were all home again. It’s so very very dreary sometimes though one pretends it isn’t. It’s a year but two months since I left home for the old Rugby hospital, a big slice you know & I’ve had a slacker’s time compared to poor Tubby[5] so heaven knows how sick they must get of it & as for you, it makes my heart ache–poor Mother. I do wish I could do something to make things easier for you. I write as often as I can & will write oftener, thank you so much for all your nice letters. They are so nice you can’t think. There’s hardly any evening I come in without finding something from home.

Much love–

Yr ever Diddles[6]

 

Speaking of those with different tales to tell, Robert Graves–at last!–describes his approach to the line in two registers. First, in a letter home:

When we arrived at the railhead [Béthune]… we disembarked felling a bit like the bottom of the proverbial parrot-cage, and were told by the guide who met us that we were to go straight into the trenches. Which we did not long ago after a five-mile march by cobbled road and a mile and a half down a muddy communication trench in the dark, lit by occasional star shells.[7]

At last we come to it. Graves will soon begun writing a novel of his war experiences, and then convert it into one of the war’s most entertaining and least reliable memoirs–a lovely, nasty little thicket of truth, exaggeration, immodesty, courage, and mischievous leg-pulling. But there is no reason to doubt the essential truth of the more atmospheric sections of the book. They are something like slightly sketchy journalism: no whoppers, maybe, but a composite character here, an elision of time there. Nothing to fret about, surely.

…a little man in filthy khaki, wearing the Welsh cap-badge, came up with a friendly touch of the cap most unlike a salute. He has orders to guide us to the Battalion, at present in the Cambrin trenches, about ten kilometers away… we followed him through the unlit suburbs of the town–all intensely excited by the noise and flashes of the guns in the distance… They [the enlisted replacements] began singing. Instead of the usual music-hall songs they sang Welsh hymns, each man taking a part. The Welsh always sang when pretending not to be scared; it kept them steady. And they never sang out of tune.

We marched towards the flashes, and could soon see the flare-lights curving over the distant trenches. The noise of the guns grew louder and louder. Presently we were among the batteries. From about two hundred yards behind us, on the left of the road, a salvo of four shells whizzed suddenly over our heads. This broke up Aberystwyth in the middle of a verse and set us off our balance for a few seconds; the column of fours tangled up. The shells went hissing away eastward; we could see the red flash and hear the hollow bang where they landed in German territory. The men picked up their step again and began chaffing…

The roadside cottages were now showing more and more signs of dilapidation. A German shell came over and then whoo–oo–ooooooOOO–bump–CRASH! it landed twenty yards short of us. We threw ourselves flat on our faces. Presently we heard a curious singing noise in the air, and then flop! flop! little pieces of shell-casing came buzzing down all around… Another shell came over. Every one threw himself down again, but it burst two hundred yards behind us. Only Sergeant Jones had remained on his feet. ‘You’re wasting your strength, lads,’ he said to the draft. ‘Listen by the noise they make where they’re going to burst.’

Very nice–Welsh hymning and less godly German counterpoint. Literary embroidery, or the sensitive mind recording true history? Well?

Correct! Trick question…

The new officers and the draft are offered refreshment before the approach continues. Graves continues unsubtle as he highlights their innocence with what we might see as conspicuously fictional techniques. First there’s an implied metaphor in the lost little animals, then a leap forward in time to bring on another comic innocent. And is it mere coincidence that European literature’s earliest surviving satire–of Homer–involves a battle between frogs and mice?

…After a meal of bread, bacon, rum, and bitter stewed tea sickly with sugar, we went through the broken trees to the east of the village and up a long trench to battalion headquarters. The wet and slippery trench ran through dull red clay. I had a torch with me, and saw that hundreds of field mice and frogs had fallen into the trench but found no way out. The light dazzled them, and because I could not help treading on them, I put the torch back in my pocket. We had no mental picture of what the trenches would be like, and were almost as ignorant as a young soldier who joined us a week or two later. He called out excitedly to old Burford, who was cooking up a bit of stew in a dixie, apart from the others:  ‘Hi, mate, where’s the battle?  I want to do my bit.’

The next section, too, is less an embellishment than a generalization from future experience. But it’s also in its proper place: after the artillery and the trenches, rifle fire. Graves’s point of view is a common one, but very well put, with philosophy and onomatopoeia each in their place:

We now came under rifle-fire, which I found more trying than shell-fire. The gunner, I knew, fired not at people but at map-references–cross-roads, or likely artillery positions, houses that suggested billets for troops, and so on. Even when an observation officer in an aeroplane or captive balloon or on a church spire directed the guns, it seemed random, somehow. But a rifle bullet,even when fired blindly, always seemed purposely aimed. And whereas we could usually hear a shell approaching, and take some sort of cover, the rifle bullet gave no warning. So, though we learned not to duck to a rifle bullet because, once heard, it must have missed, it gave us a worse feeling of danger. Rifle bullets in the open went hissing into the grass without much noise, but when we were in a trench, the bullets made a tremendous crack as they went over the hollow. Bullets often struck the barbed wire in front of the trenches, which sent them spinning in a head-over-heels motion—ping! rockety-ockety-ockety-ockety into the woods behind.[8]

References and Footnotes

  1. Thompson, Julian Grenfell, Soldier and Poet, 296.
  2. Chronicle of Youth, 199.
  3. Letters From a Lost Generation, 107-8.
  4. Linklater, Fanfare for a Tin Hat, 45.
  5. Her brother Rudolph, who is in the 3rd Coldstream with cousin Rowland.
  6. Lady Under Fire, 74-5.
  7. R.P. Graves, Robert Graves,123.
  8. Good-Bye to All That, 93-6.

Edward Thomas on Nightingales, Contentment, and Rupert Brooke

Today is a day to catch up with Edward Thomas. The occasion is a happy letter to Frost.

Monday 3 v 15, Steep

My dear Robert,

I got a letter from you on Friday, the one I have been gladdest to yet, & not only because you said you liked Lob

…we have one piece of luck. Two pairs of nightingales have come to us. One sings in our back hedge nearly all day & night. My only regret when I first heard it was that you hadn’t stayed another Spring & heard it too. I hope the gods don’t think I’m the sort of poet who will be content with a nightingale, though…

The gods would never mistake their man so.

On April 30th Thomas had written the unusual lovers’ poem “Tonight;” yesterday it was “April;” and, at some point this week, “The Glory.” All of these poems begin in a sunny mood and share a sense of happiness. But happiness, if we are to call it contentment, must linger, fading gently, humming sweetly,.

“April” begins by praising “The sweetest thing… between earth and heaven” while the Glory opens with “The glory of the beauty of the morning,” but the two poems differ sharply thereafter. Or, rather, April stays on course, and seems to be nothing more than a sweetly sentimental poem of lovers amidst spring foliage, while “The Glory” becomes a major stock-taking, a poet’s assessment of his art and his life, his chances of happiness and fulfillment.

It’s a pity that “The Glory” can’t be precisely dated, since it refers to “this day,” and would be interesting to weigh against the other evidence of his feelings at this time (allowing, of course, for refusing to allow even the introspective lyric poet the license to invent a “speaker” other than himself, liberated from exactitudes calendrical and sundry). Will he struggle on with poetry while making ends meet with prose? Go to America? Volunteer? He’d have to try, at least, to discover what makes him most “content.”

The glory of the beauty of the morning,–
The cuckoo crying over the untouched dew;
The blackbird that has found it, and the dove
That tempts me on to something sweeter than love;
White clouds ranged even and fair as new-mown hay;
The heat, the stir, the sublime vacancy
Of sky and meadow and forest and my own heart:–

There are a few things worth pointing out, already: the marshaling of the army of birds, especially the cuckoo and, below, the lark, hints that he may be reflecting on his own poetry. The blackbirds and clouds and heat and hay confirm it–these have to be a reminiscence of Adlestrop. So he has touched base, as it were. But now he wishes to more explicitly search his own feelings. He draws on the mystical, semi-religious language of Richard Jeffries as he continues:

The glory invites me, yet it leaves me scorning
All I can ever do, all I can be,
Beside the lovely of motion, shape, and hue,
The happiness I fancy fit to dwell
In beauty’s presence. Shall I now this day
Begin to seek as far as heaven, as hell,
Wisdom or strength to match this beauty, start
And tread the pale dust pitted with small dark drops,
In hope to find whatever it is I seek,
Hearkening to short-lived happy-seeming things
That we know naught of, in the hazel copse?

The reader, surely, is thinking “Or…?”

Or must I be content with discontent
As larks and swallows are perhaps with wings?

Woe betide those who attempt to down and anatomize the wings of poetry. But: Thomas seems to be conflating the living of life–the finding of happiness and contentment–with the work of poetry. He would not in any case stand for a purely Romantic idea of poetry as the wholehearted pursuit of heavenly (or hellish) beauty. But it makes no sense at all for a man like Thomas–melancholy at the best of times and often deeply depressed–to lean toward an embrace of pure beauty as the path to great happiness in life. And what does it mean that the most beloved and joyful fliers are only “content” with their wings?

He’ll need to ask that second question again:

And shall I ask at the day’s end once more
What beauty is, and what I can have meant
By happiness? And shall I let all go,
Glad, weary, or both? Or shall I perhaps know
That I was happy oft and oft before,
Awhile forgetting how I am fast pent,
How dreary-swift, with naught to travel to,
Is Time? I cannot bite the day to the core.

Indecision. And a brilliant last image. A true nature poet doesn’t limit himself to the polite senses–watching the birds, hearing their songs, smelling the flowers–but smells and tastes it, thrusting his mouth at the fruit.

Before we dig deeper into these final questions, let’s go back into his letter to Frost for a moment. His “2nd piece of luck” is having been recommended to write something on Rupert Brooke for an American literary journal:

You heard perhaps that he died on April 23rd of sunstroke on the way to the Dardenelles? All the papers are full of his ‘beauty’ & an eloquent last sonnet beginning “If I should die.” He was eloquent. Men never spoke ill of him.

Don’t those two short sentences (not) say so much? Brooke was well-liked, but he was hiding something–“men never spoke” because they were in some sort of thrall. True enough. And the doubled “eloquence:” he was eloquent, but–shallow? Untruthful? It reads like neither condemnation–Thomas is a critic, not a judge–nor dismissal: Brooke had talent. But Brooke is clearly a book that Thomas can shelve, and not dwell upon again. Unless the journal will pay…

So here is evidence that Brooke is on Thomas’s mind as he writes about poetry and beauty and purpose.

And so will one more poem be. He asks Frost:

But you must have some poems by you fit to send out, haven’t you?

He did indeed. Frost has just mailed–either at the very end of April or in the past few days–an early version of “The Road Not Taken.”  Thomas, who will recognize himself in the speaker in Frost’s poem, cannot have received it yet, a century back, but it will arrive at some point in the next few days.

Which makes it especially frustrating to not know when “The Glory” was written: here is a poet writing straight to the point of his art, but ending in a three-fold quandary. Shall he pursue beauty unstintingly? Shall he “let all go” and forsake poetry? Or should he struggle on, dreary-swift?

The third! Say it’s so, Ed. There are more than Two Roads. Or, better: there are no roads, only a slog across the hills and hollows, with a far green country beyond. But Edward Thomas is no longer hesitating in a wood–he has the apple firmly in hand. And if he stops, Hamlet-like, to stare and contemplate it, and if he knows he cannot bite it to the core, at least he knows that he has begun to eat.

 

The letter ends on a strange note.

I find I can’t write. Re-reading Rupert Brooke & putting a few things together about him have rather messed me up & there’s Marlborough behind & Marlborough before…[1]

It is unusually difficult, then, to match the letter and the evidence of the notebooks: -there will be two more poems before the week is out; perhaps “The Glory” is already written, perhaps not. A moody man, Thomas. And what, exactly is his excuse for this seeming dissimulation? He has received great praise, and yet he is giving too much time to the prose hack work. He is buoyed by spring and writing of love and birds and glories and flirtations–or is that the Brooke reading seeping in?

Oh, but it’s tough to tell. This is one of those days where there is so much, but so little. Thomas must have spent hours on chores, he must have interacted with his wife and younger children, he must have paced his study as he ground out the Marlborough book… History is difficult, not least because there are many moments in a day. And all we have are the poems themselves, and this short letter, with its glad tidings, its piece of luck, and its final note of frustrated denial…

 

References and Footnotes

  1. Elected Friends, 51-2.

Charles Sorley: Sweet Peas for Perjurers, Literary Justice for Wilde, and the Pleasures of Being Dead; Siegfried Sassoon Hears of Serbia

24/vii/1914[1]

Many thanks for your letter. I’m awfully sorry to have taken such a time in answering, but Justice has been engaging my attention. You see my landlady keeps a partly tame squirrel : a charming animal whose only fault is a habit of mistaking my bed for its own. Now the landlord of the whole house has accused the landlady of this particular flat that it pestifies the whole house. So it does. But I have spent the last week giving evidence before forty German Beamten [officials] that the squirrel in question has the manners of a lamb and smells like eau de Cologne. By the steady honesty of my appearance (for I do look honest, don’t I?) I have largely succeeded in getting my landlady off. The reason for my perjury (the first time I have committed perjury indeed, the first time they’ve given me a chance to) was this : I should love to have had that squirrel killed and my landlady imprisoned. But I feared. I knew that if I gave evidence against her, she would poison my morning coffee and hide my brushes in my bed. My course has been quite justified, because my landlady has given me a handsome present in the shape of a bunch of sweet-peas. Sweet-peas for Perjurers! Aha!

Sorley, in some contrast to the more recently school-leaving Roland Leighton, then goes on to gently mock what was evidently a request by Hutchinson that he, Sorley, come down from Oxford to Marlborough for the traditional homecoming festivities. ‘Ware sentimentality, boy!

…But I cannot possibly come down on O. M. Sunday to take you for a walk, (1) I am too poor. (2) It is a peculiarly moth-eaten type of Old Marlburian that leaves the wardrobe on Old Marlburian Day and fills up the back-row of Chapel on Sunday, whimpering over the hymns, and I wouldn’t be identified with this type even for all the gold in Araby and the prospect of having to stand you a meal (or possibly two) in the poverty-stricken pubs round Aldbourne. No. I shall come down quietly towards the end of the term, shall take you by the arm, “Now, my boy, you’re leaving in a few weeks’ time. Well, I left too, ye know. It’s a nasty wrench, but there’s always work for a soldier of Christ to do,” and generally edify you. You’ll need edification. I am sure the law is bound to make anyone who adopts it as a profession a hide-bound cynic in a month. So you’d better not to come to Germany. Cynicism is a vice that doesn’t exist here. That’s why one’s driven into it oneself for pure need of vinegar with the salad. In England there is so much vinegar that it is difficult to find the cucumber at all…

Next up is a defense of a very good principle indeed: judging authors without, er, reference to their biography.

…England is seen at its worst when it has to deal with men like Wilde. In Germany Wilde and Byron are appreciated as authors : in England they still go pecking about their love-affairs. Anyone who calls a book “immoral” or “moral” should be caned. A book by itself can be neither. It is only a question of the morality or immorality of the reader. But the English approach all questions of vice with such a curious mixture of curiosity and fear that it’s impossible to deal with them.

Then–you know I wouldn’t omit it–the necessary historical irony of circumstance:

I’m leaving this place on Tuesday and am at present perfectly miserable at the thought of the imminence of the necessity of packing. On Tuesday I go to Marburg and pick up Hopper who is swimming about in some extraordinary Trippers’ Course there : and we are going for a walking tour till one of us dies of heat apoplexy. Supposing I am the survivor, I propose to go to Berlin and then Schwerin. A yearning motherland will receive me again on the 6th of August…

And finally, a lighthearted–or is it frighteningly ominous?–lark about the prospect of death.

If the Lord God were to come down from heaven and offer me any gift I liked in reward for the service I had done to him, I should choose to be a Widow. It must be simply grand. Haven’t you often prayed I have that people you like may die, in order that you may have the luxury of mourning and being wept with and pitied ? The dead are after all the supreme aristocrats. And widowhood or any other state involving a close connection with or dependence on Death gives one a magnificent standing. The lady you mention reminds me always of that child in Laurence Housman poem which ends :

But in another week they said
That friendly pink-faced man was dead.

‘How sad…’ they said, ‘the best of men…’
So I said too, ‘How sad’; but then
Deep in my heart I thought, with pride,
‘I know a person who has died’.[2]

Sorley closes with one of his many trenchant observations–few young men were positioned to actually see these things, although many would act on ill-informed assumptions–on the differences between Germans and Britons:

I can depart from Germany with a clear conscience, because I have finished Faust at last ! I think it’s about the best thing ever written… And Germany on the whole is a very good place to get together a kind of amateur Weltanschauung [personal philosophy, or “worldview”] as they call it. The average German does think for himself. He doesn’t simply live in the moment like the average Briton (which makes the average Briton pleasanter than the average German, but still!). And he does try to develop his own personality without reference to other people, that is, without making it either absolutely the same or absolutely different from his surroundings, as the Briton always does. They’re really quite an admirable lot and, when they try to be funny, they’re like squeaking Teddy Bears… [3]

 

Meanwhile, in a quiet corner of Kent, Mab Anley is visiting with her old friend Theresa Sassoon, née Thornycroft. Siegfried, home in a funk of debt and unrealized poetic potential, learns today from Mrs. Anley–the mother of two colonels–that war was very likely. Thus our lassitudinous poet “began–earlier than I might otherwise have done–to perturb myself about my own patriotic responsibilities. I offer this explanation because it has always seemed rather odd that I should been so unwontedly quick off the mark…” Indeed.[4]

References and Footnotes

  1. This letter, like two others of our early first Sorley entries, was written to his good friend and schoolmate A. E. Hutchinson.
  2. There is a particularly horrible spoiler here, in a moment, and with a bizarre twist of the ironic knife. Sorley mis-remembers: the poem is by Frances Cornford. Laurence Housman, brother of the more famous poet will... don't read on!...  one day publish Sorley in an anthology.
  3. The Letters of Charles Sorley, 208-211.
  4. The Weald of Youth, 268-9.