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Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew [Hardcover]

Max Egremont
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

8 May 2014

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.


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Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knew + A Broken World: Letters, diaries and memories of the Great War
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (8 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1447241991
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447241997
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 15.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 68,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

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)

From the Inside Flap

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, acclaimed historian and biographer Max Egremont gives us a transfiguring look at the life and work of eleven poets who saw action at the front. 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; the shell-shocked Robert Nichols; the aristocratic Julian Grenfell; Charles Sorley, whose early verse promised so much; the artist Isaac Rosenberg from London's East End; and Edmund Blunden, one of only five to survive active service. Each man's poetry is a bold act of creativity in the face of unprecedented destruction.

Some Desperate Glory includes a chronological anthology of the poets' work (around 100 poems), telling the story of the war not only through the lives of these writers but 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.


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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anthems for doomed youths 8 May 2014
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Part group biography of eleven important war poets, part history, part poetic anthology, this does an excellent job of placing the poetry of WW1 within its context. Egremont organises his material by year, so traces both the development of the war and the attitudes it engendered, while also placing the poetry into chronological order.

There are some stark facts that this book makes clear: for example, I never knew that more than twice as many British men were killed in WW1 as in WW2 – a shocking statistic, and one fundamental to the experience of the poets examined here.

At the same time, Egremont unpicks some of the myths of the poets: Wilfred Owen, for example, often used at the epitome of the tragedy of war, dying, as he did, a week before the armistice was declared, wrote in one of his last letters that there was nowhere else he’d rather be than at the front.

So whether you are deeply familiar with WW1 poetry or whether it might be new to you, this is a book which has something new to say – highly recommended.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Part history, part biography, wholly fascinating 19 Jun 2014
By someproseandcon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Egremont’s examination of the First World War as seen through the lives and work of its most famous poets is a fascinating book (the poets include Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas, Robert Graves, Ivor Gurney, Isaac Rosenberg, Edmund Blunden, Julian Grenfell, Charles Sorley, and Robert Nichols).

Part biography, part history, the book is unique in its organization: a chapter is devoted to each year of the war, detailing the circumstances and mental states of each of the eleven writers who supply the lenses through which we see and understand the horror and the heroism of modern warfare.

For those not particularly interested in poetry, the book should still be of great interest: Egremont is concerned with the meaning and meaninglessness of the WWI, arguing its general significance (“More than twice as many British were killed in the First World War as in the Second”), as well as describing its particularities (after Charles Sorley was killed by a sniper as he led his men into battle at Loos, his manuscript of the poem “When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead” was found on his body , including the line, “It is easy to be dead”).

While Egremont’s book isn’t concerned with interpreting the poetry, poems that are mentioned in the chronological account of the war are included at the end of each chapter, and placing the poems in the context of the time and the battle experiences in which they were written allows readers to see them in a new light.

For those who are familiar with the writers of the late 19th and early 20th century, it’s fascinating to learn how small the artistic community was: Edward Thomas was an intimate of Robert Frost, Siegfried Sassoon befriended Oscar Wilde’s former lover, E.M. Forester worked in Egypt for the Red Cross, Virginia Woolf knew Rupert Brooke and reviewed his posthumous Collected Poems, and Ivor Gurney studied music under Ralph Vaughn Williams after the war.

But the book is at its best in its last chapter, “Aftermath.” Here, Egremont tells of the lives of the men who survived, as well as the ways in which certain poets became more admired after the war, while others fell out of fashion, often due to a writer’s vision of the war or the style in which he chose to communicate that vision. The book asserts that as time passed, “the poets’ war was seen as the truth,” much to the dismay of historians, and that “What the poets wrote was seductive, often spellbindingly good, so much so that it was claimed they contributed to the climate of appeasement in the 1930s: the wish to avoid war at almost any price.” As well, Egremont compares the poetry of WWI with other retellings of the war, from BBC documentaries to television comedies such as "Blackadder."

Most importantly, this book frees the poets from the superficial label of “British World War I poet” and reveals the individual writers in all of their complexities: Fabian socialist, manic depressive, handsome narcissist, pre-war advocate for pacifism, gifted musician, aristocratic fox-hunter, son of poor Jewish immigrants – these are the men who fought and died, or survived to be haunted by a war that transformed the modern world, the men who described the war with such power and poignancy that their language has shaped our view of The Great War.
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappinting 19 Aug 2014
By Robert A. Hall - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was very disappointed in this book. I love poetry and, with a masters in history, I read a lot of military history, but the poems I liked I had already read and the others I didn't care for. The poets were trying to be obscure and esoteric--and succeeded. The author also spent far too much time discussing the poets homosexual affairs. I have no problems with gays and as a Massachusetts state senator, I was senate floor manager for hen-rep Barney Frank's anti-discrimination bills in 1973, though I was young, single, straight and a fairly conservative Republican. But why does it matter? I wanted to read about the war and poetry, not their sex lives. If also included only British poets, thus missing my favorite WWI poet, the American Alan Seeger, who was KIA fighting for France on July 4, 1916.

Apart sweet women (for whom Heaven be blessed),
Comrades, you cannot think how thin and blue
Look the leftovers of mankind that rest,
Now that the cream has been skimmed off in you.
--Sonnet Nine, Returning to the Front after Leave, Alan Seeger

Robert A. Hall
USMC 1964-68
Vietnam, 1967
USMCR 1977--83
Author: "Old Jarhead Poems"
All royalties go to help wounded vets.
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