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Undertones of War (Penguin Modern Classics) [Kindle Edition]

Edmund Blunden , Hew Strachan
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In what is one of the finest autobiographies to come out of the First World War, the distinguished poet Edmund Blunden records his experiences as an infantry subaltern in France and Flanders. Blunden took part in the disastrous battles of the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele, describing the latter as 'murder, not only to the troops, but to their singing faiths and hopes'. In his compassionate yet unsentimental prose, he tells of the heroism and despair found among the officers. Blunden's poems show how he found hope in the natural landscape; the only thing that survives the terrible betrayal enacted in the Flanders fields.

Product Description


An established classic ... accurate and detailed in observation of the war scene and its human figures (D. J. Enright)

About the Author

John Greening studied at the Universities of Swansea, Exeter, and Mannheim. After working for Hans Keller at BBC Radio 3, he went to Upper Egypt to teach English with VSO. He has been a school-teacher ever since and lives with his wife in Kimbolton, Cambridgeshire. Since 1982, he has published over a dozen collections of poetry, most recently Hunts: Poems 1979-2009 (Greenwich Exchange, 2009) and To the War Poets (Carcanet, 2013). He received a Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors in 2008 and has won the Bridport Prize and the TLS Centenary Prize. He is a regular reviewer of poetry for the TLS and a judge for the Eric Gregory Awards. His critical books include Poets of the First World War, Poetry Masterclass, Elizabethan Love Poets and studies of Ted Hughes, Hardy, Yeats, and Edward Thomas. Vapour Trails, a selection of his reviews and essays, will shortly be published.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1516 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Re-issue edition (4 Nov. 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI9MRU
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #118,605 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
44 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An understated classic 8 Feb. 2009
I have tried numerous times to read Undertones of War, and given up each time as i became frustrated by what i percieved as difficult language and a rambling narrative. But finally, at aged 35 i read my Grandfather's book, and it finally all clicked into place. The humour, the understated horror, his warmth, humanity and love for his fellow soldiers shine through the text. I found i couldnt put it down. I think it is a brilliant account of what must have been a living hell, especially given his age- he was 19 when he went to France, and celebrated his 21st in a trench. Keep on trying if you find UOW difficult, because ultimately it is a magnificent read, as is his poetry. You just cant read it in a hurry. It may not be easy reading like Robert Graves or some of Sasson's poetry but stick with it. Blunden's work is a bit like an onion- lots of layers, that need to be peeled back and absorbed slowly to get the true flavour. Enjoy it- i did in the end!
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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
While writing a first-hand war diary must be tantamount to aspiring to express the inexpressible, the decade Edmund Blunden's Undertones of War took in the making bought him time to distance himself from the numbing impact of the Great War events demanding to be exorcised.
The book offers an understated account of the events that gripped the minds of Blunden and his beloved 11th Royal Sussex Regt., taking the reader from the build-up to the Battle of the Somme and on to Third Ypres and Passchendaele, campaigns which left the party shattered morally and badly depleted for size. The overall experience at the time was beyond the comprehension of a single human being, the more so as Blunden (barely 20) was too young to deal with, let alone, put into prespective, the depths and cruelty of events as he witnessed them. The combined effect of a cathartic ten years' time and Blunden's mildness and humanity of temperament has only added to the merits of a book which, to this day, has been, and deserves to remain, a long-standing classic.
As perfection is not of this world, Blunden's inclination towards quoting from his literary predecessors might be considered a minor flaw. Likewise, the critical reader might feel mildly irritated at the pastoral tone and evocative detail with which the author intersperses his account. Anyone will, however, agree that in no way has Blunden sought to embellish his experiences, but perceive that, in the face of devastation, he merely set out to find comfort in the permanence of forms and shapes to go by, as well as to pinpoint solidarity and camaraderie as beacons along their dark ways. The latter can be derived from Blunden's dedication of the books to some of his pals, whether dead or alive at the time.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
How rightly did UOW deserve, as it did, for its first edition (in 1928) to be sold out in merely one day. To be true, Blunden stands out as one of the youngest and most dedicated soldier poets ever to testify to the shattering Great War experience they lived through. While no reader of Undertones will escape being moved by the sheer poignancy of Blunden's statement, one will likewise be struck by his consistently understated style (convenient to the aspiration implied in the title, to perceive the "undertone") as well as by a distinct inclination towards the pastoral. In so doing, the infantry subaltern must have sought to avoid being gulped down altogether by the turmoil of the battles of the Somme, in the Ypres Salient and at Passchendaele. Apart from a penchant for the continuing beauty of Nature, the comradeship for the brothers-in-arms provides the kind of emotional refuge that young Blunden must have been so badly in need of (as, indeed, any other soldier) , if only to survive the estrangement brought along by war, as well as to cope with the indelible emotional scar it left him with till his dying day. Looking back on his time in Ypres, the author extends his generous sympathy for an unnamed fellow-soldier. "Your Ypres is gone, and you are gone. (...)", Blunden reminisces, "It is time to hint to a new age what your value, what your love was". Nearly eighty years on, how appropriately do these words sum up the profound value of a book, which so rightly deserves its qualification as established classic! From our unholy holy region of Flanders Fields, which Blunden described with such depth of affection, we share his message of hope of better things to come.
Chris Spriet
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic literary account of war 24 Mar. 2013
'Understones' is miles away from the usual sort of WW1 literature,in so much as the horror and terror of that seemingly endless conflict are often implied or suggested, but never described in way designed to shock or revolt. Blunden allows the reader to imagine the feelings of the men who have lost a comrade,the tension before 'going over the top' or the nerve jangling sensations of being under fire.In this way, the experience of reading this book becomes ever more immersive, the further one penetrates. It's power lies in understatement.

Blunden writes with a flowing,restrained style,with a poetic undertow that throws up powerful images and a sense of real connection with the scenes he is depicting.Here is an account of trench life written by an artist,who just happened to be a solider.What is clear though that despite his misgivings of the war, he did his duty by his men and his superiors.He did not allow his finer feelings lead him to despair or dither.It was his love of poetry and affection for those in his charge, not to say a deal of luck that saw him through.He could always imagine a world outside of the trenches,keeping him sane and in balance. His bravery and competency was not of the showy sort.Like his prose, his character could only be fully appreciated by close examination and long acquaintance.

The book ends on an anti-climax,almost. Blunden finishes his tour of duty and is sent away from the front for a softer posting. We get the feeling that many men must have felt the same: the comradeship fashioned by warfare suddenly gone leaving only memories and injury.'Undertones' is a great read and any student of WW1 and the war poets would do well to get it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Reality of trench life
Grim reality of trench life, not unlike the great Chronicles of Ancient Sunlight series of novels by Henry Williamson. Good to find it available after all these years. Read more
Published 2 months ago by R. Harrison
5.0 out of 5 stars A deeply moving account.
Over many decades this book has been described as ‘difficult’ to read. The reasons vary and initially, I too had difficulty with sudden and apparently random changes in sentence... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Gary P. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
The most beautifully written account of trench warfare I have ever read.
Published 7 months ago by Greg Fielder
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best autobiography of life
Probably the best autobiography of life,and death,in the infantry in World War far outpaces Robert Graves"Goodbye to all that'and R C Sherriff's "Journeys End". Read more
Published 7 months ago by michael john madine
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent!
Wonderful purchase. Very impressed by its condition. Thank you also for a quick delivery. Magnificent all round
Published 8 months ago by Michael Roy Mason
5.0 out of 5 stars Blunden's perspective on Somme and Ypres.
This is a must-read book if you want to learn more about the Battles of the Somme and Ypres. Blunden uses his poetical skills to involve his reader in trench warfare during World... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Mary B Hickford
3.0 out of 5 stars Tough read
This was a brilliant book, but I found the reading really tough as the print is quite small.worth the effort
Published 13 months ago by susan bettle
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb and Under-Rated
Excellent memoir of Blunden's experience as a junior British infantry officer between 1916-1918, in the Givenchy sector, on the Somme and in the Ypres Salient and at... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Kindle Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Poetic and a challenging read
Difficult read. Not always easy to follow the time and location changes. Brilliant descriptions of place and soldier's response to seasonal changes despite the killing madness of... Read more
Published 17 months ago by I D WATT
5.0 out of 5 stars Blunden - Undertones
Nothing quite like reading first hand accounts from the trenches. Gives a much better feel to what they had to put up with and more so when you visit Flanders to pay your respects.
Published 18 months ago by ocd
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