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on 12 March 2017
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on 8 August 2000
As early as 1922, and apparently without excessive modesty, Edmund Blunden's lifelong friend Siegfried Sassoon referred to him as "a divine poet". In the literary biography at hand, Mr Webb succeeds in tracing and piecing together the different lines adding up to constitute the unique literary personality that Blunden added up to. To be true, Blunden's active literary occupation is, doubtless, deeply determined by the indelible wartime experience. While following the tracks that Blunden's life story led along, the reader will hardly escape the impression that at any stage of his life and literary career it is Ypres, Passchendaele and Festubert that continued to be the weights and measures by which the remainder of his life experiences was calibrated. The fact of Blunden never really succeeding in coming to grips with the war trauma left him a man of contradiction for the rest of his days. Being the prolific poet that he was, and even though lecturing in the Far East for nearly half a lifetime, the widely-travelled Blunden never ceased to dream of his green and peasant land. In his private life, the other dream of a love he so badly craved for, equally remained somehow unfulfilled, the soothing relationship with a Japanese secretary perhaps being the only constant there. Though as a public figure he never really seemed to fulfil other people's expectations - as well as his own - , his biographer leaves the reader in little doubt as to whether he possessed the versatility to live up to these. At any rate, and especially to the interested reader of Blunden's Undertones of War and his poetry, the man emerges as a respectable figure of outstanding literary stature in the twentieth century. To us personally, Blunden survives as a likeable personality , a compassionate man of outstanding emotional quality, and an 'honnête homme'.
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The review already on-line of this biography of Blunden seems to me to give a very fair account of both Webb’s book and the poet himself. I encountered Blunden by way of my first Head of English, W G Bebbington, a talented and eccentric man, who had worked under Blunden’s supervision at Merton College, Oxford. He gets a brief mention in the book. I find myself in something of a dilemma, not finding Blunden’s poetry inspiring and while compelled to recognise the qualities of the man, feeling unable to feel any real warmth towards him. I suppose that for me he lacks the fascination of those whose personalities are made up of more inner contradictions and conflicts. Of more recent poets, Plath and Larkin spring to mind. I'm about to start on Hughes’ biography; it will be interesting to see into which camp, if either, he falls. All that said, It seems to me difficult to fault Webb, who provides a most thorough account of the man and the poet.
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