August 25, 2013

"Who was the better war poet, Rupert Brooke (i.e., WWI romantic jingoism) or Emily Dickinson? Answer: Emily Dickinson."

In the comments to this morning's post about J.D. Salinger, Richard Lawrence Cohen (my ex-husband) paraphrases something Salinger once said.

That got me looking for Emily Dickinson's war poems, but I got distracted thinking about something else I read this morning, the obituary for the actress Julie Harris. She played the part of Emily Dickenson in a 1977 play called "The Belle of Amherst." A quick search on YouTube turned up a fine print of the entire 90-minute play. It probably shouldn't be there, and I won't embed it, but here it is.


Bob Ellison said...

I'm a better war poet. You don't know it yet, because I've been waiting for the right war.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

In the way of war poets, I would say that Walt Whitman beats both. But the Great War would be poorer without either Rupert Brooke or Wilfred Owen, diametric opposites as they are.

I quarrel with "romantic jingoism," by the way. That's a fair way to describe some of the riper bits of Kipling, but it mischaracterizes Brooke.

Heartless Aztec said...

Wilfred Owen

William said...

In Goodbye to All That, Robert Service talks about his anti war activities with Siegfried Sassoon. Siegfried was a decorated soldier and a recognized war poet. Siegfried wanted to head up some kind of anti war petition or activity. He thought that his fame would help the cause. Robert Service gently broke it to him that some guy named Siegfried wasn't the ideal person to head up the make peace with Germany campaign.

Dad29 said...

What surfed said. Hands-down.

campy said...

Obviously, we have to say the woman is better.

Anonymous said...

Alan Seeger

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

I didn't know she actually wrote any poems that were literally about war. I think Salinger meant that life is war, and that the better poet is the better poet, period, and that "war poetry" is a dubious classification. The ones on the linked site are very far from Dickinson's best poems.

Rupert Brooke (called by Yeats "the handsomest man in England"):

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

No one ever said he couldn't write verse.

Wilfred Owen and Walt Whitman: yes.

Balfegor said...

Who would ever reach for one of these Dickinson poems to express something he or she was feeling? Others have said the same sort of thing, and better. Whereas in contrast, even if most of Brookes' oeuvre is not particularly memorable, these lines do stick in the mind:

IF I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home

Wilfred Owen is okay, but I have to say I remember him mostly because Britten set his words in his War Requiem, which -- while not bad -- is also not exactly great, so I always read Owen's poetry with that odd sort of aimless recitative sing-song Britten used.

"The Wind on the Downs" is probably my favourite "war poem" by a female author.

JOB said...

Cooper’s Lament

This early morning, crows are chatting up the hedgerows;
Cooper’s hawks return,
Their beaks sharp and stern
In profile, to this scene of multiple crimes, the crows
That hurt the horizon, a brief summer’s welcome worn

Thin as talons flexed and swiftly strafing empty air:
Hawks fly at crows and
Crows disperse. The end
Is nowhere in sight. The tidy logic of nature
Gives to each repetition time enough and space, and

An end. In nature, nothing’s wasted; yet this seems futile.
The bulbous crows cluster
In a desperate murder –
And hawks close in, mortally accurate, more brutal
In each successive failure – sorties from my neighbor’s

Into my backyard (where all things possessed possess
Me and what is mine).
Is it a sort of sign?
Does it show that time’s carcass waits, more or less – and less,
In the hastening path of each hawk’s red-eyed line

Of attack? Is it signal patience in crow’s black eye,
Yielding war’s omen
To the plain Amen
Of peace? The summer surrenders a hinge-rusted cry –
And triumph tastes like carrion.

bill sherman said...

Although Brooke's "The Soldier" is his most famous poem, perhaps his best poems ("Tiare Tahiti" , "The Great Lover" , "There's Wisdom In Women" and others) were written in the South Seas where RB had gone to heal from an unhappy love affair with Katherine Cox of Cambridge. He joined the military a few months after his return to England, as so many others did, but he saw no action, having died of an insect bite gone septic on a troop ship headed for Gallipoli, and he was buried on the Greek island of Skyros. Yes, Yeats indeed called him "the handsomest man in England" and both men and women were in love with him, most notably perhaps, James Strachey, who upon hearing of Brooke's death, devoted his life to translating Freud. Brooke's poems to his Tahitian ladyfriend, TaataMata, called Mamua in the poems, are the only overtly heterosexual poems he wrote. There's a nice little anthology published by Penguin "Poems Of The Great War".....etc., etc.