A Strange Dearth

In 1985, in the wake of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, a plaque went up in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner, commemorating Richard Aldington, Laurence Binyon, Edmund Blunden, Rupert Brooke, Wilfrid Gibson, Robert Graves, Julian Grenfell, Ivor Gurney, David Jones, Robert Nichols, Wilfred Owen, Herbert Read, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Charles Sorley, and Edward Thomas.  Five—Grenfell, Thomas, Rosenberg, Owen, and Sorley—died on the battlefield, Brooke died of an infected mosquito bite in the Aegean Sea, and Graves died in his own bed at the age of 90.  But canonization is canonization.  Eleven of the 16 “war poets” commemorated in the Abbey, Max Egremont, author of an acclaimed biography of Sassoon, has chosen to follow through the trenches.

The Muse in arms, to borrow the title of an early anthology devoted to the genre of “war poetry,” is intractable.  No verse of any considerable stature has come out of World War II, for instance—not here, not in Britain, not in Germany, not in Russia, not anywhere.  I say this with sadness, because my uncle, Evgeny Vinokurov, who, when not yet 18, commanded an infantry platoon, was, as a poet, much nearer the sensibility we recognize in the English “war poets” than any literary Briton or American of a subsequent generation, yet regarded wholesale exploitation of the war theme...

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