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Some Desperate Glory: The First World War the Poets Knewby Max Egremont
Synopses & Reviews
The story of World War I, through the lives and words of its poets
The hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of what many believed would be the war to end all wars is in 2014. And while World War I 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 wars tragedy but also the hopes and disappointments of a generation of men. In Some Desperate Glory, the 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 includes a chronological anthology of the poets works, telling the story of the war not only through the lives of these writers but also 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 soldiers experience coupled with a panoramic view of the wars toll on an entire nation.
"Novelist and biographer Egremont (Forgotten Land) offers an unsentimental retrospective of WWI through searing reports of 'eleven fragile young men who were unlikely warriors.' Mapping their experiences and poems year by year, he traces how the 'patriotic emotion' of Rupert Brooke's 'The Soldier' disintegrates into the bitter stoicism of Siegfried Sassoon's satires, or the grim compassion of Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce Et Decorum Est.' The poets's war, Egremont argues, 'was seen as the truth,' a vision of 'incessant mechanical slaughter' that imbued British policy, memory, and literary tradition with a sense of 'victimhood' and 'pessimism.' In focusing on biography, poetic composition and reception, and what the poets thought of each other, Egremont doesn't offer much detail about the war itself. His literary analysis tends to be broad — Isaac Rosenberg's 'Dead Men's Dump' depicts 'nature's obliviousness to human destruction' — and he defines the aesthetic of war poetry mainly by how it differs from modernism. However, his tale cannot fail to be touching; six of the poets die in the war, including Owen, a week before armistice. The book serves as a preface to the soaring poems themselves, as the doomed writers chronicle 'the sacrifice of innocents against a relentless enemy.' Agent: Gill Coleridge, Rogers, Coleridge & White. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Max Egremont was born in 1948 and studied modern history at Oxford University. He is the author of several novels and biographies, including Siegfried Sassoon: A Life (FSG, 2005) and Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia (FSG, 2011). Egremont is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He lives in England.
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