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30th July 14
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Visual Grammar link -analysing War Posters

Listen to Wilfred Owen's luggage


Literature of war frontis

 Thomas  Owen   Rosenberg  Sassoon


"Little song for the maimed"

Lend me your arm

To replace my leg

The rats ate it for me

At Verdun

At Verdun

I ate a lot of rats

But they didn't give me back my leg

And that's why I was given the Croix de Guerre

And a wooden leg

And a wooden leg


Benjamin Perét

Translated from the French by David Gascoyne



This form originated in Ancient Greek poetry, whose most famous example is Simonides's epitaph for the Spartan dead after the Battle of Thermopylae,which can be found in Herodotus' work The Histories (7.228), to the Spartans:

ξεν', γγλλειν Λακεδαιμονοις τι τδε

(O xein', angellein Lakedaimoniois hoti ti

κεμεθα τος κενων ῥήμασι πειθμενοι.

keimetha tois keinon rhosi peithomenoi.)


Which to keep the poetic context can be translated as:

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by

that here, obedient to their laws we lie

or more literally as:

Oh foreigner, tell the Lacedaemonians

that here we lie, obeying those words

The 'Myth' of the Great War


Two of the most fruitful critical texts on literature of the First World War (The Great War and Modern Memory: Paul Fussell, and A War Imagined: Samuel Hynes) both focus on how texts create a particular view of the war. That is, their focus is on the relation between the literary 'processing' of 'reality' - avoiding a naive view that the one simply reflects the other.

Literature becomes creator and/or reflector of -in either way, participant in- a collective 'story': the received image of what the First World War was.

Hynes in the introduction to his book gives a brief sketch of that 'collective narrative of [the war's] significance':

'a generation of innocent young men, their heads full of high abstractions like Honour, Glory, and England, went off to war to make the world safe for democracy. They were slaughtered in stupid battles planned by stupid generals. Those who survived were shocked, disillusioned and embittered by their war experiences, and saw that their real enemies were not the Germans, but the old men at home who had lied to them. They rejected the values of the society that had sent them to war, and in doing so separated their own generation from the past and from their cultural inheritance.
This story has been told in many ways: in histories of the war, in fictions and memoirs, in poems, in plays, in paintings, in films; but its essential elements remain much the same. They constitute a set of abrupt disjunctions - between generations, between fighting soldiers and those who controlled their lives, between the present and the past - which can be reduced to two terse propositions: the old betray the young; the past is remote and useless.'

This - more or less - is the view of the war that most still accept: we are the inheritors of a view established mainly in the twenties and thirties. It might be 'true' in some general sense - although inevitably it will be a simplification. Calling it a 'myth' is perhaps not a happy choice of word; it implies nothing about its correspondence to the truth. Perhaps the standard view might be a less misleading term.

[The use of myth here must be distinguished from other current usages:
1. myth as illusion or falsehood - for example, the story of the 'Angel of Mons' or the propaganda story of the Geman factories which boiled down corpses for use as glue.
2. myth as a metahistorical 'narrative' which can be used to reflect and add meaning or contrast to the contemporary narrative, as used for example in T S Eliot's The Wasteland (1922), or in David Jones narrative poem on the First World War, In Parenthesis (1937). ]