An Introduction to Blunden's War Poetry
by Amy Budd
Edmund Blunden enlisted in August 1915 when he was 19 years old and still at school. At this point he had already begun to explore his poetic voice; he had poems published in his school magazine and had organised the private publication of three short volumes of poetry. He was inspired by the countryside that surrounded him during his youth declaring ‘I sing of the rivers and hamlets and woodlands of Sussex and Kent.’ Although he would continue to write pastoral poetry throughout his life the experience of war gave him another voice.
He left England for France in early 1916 and was eventually demobilised in mid February 1919. During his service in France and Flanders he spent two years at the front, more than any other well known war writer. These two years included some of the most violent and bloody fighting in the war including the battle of the Somme and the battle of Third Ypres.
The first ever collection of Blunden’s war poetry (which is by no means complete) was published in 1996 and contains over 170 poems. This collection was edited by Martin Taylor and entitled ‘Overtones of War’. The collection contains poems written during the war (although in Blunden’s words many of them were ‘lost in the mud’), immediately after the war and poems written years later. There are also poems like ‘Midnight Skaters’ that on the surface seem unconnected with the war but when one looks beneath the surface the memory of war can be found lurking.
Blunden faced the war as a young man in the trenches for two years and then again as a survivor for fifty-six years. Martin Taylor’s collection of Blunden’s war poems provides us with a complex and fascinating insight into the mind-shattering experience of war. This insight goes beyond the horrors of frontline battle, to the beauty and destruction of the landscape, the emotional bond between soldiers and the long-term impact of the war on a survivor.
The 170 poems in the Martin Taylor collection explore all these faces of war and it would be very difficult to look at each of them in this introduction to his war poetry.
Therefore for the purposes of this article three ‘types’ of Blunden war poems will be explored. One poem from each ‘type’ will be deconstructed to look at the different faces and themes of war, the effect of time on the poetry and the messages the poems convey to the reader.