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Edmund Blunden in uniform photo

The Front Line

The Front Line - poems that detail front line experiences - some of which were written during the war.

In comparison to other First World War poets only a small amount of poems written by Blunden during the war have survived. One of them, Thiepval Wood, was written in September 1916 when Edmund was twenty years old. In the poem the poet is witnessing a battle and describing the devastating affect warfare can have on nature.

Thiepval Wood
The tired air groans as the heavies swing over, the river-hollows boom;
The shell-fountains leap from the swamps, and with wildfire and fume
The shoulder of the chalkdown convulses.
Then the jabbering echoes stampede in the slatting wood,
Ember-black the gibbet trees like bones or thorns protrude
From the poisonous smoke past all impulses.
To them these silvery dews can never again be dear,
Nor the blue javelin-flame of the thunderous noons strike fear.
September 1916

To listen to Claire Blunden reading this poem click the link at the bottom of the page. (This requires Real Player)

Themes and faces
This poem illustrates the destructive power war has over man and nature. The poet sees the wood being in a position as vulnerable as his own. The wood is exposed to the dangers of warfare and can suffer as much as he. Because of this identification the poet gives the wood and the surrounding environment human qualities: the air 'groans' and the 'shoulder' of the chalkdown convulses.

This shared experience enables the soldier poet to empathise with the wood and as he does the human and natural imagery blurs: 'Ember black the gibbet trees like bones or thorns protrude.'

The threat of death brings the soldier and landscape together, letting the soldier express his own fears of being permanently damaged through the experience of the wood: 'To them these silvery dews can never again be dear, Nor the blue javelin-flame of the thunderous noons strike fear.'

Effect of time
The poem was written in September 1916 during the war and therefore the scene the poet creates is very immediate.

This immediacy can be felt through the sensory nature of the poem in the sounds 'jabbering echoes stampede in the slatting wood' and smells 'poisonous smoke'. The use of these words not only give us the sense of actually being there, seeing what the soldiers sees, but they also help us as the reader identify with the plight of the landscape as words such as 'jabbering' and 'stampede' are usually used in connection with humans.

Message
The poet helps us to see man and nature as one and to realise that as much as man is wounded by war so too is nature. The landscape described in the poem gives us an idea of the conditions and surroundings the soldiers fought in. The last three lines of the poem explore the lasting effects of war. The wood has been damaged beyond repair: rain will not restore it and lightening can no longer threaten it. This can be said for the soldiers too, those that are dead are physically beyond repair and those that live have been damaged too deeply and can never return to the way they once were.






Click here to listen to Claire Blunden reading 'Thiepval Wood'



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