Blunden’s daughter interviewed by Emma Barnett on 7 May 2020 about his unpublished poem ‘V Day’
Here is a slightly edited transcript of the interview.
Emma: Margi is one of Edmund’s children and she had no idea that the poem existed until a few months ago, what a discovery! How do you feel about it?
Margi: Thank you for having me on, well I’m one of 4 sisters and we are of course excited that this poem has come to light, and completely unexpected as we didn’t know about it at all.
Emma: It must be something extraordinary to hear some of your father’s voice.
Margi: It is, but in that sense we are very privileged, as his daughters we can go to his poetry whenever we like, and it is for me, and I think for my other sisters, such an opportunity to hear his words and his voice over all the years, because we were really young when he died.
Emma: What do you take from this new verse, what do you understand he is trying to say?
Margi: Well I think it’s an important poem for our times because I think what he is actually asking us to do is to question what victory means. That line ‘We have come through’ ,he uses it twice in the poem and I think the final time he uses it I thought, “here comes the victory cheer.” But if you read it more carefully, as I made myself do, I think what he is saying is that in order to honour the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice we have to work out how to solve conflict without war, and only then can we say: ‘We have come through’.
Emma: So it’s important to think of the shape of victory, and also the legacy, you’d hope this wouldn’t happen again in quite the same way?
Margi: Exactly, the thing about honouring the dead (and I think) – the sacrifice they made was very important to him. He was a survivor witness of the first World War and his whole life was marked by that chance of survival, and I think he spent a lot of his life trying to make sense of war, which is a senseless way of trying to solve conflict. So he spent his life doing that and he wrote a lot about it, particularly his war poetry and his prose work ‘Undertones of War’ where he actually uses that phrase ‘We have come through’. That’s actually in the prose work.
Emma: What will you be doing tomorrow?
Margi: I’m very fortunate I live in a rural place by the sea, so I’ll probably – if this sun continues – take a walk and get outside a little bit, but I’ll be thinking of my daughter who is a midwife at my local hospital, so she’s very much in the frame: and also my Dad and what he went through in the First World War, and indeed in the Second because he took on uniform again to teach map reading to officers during the war years of the Second World War.
Emma: So it kept going in his life didn’t it?
Margi: It certainly did, right to the end. Siegfried Sassoon said he was the war poet most haunted by that war, and I think from my experience of living with him, I could really echo that. I think my sisters would think the same. It was a huge legacy to carry and I think he did extremely well in terms of having PTSD, which he obviously did, and having had no treatment for it, unlike other war poets, but he managed to make a huge success of his life in terms of literature and encouraging other writers; and writing himself – that is a success, I feel, sometimes, in awe of.
Emma: What do you think of the comparisons being drawn (WW2 & COVID). What do you think of the comparisons of the pandemic to times of war?
Margi: Well some parallels might be that we are living in a time of huge anxiety and uncertainty, none of us know how this is all going to pan out, really, and clearly there’s loss of life as there always is in war: and I think the other thing is it alters the trajectory of the future, as war did, and connections are broken in all sorts of ways. I think for people too, when connections are broken, or people have died or lost relatives, it’s an extremely painful time. I think we have to remember that war has this element of huge loss to it and perhaps something we don’t want to be engaged in again, I don’t know what you think about it?
Emma agrees, and wraps the interview up.