Seamus Heaney and Edward Thomas for Memorial Day, Censored Works by WWI Nurses, and Next Week's Post on WWI American Immigrant Poetry
The Last WWrite Featured Post: The last post featured another installment in the series about WWI censored written works. Jennifer Orth-Veillon, the WWrite blog curator, discussed two censored works by Army nurses: Ellen N. La Motte's The Backwash of War (book cover image, left) and Mary Borden's The Forbidden Zone. If you have a censored literary work in mind, please email Jennifer Orth-Veillon at [email protected].
Next Week's Post:University of Kansas Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures Associate Professor, Lorie A. Vanchena, will discuss WWI American Immigrant Poetry: A Digital Humanities Project, an impressive and original project about WWI American poetry. Poems written in response to World War I by immigrants in the United States constitute a broad range of commentary on the war. The poems exist primarily in print format and are widely dispersed throughout North America. (Photo, above right: The writer during the moment of creative inspiration, Eugene Ivanov | Shutterstock).
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Memorial Day, WWI Writing, and Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney: On this Memorial Day 2017, we pay tribute to all the men and women who have died in defending the United States (Poster from the National WWI Museum and Memorial 2015). Commemorative ceremonies around the country will call upon poetry and other literary texts to speak eloquently about the fallen to their audiences. But reading poetry can also offer a solitary moment of contemplation through language, away from the crowds and the cookouts. With the WWI centennial anniversary approaching, try reading one of the thousands of poems written by WWI servicemen and women. Read it quietly, then loudly. Let the echoes and reverberations haunt you throughout the day. Respond with you own poetry. And give thanks.
*"In the Field," by Seamus Heaney is particularly striking, as it is a response to a WWI poem. In what is said to be the last poem written by Nobel Laureate, Heaney, the Irish poet, reflects on WWI (Heaney, photo left, Eamonn Mccabe for The Guardian). Heaney was invited by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, to contribute to a memorial anthology marking the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war. She asked poets to respond to poetry, letters and diary entries from the time, similar to what the WWrite Blog asks of its own authors. Heaney chose Edward Thomas' great poem, "As The Team's Head Brass," which he wrote in 1916 shortly before he asked to be posted to the front – a decision that led to his death at Arras the following year (Edward Thomas, photo right). In response Heaney wrote "In a Field," completed in June 2013, two months before his own death, and published for the first time in the UK newspaper, The Guardian. Heaney's poem is set in the rural landscape of his childhood. It tells of a returning family member, traumatized from the war. Below you will find Edward Thomas' poem, followed by Heaney's response.
As the Team's Head Brass, by Edward Thomas
As the team's head-brass flashed out on the turn
The lovers disappeared into the wood.
I sat among the boughs of the fallen elm
That strewed an angle of the fallow, and
Watched the plough narrowing a yellow square
Of charlock. Every time the horses turned
Instead of treading me down, the ploughman leaned
Upon the handles to say or ask a word,
About the weather, next about the war.
Scraping the share he faced towards the wood,
And screwed along the furrow till the brass flashed
The blizzard felled the elm whose crest
I sat in, by a woodpecker's round hole,
The ploughman said. 'When will they take it away?'
'When the war's over.' So the talk began –
One minute and an interval of ten,
A minute more and the same interval.
'Have you been out?' 'No.' 'And don't want to, perhaps?'
'If I could only come back again, I should.
I could spare an arm. I shouldn't want to lose
A leg. If I should lose my head, why, so,
I should want nothing more. . . . Have many gone
From here?' 'Yes.' 'Many lost?' 'Yes: a good few.
Only two teams work on the farm this year.
One of my mates is dead. The second day
In France they killed him. It was back in March,
The very night of the blizzard, too. Now if
He had stayed here we should have moved the tree.'
'And I should not have sat here. Everything
Would have been different. For it would have been
Another world.' 'Ay, and a better, though
If we could see all all might seem good.' Then
The lovers came out of the wood again:
The horses started and for the last time
I watched the clods crumble and topple over
After the ploughshare and the stumbling team.
In a Field, by Seamus Heaney
And there I was in the middle of a field,
The furrows once called "scores' still with their gloss,
The tractor with its hoisted plough just gone
Snarling at an unexpected speed
Out on the road. Last of the jobs,
The windings had been ploughed, furrows turned
Three ply or four round each of the four sides
Of the breathing land, to mark it off
And out. Within that boundary now
Step the fleshy earth and follow
The long healed footprints of one who arrived
From nowhere, unfamiliar and de-mobbed,
In buttoned khaki and buffed army boots,
Bruising the turned-up acres of our back field
To stumble from the windings' magic ring
And take me by a hand to lead me back
Through the same old gate into the yard
Where everyone has suddenly appeared,
All standing waiting.
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