Course overview

The poetry of the 1914-18 War has been much studied in the past 70 years, and many of the poets that we shall consider are now firmly established in the literary canon. We are familiar with their work and familiar with what they had to write of the terror and pity of those years. Rather than rehearsing the themes often associated with them, this course will strive to open a number of new perspectives including the following influences on their poetry. These are: • Rupert Brooke - what might have been. • The influence of sexuality on Owen and Sassoon. • The impact of madness on Ivor Gurney. • Class guilt in these poets. • The dangers of memory in Edward Thomas.

Course description

The poetry generated by the Great War has been seen as a definitive break with the traditions of lyric poetry and the Romantic tradition, and those virtues, often masculine associated with Britain’s imperial status. This course will evaluate the worth of this conclusion, arguing that the poetry of the Great War is also engaged with the formation of a different poetic sensibility and agenda, a more modern and psychological poetry, influenced by the gender, sexuality and the emerging theories of the subconscious.

We will explore how these poets are in continual negotiation with the political and social notions of class and society advanced through the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and as often as not involved in an attempt to formulate a distinctive identity for the self through their writings. It is hoped that by focusing our discussions on the psychologies and identities of our chosen poets that we will discover a deeper understanding of them and their poetry, which avoids the usual categorisations or descriptions of their works.

Each session will focus on specific poems and you will be encouraged to develop the skills of practical criticism, which will deepen your ability to analyse poetry and lead you to re-evaluate your previous assumptions.

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