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This review is taken from PN Review 83, Volume 18 Number 3, January - February 1992.

CROW-LIKE OR KEATS' LIKE? Barry Webb: Edmund Blunden: a Biography (Yale University Press) £18.50

What an anachronistic figure Edmund Blunden seems, and as Barry Webb makes clear in his sympathetic biography, Blunden himself was painfully aware of the anachronism: 'Why slept I not in Flanders clay / With all the murdered men?' The guilt of the survivor speaks there. In a sense, Blunden was always looking back: to his childhood in Kent, and all the intimate knowledge of the rural year it provided; to his schooling at Christ's Hospital, where he was introduced to some of the poets and essayists of the 18th and 19th centuries who became an abiding interest; above all, to the First World War. Of British soldier-writers, only David Jones spent as long in the trenches. Those three and a half years never ceased to haunt him, and keeping his comrades' memory alive was, as Webb says, 'a life-long trust'.

This devotion was paralleled in Blunden's patient promotion of the work of then unfashionable poets such as John Clare and Ivor Gurney, his edition of Wilfred Owen's work bringing together the two causes of war and poetry. Such qualities of nostalgia, piety, melancholy and reverie - all present in his own poetry - suggest a fairly solitary, book-laden existence in some country cottage, with the one violent interruption of the war. The biography includes a chapter on cricket - about which Blunden was passionate, but a chapter is too much; and a pleasant chapter on his book-collecting - he died in possession of ten thousand volumes, carefully ...


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