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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 3 Number 3, 1974.

Person and Politics: Commitment in the Forties Jon Glover


ONE DOES not immediately think of the war poetry of 1939-45 as representing an important period of political involvement. However, in the work of Douglas, Keyes and Lewis we can see almost a model of the tensions located in a commitment to the poet's individuality and a growing awareness of political realities in the wider world. In reaching such a judgement we have to make continual qualifications since we are not dealing with consistently developed literary theory, though the poets involved were certainly politically conscious. In fact, the poetry was profoundly multi-dimensional; the very best was that which grew from tension. The war involved the individual and yet it was often an alienating, looking-glass world. The poet was forced into a historical consciousness and yet lived for the moment. He travelled to Africa, Europe and India and became more conscious of the history and feel of individual places in Britain.

The Second World War for Auden and others represented a failure relative to their experience of the preceding decade. But for younger men the history and literature of the First World War came as readily to mind when Europe plunged back into chaos. This is important because it helps to explain the confusion felt by writers at the public desire for a literature of something like that of 1914-18. In fact, seen either as the continuation of Thirties politics or as a continuation of the First World War the early Forties could not and should not ...


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