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This review is taken from PN Review 204, Volume 38 Number 4, March - April 2012.

Acts of Remembering nicholas murray, The Red Sweet Wine of Youth: The Brave and Brief Lives of the War Poets (Little, Brown) £25

This is not simply a collection of First World War poets' biographies, and by no means only restricts itself to brief lives cut short by the war. Poets who survived the war, well into the twentieth century in some cases, are also covered. Undeniably the lives discussed include brave and heroic moments, but Murray also deals with more uncomfortable topics: cowardice, boredom, snobbery and extreme racism. He distinguishes usefully and with sensitive intelligence between poems written before engagement in battle; 'trench' poems; poems written in reflection, during leave or a hospital stay; the poetry of the bereaved and the poetry of the survivors, in some cases written a considerable time after the war was over. He groups his chapters, and poets, according to these categories. The poets are for the most part male since he focuses on those who experienced fighting at the Front, but he also refers to the outpourings of those left behind and often bereaved at home, and covers to some degree the undeniably important prose writings that have come out of the First World War, the last chapter in particular providing a very useful, if brief, literary survey of anthologies of war writing.

For Murray the war poet's role is that of witness, to record, commemorate and convey the 'truth'. War poets are 'enablers' of the 'act of remembering', and, as this book shows, such 'remembering' can range from an enthusiastic celebration of the call to fight to more searching anti-war and anti-heroic ...


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