In 1975 William Golding wrote a review of Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory for The Guardian. It’s a very perceptive review (noting something I’ve noticed, that in Fussell’s treatment of his authors ‘a note that can only be called patronising creeps in’; Fussell doesn’t trust his authors to tell the whole truth about the War, which is why he brings in those jarring sections about American absurdists).
This paragraph of the review, about the war poets, is striking, though I don’t agree with it:
On the Western Front, these by no means major poets experienced so violent, indded so literally explosive, a dissociation of all the elements of normal living that they passed their time, emotionally speaking, in a kind of white-hot plasma. There, the satiny irrelevance of the Georgian poetasters was burned away and the forked creatures screamed the unspeakable. The age of irony had begun.
I’m currently reading Merryn Williams’s new anthology The Georgians 1901-1930. I’m writing a review of it that will appear elsewhere, so won’t say much about it here, except that one of the things the anthology does brilliantly is show how the best war poetry grew out of the Georgian method (intelligibility, avoidance of archaism, traditional form). Hardy’s example inspired the Georgians, and it was Hardy that Sassoon read voraciously while in the trenches.
Merryn Williams’s selection goes beyond the poets included in Marsh’s anthologies to claim other good poets for the Georgian tradition – notably Charlotte Mew, Wilfred Owen and Ivor Gurney. The latter two dominate the last third of the anthology, and show that far from being irrelevant, it was Georgian poetry that gave them the language and techniques through which the War could be described.