In my paper for the British Poetry of the First World War conference at Oxford at the end of this week, I’m discussing how war poets were represented in novels of the twenties. A key exhibit is Wilfrid Desert, the Byronic and disillusioned (‘Bitter as quinine’) poet of Galsworthy’s The White Monkey.
Galsworthy gives us just one example of his verse (perhaps unwisely, since it’s not a very good poem). It’s this one, where he imagines a deserter talking back to the officers at his court-martial:
THE COURT MARTIAL
“See ‘ere! I’m myde o’ nerves and blood
The syme as you, not meant to be
Froze stiff up to me ribs in mud.
You try it, like I ‘ave, an’ see!
“‘Aye, you snug beauty brass hats, when
You stick what I stuck out that d’y,
An’ keep yer ruddy ‘earts up–then
You’ll learn, maybe, the right to s’y:
“‘Take aht an’ shoot ‘im in the snow,
Shoot ‘im for cowardice! ‘E who serves
His King and Country’s got to know
There’s no such bloody thing as nerves.'”
What niggles me is line 8. Both my Penguin edition and the Project Gutenberg etext have ‘learn’ – but shouldn’t it be ‘earn’?
‘Learn’ really doesn’t make much sense.
I’m now debating with myself – when I quote the poem in my paper, do I say ‘earn’ or ‘learn’?
I think I’m going with ‘earn’.
Or maybe not.