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Poetry of the First World War: a comparative study of Guillaume Apollinaire, Wilfred Owen and August Stramm.

Wilson, Kathryn D. (1983) Poetry of the First World War: a comparative study of Guillaume Apollinaire, Wilfred Owen and August Stramm. Masters thesis, Durham University.



The aim of this study is to examine the nature of poetic response to war across the English, French and German languages. It attempts first of all to define the resources (specifically, the metaphor) available to the war poet, as opposed to the writer of war prose, in his new search for objective truth. The 1914-18 War was a testing ground for Poetry, compelled as never before by the imminence of the historical event. This study is therefore particularly concerned with tracing the various stages of a change in poetic language between 1914-18 which in part lead to the greater realism characteristic of later 20 poetry. These stages run from the gradual rejection of conventional poetic expression (Chapter 2) - a process seen as either quickened or impeded by the social and political climate in which the poet found himself (chapter 3) - to the final emergence of a new medium adequate to the communication of the new realities (Chapter 4). This maturer poetic language found its most brilliant expression in the English humanitarian poetry of protest, the best of which stands alone, it is argued, as the finest poetry of the war (Section i-ii, Chapter 3).The aesthetic failure of the alternative French and German responses, which were largely ones of passivity and acceptance, is seen less as a product of personal talent, than as a direct result of national attitudes to the social and political valuation of the individual. Section iii of Chapter 3 looks at the German socialist and middle-class acceptance of the imperialist ideology of the ruling government and the subsequent alienation from Western liberal democratic ideals, as some of the reasons for the lack of open rejection of war. The different philosophical premises of German and English literature are also examined. Chapter 4 assesses the success of humanitarian and non-humanitarian poetry through a discussion of the individual metaphoric usage of Guillaume Apollinaire, Wilfred Owen and August Stramm. Factors such as internal congruity and technical accomplishment are considered, as is the role of metaphor in each poet's search for meaning. Although the war poetry of Apollinaire is negatively judged in this study, a diachronic view of the metaphorical development in Calligrammes during 1914-16 from early cliché to mature love lyric, does reveal some signs of the same movement away from aestheticism which inspired the English poets towards a greater involvement with the human concerns of Mankind at war and consequently to a richer, wiser and tougher poetry.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:1983
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:15 May 2013 15:44

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