In this series of classes, students will examine the extraordinary flowering of British poetry created by the First World War and seek to understand why this poetry was so different from any that had gone before and so different from that produced by any other nation. The classes will examine the history of war poetry from classical to Edwardian times, including authors such as Homer, Chaucer, Tennyson, Newbolt, Kipling and Hardy, and explore the cult of ‘Georgian poetry’ that dominated English poetry pre-1914. As well as examining the famous war poets – Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg – the course will examine war poets by well-known poets not usually associated with the war, hitherto unknown poets who nevertheless wrote brilliant work, and the popular poets of the day such as Woodbine Willy and John Oxenham who sold millions in their time but have subsequently been forgotten, and female poets of the war. The course then goes on to examine the poetry of the Second World War and the war in Vietnam.
In war, soldiers turn to humour as a source of relief. It is not widely known that WW1 produced a hilarious as well as a horrified poetic response. A unique feature of the course is a 5-minute conclusion to each session looking at comic poetry produced by serving officers and men, provoking an enquiry into the role of humour in both warfare and literature.
Participants can join for the whole course or join on a session-by-session basis (including joining their first session as a free taster class). When joining any paid class participants will receive access to a video recording of previous sessions in the series.
Introductory Class Outline
The taster course will introduce students to the key areas of interest in the course by examining poems that sum up the characteristics of the key styles in war poetry: the heroic (Newbolt’s Vitae Lampada); the patriotic (Brooke’s The Soldier); the famous ‘poetry of pity’ (Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est); the brilliant but largely unknown (Sorley’s All the Hills and Vales Along); the forgotten populist (Woodbine Willy’s A Gal On the Streets); female poets of the war ( Helen Mackay’s Train)). The session will introduce students to the views of those who think that when WB Yeats described war poetry as ‘all dirt and sucked sugar stick’ he was right, and that history has remembered the wrong poets of the war. The course will also suggest what were the circumstances that allowed for this unique flowering of poetry to happen in the first place, before moving on to examine various post-WW1 war poems, such as by Keith Douglas and Bob Dylan.
Full Course Outline
The course offers a new and thought-provoking view of First World and other War poetry and asks students to approach poetry from a dual perspective of both literature and history.
Class 1: War poetry in history.
Class 2: Early Days: a Patriotic Flowering.
Class 3: The Poetry of Pity.
Class 4: The Poetry of Protest.
Class 5: Female Poets of War.
Class 6: The Poets the Soldiers Read.
Class 7: Forgotten Heroes: Charles Sorley and Edward Thomas.
Class 8: Poetry of the Second World War and the War in Vietnam.
Dr Martin Stephen edited the classic anthology of World War 1 poetry, Never Such Innocence, and is the author of Poetry and Myths of the Great War. How Poets Changed Our Perception of History. He is the former High Master of St Paul’s School, London, and The Manchester Grammar School, and was also Head of The Perse School, Cambridge. He is the author of 24 books, including five historical crime thrillers.
- Format: Live online group classes
- Maximum Class Size: Class sizes are kept deliberately small, ensuring participants have the opportunity to interact with the course teacher through Q&A discussions within each session
- Platform: Lessons will take place on Zoom. All sessions are recorded and made available to participants, allowing you to review material or catch up on any missed sessions.