Opinion

Poems of the British Gulag

by Alex Niven

The War Poets, and their continuing centrality in British cultural life, from GCSE syllabi to media outlets where they are often the only poetry to feature in any given year, are at the heart of a modern liberal value complex that recuperates Remembrance Day’s human factor while leaving the door open for revanchist nationalism. It is not that their poetry is bad per se – indeed Owen and Rosenberg in particular are, in their best moments, capable of truly affecting and strange writing. Yet there is something much too comfortable and comforting about their reception. The real singularity of the best World War I poetry springs from the deep realisation on the part of the soldiers in Flanders and elsewhere that they were fighting not for a tangible communal goal, like the later repulsion of Fascism in World War II, but for an obscure web of motives derived from an epochal crisis in British capitalism and imperialism. [read full opinion]