Review: The OM War Poets

The talent and tragedy of the OM war poets is spoken of a lot within the school and for good reason. Charles Hamilton Sorley (C1 1908-15) and Siegfried Sassoon (CO 1902-04) pioneered a new genre of wartime poetry, poems that spoke less of the glory of sacrifice made for one’s country and more of the melancholy wrought on the young generation at the time.

Borne from both bitterness and stark realism, the works of these poets mark an important part of Marlborough’s history, and it is infinitely edifying that their lives and legacies are recognised by experts such as Jean Moorcroft Wilson.

A well-respected author and academic, Jean Moorcroft Wilson chose to concentrate a decent portion of her research on two of the most famous WWI era OMs, Charles Hamilton Sorley and Siegfried Sassoon. Often when attending talks on such topics, one is bombarded with the same information which could all too easily be found on Wikipedia. But this particular talk was, in my opinion, a refreshing take on the subject.

All too frequently, the relevance of these men being young and rebellious is silenced; always mentioned, but without the compassion that communicates their reality in the context of the war. The actuality is dulled by the constant stream of admittedly relevant but laborious facts, which detracts from a topic that should be emotive and poignant.

Jean Moorcroft Wilson, fortunately, succeeded in maintaining an empathetic narrative. I found that she capitalised on the interesting parts of Sassoon and Sorley’s lives and characters and showed them as the enigmatic personalities that they surely were.

In addition to this, she explained the influence that these poets had on one another, mentioning that, after Sorley’s death in 1915, Sassoon and another wartime poet, Robert Graves, were truly affected by his poetry and saddened that he had died so soon.

Jean Moorcroft Wilson then contrasted Sassoon and Sorley to Rupert Brooke, the poet credited with the idealistic The Soldier that speaks of England and the war with such unrelenting optimism and honour. Sassoon and Sorley, on the other hand, wrote poems to very much the opposite effect. They spoke of death with a certain chilling finality, a jilting contrast to the idea of death in war as an honourable sacrifice, so common in poems of this era.

The contrast between these opposing views added a depth to the lecture that is not always achieved, and I can honestly say that, thanks to the compassion offered in the account, I know more about the OM war poets than I did before.

Review by Freya Hogevold (NC Re)

You may also like