Saturday, February 22, 2014

World War I: Before and After

Recently I read the poem Pro Rege Nostro by William Ernest Henley, one of my favorite poets (mainly for his poem Invictus). Henley wrote Pro Rege Nostro in the late 1800s, fifteen years or so before World War I. The poem is essentially Henley's love letter to England, and also became extremely popular during the war as a sign of patriotism. Here is the first verse:

"What have I done for you, 
England, my England? 
What is there I would not do, 
England, my own? 
With your glorious eyes austere, 
As the Lord were walking near, 
Whispering terrible things and dear 
As the Song on your bugles blown, England -- 
Round the world on your bugles blown!"

In this verse from Pro Rege Nostro you can see how strikingly different it is from Eliot's The Waste Land, which was written only about two decades after Henley's poem. Pro Rege Nostro displays utter patriotism, whereas The Waste Land describes London as a broken place filled with disillusioned citizens as a direct result of World War I.  

"Unreal city,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, 
A crowd flowed over London bridge, so many,
I had not thought death undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet."

Just through these two poems you can see the way in which events, such as World War I, can effect literature and poetry. Because of this, they become almost history lessons that catalouge the general attitudes, feelings, and emotions of society through these historical events.

1 comment:

Joseph D'Amico said...

I liked the section from Pro Rege Nostro a lot better than I liked The Waste Land. It's kind of refreshing to see a poem with actual structure. It's been a while since I've read any good ol' patriotic poems.