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Friday Poem: Edmund Blunden, war poet


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As the centenary of the Armistice draws closer, we commemorate Edmund Blunden, one of the few WW1 poets who survived the war and continued a successful literary career. 

Blunden was born in London in 1896, and entered the war in 1914 as a lieutenant in the Royal Sussex Regiment. He was discharged in 1918, and began a career as a poet and author. In 1924 he became professor of English literature at Tokyo Imperial University, and during his tenure published his most famous book of poems, Undertones of War (1928). 
He moved back to Britain in 1927, and became a fellow of English literature at Merton College Oxford in 1931. Over the next few decades he moved back and forth between Britain and Japan, until his death in 1974. 
Festubert, 1916, by Edmund Blunden
Tired with dull grief, grown old before my day,
I sit in solitude and only hear
Long silent laughters, murmurings of dismay,
The lost intensities of hope and fear;
In those old marshes yet the rifles lie,
On the thin breastwork flutter the grey rags,
The very books I read are there—and I
Dead as the men I loved, wait while life drags
Its wounded length from those sad streets of war
Into green places here, that were my own;
But now what once was mine is mine no more,
I seek such neighbours here and I find none.
With such strong gentleness and tireless will
Those ruined houses seared themselves in me,
Passionate I look for their dumb story still,
And the charred stub outspeaks the living tree.
I rise up at the singing of a bird
And scarcely knowing slink along the lane,
I dare not give a soul a look or word
For all have homes and none's at home in vain:
Deep red the rose burned in the grim redoubt,
The self-sown wheat around was like a flood,
In the hot path the lizards lolled time out,
The saints in broken shrines were bright as blood.
Sweet Mary's shrine between the sycamores!
There we would go, my friend of friends and I,
And snatch long moments from the grudging wars; 
Whose dark made light intense to see them by ... 
Shrewd bit the morning fog, the whining shots
Spun from the wrangling wire; then in warm swoon
The sun hushed all but the cool orchard plots,
We crept in the tall grass and slept till noon.

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