Eerste levensjaren[ bewerken brontekst bewerken ] Blunden werd te Londen geboren als de oudste van negen kinderen van Charles Edmund Blunden — en zijn echtgenote, Georgina Margaret geboren Tyler. Beiden waren co-directeur van de Yalding school. Hij diende met dit bataljon op het Westfront tot aan het einde van de oorlog en nam deel aan acties in de Ieperboog en aan de Somme , in gevolgd door de Slag bij Passendale. Hij ontving het Military Cross MC als gevolg hiervan. Blunden diende twee jaar als junior infantry officer zonder fysiek gewond te raken ondanks een gasaanval in oktober , wat ongewoon was in de loop van de oorlog. Toch hield hij voor de rest van zijn leven aan de oorlog mentale littekens over aan zijn ervaringen.
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London, National Portrait Gallery, via Wikipedia. For the most sensitive of souls, trench warfare reserved exquisite torments.
Try as he might, he could not dull his feelings to the withering impact of shells and poison gas on both humankind and nature. Eventually he gave up his hopeless attempts to turn away, and embraced the role of observer. His poetry, unfairly ignored in comparison to that of fellow Englishmen Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, is some of the best to emerge from the cauldron of war.
His memoir Undertones of War, published in , is one of the finest works of literature of the twentieth century. Undertones of War stands 4 on my list of the top ten personal accounts of World War I, but it could just as easily stand 1.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Born in in London, but a devotee of the English countryside, Edmund Blunden was recognized as an up and coming poet when still a teenager, and won a full scholarship to Oxford in Appointed a second lieutenant in the 11th Royal Sussex Regiment, he spent the summer of to the early spring of in training in England, where he inhaled deeply the rapturous scent of English rural life and produced volumes of poetry.
The contrast with what he was to experience at the front could not have been greater. Though soft-spoken and diminutive, his bravery was unquestionable; and in November he was awarded the Military Cross.
Afterwards, the battles flowed in quick succession. From the end of to the end of , he was sent to fight at several locations in Flanders and France, culminating on July 31, in the horrific Battle of Passchendaele.
Blunden was gassed twice, but returned to service out of a sense of duty to his men. The Power of Literature Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Blunden was sent back to England for recuperation in the spring of , and his several attempts to return to the front were denied. Unable thus to find catharsis at the front, he sought refuge in art.
Bodies, bodies and their useless gear heaped the gross waste ground; the slimy road was soon only a mud track which passed a whitish tumulus of ruin with lurking entrances, some spikes that had been pine-trees, a bricked cellar or two, and died out. The shell-holes were mostly small lakes of what was no doubt merely rusty water, but had a red and foul semblance of blood.
Paths glistened weakly from tenable point to point. Of the dead, one was conspicuous. He was a Scottish soldier, and was kneeling, facing east, so that one could scarcely credit death in him; he was seen at some little distance from the usual tracks, and no one had much time in Thiepval just then for sight-seeing, or burying.
Death could not kneel so, I thought, and approaching I ascertained with a sudden shrivelling of spirit that Death could and did. He observed, internalized, processed, and passed it on to posterity, neither preaching nor explaining, but offering a simple eyewitness testimony to its tragic immensity.
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Undertones of War
Blunden survived the war, physically unscathed, but he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for the rest of his life. Nightmares were regular, most nights. He went to war in , a teenage boy. By his own description he left it three years later an old man.
For Edmund Blunden, surviving the war was the easy part
London, National Portrait Gallery, via Wikipedia. For the most sensitive of souls, trench warfare reserved exquisite torments. Try as he might, he could not dull his feelings to the withering impact of shells and poison gas on both humankind and nature. Eventually he gave up his hopeless attempts to turn away, and embraced the role of observer.
A Pastoralist at War: Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War
And some incurable, twisted, Shrieking, dumb, defiled. To this new concert, white we stood; Cold certainty held our breath; While men in tunnels below Larch Wood Were kicking men to death. The eldest of nine and the son of two London teachers, Blunden was astonishingly precocious. Thomas had been killed at Arras. In , with a fellow scholar, he discovered a hoard of missing poems by his hero, John Clare, in a cupboard in Peterborough Library - which they promptly published.