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Sacrifice and Modern War LiteratureThe Battle of Waterloo to the War on Terror$
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Alex Houen and Jan-Melissa Schramm

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198806516

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198806516.001.0001

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‘It is the poems you have lost’

‘It is the poems you have lost’

Poetry and Sacrifice during the Second World War

(p.177) 11 ‘It is the poems you have lost’
Sacrifice and Modern War Literature

Helen Goethals

Oxford University Press

This chapter suggests that, after Dunkirk, civilian morale in Britain was galvanized around three sacrificial moments: the purging of the National Government, the Battle of Britain, and the Blitz. Accordingly, T. S. Eliot, Edith Sitwell, Dylan Thomas and others published powerful poems on the idea of sacrifice, many deriving their power from drafting tradition and mythology into new visions of social organization. In analysing a variety of these poetic visions, this chapter also considers work by Alun Lewis, Louis MacNeice, R. N. Currey, Keith Douglas, Timothy Corsellis, and Sidney Keyes. Three salient issues that bear on sacrifice can help us understand the poets’ hopes and misgivings: the relation of sacrifice to numbers and consent; the moral stasis induced when deaths are ritualized; the insight that members of a given society live in harmony not because of the periodic bloodletting of war, but in spite of it.

Keywords:   Second World War, London Blitz, Battle of Britain, sacrifice, poetry, T. S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Alun Lewis, Louis MacNeice, Sidney Keyes

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