In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Players, pleaseJonathan Bate
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
The Oxford Book of War Poetry 
edited by Jon Stallworthy.
Oxford, 358 pp., £9.50, September 1984, 0 19 214125 2
Show More
Secret Destinations 
by Charles Causley.
Macmillan, 69 pp., £7.95, September 1984, 0 333 38268 4
Show More
Fast Forward 
by Peter Porter.
Oxford, 64 pp., £4.50, October 1984, 0 19 211967 2
Show More
Dark Glasses 
by Blake Morrison.
Chatto, 71 pp., £3.95, October 1984, 0 7011 2875 5
Show More
Show More

The Great War was the war of the great war poets. Was ‘the war to end all wars’ also the war to end all war poetry? The best part of Jon Stallworthy’s introduction to his Oxford Book of War Poetry is a discussion of the chivalric ideal in the British public school classes of the 19th century. ‘Honour the charge’ makes the cavalrymen of the Light Brigade into Arthurian heroes; ‘Noble Six Hundred’ places them in the tradition of the three hundred Spartans commemorated in Simonides’ epigram on Thermopylae. For Sir Henry Newbolt there is no difference between the words of the school cricket captain with ‘Ten to make and the match to win’ and those of the schoolboy rallying the ranks when ‘the Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel dead.’ At the beginning of the First World War young men were honoured to ‘Play up! play up!’ The Great War poets derive some part of their power and bitterness from the gulf between this idealised chivalric vision and the actuality of the hell they inhabit in the trenches. The poems strive to dislodge the ideal from the mind of the reader; the force of contrast is crucial to their effect. Flanders field was the very opposite of those fields across which the cavalry rode. Yet it was still a field. Many First World War poems – like many passages of the best prose arising out of the war – owe their poignancy to the fact that immediately behind the static lines there were fields with skylarks overhead that reincarnated rural England. The juxtaposition of Somme and Severn is at the heart of Ivor Gurney’s work (which is under-represented in Stallworthy’s anthology). Edward Thomas’s poems (which are very sensitively represented) rarely engage directly with the war: they approach it through the England that will be missed by the departing soldier, denuded by the absence of the departed.

After the publication of the poetry of Owen, Sassoon and the rest, then the prose memoirs and war novels that appeared in a flood in the late Twenties, there could be no more illusions. ‘Never such innocence again’: it is because men went innocently in 1914 as no man can go innocently to war again that the Great War marked such a watershed and retains such a powerful hold over the minds of later writers. About what other war have so many poems been written so long after the event – often by writers not even born at the time of the war itself? In addition to Larkin’s ‘MCMXIV’, Stallworthy’s anthology includes Ted Hughes’s ‘Six Young Men’, Douglas Dunn’s ‘War Blinded’, and Vernon Scannell’s ‘The Great War’, with its careful enumeration of the images that make the trenches indelible in our collective consciousness.

Further testimony of that indelibility is provided by Charles Causley’s new collection, Secret Destinations. Causley was born in Launceston, Cornwall, in 1917. His place and date of birth still weigh heavily on his work. He is at his best when writing of the locality he knows best; the poems in the first half of the volume, such as ‘On Launceston Castle’ and a piece with the refrain ‘This is the house where I was born,’ seem to me far stronger than those in the second half, written while in residence at the University of Western Australia. Wherever he travels, his real destination – never all that secret – is his native Cornwall, his own childhood. Few of the adults who people that childhood are untouched by the Great War, and it is images drawn from the war that frequently activate Causley’s metaphors: aunt Dora has ‘bullets for fingers’, a kookaburra ‘machine-guns the noon light’.

Although the Great War forces its way into Secret Destinations, overshadowing even ‘Alice Springs’, the poem to engage most overtly with war is one called ‘1940’. It reveals the difficulty of writing about the Second World War. By virtue of both its title and its subject, a mass of men waiting to go to war, it invites comparison with ‘MCMXIV’. But comparison shows that 1940 does not have the iconic power of 1914 – one could not imagine the poem bearing the weight of the title ‘MCMXL’. Evocative as they are, Causley’s images (‘tin adverts warming in the sun’, ‘an empty chocolate-machine’) do not denote anything larger, more momentous, in the way that each of Larkin’s stands inexorably for the passing of a world, an innocence.

The powerful contrasts that underpin so much poetry of and about the First World War could not readily be applied to the Second. The chivalric ideal was finally discredited, and with the decline of rural England pastoral images became less commonly shared. The Second World War was a more urban affair: fewer members of the officer (the self-consciously literary) class came from country homes; towns were fought for; cities were bombed. From Homer to Owen the poetry of battle had obeyed the unity of place, been centred in a field of encounter. The language evolved by the Great War poets, with its dependence on the local and the particular, was not responsive to the concept of total war, the mobile battlefield, or the advent of sustained war in and from the air. Edith Sitwell’s ‘Still falls the rain’ and Richard Eberhart’s ‘The Fury of Aerial Bombardment’ overreach themselves in their attempts to find a rhetorical lift to match the fall of bombs.

Keith Douglas was the best of the English Second World War poets because he managed to reconstitute traditional contrasts. Jon Stallworthy senses this and writes well in his introduction about the elegy ‘Aristocrats’: ‘It is sharply focused, acknowledging both the stupidity and the chivalry, the folly and the glamour, of cavalrymen on mechanical mounts duelling in the desert.’ If the tank corps is a version of the cavalry unit, we also need to refer Douglas’s image of a cricket pitch, with the title of the poem’s alternative version, ‘Sportsmen’, back to Newbolt and the public school tradition. This vein of imagery is not merely literary: in his prose memoir, Alamein to Zem Zem, Douglas records that the two main sources of allusion in wireless communications between tanks were horses and cricket. Figures such as ‘I’m having trouble with my horse’s insides: could I have the Vet?’ and ‘now that that chap has retired to the pavilion, how many short of a full team are you?’ enabled danger and death to be accommodated.

It would have been helpful if Stallworthy had quoted the note that went with the manuscript of ‘Aristocrats’: ‘Lt Col. J.D. Player’ – what better name? – ‘killed in Tunisia, Enfidaville, Feb. 1943, left £3000 to the Beaufort hunt, and directed that the incumbent of the living in his gift should be “a man who approves of hunting, shooting, and all manly sports, which are the backbone of the nation”.’ To judge from this Oxford Book, ‘Aristocrats’ is the best English poem of the second war (it is hard to see why Sidney Keyes should be given twice as many pages as Douglas). Douglas’s combination of lyricism, cynicism, irony and comedy, delicately supported by variation of caesura, is perfectly achieved. The text of the poem in Jon Stallworthy’s anthology has two misprints: for ‘falling’ read ‘fading’; for ‘The plains’, ‘These plains’.

In Fast Forward, Peter Porter meditates persistently on the decline of Classical culture and the threat of nuclear war.

What comes of the used-up Mediterranean
When rockets point like pines in tundra
Towards the profaned moon?

he asks in ‘Cyprus, Aeschylus, Inanition’. The title poem considers the transformation wrought on St John’s vision of apocalypse ‘when the fire has crept into a governed switch’. A powerful line – but those that follow it suffer from a metaphor that mixes its media, shifting inexplicably from books to cassettes. Too many of the poems in Fast Forward are overstretched. The one that moved me most was the simplest, an elegy for a dead cat, which also convinced me that Porter is still capable of splendid verbal agility: ‘cat-flap-banging metre’ is a wonderful coinage. ‘Fast Forward’ itself ends:

Helicoptering
in lightning numbers, the god of prose
hears his own voice prophesying peace.

Porter is at his best, not when he helicopters in lightning numbers, as he does so frequently in this new volume, but when his work is presided over by the god of prose, as in ‘Your Attention Please’. He remains one of our finest satirists and observers.

Blake Morrison, of the Observer, has shown himself over the past four years to be a highly gifted observer. On the subject of war, he now shows himself to be a trenchant satirist:

Her grail’s religious: coming from the flatlands
She dreams of death on a high green hill.
Nothing can countermand the Iron Will.

‘And yet she’s tapped the English heartland’: there’s the rub. The war won her the election; the observer who questions her motives is liable to be branded an outsider, a traitor even. Looking and questioning, trust and betrayal, the outsider: this is the matter of Morrison’s Dark Glasses. The first half of the book is a gathering of short poems; the finest of them is ‘Grange Boy’, in which every simile is both new and right. Paradoxically, the boy inside the big house is the outsider; he can look at the milltown boys gathering conkers, but he cannot participate; he is isolated, withdrawn – ‘English, we hoard our secrets to the end.’ Lyrics such as ‘Grange Boy’ and ‘Dark Glasses’, with its epigraph from King Lear (‘And take upon’s the mystery of things / As if we were God’s spies’), prepare us for the previously unpublished long poem that occupies the second half of the book. Its title is ‘The Inquisitor’, an allusion to Browning’s poem about a poet, ‘How it strikes a contemporary’:

We had among us, not so much a spy,
As a recording chief-inquisitor.

Morrison sets these lines beside Coleridge’s famous account in the Biographia Literaria of how a government agent spied on him and Wordsworth in Somerset in 1796 and misheard ‘Spinoza’ as ‘Spy Nozy’, but ‘could not catch a word about politics’. Morrison’s persona is a spy; like Browning’s poet, he is an outsider, an inquisitor. For a time he was a schoolteacher, but was mistrusted (‘They observed you observing’); recruited by the ministry, he is given an assignment that is never explained; it brings him into contact with the Calvi affair, a man who has tried to trace the origins of Lech Walesa, and the memorable dismissed civil servant Lascelles whose analysis of the Falklands war is so telling. We catch words about politics but, as in the Coleridge incident, they are subordinated to larger questions about knowing and about poetry.

The questions are left unresolved; the thread of the poem is deliberately obscure. Blake Morrison’s introduction to The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry, co-written with Andrew Motion, is apposite: ‘Whereas Raine and Reid re-interpret the world through their use of simile, a number of other young poets have done so through the art of narrative ... we are often presented with stories that are incomplete, or are denied what might normally be considered essential information. The reader is constantly being made to ask, “Who is speaking?”, “What are their circumstances and motives?” and “Can they be believed?”.’ Morrison’s use of simile (‘Her voice rings like a grocery-till’) marks him out as a very talented poet: but the kind of narrative he describes here and employs in ‘The Inquisitor’ worries me. The poetry of the Great War exposed the hollowness and the terrible consequences of the ethos of ‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’ Today the ‘game’ is espionage, supposedly a preventer but easily a provoker of war. ‘The Inquisitor’ does much to expose the shabbiness of ‘the game’, but ultimately it is itself a game, a puzzle for the delectation of the intelligent reader. Of course there is value in poetry that makes us question, makes us ask ‘Can they be believed?’, but in war and that microcosm of war, ‘intelligence’, the truth matters too much for the question to be sufficient. Poets, like politicians, must speak the truth.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.