American poetry and the First World War 9781108418782, 1108418783

American Poetry and the First World War connects American poetry to the political and economic forces behind American pa

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Table of contents :
Cover......Page 1
Half-title......Page 3
Title page......Page 5
Copyright information......Page 6
Dedication......Page 7
Table of contents......Page 9
List of Figures......Page 10
Acknowledgments......Page 12
Introduction......Page 15
Chapter 1 America Enters the War......Page 20
The Hegemonic Project......Page 25
American Ideology and First World War Poetry......Page 31
Left Neo-pragmatism......Page 43
Historical Materialism......Page 52
Chapter 2 American Intervention in the First World War: Poetry as an Ideological Form......Page 57
Neutrality and Its Discontents......Page 59
Pervasive Anachronism......Page 67
Poetry and Interpellation......Page 78
Conclusion......Page 103
Chapter 3 ''Devotions Loyal Even to Death'': Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, and the Martial Ideal......Page 105
Seeger Before the War......Page 109
The Coming Storm......Page 111
The Storm Breaks......Page 113
Love and Arms and Song......Page 115
''All Are Made One''......Page 123
''There Was Only an Industrial World''......Page 127
''I Have a Rendezvous with Death''......Page 137
''The Emotion That Was Mine''......Page 140
Seeger as Public Poet......Page 143
After the Rendezvous......Page 154
Chapter 4 ''Dulce et Decorum'': Edith Wharton's Great War......Page 159
Journalism: Fighting France and French Ways and Their Meanings......Page 162
A Son at the Front......Page 176
Chapter 5 Some Versions of the Epic: The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem......Page 193
Epic as Genre: Carter, The Gates of Janus; Hulley, St. Michael and the Dragon; and Lewys, Epic of Verdun......Page 198
Heroic Epics: Abe Craddock Edmunds, Five Men at the Battle of Rheims and Leighton Brewer, Riders of the Sky......Page 209
Modern Epic: Lincoln Colcord, Vision of War......Page 217
An Encyclopedia: Lindley Grant Long, Farmer Hiram on the World's War......Page 222
Conclusion......Page 233
Chapter 6 ''Wristers Etcetera'': Cummings, the Great War, and Discursive Struggle......Page 236
Conclusion......Page 257
Works Cited......Page 266
Index......Page 279
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American Poetry and the First World War connects American poetry to the political and economic forces behind American participation in World War I. Dayton investigates the ways that poetry was used to imagine the war and studies a wide range of poetry: open and closed form, formal and colloquial, well known and unknown. In a chapter on Edith Wharton, Dayton demonstrates that many of the features of poetry also found expression in prose about the war. Seeing the war as the opening bid in American ascent to global hegemony, Dayton unlocks some of the ways that literature provided a means by which to accept – and occasionally contest – the price to be paid for power. American Poetry and the First World War draws on a wide range of reading in the primary texts of the period, archival research, historical materialist theory, and work in political and economic history and international relations.   is Professor of English at Kansas State University. He is the author of Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead () and articles on American crime fiction, American poetry, and historical materialist literary theory and criticism. He is currently leading a project to develop a digital archive of American First World War poetry.


University Printing House, Cambridge  , United Kingdom One Liberty Plaza, th Floor, New York,  , USA  Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne,  , Australia –, rd Floor, Plot , Splendor Forum, Jasola District Centre, New Delhi – , India  Anson Road, #–/, Singapore  Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence. Information on this title: : ./ © Tim Dayton  This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published  Printed in the United States of America by Sheridan Books, Inc. A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data : Dayton, Tim, – author. : American poetry and the First World War / Tim Dayton. : Cambridge, United Kingdom ; New York, NY : Cambridge University Press, . | Includes bibliographical references and index. :   |   (hardback) |   (paperback) : : American poetry–th century–History and criticism. | World War, -–United States–Literature and the war. | BISAC: LITERARY CRITICISM / American / General. :  .W   |  /.–dc LC record available at  ---- Hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

For Angela


List of Figures Acknowledgments

page viii x


America Enters the War

American Intervention in the First World War: Poetry as an Ideological Form


“Devotions Loyal Even to Death”: Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, and the Martial Ideal


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War


Some Versions of the Epic: The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem


“Wristers Etcetera”: Cummings, the Great War, and Discursive Struggle




Works Cited Index

 



. Ego-ideology on Horseback: Doughboy as Crusader. Poster advertising Pershing’s Crusaders, US Army, Signal Corps. University of North Texas Libraries, Government Documents Department, University of North Texas Libraries Digital Library. page  . Alter-ideology: German as Hun. “Beat Back the Hun,” poster by Frederick Strothmann, University of North Texas Libraries, Rare Book and Texana Collections, University of North Texas Libraries Digital Library.  . Ego Ideology, Alter Ideology, and Anachronism – Note the Doughboy’s Weapon – All in One. “Halt the Hun,” poster by Patrick Henry Raleigh, University of North Texas Libraries Government Documents Department, University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library.  . “The Universe of Ideological Interpellations,” table by Goran Therborn, The Ideology of Power and the Power of Ideology (London: Verso, ), .  . Anachronism with a twist: a positional-existential ideology (“women”) is deployed simultaneously with an inclusive-historical ideology (“of America”) through the agency of Joan of Arc, a common figure in First World War American poetry. “Joan of Arc Saved France,” poster by Haskell Coffin, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Divisions, WWI Posters, LC-USZC-.  . Cover of Felix E. Schelling, Thor and Some Other War Rhymes ().  . The Stern Address of the State as Delivered by Uncle Sam. “I Want You for U.S. Army,” poster by James Montgomery Flagg, University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.  viii

List of Figures . Positional-Historical Address: You, Too, Have Your Place. Since Engineers Are Necessary to the War Effort, Ideologies Of Masculinity Must Be Negotiated Carefully. Note the Rolled-Up Sleeves. “Team Work Wins,” poster by Roy Hull Still, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, WWI Posters, LC-USZC-. . Positional-Existential Address: You Are a Man, Aren’t You? “Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man,” poster by Howard Chandler Christy, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, WWI Posters, LC-USZC–. . Sidney and Epaminondas, stained glass window by Daniel Cottier. Memorial Hall, Harvard University. Photo Credit: Stephen Sylvester and Yosi A.R-Pozeilov. Used by permission of the President and Fellows of Harvard College. . Student and Soldier, stained glass window by Francis Millet. Memorial Hall, Harvard University. Photo credit: Stephen Sylvester and Yosi A.R-Pozeilov. Used by permission of the President and Fellows of Harvard College. . Godfrey of Bouillon, on right. Bernard and Godefroy, stained glass window by Edward Sperry. Memorial Hall, Harvard University. Photo credit: Stephen Sylvester and Yosi A.R-Pozeilov. Used by permission of the President and Fellows of Harvard College. . “The Mount from the Flower Garden,” photograph by David Dashiell. Used by permission of the photographer.






 


In the course of working on this book, I have been assisted by staffs of the Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College; the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library; Houghton Library, Harvard University; the Imperial War Museum, London; the Bartlesville, Ohio Public Library; the Library of Congress; and Hale Library, Kansas State University. I have also benefited from two grants of sabbatical leave (– and –) from the College of Arts and Sciences, Kansas State University. Thanks are also due to those who suffered through and discussed with me early versions of the material in this book at conferences sponsored by Historical Materialism in London and Toronto. Members of the Department of English, Kansas State University – including many graduate students over the years – also were subjected to my work in progress, to which they responded generously and helpfully. A former student, Brent Jackson, gave me some sound advice on the Introduction. Rebecca Margolies proved an intelligent and reliable research assistant. John Orr, Andrew Hemingway, and Clive Bush were kind enough to invite me to the University of Portland, University College London, and King’s College London, respectively, to present my work. I found conversations with Steven Trout helpful as I framed and developed this project, and Mark Van Wienen made numerous insightful and remarkably generous comments on an earlier version of this book. Ray Ryan at Cambridge University Press really went out of his way for me, and I appreciate it. Closer to home, my dad, the late Bill Dayton, and my mom, Shirley Dayton, demonstrated an interest in what I was working on that helped me to think it really was interesting. My sons Neil and Jack were kind enough to ask, but not too often, how the book was coming along, and




they provided necessary diversions from it, often in the form of long bike trips. And my wife, Angela Hubler, has read nearly every word of this book more than once and always offered helpful and timely advice. Although somehow she did, little did I know that day in the Allen Building in August  how things would turn out.


In this book, I examine an American literature of the First World War that few readers will immediately recognize. Most of the familiar novels – The Enormous Room, Three Soldiers, A Farewell to Arms – do not figure significantly in it. And I focus on poetry rather than prose. I also often discuss writers not included in the limited pantheon of recognized American writers of the First World War. Still, familiar figures appear: one chapter examines Edith Wharton, while another is concerned with E. E. Cummings, and Ernest Hemingway makes a couple of appearances, both as a poet and as a prose writer. Though the usual suspects may largely be absent or play diminished roles, my concern in the book is not to dismantle the canon of American First World War literature any more than it is to defend it. Instead, I try to examine the literature, especially the poetry, of the war in relation to the war understood as a historical event, one with economic and political determinants that resonate in literature and culture long after the war ended. In order to understand the war in relation to these determinants as well as in its broader impact, I found it necessary to move beyond the small body of work that accords with modernist preferences. In the course of my research, and incorporating the bibliography prepared by James A. Hart in his  dissertation, I have found nearly  volumes of American poetry wholly or in significant part about the First World War. That is a lot of poetry – even excluding all of the poetry published in magazines and newspapers but never collected into book format – and it seems to me an obvious area for investigation, one that needs investigating, notwithstanding the considerable efforts of Hart and, more recently, Mark Van Wienen. Poetry, as Van Wienen notes (, –), was more prominent in public discourse and something that ordinary people were more inclined to dabble in at the beginning of the twentieth century than they are now – hence the large amount of poetry about the war. Fiction, especially postwar fiction, has received more attention than has poetry: 


Hemingway alone supports a small industry. But poetry has features that make it important to study as well: short lyric forms lend themselves to topical writing, and the emphasis on feeling in lyric poetry makes for a potentially interesting relationship between this emphasis and the orientation toward the outside world characteristic of most war poetry. Chapter  begins with an analysis of President Woodrow Wilson’s April ,  speech before Congress requesting a declaration of war. This analysis illuminates the way that Wilson explained and justified American intervention to the American public. I then examine briefly the politicaleconomic basis for American intervention, both direct and indirect. While the direct basis – the deep economic ties of American institutions to the fate of the Allies – was a potential source of embarrassment to the Wilson administration, the indirect basis – the advancement of the project of establishing the United States as the hegemonic power in the capitalist world-system – engaged powerfully with American self-understanding. This self-understanding was a continuation of the seventeenth-century Puritan vision, which permeates American geopolitical vision and activity to this day. I examine the relationship between this ideology of America and Wilson’s hegemonic project, concentrating on poems by Lynn Harold Hough and M. A. DeWolfe Howe. Finally, I contrast my analysis of American literature and the war with that of the literary historian whose work most nearly resembles my own, Mark Van Wienen, which leads me to contrast his approach, which I label left neo-pragmatism, with the historical materialist method that guides my work. Chapter  provides a kind of survey of American First World War poetry, examining, first, several poems that concern the period of American neutrality between  and . These poems demonstrate how deeply ideologies of American national identity and destiny were involved in American thinking about the meaning of the war. I then examine one of the most striking features of the poetry of the First World War, the pervasiveness in it of anachronistic terms and concepts. The frequent use of terms and concepts derived from the medieval era produces a seeming misfit between this antiquated terminology and the industrialized nature of the war. Here the figure of the crusader becomes central, since it combines the millennialism of American ideology with the violence of war. The crusader provided an understanding of the American soldier that sanctified engagement in a European war for the public. However, the poetry of this period provided a multitude of ways in which to understand the war and one’s role in it. I use Goran Therborn’s model of ideological interpellation to illustrate some of these variations, demonstrating the use, for example,


of the discourse of familial relations to mediate between the demands of the state and the personal, experiential realities of the individual. After this broad – though not even remotely exhaustive – survey of American poetry about the war, I concentrate in Chapter  on a single poet, Alan Seeger, who enlisted in the French Foreign Legion shortly after the war began in August . Seeger was the best-known American soldierpoet, with his Poems making the non-fiction bestseller list and his likeness gracing the pages of many American newspapers and magazines, especially after he was killed in action in July . Seeger held a romantic, medievalist understanding of and belief in the value of military service and the experience of war. I trace this belief from his pre-war years, including those as an undergraduate at Harvard, through to the end of his life and somewhat beyond, since his Poems and his Letters and Diary were published posthumously. Insofar as his understanding of war was romantic and medievalist, he shared it with the broader American public, but Seeger’s romanticism and medievalism differed in some important ways from more popular forms, making him simultaneously typical and unusual. Like Alan Seeger, the subject of Chapter , Edith Wharton, was an advocate of the French cause in the First World War and a supporter of Theodore Roosevelt’s early and insistent calls for the United States to intervene on the side of the Allies. Unlike Roosevelt and Seeger, Wharton seems not to have believed in the intrinsic virtues of war, yet she clearly saw the war as serving a hygienic and restorative purpose. Wharton, as did others, saw the war as a conflict between Latin civilization, represented by France, and Teutonic barbarism, represented by Germany. As does anachronism generally, this culturally determinist characterization served to mask the real nature of the conflict by rendering it an affair, not of industrialized, capitalist modernity, but rather of innate culturalracial attributes. While the exact points of emphasis vary, all three of Wharton’s books that I examine, journalism and fiction alike, share this understanding of the war. Wharton thus emphasizes the continuity in history expressed by the Great War, rather than the discontinuity that she claims to perceive. Wharton’s prose shares this use of the past to familiarize the war with much of the poetry I examine, which suggests that it provides an important ideological mechanism for the war discourse of the era, something suggested also by Stefan Goebel in The Great War and Medieval Memory. Chapter  breaks with the single-author focus of the previous two chapters in order to survey seven poems that attempt an epic treatment of the war, something that the sheer scope of the conflict encouraged.


These attempts at epic vary greatly. Some, William Carter’s The Gates of Janus and Lincoln Hulley’s St. Michael and the Dragon most clearly, attempt a nearly wholesale revival of the classical epic conceived of primarily as a series of conventions, a fairly narrow understanding. Taking a more expansive view of epic are Abe Craddock Edmunds and Leighton Brewer in Five Men at the Battle of Rheims and Riders of the Sky, respectively. Edmunds fractures the perspective of the epic by presenting the Battle of Rheims, also known as the Second Battle of the Marne, through five focal characters of roughly equal importance, while Brewer maintains the heroic epic’s focus on a single figure but discards the high, antiquated diction that characterizes Carter and Hulley, and which forms a central element in the anachronism that pervades Great War poetry generally. More expansive still are Lincoln Colcord’s Vision of War and Lindley Grant Long’s Farmer Hiram on the World’s War. Colcord writes a modern epic modeled on Whitman’s Song of Myself and refuses partisanship in favor of any of the combatant nations, while also refusing to denounce the war, which he presents as part of an inexorable march toward “[t]he Brotherhood of Man.” Long, on the other hand, presents the war through a persona, Farmer Hiram, unimpressed by the justifications for the war offered by anyone. Written in an insistently colloquial voice, this encyclopedic poem offers the scope and objectivity of the epic, while avoiding those conventions that most firmly ground it in classical antiquity. Chapter  builds on the survey of American First World War poetry in Chapter , but changes gears significantly: I examine two well-known poems by E. E. Cummings, “next to of course god america i” and “my sweet old etcetera,” in relation to some of the now-forgotten poetry dominant during the war years. This poetry provides the crucial context for Cummings, since he was attempting to destroy a false way of understanding the war and with it a false aesthetic ideology. Whereas “next to of course god america i” operates in an almost purely negative fashion, attempting to destroy a false public discourse, “my sweet old etcetera” balances against the destruction of this false public discourse affirmation of values found within the sphere of private, personal experience. Cummings can be, and has been, read as anti-political and nearly anti-social, but I argue, via T. W. Adorno, that Cummings’ affirmation of a private and personal sphere of value should be understood dialectically, as a discourse of truth in relation to a public sphere dominated by falsity. Cummings’ refusal might be personal, yet there is a political dimension to it, even if this was not visible to later critics, since the sheer density of the pro-war discourse Cummings negates was no longer visible.


In the Conclusion, I bring together the major threads from the previous chapters. I identify several significant elements in the American literature of the First World War in relation to understandings of the war as part of a contest for hegemony. These are: ) )


The centrality of American millennialist discourse to the poetry of the period and to Americans’ understanding of the war generally. The importance of anachronistic, particularly medievalist, discourse in enabling Americans to represent the war to themselves in a way that simultaneously coincided with and masked the real character of the war. The significance of literatures no longer seen to be of aesthetic value for understanding history, including literary history.

Finally, I examine the consequences of the war for literary and cultural history, particularly the impetus it gave to what became known as modernist aesthetics. While modernism did not begin because of the war, the war both helped to shape its development and generated the conditions under which it became the dominant aesthetic ideology, at least in high culture, of the twentieth century. As Hazel Hutchison notes, little attention has been paid to the details of the relationship between what came to be understood as modernism and the war (–). Modernism developed against the discourses that justified the war – Chapter  is a detailed study of this phenomenon – and as a consequence those who embraced modernism tended to reject the values associated with those discourses. This led to the development of an aesthetic ideology that had little room for those things central to the often sentimental culture that had supported the war effort. As a result, the United States – although not only the United States – found itself in an unusual position, with a literary culture of great aesthetic power that frequently undercut the values and institutions most basic to the society from which it emerged.

 

America Enters the War

When Woodrow Wilson addressed the United States Congress on the evening of April , , to request a declaration of war on Germany, he avoided drama. The address is subdued, with relatively little of the highly emotive language and imagery that characterizes much of the pro-war discourse of the day. According to one observer, “There was neither rhetorical artifice nor oratorical surge of personality. His voice was not strong. His manner was solemn and burdened” (quoted in David Kennedy ). Robert W. Tucker says that “Wilson’s war address does not have the eloquence and fervor of some of his other memorable speeches” (). Everything about Wilson’s speech, its form and its content as well as the relatively long period that had elapsed between Germany’s resumption on February ,  of unrestricted submarine warfare, whereby merchant vessels were torpedoed without warning, and Wilson’s decision to go to war, bespoke reluctance. The apparently plainspoken quality of the address suggested to its audience that its surface concealed only the long, agonizing months through which the president resisted being dragged into a horrible war, unprecedented in the scale of its carnage. But this undramatic presentation and subdued rhetoric conceals elements that did not call attention to themselves precisely because they lie deep within American culture and ideology – something Alexander Anievas refers to as the “social-historical embeddedness of Wilsonianism” (). These elements lie deep enough to resemble facts and to form part of the generalized common sense of American life. From the springboard of generally accepted presuppositions about America and its relation to the rest of the world, Wilson crafted a justification for and vision of American intervention in the First World War. This justification and this vision illuminate vital aspects of American culture, especially – but not only – in the twentieth century. They would set up, among other things, the characteristic antipathy between literary modernism – a major component of what Lionel Trilling in the s would identify as an “adversary 

America Enters the War

culture” (xv) – and the traditional culture of the social and cultural elites who reigned prior to the war, and who attempted, with uneven success, to maintain their position afterward. Wilson’s justification of direct American intervention into the war faced an immediate difficulty. In the combatant nations of Europe, the war could be – and was – seen as defensive in a straightforward, territorial sense. Thus, while men were willing to fight, this willingness was generally based on “defensive patriotism,” and not “enthusiasm for war as such” (Clark ). Wilson would have to present the United States as declaring war on some basis other than territorial defense since the Atlantic Ocean presented an insuperable barrier to invasion, even were Germany so inclined. Wilson could point to provocations: unrestricted submarine warfare meant the loss of American lives, German agents had sabotaged munitions plants that supplied the Allies, and a proposal had been tendered that Mexico join the side of Germany should the United States declare war. But the Allies, especially the United Kingdom, primary enforcer of a naval blockade of the Central powers, had also provoked the United States. Wilson had to present something more compelling, and more elaborate, than the thin case for self-defense. And he did: Wilson’s speech provides a gateway into the operations whereby people came to accept participation in a war that was avoidable, and whose justification needed to be particularly strong in order to withstand the indifference or outright hostility that many Americans felt toward intervention. How did Wilson manage this? The April  address centers on three closely related themes that make American intervention seem not only right, but also nearly inevitable, in the same way that Manifest Destiny rendered control of the central portion of North America, extending US sovereignty from the Atlantic to the Pacific, inevitable. The first of these themes to appear in Wilson’s address is that of universality, the notion that in this war the United States fights for “human right,” a principle or set of principles that knows no national boundaries. Thus, he asserts that American intervention springs from 

Adam Tooze asserts that Wilson was “the very opposite of the universalist for which he is too often mistaken” because he saw “genuine political development was a gradual process deeply determined by profound ethno-cultural and ‘racial’ influences” (). Alexander Anievas, drawing on decades of scholarship, clarifies the relationship between specificity and universality in Wilson’s thinking: The United States stood atop a historical/national hierarchy, embodying the highest human values (Anievas –). Thus, “American principles, American policies . . . are also the principles of forward-looking men and women everywhere, of every modern nation, of every enlightened community. They are the principles of mankind and must prevail” (Wilson, War Addresses ). Simultaneously a universalist and highly nationalistic, Wilson squared the circle by making America the embodiment of universal values.

America Enters the War

causes that are, in a sense, not specific to America: “Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion” (Political Thought ). By intervening in the war, the United States is not taking sides: there is no partiality to the cause for which it fights. Rather, the United States lines up only against those who fight for partial, and ancient, causes such as “revenge or the victorious assertion of . . . physical might.” The United States fights against such partiality for a cause that is universal. That this cause is not only universal but also, by implication, new rather than the old motivations of revenge and the “assertion of physical might” leads to the second thematic element, lying at the deepest levels of American cultural identity. When Wilson performs the familiar maneuver of a war leader whereby he attempts rhetorically to sever the people of a nation from its government, he does so in a characteristically American fashion: We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling towards them but one of sympathy and friendship. It was not upon their impulse that their government acted in entering this war . . . It was a war determined upon as wars used to be determined upon in the old, unhappy days when people were nowhere consulted by their rulers and wars were provoked and waged in the interest of dynasties or of little groups of ambitious men who were accustomed to use their fellow men as pawns and tools. (Political Thought –)

Wilson ignores that Germany’s Reichstag remained in session throughout the war, and that democratic politics, however imperfect, were part of the German reality. Ignoring this allows Wilson to imply that in America the people are not used “as pawns and tools.” This links to the divide he sketches between the United States and Germany, with Germany falling on the side of the archaic, “old, unhappy” world of dynasties and cabals. Echoing William Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper” – “old, unhappy far-off things” – Wilson positions the United States as representing and championing the new, Germany the old. The war amounts to a conflict of New World innocence and virtue against Old World corruption and vice. As a people of the New World – as the people of the New World, a principle publicly announced in the Monroe Doctrine – Americans, Wilson holds, fight on a basis dramatically different from the corrupt interests that underlie German aggression. “Only free peoples can hold their purpose and their honor steady to a common end and prefer the interests of mankind to any narrow interest of their own” (Political Thought ). Implied by the universal nature of the cause for which America fights, this

America Enters the War

lack of self-interest in the present conflict might also be understood as a prerequisite to American universalism. Indeed, all three themes, universalism, New World virtue, and freedom from self-interest are so closely related as almost to be mutually entailing. As do the other thematic elements of Wilson’s address, America’s lack of self-interest in the conflict appears more than once: “We have no selfish ends to serve,” “we fight without rancor and without selfish object” (Political Thought ). Unlike universalism and New World virtue, however, the assertion of American disinterestedness seems to be a nearly direct response to an anticipated objection to Wilson’s decision to go to war. Wilson knew his audience. In the debate that followed the April  address, several members of Congress held that the United States was being driven into war with Germany at the behest of powerful moneyed interests. Most memorably, George Norris, senator from Nebraska, declaimed, “We are going to war upon the command of gold . . . I feel that we are about to put the dollar sign on the American flag” (quoted in David Kennedy ). Given that the powerful banking group the House of Morgan had extended vast loans to the Allies and that the American economy was thriving because of trade exclusively with the Allies – the Central powers were cut off by the British naval blockade – Wilson had every reason to anticipate the response of the more steadfast socialists and progressives that the war sprang directly from the economic interests of America’s ruling class. For American capital, both financial and productive, the war in Europe proved to be a boon, hastening a recovery from the downturn of –. The war also initiated a shift in the financial balance of power. Prior to the First World War, the United States was a prime target for European investment. Indeed, at the outbreak of the war, UK investors owned over $ billion in assets in the United States, while German investment amounted to just under $ billion. For their part, US investors placed a little under $ million in Europe, just one-fifth of total overseas investment (van der Pijl ; Arrighi –). Most prominent among American figures involved with European finance was J. P. Morgan, whose connections to French and, more significantly, English interests dated back to the nineteenth century. The connections between the House of Morgan and what became Allied interests only accelerated following J. P.’s death in . The war led to the liquidation, overseen by the House of Morgan, of investments by British ($ billion) and French ($ million) interests in the United States. And Morgan was involved in the extension of $. billion in loans by private US banks to the Allies by April  (van der Pijl ; David Kennedy –). The House of Morgan, and


America Enters the War

American financial capital in general, was thus deeply invested in the Allied cause, and faced the prospect of devastating losses should the Allies not prevail, making it a powerful interest in favor of intervention on the side of the Allies. As a result of such direct economic interests, and because the pro-war feeling was often perceived to be located mostly in a Northeast dominated socially by a wealthy elite and their conservative politicians, in the run up to Wilson’s request for a declaration of war, anti-war groups attacked actions that they feared would lead to US involvement in the war as classspecific. The American Union Against Militarism, which prior to US intervention included many of the best-known figures in the progressive movement, characterized the “preparedness” movement, designed to establish a military presence in American life sufficient for the United States to be prepared for the advent of a major war, as a “dangerous expression of class and national aggression” (quoted in David Kennedy ). Shortly before the declaration of war, another group, the Committee for Democratic Control, asked the question, “Do the People Want War?” in a one-page editorial in the New Republic – for which they presumably paid, given the magazine’s strongly pro-interventionist stance. After quoting a weekly letter from a Wall Street firm predicting “an old-fashioned bull market” following a declaration of war, the authors go on to assert, Wall Street’s first choice is war, and its second, a great preparedness program. In the last two and a half years, Wall Street has sold two and a half thousand million dollars worth of war supplies to the Allies. But the Allies are now, to a large extent, making their own supplies, and Wall Street must find a new market. War with Germany would be the surest means of selling these goods to the US government. ()

Wilson realized that a significant portion of the public needed to be convinced that America was about to become involved in a major overseas war for reasons other than the interests and opinions of a relatively few people whose pockets were lined by the war. While direct economic interests may have been involved in forming the pro-war sentiment of some very significantly placed individuals and families, or to incline some influential portions of the business sector to favor military buildup and eventual intervention, to restrict one’s view of the impetus to war to the direct is to miss the perhaps even more significant indirect impetus to war. This indirect impetus concerned the global role to be played by the United States as a nation, as well as the global role of American capital, rather than a narrow sectional interest of a few families

The Hegemonic Project


or corporations. It was a matter of establishing the United States as the hegemonic global power (van der Pijl –; Arrighi –, –; Tooze –; Anievas –). A consideration of the indirect impetus to war, the hegemonic project, returns us to Wilson’s invocation of universal values and his implied characterization of the United States as the embodiment of New World virtue, notions that provide most of the conceptual underpinnings of the self-understanding that Americans were provided with following the declaration of war.

The Hegemonic Project Wilsonian progressivism was innovative both domestically and internationally. Domestically it foreshadowed the Keynesian/New Deal model of society and with it a new hegemonic regime, characterized by relatively high wages, relatively high rates of union affiliation by workers, increased mass production and consumption, and increased provision for public welfare. Internationally, Wilson’s program would see the United States succeed the United Kingdom as the hegemonic power, exerting both economic and political leadership globally. Wilson’s characterization of America as fighting for “the vindication of right, of human right” is directed toward both the American and an international public. Domestically the vindication of right provides a moral sanction for American involvement in the war. Looking outward the vindication of right presents the United States as the champion of all peoples, and therefore as a fit leader for the world, one to which the population of other nations might rally, rather than to either their national leadership or, eventually, the Bolsheviks, who had their own version of universalism and internationalism (Arrighi ). The universalism of Wilson’s address, then, contains a profound rhetorical and ideological component insofar as it positions the United States in a manner intended to secure the compliance of the American people in the war effort, while also enlisting the good will of people overseas in the projection of American economic and political power abroad. At the international level, American entry into the First World War and Wilson’s justifications of and explanations for it must be understood within the context of UK hegemony in the world economy. While it may be disputed whether or not the United Kingdom was truly hegemonic in the sense developed by Neo-Gramscian theory of international relations, there can be little dispute as to whether or not the United Kingdom was


America Enters the War

the most powerful global force from the early nineteenth to the early twentieth century. Following years of intense and widespread conflict, the United Kingdom presided over a period of relative stability from the end of the Napoleonic Wars until the s, a period in which no other power challenged seriously its leadership. This period of stability began to break up, however, around  as the establishment of Imperial Germany was accompanied by dramatic German economic expansion, entailing both a political and an economic threat to the position of the United Kingdom in Europe, and ultimately globally (Arrighi ). This specific outline follows a pattern that Giovanni Arrighi identifies as typical of the capitalist era, of periods of relative stability presided over by an effectively unchallenged hegemonic power, followed by instability manifested by warfare, as challengers to the hegemonic power emerge. The historical juncture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including the era of the First World War, while distinct, also expresses a deeper logic of capital accumulation and its political administration through the nation-state. Germany was not the only challenger to the United Kingdom to emerge in the second half of the nineteenth century: “At the same time, the capacity of the United Kingdom to hold the center of the capitalist world-economy was being undermined by the emergence of a new national economy of greater wealth, size, and resources than its own,” in the form of the United States (Arrighi ). These simultaneous challenges to the United Kingdom were mutually reinforcing and would precipitate the crisis of the system over which it had presided for the bulk of the nineteenth century. While the United States would eventually ally twice with the United Kingdom against Germany, Germany helped to provide the conditions in which the United States could emerge as by far the stronger power, economically, politically, and militarily, the one now capable of performing the hegemonic role in a newly stabilized capitalist world economy following the Second World War. That the United Kingdom would sooner or later prove incapable of continuing in its hegemonic role may have been difficult to foresee in the s, but its loss of purely economic superiority such as it enjoyed around the time of the American Civil War was already becoming clear. 

Hannes Lacher and Julian Germann argue that the United Kingdom was not hegemonic in any of the various senses used by realists, liberal-institutionalists, or neo-Gramscians. In their view, Gramscian hegemony only describes the system the United States presided over following the Second World War. For the sake of convenience, I use the terms “hegemony” and “hegemonic” to describe the position of the United Kingdom prior to  as well as the project initiated during the Wilson administration.

The Hegemonic Project


The very expansion of the capitalist economy globally dictated that challengers to the United Kingdom should emerge, as economic modernization swept northern and western Europe, as well as parts of the western hemisphere (Hobsbawm, Age of Empire ), with the newly industrialized nations enjoying the advantage of being able to adopt the newest technologies without having to endure their slow development nor to some extent the drag of the persistence of surpassed production methods. By the time of First World War, German manufactured exports exceeded those of the United Kingdom by a considerable margin (Hobsbawm, Age of Empire ), and American production in the key steel and iron industries surpassed that of Germany and the United Kingdom combined (Anievas ). In addition, a variety of lesser industrial nations and regions emerged, as the industrial capitalist order displayed remarkable dynamism. Industrializing and industrial nations “now included not only the major and minor centres of mid-century industrialization, themselves for the most part expanding at a rate ranging from the impressive to the almost unimaginable – Britain, Germany, the United States, France, Belgium, Switzerland, the Czech lands – but a new range of industrializing regions: Scandinavia, the Netherlands, northern Italy, Hungary, Russia, even Japan” (Hobsbawm, Age of Empire ). The core of the industrial world was expanding geographically, as well as in productivity. As the industrial capitalist world expanded, the industrial core became increasingly polycentric, and its relations with the rest of the world became more complex. Whether one looks at these relations in terms of the provision of raw materials (metals, rubber, oil, etc.), in terms of opportunities for the investment of capital, or in terms of potential markets for industrial goods, the simultaneity of the imperial drive of the late nineteenth century and the massive expansion of the industrial capitalist economies does not suggest mere coincidence: the inter-imperialist conflict that contributed to the tense, heavily-armed atmosphere of the immediate prewar period must be attributed to economic causation at some level.

This “privilege of historic backwardness” is part of the dynamic of uneven development, whereby different nations and regions develop at different times, with profound consequences for the form development takes. Its complement is “the advantages of priority.” Leon Trotsky added to the concept of unevenness that of combined development to describe the consequences of development inside these newly developing areas, as they combined elements from their backward past and their advanced present. Alexander Anievas’s Capital, the State, and War: Class Conflict and Geopolitics in the Thirty Years’ Crisis, – analyzes the First World War as well as the interwar period and the Second World War in terms of the dynamics of uneven and combined development.


America Enters the War

As the new powers claimed overseas territories and markets, the United Kingdom was a relative, while not absolute, loser. While British finance continued to be of global importance, in terms of both domestic industrial growth and output and imperial dominion, the United Kingdom’s days as the stabilizing center of the capitalist world economy were numbered (Hobsbawm, Age of Empire –). In such a situation, where the hegemonic power begins to teeter and challengers emerge, the world system becomes unstable. In Arrighi’s account, just as the United Kingdom emerged as the successor to the hegemony of the Dutch from the systemic chaos manifested in the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, and the Napoleonic wars, so too would one of its two great rivals displace the United Kingdom. In this sense, then, the First World War was really about which nation would follow the United Kingdom as the hegemonic power in the capitalist world economy. As Kathleen Burk emphasizes, the United States would defeat the United Kingdom, just not militarily: “in the context of Anglo-American relations Britain was defeated by economic, not military, might, in that power passed from her to the U.S. not in the Palace of Versailles but in the office of the U.S. Treasury” (–). At the very time that the United States was becoming more closely tied to the Allies politically, those same Allies, led by the United Kingdom, were planning an economic order, announced at the Paris Economic Conference of , in which the “enemy” was the United States as well as Germany. The Paris Conference outlined a vision in which nations that remained neutral were not to be allowed the same benefits as those that fought on the side of the Allies (Parrini –; Tooze ). Countering the possibility of any such exclusion, the United States allied with the United Kingdom politically and militarily in order to defeat or supplant it economically, paving the way for the United States to become the hegemonic power in the capitalist world system. Hegemony lies at the heart of American involvement in the First World War. I have adapted the work of Jonathan Joseph to distinguish four different aspects of hegemony: .) domestic/structural: emphasizes the economic basis of the social formation and the hegemonic order it requires and enables .) domestic/political: emphasizes the actual hegemonic project undertaken within a nation-state, the political alliances, rhetorical and cultural strategies, etc. that it entails .) international/structural: emphasizes the economic basis of the world system and the hegemonic order it requires and enables

The Hegemonic Project .)


international/political: emphasizes the actual hegemonic project undertaken at the international level, the political alliances, rhetorical and cultural strategies, etc. that it entails. (–)

By  the United States had largely developed the economic basis for a new domestic hegemony, one eventually termed “Fordism,” after the mass production/mass consumption system propounded by Henry Ford. However, establishing such a hegemony – completing the political project – would require a protracted struggle, and only be achieved following the Second World War. Similarly, the purely technological-economic basis for international hegemony was largely in place by , but the project of establishing this hegemony politically would be realized in fits and starts over the course of decades, and not come to full fruition, and then in a form different from that envisioned by Woodrow Wilson, again, until after the Second World War. Wilson’s address on April , , then, was part of an audacious attempt to establish the United States as the hegemonic power of the capitalist world system, while simultaneously – and of necessity – recasting the nature of the United States domestically. Such a view is not only the product of hindsight: Walter Lippmann, who would serve the Wilson administration in several capacities during the war, articulated it clearly in the pages of the New Republic. In his pivotal essay “The Defense of the Atlantic World,” Lippmann dismantles the legalistic argument that the United States should intervene in the war because Germany has abrogated the rights of neutral nations, pointing out that the British blockade is far more effective in cutting off neutral trade with Germany than is German submarine warfare in affecting trade with the Allies. Nor is submarine warfare somehow less humane than the blockade: “The blockade and the submarine are both terrible weapons, and the blockade is the more effective of the two. In choosing between them we are not choosing between legality and illegality, nor even perhaps in the last analysis between cruelty and mercy” (Lippman –). The issue, Lippmann stresses, lies elsewhere, at the level of the interests of the United States, as those interests are broadly construed. “The war against Britain, France, and Belgium is a war against the civilization of which we are a part” (Lippmann ). Lippmann’s civilization is not American, but rather Atlantic in its outlines – hence his importance in Kees van der Pijl’s analysis of “the making of an Atlantic ruling class” – and it is the “Atlantic highway” that the United States should fight for. The reason for this is, to Lippmann, clear:


America Enters the War [O]n the two shores of the Atlantic Ocean there has grown up a profound web of interest which joins together the western world. Britain, France, Italy, even Spain, Belgium, Holland, the Scandinavian nations, and Pan-America are in the main one community in their deepest needs and their deepest purposes. They have a common interest in the ocean which unites them. ()

Lippmann’s word choice is crucial: the Atlantic unites the United States with Europe; it does not, as is typical in the American exceptionalist thinking that also informs Wilson’s vision, divide the two. Strikingly, Lippmann holds that Germany should be a member and not an opponent of this community of nations: “By rights Germany should be a powerful and loyal member of the Atlantic world, and she will be if this war is effectively fought and wisely ended” (). Lippmann envisions a sophisticated hegemonic strategy, whereby Germany will not be dominated by the coercive force of the victorious, but rather become a consenting partner in the Atlantic project. For Lippmann the war is a contest not only, and not primarily, between the Allies and the Central powers, but rather between what he terms liberal and reactionary forces. American entry into the war will strengthen the liberal forces, and at war’s end, “If the liberal forces have the most strength left it is they who will decide the reorganization of the world” (). The stake for which the war is being fought, then, is nothing less than the transformation of the world system. Lippmann’s analysis and argument in favor of American entry into the war are strikingly clear-minded and dispassionate. So dispassionate, in fact, as to make one wonder who would be willing to go to war on such a basis – at least go to war as anything other than a presidential adviser, or in some other such position where the likelihood of suffering injury or death was remote. Absent from Lippmann’s case for entry into the war is the typical terminology of American culture, particularly the millennialist terminology characteristic of moments of crisis. To be sure, this was reasonably muted as well in Wilson’s request for a declaration of war, which followed the publication of Lippmann’s essay by less than two months; as muted as possible, that is, when one declares, “The world must be made safe for democracy” as an explanation for going to war. But the full millennialist underpinnings of Wilson’s conceptions become strikingly clear elsewhere. For example, Wilson concluded his famous “Fourteen Points” speech, delivered before Congress on January , : “The moral climax of this the culminating and final war for human liberty has come . . .” (Political Thought ). Even more striking is Wilson’s last speech in support of ratification of the Versailles peace treaty and of American participation in the League of Nations, delivered in Pueblo, Colorado, September ,

American Ideology and First World War Poetry


. In it he states that he wishes that those who oppose the treaty and the League, “could feel the moral obligation that rests upon us not to go back on those boys” who died in the war, “but to see the thing through, to see it through to the end and make good their redemption of the world. For nothing less depends on this decision, nothing less than the liberation and salvation of the world” (Political Thought ). Whereas Lippmann speaks of the “reorganization of the world,” Wlison speaks of “the redemption” and “the liberation and salvation of the world.” While Lipmann speaks a secular language of hegemony, a language capable of a high degree of clarity, Wilson speaks a sacred, religiously-hued version of this language, one capable of greater emotional impact, if less clarity. And it is this second language, deeply embedded in American culture, this sacred-secular encoding of a wholly secular political and economic project that appears more frequently in the American poetry of the First World War. It will not provide the only way in which the war is conceived or encoded; familial discourse, medievalist discourse, and a number of other discourses, as we shall see, provided means by which the war was imagined. But the distinctive language of American ideology was perhaps the most important of these, and deserves to be foregrounded.

American Ideology and First World War Poetry Two poems illustrate the way in which American ideology will envision the war and America’s role in it. First, Lynn Harold Hough’s “The Light in the Soldiers’ Eyes.” The poem, consisting of five “Venus and Adonis” stanzas (six iambic pentameter lines, rhyming ababcc), begins with a highly conventional and rather vague war scene in which the speaker, . . . saw the chaos and the red confusion Of battlefields with terror everywhere. ()

The abstract level at which the description remains mitigates the horror of war: “the chaos and the red confusion” is not realized in an image, nor is it evoked with notable eloquence, nor does Hough call upon the aural resources of the English language to recreate, for example, a sense of chaos and confusion through cacophony. This failure to concretely realize chaos and confusion in the poem stems from several causes. Close familiarity with Hough’s poetry suggests that the limits to Hough’s technical abilities as a poet are not to be underestimated. Yet this failure is not merely individual, since it may also be seen as part of the pattern of “evasive banality”


America Enters the War

(vii) that Jackson Lears identifies as one of the chief characteristics of the culture derived from nineteenth-century liberal Protestantism, and Hough was a prominent liberal Methodist minister (“Lynn Harold Hough”). Hough’s poetic limitations, while personal to him, also emerge from a larger cultural failure, one that explains the relative paucity of poetry that is of aesthetic as well as historical interest in the era from roughly  to . In any case, having noted the “chaos and . . . confusion,” the speaker tells us that . . . with a sudden gleam of strange surprise I saw the bright light in the soldiers’ eyes. ()

One is obviously supposed to ask: What is the cause of this “bright light in the soldiers’ eyes”? The answer appears to be supplied in stanzas two and three: “A thousand memories” and “Invisible loved faces smiling brightly” () cause this light to shine. However, these are presumably common to combatants on both sides of the conflict and thus potentially the source of a type of pathos Hough needs to avoid. Hough has written a poem insistently focused on the American soldier, and thus concerned primarily with “ego ideology,” in the terminology of Goran Therborn, focused on the self (). The pathos of the commonalities between soldiers fighting on different sides threatens to blur the line between self and other, and so Hough with good reason will steer the poem elsewhere. Venturing near the terrain of pathos takes Hough to the edge of a contradiction in the way American involvement in the war was presented to the public. The American alter ideology (Therborn, ) of the Germans – the way that Germans were conceived of and presented as other – in the war was split. In his April  speech before the US Congress, Wilson emphasized American “sympathy and friendship” toward the German people. Given that the First World War was a mass war, fought by enormous conscript armies, this view makes the average German soldier as much a victim of the war as anyone else, having been roped into it by an, effectively, alien government. Yet the Wilson administration also found it necessary to stoke the passions of the American public, not only to convince young men that it was good and necessary to go to war, but also to convince the broader public that it was good and necessary to pay for the war. Wilson and his Treasury Secretary, William McAdoo, rejected the two most efficient ways of paying for the war – market-rate borrowing and direct taxation – as politically unviable because, they made the real cost of the war clear

American Ideology and First World War Poetry


(David Kennedy –). While one-third of the immediate cost of the war was covered by taxation, two-thirds was covered through quasivoluntary public funding in the form of “Liberty Bonds,” paying interest below the market rate (Knock ). In order to motivate the American public to invest money below the going rate, McAdoo was determined to tap into its emotions, something he felt the government failed to do sufficiently as it set about financing the Civil War in the previous century (David Kennedy –). “[A]ny great war must necessarily be a popular movement. It is a kind of crusade; and, like all crusades it sweeps along on a powerful stream of romanticism,” McAdoo wrote in his memoir. According to McAdoo, Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase failed to recognize this: “Chase did not attempt to capitalize the emotion of the people” (McAdoo, quoted in David Kennedy ). In order to convince Americans to invest in bonds that provided a lower rate of return than could be had elsewhere, American propaganda posters portrayed German soldiers as brutal “Huns,” a portrait that conflicted with the sympathetic characterization of the German people in Wilson’s April  speech. Furthermore, the Food Administration’s reliance upon voluntary efforts to change consumption habits led it to use similar inflammatory techniques (David Kennedy –, ; see also Gullace –). Sympathetic depiction of the German people was an important part of the hegemonic project of the war, which required that Germany, freed from the Prussian Junkers, be incorporated into the Atlantic world as formulated by Wilson’s advisor Lippmann. But the political situation Wilson faced domestically made it difficult, and perhaps impossible, to implement consistently all of the elements of this hegemonic project, something that Wilson feared would be the case (Lavine and Wechsler ). The “superheated patriotism” characteristic of  and  “was a calculated consequence of the administration’s reluctance to make the true material costs of the war visible and to lay them explicitly on the people” (David Kennedy ). One consequence, obviously not calculated, of this rhetoric that even then-Senator Warren G. Harding called “hysterical and unseemly” (quoted in David Kennedy ) was a deep postwar reaction against it – and, further, against public discourse in general – that became a characteristic feature of much American modernism. To return to the Hough’s poem, “A thousand memories” and “[i]nvisible loved faces smiling brightly,” things shared by all soldiers, are insufficient in this poem as an ultimate explanation for the “light in the soldiers’ eyes,” since this must be an American light. But rather than moving in a negative direction, differentiating American from German soldiers by presenting


America Enters the War

the Germans as Huns, Hough follows in the positive direction forged by Wilson. In stanzas four and five, the cause shifts from the personal and material to the sociopolitical and the ideal: A dream of men in new strong bonds united, Beyond the burning fever of the strife, A dream of hope beyond the world benighted Where war has bivouacked at the death of life; A dream of that new day which shall arise This brings the light to the soldiers’ eyes. ()

The poem draws on the belief that this war would prove to be “the war to end war,” a way of thinking about the Great War that originated in the United Kingdom with H. G. Wells, but was taken up powerfully and characteristically in the United States. While Wilson appears to have used the phrase but once (Jamieson, ), it is intimately connected to a statement such as, “the world must be made safe for democracy” because of the underlying assumption that democracies do not go to war with one another. It is also tied to the language of finality (“final war for human liberty”) that Wilson often used. That Wilson was able and inclined to take up such ideas so fully testifies to the neatness of the fit between the formula “war to end war” and the millennialist tradition in American culture. The poem, then, like much of the American poetry of the period, echoes the official line offered by the Wilson administration, particularly in the millennialist formulation, “that new day which shall arise.” Not only does Hough’s poem echo the millennialist elements in the relatively muted  request for a declaration of war, it also anticipates the rhetorical intensification that followed, as the poem shifts from a secular to a religious idiom when the speaker sees “the daybreak with the sun’s glad gleaming,” The Easter daybreak with a world at peace, After Golgotha with its deaths redeeming, After the suffering which wrought release, I knew then the meaning of the tortured cries, I saw the bright light in the soldiers’ eyes. ()

John Milton Cooper, Jr., who should know, maintains that Wilson never used the expression “the war to end all wars” (n). What is most significant, however, is not the exact phrase or the frequency with which it was used, but rather the broader complex of ideas and language, shot through with elements typical of American millennialism.

American Ideology and First World War Poetry


Here human mortality is closely linked to the political, making death meaningful: “I knew then the meaning of the tortured cries.” Not only are their deaths and suffering not meaningless, the soldiers also do not die merely to protect their loved ones or their homeland – a rationale that would somewhat strain credulity, given that the Central powers possessed little ability to threaten the American mainland. Rather, the soldiers are engaged in a sacred-secular project to redeem the world, to usher in a universal peace achieved through their Christ-like sacrifice. “Tortured cries,” like “the chaos and the red confusion,” threaten to undermine the speaker’s sense of meaning and order, but the millennialist-redemptive narrative of America’s role in world history reestablishes meaning, allowing the speaker to make a kind of ultimate sense of things. Whatever Hough’s technical limitations as a poet, his experience preparing sermons as a minister served him well when it came to structure. Hough’s poem is one of a great number that more-or-less explicitly place American involvement in the First World War within the context of a distinctive American ideology. In its movement from secular to explicitly religious millennialist rhetoric, Hough’s poem performs a kind of unwitting historical excavation of American ideology, exposing religious sources and presuppositions long predating Woodrow Wilson or the First World War. This American ideology manifests itself as a collection of cultural-symbolic and rhetorical patterns that define the United States in terms of a redemptive mission of global and ultimately transcendental import. American millennialist ideology pervades much of the American poetry of the First World War. While this millennialist ideology is often religious in character, it also underpins a great deal of ostensibly secular work. An example from the more secular side of the poetic mainstream, M. A. DeWolfe Howe’s “To the President” was “[w]ritten for the occasion of President Wilson’s landing in Boston on his first return from Paris” (The Known Soldier ) following the conclusion of the Versailles negotiations and before Wilson’s doomed campaign to secure approval of the treaty that emerged from them. Howe clearly places the war within a historical trajectory that goes back into an American past centered on New England by the Bostonian Howe. The poem instructs Wilson to, Look in their eyes who seek in yours True flashings of the spirit that secures, Through generous pact with freemen everywhere, The charter of mankind’s enduring weal.

(The Known Soldier )


America Enters the War

Like Hough, Howe finds truth in the eyes, the windows to the soul, presumably. The spirit that Wilson carries with him is universal: “freemen everywhere,” “mankind’s enduring weal.” In this version of American ideology, through direct involvement in global affairs the historical destiny of America is to promote a universal liberation of humanity. And accordingly, the heroes and villains in the drama of this history come from the American past. First, villains: the Andros named by Howe is Sir Edmund Andros (–), a colonial governor notorious for attempting to curtail the independence of New England from ordinary colonial administration. As part of this plan, he limited town meetings and the role of the colonial legislature, and thus serves Howe as an emblem for antidemocratic, monarchial rule. Scant sympathy will shine From them whose line To Andros draws them back, To Tories mourning for the shorn King’s fame, To the sleek mob of gentlemen aflame To torture Garrison with rope and rack. (The Known Soldier )

When he writes “Tories mourning for the shorn King’s fame,” Howe undoubtedly has in mind Wilson’s nemesis Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, the leader of the Republican Old Guard, and fierce opponent of the peace treaty. Howe’s citation of villains and heroes recalls the Puritan practice of typology, whereby biblical characters and events prefigured characters and events in Puritan history. But whereas the Bible provided the material for Puritan typology, Howe looks to the history of New England, as seen with the first of his heroes, William Lloyd Garrison (–). Garrison was a leading abolitionist as well as editor of The Liberator. A pro-slavery mob attempted to lynch him in Boston in . Other heroes include Sam Adams, signatory to the Declaration of Independence, and the fourth governor of the state of Massachusetts; the participants in the Boston Tea Party; William Ellery Channing, the influential Unitarian minister; and Ralph Waldo Emerson. These and a numberless host Marching ‘neath flags of liberty, Each in its day unfurled For truer brotherhood throughout the world.

(The Known Soldier )

American Ideology and First World War Poetry


With its reach from New England to the globe, Howe’s poem replicates the development of a distinctive American ideology analyzed by Sacvan Bercovitch, who argues that the New England Puritans possessed a vision of themselves that was simultaneously parochial and expansive. The New England Way of the Puritans could be understood as “a tribal vision” and limited to a specific place – New England – and “progress . . . limited to an exclusive group, the visible saints and their offspring” (, ). But the Puritans also passed on a far more expansive vision to the United States, a system of sacred-secular symbols . . . for a people intent on progress; a set of rituals of anxiety that could at once encourage and control the energies of free enterprise; a rhetoric of mission so broad in its implications, and so specifically American in its application, that it could facilitate the transition from Puritan to Yankee, and from errand to manifest destiny and the dream. (Rites )

The New England Puritans were prodigious phrase-makers, and embodied their sense of mission in a resonant and memorable phrase alluded to by Bercovitch: “errand into the wilderness.” The phrase dates back to Reverend Samuel Danforth’s election sermon of , “A Brief Recognition of New England’s Errand into the Wilderness.” The sense of mission provided a crucial part of the “Puritan vision” that “survived the collapse of the churchstate” and enjoyed “sustained mass impact” on American culture (Bercovitch, American Jeremiad ). That Puritan vision would inevitably undergo changes in the years between  and , including the American Revolution and the struggle against slavery highlighted in Howe’s poem. Yet these changes were “a matter of extension and adaptation, not transformation” (Bercovitch, American Jeremiad ). The phrase “errand into the wilderness” and its conceptual apparatus, broadened in its application in the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century religious revivals, eventually became sublimated in the nineteenth century into the terms of Manifest Destiny and in the twentieth century provided the deep cultural underpinning for Woodrow Wilson’s universalism (Bercovitch, Rites – and American Jeremiad –; Tuveson –). Wilsonian universalism imagined America as the new Israel, with the concept of errand licensing a project to save the world through active involvement in its affairs. The ideology of the “errand into the wilderness” obviously was not invented in order to justify American involvement in the First World War, but rather it was adapted to this purpose. This is worth examining a little more closely. At issue is not only the relationship between ideology and its material determinants, but also the power of that ideology to affect events


America Enters the War

at the level of the economic and, more broadly, the social. The material basis for American millennialism can first be glimpsed in the conditions of settlement of colonial America, in the availability of potential settlers to people the eastern seaboard of North America. These potential settlers were created through the process of the divestiture of large numbers of people from the land in England. Several centuries of capitalist or protocapitalist development and attendant social change in the English countryside made the potential settlers free – in Marx’s double sense of not being bound while also having no property to speak of (Capital ) – to leave the Old World for the New. In the New World, land could be acquired, and with it the self-sufficiency and hence the independence, whether in the form of individual rights of ownership or communal rights of access, that had been lost with the loss of land. Many of those who left England for America in the seventeenth century did so to some degree at the behest of something like a utopian, and non-capitalist, desire in which access to land would be restored. This utopian vision of America found its most powerful articulations in religious millennialist discourse, a discourse so pervasive in the United States that it provided, in Alan Kulikoff’s view, an ideological rationale that accompanied the considerable material impetus (–). Indeed, in writing about the combined effect of the American Civil War, the continuing flood of immigrants, and the centralization of American capital, Marx writes, “The great republic has ceased to be the promised land for emigrating workers” (Capital ). Even Marx found the millennialist discourse useful. The general dynamic operating here seems clear: social instability concomitant with capitalist development in the core was mitigated by removing potential sources of political instability to the periphery, where their energies could be unleashed, eventually – and ironically – to further capitalist development. Fleeing from the consequences of capitalist development at home, these refugees, émigrés, and transportees served as the advance guard of capitalist development abroad. The English colonies provided sanctuary to these dynamic but disruptive forces, leading the Anglican Bishop John Hall to describe the New World as the correct destination for “heretics, sworn enemies of the public peace, and agitators” (quoted in Holstun ). While the precise circumstances are somewhat different, the basic dynamic previously outlined also underwrites the doctrine of Manifest Destiny and associated policies in the nineteenth century. According to Thomas Hietala’s account, westward expansionism served pre-Civil War America as a substitute for social policy, as a way of allowing the United States to avoid confronting directly the social consequences of industrialization

American Ideology and First World War Poetry


and urbanization. A pattern of externalizing domestic problems created by capitalist development goes back to the very founding of the English North American colonies persists up to and beyond the First World War (Bercovitch, American Jeremiad –, Rites of Assent –). Millennialist visions of a redeemed world appear as the ideological corollary to the expansive dynamic of Anglo-American capitalist development. But insofar as the wrongs – domestic social problems – put right in the millennialist vision emerge from the process of capitalist development, this vision engages in its own undoing, as the dynamics of capitalist development undermine the visions of the ideology. Despite, and perhaps also because of, this self-undoing quality, the millennialist vision persisted through the nineteenth and into the twentieth century, in part because the frontiers of American capitalism continually expanded, renewing the necessary spatial and social relations. By the late nineteenth century, however, the frontier was, as Frederick Jackson Turner famously announced, closed. Turner’s friend and fellow historian Woodrow Wilson – Turner read “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” to Wilson in manuscript (Wendell Stephenson, ) – saw that the frontier thesis “implied that the United States required greater foreign markets in order to sustain its prosperity” (Knock, ). Wilson similarly saw the dynamics underlying American expansion on the North American continent to lead to further expansion: Until  the United States had always a frontier; looked always to a region beyond, unoccupied, unappropriated, an outlet for its energy, a new place of settlement and of achievement for its people. For nearly three hundred years their growth had followed a single law, – the law of expansion into new territory . . . Over the mountains on to the long slopes that descended to the Mississippi, across the great river into the plains, up the plains to the crowning heights of the Rockies, beyond the Rockies to the Pacific . . . There was always space and adventure enough and to spare, to satisfy the feet of our young men. (Papers : )

When Wilson wrote this in , the United States had just taken possession of Puerto Rico and the Philippines, and the bulk of the essay in which it appears is concerned with the nature of democratic institutions and their suitability to these new territories. Underlying these concerns is an understanding of American history as fundamentally expansive: the frontier of American expansion has moved beyond the confines of North America. Whether it now takes territorial or some other form, the basis of expansion could be found in the fundamental fact of America as a frontier nation whose internal frontier had closed. Wilson differentiated this version of


America Enters the War

imperialism from the variety practiced by Europe and advocated by his great rival Theodore Roosevelt by its greater concern for the welfare of the inhabitants of the territories of this new frontier (Knock, –). While he admitted that America’s record in this regard was not as good as it might be (Papers : –), in a speech during his campaign for the Democratic nomination in , he assured the audience, “I believe that God planted in us visions of liberty . . . that we are chosen and prominently chosen to show the way to the nations of the world how they shall walk in the paths of liberty” (quoted in Knock, ). Just as the Puritan errand expanded into American destiny, so did the nation’s remit further expand once the central portion of the continent was brought fully under the political control of the federal government and the frontier closed (Bercovitch, American Jeremiad –). Thus, under Wilson’s guidance, American intervention in the First World War was understood through and articulated often in millennialist terminology, nearly always with the narrative trajectory of an American mission to universalize democracy, end aristocratic rule, and redeem a fallen world. Forces operative at the economic and political levels of social reality were understood in the terms of a non- (and often anti-) economic vocabulary, a mechanism that – it is no original insight of mine to note – betrays significant similarities to the Freudian mechanism of repression, whereby items inadmissible to consciousness (for example, that America is going to war in order to secure its place as the hegemonic capitalist power, succeeding the United Kingdom in that role) are rendered into terms that are acceptable. Americans were prepared to accept an understanding of the war couched in the terminology of a millennialist Christianity, not only because of the history of the United States, but also because of the development of Christianity. By the First World War, the notion of a distinctive American mission in the world ordained by God had become part of a widespread and influential liberal-Progressive version of Christianity. Theologians married an understanding of secular history as the story of human progress with religious conceptions of a millennial destination of history. Anders Stephenson sees this linkage of sacred and secular destiny via progress taking place especially in the Great Awakening of the s and s, when “[t]he fixation on cataclysmic events was replaced by a gradualist ideology of improvement, an emphasis on constructing the millennium by orderly progress, as it were” (). Crucial here was the great theologian Jonathan Edwards, for whom America’s production of material goods was “a forerunner of what is approaching in spiritual things” leading to

American Ideology and First World War Poetry


“the most glorious renovation of the world” (quoted in Anders Stephenson, ). Edwards “drew out the protonationalistic tendencies of the New England Way. He inherited the concept of a new chosen people, and enlarged its constituency from saintly New England theocrats to newborn American saints” (Bercovitch, American Jeremiad ). This led in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to understanding political, social, and economic events and trends in religious terms. In the words of Richard M. Gamble, events in America’s national life assumed a cosmic significance; each step in the nation’s journey led inexorably to the City of God. Infused with such transcendent significance, what had been, for example, simply mundane politics or commonplace matters of foreign policy became, to the progressive clergy, theological events in a redemptive history. ()

This view gained strength throughout the nineteenth century, paving the way for a transition to a mentality compatible with the nature of the emerging society of the twentieth century. Most prominent was the social gospel movement, which produced “a critique of the remnants of nineteenthcentury individualism, localism, and economic classical liberalism” (Gamble ). One result was the formation of an ambidextrous ideology capable of articulation within a sacred or a secular frame of reference. Hough’s and Howe’s poems illustrate this. Lynn Harold Hough and M. A. DeWolfe Howe do not figure prominently in the critical work done to date on the American poetry of the first decades of the twentieth century. (Patrick J. Quinn includes Hough’s prose work The Clean Sword in his bibliography. Steven Trout quotes from and analyzes briefly Howe’s “The Known Soldier,” written following the death of Woodrow Wilson.) As representatives of what Henry F. May calls the “traditional literary culture” () of the first decades of the twentieth century, they fall outside of what came to be seen as interesting in the poetry of this period. Yet during the initial formation of the now canonical literature of the first decades of the twentieth century in the s and s, writers broadly similar to Hough and Howe, representatives of the traditional literary culture that supported intervention in the war, were examined by literary critics. For example, in After the Genteel Tradition – first published in  – Malcolm Cowley takes Henry van Dyke, to whom I will return later, to represent the genteel tradition, May’s “traditional literary culture.” In his criticism – consonant with his poetry – van Dyke perpetuates “false and life-denying standards” (), according to Cowley. Once a figure such as van Dyke was relegated to the moribund genteel tradition, little more need be said.


America Enters the War

Instead, attention shifted to those writers who, in one way or another, rejected traditional literary culture, a rejection that was often manifested, in part at least, as a rejection of American involvement in the war, or at least a rejection of the value and meaningfulness of the experience of war. These are the writers of the so-called disillusionment. This disillusionment, part of a broader socio-cultural phenomenon, refers in literature to the experience of American writers who typically had some direct experience of the war, either as soldiers or, more often, as ambulance drivers or non-combatant war-workers of some other kind. This disillusionment narrative was very clearly articulated in critical work such as Stanley Cooperman’s World War One and the American Novel. In the disillusionment narrative, writers such as E. E. Cummings, John Dos Passos, and Ernest Hemingway saw the reality of the war and its failure to conform to the high-minded ideals by which it was justified by Wilson and by the propaganda and cultural campaign that followed the lines he laid down. This produced not only a specific reaction against the war, as seen in The Enormous Room, Three Soldiers, and A Farewell to Arms, but also a more pervasive quality of irony, skepticism, and distrust of the political and public realms that, it was held, characterizes modernism generally. This model easily assimilated a writer such as Ezra Pound, who did not have direct personal experience of the war. Pound’s poetic reaction to the war can be seen in the oft-anthologized lines from Hugh Selwyn Mauberley: Died some, pro patria, non “dulce” non “et décor” . . . walked eye-deep in hell believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving came home home to many deceits, home to old lies and new infamy; usury age-old and age-thick and liars in public places. (–)

Pound’s response continued into his monumental Cantos. That there was a profound – and complex – political dimension to this response was elided since literary critics and historians largely ignored Pound’s fascism and his unorthodox economics until the last thirty years or so. So, too, was the political dimension of the disillusionment largely ignored: if public places were where the liars were found, then the proper modernist response was to avoid those places, or so the mainstream of literary studies held. As a corollary, those writers who did not avoid public places – such as those

Left Neo-pragmatism


who advocated and defended American involvement in the war – were held to be of little value or interest. The intensity of literary, especially poetic, engagement with the political during the war years, an engagement overwhelmingly in support of a war that would be in various ways discredited, would render intensely problematic the relationship between literature and politics. More recently, as part of the widespread revision of American literary history, Mark Van Wienen refocused attention on the American literature of the war by emphasizing the poetry of  to . Van Wienen recovers poetry overshadowed by authors such as Pound and Hemingway who became canonical favorites for their irony, ambiguity, and cultivation of a language stripped of the residue of the old gentility and sentimentality. The writers Van Wienen returns to public view wrote directly political, socially engaged poetry across the political spectrum as it was then constituted – although Van Wienen clearly prefers the poetry critical of the war, such as that written by socialists, anarchists, and feminists. The theoretical and methodological underpinnings of Van Wienen’s book, Partisans and Poets, lie in the work of Cary Nelson and the movement in literary and cultural studies of which he is a leader, a movement best described as left neopragmatism. Because Van Wienen specifically, and the left neo-pragmatists generally, work on material similar to that which I consider in this book, and because some of their methods and principles are very similar to my own, I want to examine these in some detail.

Left Neo-pragmatism Beginning with the  publication of Cary Nelson’s Repression and Recovery, a substantial body of work on early twentieth-century American poetry that I designate as left neo-pragmatist had emerged. Nelson is clearly the leading figure in the group, with not only Repression and Recovery, but also Revolutionary Memory, published in , his book on Edwin Rolfe and the American experience in the Spanish Civil War, among other things, to his credit. Many of the literary critics and historians in this group are former students of Nelson: Walter Kalaidjian, Michael Thurston, as well as Mark Van Wienen. While they do not, to my knowledge, refer to themselves as left neo-pragmatists, it seems an accurate label. “Left,” because all announce more-or-less clearly their political allegiances, which are with the left; “neo-pragmatist,” because none of them operate from within a classical Marxist framework, despite their leftist commitment. More substantively, all of them evince an attitude toward poetry that might be considered


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pragmatic or instrumentalist, while also often announcing their engagement with philosophical or theoretical neo-pragmatism in the work of Richard Rorty or Barbara Herrnstein Smith, although one also finds references to poststructuralist figures such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. Most of the work of this group of critics and historians has been on twentieth-century American poetry, with special attention to the first half of the twentieth century. In addition they tend to focus on writers with leftist political commitments, or on feminist, African American, or other writers with commitments that put them in some way outside the political and social mainstream. Thus, the title of Nelson’s book: “repression” – what was done to these writers and their history – and “recovery” – bringing back that which has been disregarded and forgotten. The title of the book announces the general program. Nelson is positively evangelical in his fervor for seeking out and exposing students and readers to the lost poetry of the twentieth century, and his enthusiasm for research into the original places of publication for this poetry, especially the mostly ephemeral “little magazines” of the teens, twenties, and thirties might well be termed inspiring. While I am critical of some aspects of the work of the left neopragmatists, it is a body of work with substantial merit. Mark Van Wienen’s work on the American poetry of the First World War might be regarded as an instance of the more general left neopragmatist program. Van Wienen’s work on poetry and the war includes a monograph, Partisans and Poets: The Political Work of American Poetry in the Great War () and an anthology, Rendezvous with Death: American Poems of the Great War (). Typical of the left neo-pragmatists, Van Wienen wholeheartedly embraces the concept of cultural work, articulated by Jane Tompkins in her publications on nineteenth-century fiction. Speaking of the largely forgotten books that she has been discussing in Sensational Designs, Tompkins says: I see them doing a certain kind of cultural work within a specific historical situation, and value them for that reason. I see their plots and characters as providing society with a means of thinking about itself, defining certain aspects of a social reality which the authors and their readers shared, dramatizing its conflicts, and recommending solutions. It is the notion of

In fact, I began work on my book on Muriel Rukeyser’s long poem of , The Book of the Dead, after I saw Nelson give a talk at the  Modern Languages Association convention in which he discussed the poem.

Left Neo-pragmatism


literary texts doing work, expressing and shaping the social context that produced them, that I wish to substitute finally for the critical perspective that sees them as attempts to achieve a timeless, universal ideal of truth and formal coherence. ()

Much in this is unobjectionable from a historical materialist perspective, although one might wish to alter the terminology somewhat and be a bit more specific about that nebulous “society,” “social reality,” and “social context” to which she refers. Also, one might want to inquire as to what criteria should be brought to bear in order to differentiate which kinds of “cultural work” qualify a text for attention and which do not. Furthermore, the idea of “cultural work” threatens to devolve into a gross instrumentalism if it becomes a total program, rather than a way of understanding an aspect of literary (or other) works. This gross instrumentalism, a hallmark of capitalist modernity (Hobsbawm, Age of Revolution –), is something that Marxist critics as different as Georg Lukács and T. W. Adorno have fought against within Marxism. In addition, Tompkins proposes a dichotomy between an absolute historicism and an absolute universalism that one may very well find false – perhaps facile – and wish to contest. That a “radical” or “revolutionary” approach to American literary and cultural history should embrace uncritically a concept burdened with such historical associations and beset with such difficulties indicates that the core values of this criticism and the basis for holding them need scrutiny. Closely linked to Tompkins’s notion of “cultural work” is the concept of the contingency of aesthetic value, most forcefully elaborated at the theoretical level by Barbara Herrnstein Smith. Smith’s program develops familiar themes from the broader neo-pragmatist movement; in particular, she might be understood to elaborate an aesthetic program parallel to Stanley Fish’s critical program. Along these lines, her book Contingencies of Value might be seen as a definitive work of anti-Kantian aesthetics, an anti-Critique of Judgment. As such, it is no wonder that some leftist critics have embraced it, given the anti-historical character that can be ascribed to Kantian aesthetics, specifically to the concept of subjective universality, and the role of Kantian aesthetics within formalism. However, the history of philosophy shows that there are many ways of disagreeing with Kant. Kant based his aesthetics on a posited universal subject, which responds to the stimulus provided by the object of aesthetic judgment in a manner utterly divorced from interest, and therefore as a truly universal subject, unaffected by the vagaries of situation-specific needs. The object of aesthetic judgment must be judged “freely,” without regard to utility and therefore without regard to the object’s purpose. In Kant’s phrase, the determining


America Enters the War

ground of the judgment of beauty must be “subjective purposiveness in the representation of an object without any purpose (either objective or subjective) . . . the mere form of purposiveness” (). The object of favorable aesthetic judgment, the beautiful object – or rather the object judged to be beautiful – must demonstrate “purposiveness . . . without any purpose” because purpose ties the object to the world of interest and need, those things specific to a situation, and hence to particular and not universal being. This is the Kant who “is traditionally supposed to have virtually invented the issue of the differentiation of aesthetic experience as a subjective ‘object of study’ in the first place” (Jameson, Late Marxism –). The neo-pragmatist turn in aesthetics, specifically in the work of Smith, argues that because no such universality as Kant posits may actually be ascribed to subjectivity, all aesthetic judgment is ultimately contingent upon the location of the judging subject in a complex field of needs, desires, interests, and so on. In the hands of the left neo-pragmatists, Smith’s work licenses attention to poetry or poetries that have previously been ignored because they are in some way political, and, with some exceptions, explicitly on the political left. Smith underwrites this project by insisting on the necessarily interested nature of all judgments, including aesthetic judgment. To state the matter simply, if all aesthetic judgment bears within in it the interest of the judger, then any object can become the object of favorable aesthetic judgment if the one who judges it does so from within a framework of value that would permit such a judgment. And in just this way are all aesthetic judgments made. Describing the status of her own project, Smith writes, “Having designed this verbal/conceptual construct to be of value – interest, use, perhaps even beauty – to the members of a certain community, I exhibit it here for sale, hoping that some of its readers will, as we say, ‘buy it’” (). One could say a great deal about this, about its use of market metaphors, which had become pervasive in the s, when Smith published Contingencies of Value, or about the false populism of the use of the colloquial expression, “buy it,” set off from its speaker by both quotation marks and the self-conscious, “as we say.” Be that as it may, this brief passage directs our attention to an aspect of the work of the left neo-pragmatists that might otherwise go unnoticed, and that is their orientation toward persuasion: Nelson and company often seem more oriented toward reshaping the reader’s vision of literary history than to disclosing the nature of the interaction between literature and history. Here the left neo-pragmatist literary historians follow from the bestknown neo-pragmatist, who also made known, especially late in his career,

Left Neo-pragmatism


his affiliation with the American liberal left, Richard Rorty. In Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America Rorty writes, “Stories about what a nation has been and should try to be are not attempts at accurate representation, but rather attempts to forge a moral identity” (). Rorty does not mean to criticize any lack of concern for accuracy, but is – from his position – simply describing the nature of things once we begin talking about history. So, once we begin telling a story about the nation’s past, we are constrained not by past realities, but by our own desire to shape another’s understanding, whereby they will come to accept the moral identity we are trying to forge, which necessarily entails getting the other to buy the story we are telling, thus taking us back to Smith. As David Detmer has asked, “When one is buying and selling, are there not ethical issues of what is being offered for sale? And if what is being offered for sale are descriptions, do not these ethical issues concern the accuracy of these descriptions?” (). Detmer’s rhetorical questions raise two issues. First, as regards “what is being offered for sale”: this applies perhaps more to the literary works being promoted by the left neo-pragmatists than to their work. Second, the accuracy of the descriptions on offer in the work of the left neo-pragmatists may certainly be questioned. Not that they are simply inaccurate. Rather, a kind of foreshortening takes place in this work that renders the descriptions on offer less accurate than they might be, an error more of omission than of commission. Two examples of inaccuracy resultant from the foreshortening of history will suffice. Van Wienen’s Partisans and Poets is carefully researched and very informative on the subject at hand. Van Wienen demonstrates the continued significance of modes of closed form poetics that can easily appear to have simply vanished from the scene in the first half of the twentieth century, overwhelmed by modernism and open form. Furthermore he shows that the formal conservatism of these modes does not necessarily correspond to political conservatism. At the same time, he reveals that vernacular poetic expression flourished, especially in the hands of writers associated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Partisans and Poets is indispensable to anyone who wants to understand how developments in American poetry played out between  and . However, Van Wienen never enquires into a number of important matters, principally the question of what the Great War was all about and what the United States was doing in it in the first place. That is, Van Wienen does not inquire into the underlying dynamics that led to American intervention in the war, and consequently devotes little attention to


America Enters the War

questions of ideology or of the relationship between reality, ideology, and poetry, important matters for someone interested in the social and political dimension of poetry. Instead, conflicts largely resolve themselves into anti-war versus pro-war camps engaged in discursive struggle, using the medium of poetry. Without significant attention to the surrounding structural conditions and dynamics, conflict thus appears more ethical than properly political. But of course, this was a political conflict (although a strictly ethical anti-war position as a conscientious objector was also possible), and the major exception to Van Wienen’s inattention to the properly political rather than the ethical proves the point. In his chapter on the IWW and its place in anti-war poetry, Van Wienen examines the politics of the conflict – the IWW is not a likely source of high-minded ethical ideals, since it consciously eschewed such bourgeois affectations. Yet even here, as Van Wienen treats it, the IWW’s opposition to the war resolves into an opposition to any war but class war, with little attention to the place of the IWW in the American economy and working class of the first decades of the twentieth century. Historical context has been foreshortened so that the full significance of the material at hand – otherwise excellently handled – is lost. This failing of the left neo-pragmatists begins with Nelson’s Repression and Recovery. Here Nelson emphasizes the diversity of American poetry in the early twentieth century. Nelson contrasts this diversity with the limited options available within the confines of the literary canon, confines well expressed in the title of Marjoree Perloff’s classic essay, “Pound/ Stevens: Whose Era?” For Nelson this diversity is irreducible: “No single story can be told about modern poetry and its varied audiences that is even marginally adequate” (). But Nelson realizes that this assertion of irreducible cultural diversity may derive less from the specificities of the past than from his own historical location. This awareness leads him to write that “It is easy, but unsatisfactory, merely to search for a past that mirrors our own fractured image” (). Thus, the fact of the diversity of cultural production should not prevent us from attempting to organize it conceptually. Yet the poststructuralist hostility to “grand narratives” and “totalization” precludes any such possibility. These two different elements, diversity and unity, are never synthesized in the work of the left neo-pragmatists. In part this may simply follow from the kind of work they do, because for them history is in the first instance literary history, and in the second instance cultural history. While the political does appear in this work,

Left Neo-pragmatism


notably absent is the infamous “last instance,” the economic. As a result political conflict becomes oddly decontextualized, and thus rendered into simple antagonism. This fits into a larger pattern acutely analyzed by Jonathan Joseph in his work on hegemony. Commenting on the work of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe – favorably cited in both Nelson’s Repression and Recovery and Van Wienen’s Partisans and Poets – Joseph notes that Laclau and Mouffe effectively sever the relationship between extra-discursive reality and discourse. For Laclau and Mouffe, while the objects of extra-discursive reality may exist, “nothing follows from this existence” (quoted in Joseph ). As a consequence, discourse is freed from (extra-discursive) reality, to which discourses do not refer. “Therefore, any clash or rivalry between discourses becomes incomprehensible since there is no intelligible way of comprehending either discourses themselves or conceptual transformations” (Joseph ). Absent an external referent about which contesting discourses disagree, adjudicating between them becomes hopeless, pointless. Discursive conflict becomes pure antagonism. While Van Wienen seems disinclined to join Laclau and Mouffe in abandoning all referential relationship between discourse and extra-discursive reality, in Partisans and Poets he shares with them an approach to politics and hegemony that neglects their relationship with the material – especially economic – realities out of which they emerge. As Joseph points out, hostility to totality leads to a kind of fetishism in which virtually all attention is directed to the “concrete entities in themselves without reference to the underlying structures, generative mechanisms, and social relations. In this way, ideology can be seen as the part imposing itself on the whole, or the reduction of the complex to the concrete” (). We see the consequences of this in Partisans and Poets, which is exceptionally informative about some of the poetry written in response to the First World War, but which never ventures to enquire into the deeper nature of the war itself, and so leaves unasked a variety of questions about the relationship between the war and literature about it. The theoretical shortcomings of left neo-pragmatism have practical consequences, seen in the nature of the material they deal with – and, more importantly, do not deal with. Among the accomplishments of Van Weinen is that he directs attention toward a poem such as Charles W. Wood’s 

The “last instance” is how a phrase from Louis Althusser’s For Marx is translated. He uses it to convey the sense of Friedrich Engels’ comment in a letter to Joseph Bloch in which Engels attempts to explain that while the economic ultimately determines social reality, it is not the only factor possessing determining power ().


America Enters the War

“King of the Magical Pump” (). The poem plays the sound of nonsense verse against an analysis of the problem of overproduction in a capitalist economy so that the sound of the poem creates an implicit commentary on the nature of the reality produced by that economy: But the King of the Chumps was a kindly old Umps And he paid them as much as he durst (As much as all such as he durst) For humping and jumping and pumpty-pump-pumping Anything that a king could imagine their dumping: Till he said: “Go to roost, we have over-produced And we’ve got to get rid of this first.” Then the Chummpetty-Chumps went to bumping the bumps In a tragic and thingum-less plight; In a thingum-less, jingum-less plight: They blubbered and lubbered and went to the cupboard – “No pumpee, no Chumpee,” they said as they rubbered – Till the loving old King caught a thought on the wing Which was sure to set everything right.

(Van Wienen, Rendezvous –)

Like the industrial capitalism it stands in for, the magical pump is massively productive, leading to overproduction and a consequent shutting down of the pump and mass unemployment when employers, driven by competitive pressure, fail to pay workers well enough to provide adequate demand. Confronted with this economic and social crisis, the king responds to the complaints of the idle Chumps: Said the King of the Pumps to the Chumpety-Chumps: “It is plain as the face on your nose, As the face on the base of your nose, The lesson this session of business depression Points out beyond doubt is that foreign aggression Has caused a big slump in the work of the pump – So up men and after your foes!”

(Van Wienen, Rendezvous )

Aided by the sprightly anapestic meter and the liberal use of internal and end rhymes, the comic effect of the poem derives also from the obviousness with which ideology is manipulated, or rather the obviousness with which the hapless Chumps are manipulated by an ideology rendered

Left Neo-pragmatism


ridiculous by being expressed in a revealing non sequitur. Wood elides the complex mediations whereby the economic and the political interrelate. In doing so, he demonstrates that without those complex mediations the propaganda that wars call forth sounds funny, and what better form for this than something bordering on nonsense verse? Thus, Wood points us, negatively as it were, toward a more accurate theory of the relationship between the various levels of social reality, because the terms in which the war was understood in the United States were not manufactured as the need arose, but rather were derived from a rich discourse deeply rooted in American culture, and whose origins lie prior to the political existence of the United States. Van Wienen includes this poem in his anthology, Rendezvous with Death and analyzes it in Partisans and Poets. Finding and bringing attention to such work is no insignificant accomplishment. But, following the logic of Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s program, Van Wienen goes farther. He not only values but also prefers such performances to poems by stalwarts of the modernist era, as he rejects canonical modernist poetry on the grounds that it is oriented toward locution, toward how a “grammatical utterance” is produced within a particular formal network . . . The modernist poem, whether the lyric or the long poem, emphasizes the act of locution itself (by its concern with style, formal and linguistic experimentation, the “play” of signification) and thereby invites inspection as a self-contained literary construct, however dialogic, fragmentary, or indeterminate its effects. (Partisans )

Van Wienen associates the modernist poetics of locution with individualism and aestheticism, contrasting this with what he calls partisan poetics, which offer a collectivist and activist alternative to modernism. While Van Wienen reconstructs literary history painstakingly, his revisionary aesthetics leave the way open to some problems that might trouble his larger historical project: First, his emphasis on poetry that “foregrounds acts of illocution” () – that is, the purpose in context – can appear to foreclose investigation of poetry that possesses a particularly complicated, or ironic, or beautiful locutionary aspect. But being well-crafted does not deprive a poetic statement of force. While Van Wienen does not attempt to forbid the investigation of the illocutionary aspect of poetry that foregrounds locution, his work tends to drive a wedge between partisan-political and modernist poetry, and this presents a second problem, because if taken programmatically it reinstates Kantian aesthetics by severing absolutely that which we see as a beautiful utterance from a rhetorical or purposeful


America Enters the War

utterance. Third, as a consequence of this, to cordon off Cummings, Pound, and so on from the outside world would be to reproduce the very formalist literary history opposed by Van Wienen in particular and the left neo-pragmatists generally. And fourth, as a form of pragmatism, Van Wienen’s position ultimately accepts the polarities of political conflict at a given moment (in this case, roughly –) as presenting the real alternatives possible for human social being. That is – and this is no small virtue – while it makes it possible to restore life to texts and historical moments seemingly rendered inert by the passage of time and changing tastes, the embrace of a partisan poetics can also freeze antagonism in time. In this way it becomes to some extent a form of the reconciliation with reality that Randolph Bourne identified as a fundamental weakness of John Dewey’s pragmatism. Van Wienen’s project to restore the context and content of the American poetry of the Great War in many ways complements the project of this book, but some of the theoretical presuppositions of left neo-pragmatism might actually undermine the full reinvestigation of the literary history of the Great War.

Historical Materialism Rather than left neo-pragmatism, the theoretical framework informing this book is historical materialism, an approach to the study of literature, culture, and society that has had relatively little influence in the United States, despite the prominence of Fredric Jameson, arguably the single most important figure in the field of literary and cultural studies over the past four decades. Historical materialism, with its commitment to totality as a methodological standard, placing literary and cultural practices within the larger context of political and economic conflict and development, has the potential to correct the shortcomings of left neo-pragmatism. It can thus provide a more satisfactory basis for a literary and cultural history that is integral to political and economic history, at the same time preserving the significant accomplishments of someone like Van Wienen. Approaching the American literature of the First World War from a historical materialist perspective entails seeing this body of writing in relation to the war as an event in the history of a particular capitalist nation-state 

Kantian aesthetics as an account specifically of the logic of the judgment of beauty may in fact be correct but that is another matter from what is under discussion here. The point is that reintroducing the Kantian distinction in the manner that Van Wienen does produces a severe incoherence in the theoretical dimension of his argument. To be fair, the burden of Partisans and Poets is not theory, but literary history, and here Van Wienen makes a substantial contribution.

Historical Materialism


within the context of the capitalist world economy and its political relations. While most of the real work of doing so must be concrete – I have already done a little of it earlier in this chapter – this concrete analysis is not without theoretical foundations, which are outlined in the next few pages through a brief revisitation of the venerable, if also much abused, base/superstructure model, which offers a means by which to understand the relationship between the economic, the political, and the cultural. While Ellen Meiksins Wood commented in  that, “[t]he base/ superstructure metaphor has always been more trouble than it is worth” (), developments within historical materialism and the critical realist movement in philosophy have occasioned a revival of interest in this model or metaphor, reconstructing it so as to minimize the defects of some versions, defects cogently articulated by Wood. The classic statement of the base/superstructure model is in Marx’s  “Preface” to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production in material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life processes in general. ()

This passage has been interpreted and argued about extensively, but the nuances of these various exegeses are not crucial here. Rather, the gist is more significant: there is an economic base, or structure, which conditions the superstructure. The model is structural in the sense that social reality is imagined as being like a physical structure, in which key characteristics of the upper levels or stories are determined by the foundation upon which they rest. This two-part model has been revised recently by Sean Creaven, drawing upon the earlier work of Roy Bhaskar and Andrew Collier. Creaven’s reconstruction integrates a third level, so that one ends up with a model in which the structure and superstructure are themselves based upon a level that Creaven, logically enough, calls the substructure. The substructure is that natural basis upon which human social existence depends, and by which it is constrained (Emergentist Marxism –). The inclusion of such a substructural level clarifies some of the limits within which human social existence plays out, not only at the level of structural relations, where the physical properties of matter, be it steel or silicon, are crucial, but also


America Enters the War

at the level of the superstructure. This might be, for example, a means by which to incorporate cognitive science into the study of culture while maintaining a historical materialist approach. More to the point, it provides a way of incorporating many of those elements that traditional literary scholarship likes to refer to as timeless into historical materialism. Insofar as mortality, for example, may be understood as a natural condition upon which human social relations are founded and of which they must take account, this model of substructure, structure, and superstructure allows the student of poetry to be a consistent historical materialist while dealing with Shakespeare’s “Sonnet ” (“That time of year thou mayst in me behold”) or Donald Hall’s “My Son, My Executioner.” Without a concept of substructure, one might be inclined to “overly historicize” poems like these, attending exclusively to the historical matter of the difference in attitudes toward aging and death found in the Renaissance and the mid-twentieth century poems, ignoring the continuity of topic based on the continuing reality of death. The overly historicist approach threatens to open the door to a culturalism in which death itself as a natural reality disappears amidst the altogether more comfortable environment of socially constructed attitudes, rituals, and so on. Mortality provides a particularly apt example because it is a critical element in war poetry, a type of poetry often particularly compelling, even for those who “don’t like poetry.” Creaven’s reconstructed model suggests why this may be so: war poetry foregrounds the confluence of elements from various levels of human reality, and subjects them to the shaping influence of artistic form. Mortality, a substructural element of human being, is experienced within the context of war, a political event, although one that may be understood in a de-politicized manner. Part of the poignancy of at least some war poetry lies in the collision between the historical invariance of mortality and the variability of the conditions that underlie warfare, leading to a combination of the necessary and the gratuitous that the mind struggles to comprehend. Poets, of course, take such materials and transform them through the resources of the art. And here lies another, crucial, dimension of a Marxist-realist model of base and superstructure. The model put forward by Creaven draws heavily upon the concept of emergence, central to critical realism as developed by Roy Bhaskar, and a concept that allows criticism to deal with the specificities of the various levels of the substructure, base, and superstructure. By seeing superstructural practices and institutions as emergent from ontologically prior, more basic levels it becomes possible to see them as determined

Historical Materialism


by those prior levels without reducing them to mere epiphenomena: the concept of emergence is a more precise means by which to account for the combination of determination and independence that, for example, the Althusserian concept of relative autonomy attempts to encompass (Marxism and Realism –). That this is a fundamental concern in historical materialism might be indicated by the fact that Leon Trotsky anticipated something close to this understanding of emergence in Literature and Revolution when he summarized his position on Russian Formalism in a sentence: “The methods of formal analysis are necessary, but insufficient” (). Explicated in the vocabulary of emergence, this means that the methods of formal analysis, insofar as they are attuned to and explanatory at the level of literary practice, are necessary, but insofar as they treat literary practice as autonomous and autotelic are insufficient and must be linked to methods attuned to and explanatory at other levels of reality. The specificity of modern war poetry arises from the prominence within much of it of elements from the substructural level (especially mortality, either explicitly or implicitly) and from the superstructure, (politics, especially the politics of nationalism; and religion, especially the notion of sacrifice). Furthermore, poets inherit – whether positively or negatively – to varying degrees the prior history of poetry, which carries with it formal resources and a repertoire of subject matter and of attitudes toward that subject matter. Perhaps the single best-known poem in English to come out of the First World War, Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” illustrates this nicely. A veritable showcase of poetic technique, the poem has a very conventional fundamental structure, heroic quatrains (lines of iambic pentameter rhyming abab), which provide the framework within which Owen manipulates various technical elements. At the same time, its very title announces that the poem is staged as a reckoning with Horace’s famous dictum and the tradition it represents, and that a negative, critical relationship with the role of poetry in perpetuating a false and sanitized vision of death in war is as much a part of the poem as is the direct experiential basis upon which the poem was written. One may then speak of two types of explanation within the historical materialist model here outlined, vertical and horizontal. Vertical explanation reduces the level at which explanation takes place, without being reductive; that is, it explains features of, in this case, superstructural elements, in terms of their determination by prior levels of the superstructure, structure, and/or substructure. Horizontal explanation deals with those features of a


America Enters the War

superstructural practice that cannot be adequately explained by recourse to those prior levels, and are thus emergent practices: the visual imagery, for example, or Owen’s manipulation of the aural qualities of the English language: Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge. ()

As an emergent practice, poetry is, by definition, simultaneously determined by and irreducible to those levels of social reality prior to it. Owen’s lines are a nexus of determinations derived from various levels and, with varying degrees of immediacy, channeled through the poet’s subjectivity, itself a part of that which makes the poem possible. While the poetry and prose I examine will rarely approach the level of artistry on display in “Dulce et Decorum Est” – and as a result will respond more fully to rhetorical than aesthetic analysis – all share the same fundamental nature, that of being a nexus of determinations channeled through a single subjectivity. Regarded in such terms, the American literature of the First World War and the literary history of the era from – takes on a shape rather different from that found in either modernist or revisionist accounts. 

Because this book is focused on illuminating a particular juncture in literary history and not on demonstrating the viability of historical materialist literary theory, in the chapters that follow I only attempt a truly systematic reading of one poem, Edward S. Van Zile’s “Rise Up, Rise Up Crusaders!” A programmatic deployment of the theory – something appropriate for article-length projects – throughout the book would quickly prove cumbersome and intrusive.

 

American Intervention in the First World War Poetry as an Ideological Form

The sheer volume of American poetry about the First World War is staggering, its volume so great – around  volumes in whole or in significant part devoted to the war, not to mention countless individual poems – that a large number of thematic, formal, and other categorizations could easily be made. In this chapter, I focus on several important aspects of this poetry, all of which concern its ideological character. One function of ideology is to place events within a meaning-giving framework that translates them into terms conformable to the cultural patterns characteristic of a given society. For example, much of the poetry I examine describes American intervention in the First World War through the terminology and narrative trajectory of a national mission to universalize democracy, end aristocratic rule, and redeem a fallen world. The project of universalizing representative democracy such as is practiced in the United States is not understood in this discourse as essentially political, in large part because this project – like the larger sense of national mission – is divorced from questions of power and economics. Forces and actions primarily, although not exclusively, economic in nature are described and understood in a non-economic vocabulary, so that the expansion of American economic and political power is understood as something else entirely. In , while the United States was still neutral, Charles Henry Crandall wrote that America . . . listens now, like tides that flow And pulse from Oregon to Maine, To learn if she must strike the blow For Peace and Right, but not for Gain. (“Arm! America!” )

Crandall writes from a perspective in which national honor, described in highly gendered terms that supply another level of metaphorical and cultural distortion, drives America: 


American Intervention in the First World War Awake, arouse, and straightway cease To trust in those who threat to mar The beauty that provokes their lust ’Til they would sully thy fair fame, And tread thy honor in the dust, And desecrate thy glorious name! ()

A nationalist poem such as this provides a fairly straightforward example of poetry functioning as ideology. Crandall’s conviction that America would not fight “for Gain” was widespread, as was the contrasting belief – especially before entry – that the United States was being led into war by moneyed interests. In the United States, as elsewhere, those who supported the war frequently understood it as not only non-economic but as anti-economic. According to this argument, the war would lift humanity from the gross materialism into which it threatened to sink. In the preface to his collection of poems Arma Virumque, Robert Withington writes, “Arms and the man” – the World War and Wilhelm – have inspired much of this verse. He who bears the responsibility for the war . . . has stricken a century with agony of body and mind; but he has revealed new glories of soul. He has united the rest of the world, and has taught us many a needed lesson – for the mould of materialism was upon us, and the dust of ease was settling on our ideals. ()

While the Kaiser has inflicted bodily damage in bringing the world to war, he has inadvertently benefitted his enemies spiritually. The war is in this sense anti-economic, providing instruction in “glories of soul” not found in the ordinary routines of industrial capitalist life. But if the war emerged from larger and deeper forces of a political and economic nature, then such an understanding of it must be considered ideological. Regarded as a form of ideology, poetry describes and understands forces operative at one level of social reality in terms of another. For example, at the political-economic level, the United States goes into the war in order to secure both a great many loans that had been made to the Allies and its place as the hegemonic capitalist power, succeeding the United Kingdom. At the level of culture, the manifest level of poetic appearance, the men of America are called to defend her virtue. Such encodings of motive forces will not exhaust the ideological dimension of the poetry of the First World

Neutrality and Its Discontents


War – indeed, I will make extensive use of Goran Therborn’s schema of ideological interpellations in order to explore poems whose ideological character is more subtle. But encoding, and by this means distorting, the political-economic certainly forms a major element in poetry regarded as an ideological form, as seen in the first group of poems I examine in this chapter, poems concerned with American neutrality.

Neutrality and Its Discontents While the First World War began in the summer of  – AustriaHungary had declared war on Serbia on July  – the United States did not become directly involved until April . For nearly three years the United States maintained formal neutrality, a position it found extremely difficult from the start. Initially, conflict with the United Kingdom was frequent because the Allied naval blockade of Germany interfered with US shipping. However, President Wilson chose not to insist fully on American rights as a neutral power in the face of the blockade, blunting the potentially sharp conflict. The United States was provoked also by German submarine warfare, particularly since the Germans discovered that in order to be conducted successfully it did not permit the same regard for the safety of non-combatants as did traditional commerce raiding. Once the Allies began to arm merchant ships and disguise their own merchant vessels by flying the flags of neutral nations, Germany resorted to unrestricted submarine warfare, in which merchant ships were torpedoed without warning, a violation of international law. Unrestricted submarine warfare had been suspended by Germany because of American objections in . But with the effects of the Allied blockade becoming more severe, US entanglements with the Allies deepening, and the ground war on the Western Front continuing as a bloody stalemate, Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, who had opposed it in government deliberations, announced the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in February . At about the same time, German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann sent a telegram to the German ambassador to Mexico proposing that, in the event of war between Germany and the United States, Mexico ally with Germany, receiving in return some of the territory lost as a result of the MexicanAmerican War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This telegram was intercepted and decoded by the British who forwarded it to American officials. The resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare combined with the release of the Zimmermann telegram provided the immediate


American Intervention in the First World War

political impetus to war on the part of the United States. After meeting with his cabinet, President Wilson called a special session of Congress for April , at which he requested a formal declaration of war against Germany (Keegan, First World War –; Link ). Unrestricted submarine warfare is generally cited as the major reason the United States entered the Great War. However, the British blockade violated international law as fully as did German submarine warfare, and for the same reason: in order to pursue their respective war strategies effectively, both the United Kingdom and Germany felt such violations to be necessary. The United States, and Wilson in particular, found these violations acceptable, if irksome, on the part of the United Kingdom, but ultimately unacceptable on the part of Germany. By some point early in the war, late  according to Russell Freure (), April  according to John W. Coogan, the United States “was no longer entitled to the status of ‘neutral’” (Coogan ). US policy was heavily skewed in the direction of the Allies from shortly after the beginning of the war, a point powerfully made in Senate debate by Wisconsin Senator Robert M. La Follette (–). As was the period following intervention in the war, the period of American neutrality from  to  was one of great poetic activity. Entire volumes of poetry about the war were published, as well as innumerable individual poems. Among this output were poems directly concerned with the policy of neutrality. The same M. A. DeWolfe Howe who, as we saw in Chapter , embraced Wilson’s universalism also wrote “To One Ashamed of Being an American,” dated July : You hang your head? Alas, then, for the land That still must shift without your meed of pride! Yet those there be that neither blush nor chide, Yea, and high-hearted ones are they, who stand Erect, elate, for all that mercy’s hand Pours forth unmeasuring where need has cried, The while our state, by sneer and taunt defied, From peace elects to take the stern command. Beware, O friend misprising, lest too late You shake your spirit free to bear its part In all the mighty motions that await The calm republic holding at its heart The veriest good for all the sons of men — Life, under law, for each free citizen!

(The Known Soldier )

Neutrality and Its Discontents


In this Petrarchan sonnet, America’s service to the world lies in keeping its distance from the war, suggesting that this distance, the “calm” that characterizes the republic, will enable “the mighty motions that await.” Those who urge involvement in the war – Howe warns in the sestet – fail to see that American aloofness from the fallen world can also be preparatory of Lynn Harold Hough’s “new day which shall arise” (). Howe’s praise for American neutrality emerges from the same place as does the interventionism that he will later embrace: both are variants of a single ideological complex. The same New England Puritans for whom the conquest and settlement of North America was an “errand into the wilderness” were also capable of seeing New England as “a Citty upon a Hill” (Winthrop ), an example unto the nations but also somewhat distant from them. They thus developed the basic variants of a distinctive American ideology, a collection of cultural-symbolic and rhetorical patterns that define the United States in terms of a redemptive mission of global and ultimately transcendent import. The ambidexterity of this ideology as it developed over time is crucial: it can be articulated in secular or sacred terms or in a hybrid sacred-secular form (Bercovitch, American Jeremiad , –, –, ), and it can underwrite intervention in or isolation from outside events. Thus, when he defends Wilson’s policy of neutrality, Howe operates within this American ideology just as much as when he later defends Wilson’s universalist vision, and its version of an “errand into the wilderness.” There were those who wanted the errand to begin as early as , and in “To One Ashamed of Being an American” Howe responds to them and their attacks on Wilson’s policy of neutrality. For example, Percy MacKaye, who was in the Wilson camp, initially found it impossible to be neutral, as seen in “American Neutrality”: How shall we keep an armed neutrality With our own souls? Our souls belie our lips, That seek to hold our passion in eclipse And hide the wound of our sharp sympathy, Saying: “One’s neighbor differs; he might be Kindled to wrath, were one to wield the whips Of truth.” – Great God! A red Apocalypse Flames on the blinded world: and what do we? 

The Wilsons attended the  premiere of MacKaye’s Sanctuary: A Bird Masque, in which their daughters performed (“President Watches”). Wilson was also invited to the premier of MacKaye’s Caliban (Smialkowska ). For the continuing connection between MacKaye and Wilson, see also Bryan .


American Intervention in the First World War Peace! do we cry? Peace is the godlike plan We love and dedicate our children to; Yet England’s cause is ours: The rights of man, Which little Belgium battles for anew, Shall we recant? No! – Being American, Our souls cannot keep neutral and keep true. ()

Mackaye also uses the organizing structure of the Petrarchan sonnet, with an octave that poses the problem of what stance to take in the face of the war and a sestet that resolves the problem by stating that America must enter the war on the side of England. In so doing he hits several notes seen elsewhere in the war-themed poetry prior to American intervention: .) “England’s cause is ours.” While identification with France was also, and possibly more, common in this body of poetry, highly influential forces identified culturally, politically, and economically with England and the United Kingdom and this finds poetic expression. .) “Little Belgium.” German violation of Belgian neutrality and the disparity in size between the two nations provided the basis for an overwhelming amount of wartime propaganda and a large body of poetry. .) “Peace is the godlike plan/We love and dedicate our children to.” Since peace appeared desirable to all but the most dedicated militarists, some means of explaining why peace was not desirable in this particular instance was needed. In many cases writers chose, as does MacKaye, to make peace a long-term goal, which can only be achieved by going to war. .) “Being American, /Our souls cannot keep neutral and keep true.” Going to war is not a political choice, but a cultural and moral necessity. Crucial here is the identification of the cultural, “American,” with the moral, “true.” To be American is to be true. While MacKaye hits these notes typical of the pro-intervention case, he does not as a result attack Woodrow Wilson for his policy of neutrality. Indeed, Wilson’s statement that neutrality is “a word that does not express what Americans ought to feel” (quoted in Tucker ) suggests that the president and MacKaye never differed greatly. MacKaye clearly approves of the president in another Petrarchan sonnet, “Wilson,” in which he emphasizes qualities in Wilson similar to those endorsed by Howe in “To One Ashamed of Being an American,” patience and goodness:


Neutrality and Its Discontents Patience – but peace of heart we cannot choose; Nor would he wish us cravenly to keep Aloof in soul, who – large in statesmanship And justice – sent our ships to Vera Cruz. Patience must wring our hearts, while we refuse To launch our country on that crimson deep Which breaks the dikes of Europe, but we sleep Watchful, still waiting by the awful fuse. Wisdom he counsels, and he counsels well Whose patient fortitude against the fret And sneer of time has stood inviolable. We love his goodness and will not forget. With him we pause beside the mouth of hell: – The wolf of Europe has not triumphed yet. ()

MacKaye counters those who characterize Wilson as timid by reminding them that he was not reluctant to send US troops into Mexico and occupy Veracruz. While US relations with Mexico might seem an unlikely example of statesmanship or justice, Wilson’s actions during the early years of the Mexican Revolution – in particular his opposition to the counterrevolutionary Victoriano Huerta – won him approval on the American Left (Knock –). However, the sonnet emphasizes Wilson’s “patient fortitude” in the face of the catastrophe of the European war. MacKaye distinguishes between the United States and Europe, thus awakening the traditional American opposition of the New World to the Old. When MacKaye writes that “The wolf of Europe has not triumphed yet,” the direct referent would appear to be Kaiser Wilhelm, but the exact phrasing is more general. Even if one takes “the wolf of Europe” to refer to the Kaiser, the poem associates him with Europe here, and not with Germany alone. The Kaiser typifies what is wrong with Europe, the Old World, and which must eventually be set right, one way or another, by the New via its self-designated champion, America. While MacKaye managed to be simultaneously pro-intervention and pro-Wilson, this was unusual. More typically, pro-intervention meant proTheodore Roosevelt and anti-Wilson. Roosevelt himself encouraged this. In Fear God and Take Your Own Part, he criticizes the president and his secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan (until Bryan’s resignation in June ), “When Mr. Wilson and Mr. Bryan made this nation shirk its duty towards Belgium, they made us false to all our high ideals; for they


American Intervention in the First World War

acted and caused this government to act in that spirit of commercial opportunism which refuses to do duty to others unless there is in it pecuniary profit for one-self” (–). Roosevelt sounds the anti-economic note: intervention in the war represents the pursuit of “high ideals” rather than “pecuniary profit,” and sketches a sharp division between himself and Wilson, a division frequently made. Thus, Alan Seeger first praises Roosevelt, then refers slightingly to Wilson and his policy of neutrality in the following passage from “A Message to America,” apparently written prior to the  presidential election: You have a leader who knows – the man Most fit to be called American, A prophet that once in generations Is given to point to erring nations Brighter ideals toward which to press And lead them out of the wilderness. Will you turn your back on him once again?

(Poems )

Having praised Roosevelt, Seeger now turns to Wilson, who had defeated Roosevelt in the  presidential election, and his administration: Will you give the tiller once more to men Who have made your country the laughing-stock For the older peoples to scorn and mock, Who would make you servile, despised, and weak, A country that turns the other cheek, Who care not how bravely your flag may float, Who answer an insult with a note, Whose way is the easy way in all, And, seeing that polished arms appal Their marrow of milk-fed pacifist, Would tell you menace does not exist? Are these, in the world’s great parliament, The men you would choose to represent Your honor, your manhood, and your pride, And the virtues your fathers dignified? Oh, bury them deeper than the sea In universal obloquy; Forget the ground where they lie, or write For epitaph: “Too proud to fight.”

(Poems )

While Seeger does not name Wilson, the nautical metaphor (“give the tiller”) points toward his political leadership, while the reference to men “[w]ho answer an insult with a note” clearly indicates Wilson, whose habit

Neutrality and Its Discontents


of responding to incidents such as the sinking of the Lusitania by writing diplomatic notes made him an object of scorn to Roosevelt’s admirers. And “[t]oo proud to fight” even more clearly indicates Wilson as the target of Seeger’s derision: it is a well-known quotation from Wilson’s address in Philadelphia on May , , in which he justified the American policy of neutrality, saying that “There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight” (quoted in Link, ). “A Message to America” is equally proRoosevelt and anti-Wilson at a time when to be one was almost of necessity also to be the other. However, while US policy remained more or less consistent in its neutrality – however much that position may have favored the Allies – the attitude and tone in the country became increasingly hostile to Germany during the run up to the American declaration of war. In poetry, we see a similar shift. For example, M. A. DeWolfe Howe’s poem “” records the shift from supporting Wilson’s policy of neutrality to supporting intervention in the war. However difficult in substance this shift may have been to those who experienced it, it was surely eased by the shared ideological and cultural basis for both policies. For Howe, American neutrality sprang from the universalism of The calm republic holding at its heart The veriest good for all the sons of men.

(The Known Soldier )

Some eighteen months later Howe writes in “” his assessment of that Strange year of putting off the old And girding on the new – In thy bewildering course my country grew From the great home-bred boy’s estate, Big-boned and sinewed, half-articulate, Into the man’s, of potencies untold!

(The Known Soldier )

Howe uses the natural development from boy to man as a metaphor through which to represent and naturalize the social development of the United States. For satisfied no more With homely, bounded things, The boy, man-grown, from native field and shore Fares forth to fight alien battles, now his own, To rid the world of out-worn kings That crowded honor from the throne.

(The Known Soldier )


American Intervention in the First World War

Having grown into manhood, America leaves home – accompanied by alliteration: “Fares forth to fight” – in order to bring republican virtue to bear on the corrupt institutions of Europe. Howe echoes Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Civil War-era “Boston Hymn,” in which Emerson has God say, “I am tired of kings/I suffer them no more” (). Grown into manhood, America now takes its place among the nations of the world: Brothers-in-arms to all who wage the fight Of immemorial right, The youngest warrior comes, Purged – heaven send it! – of the pride of youth, Marching behind the drums Whose sullen music beats the march of truth, The coming of the ‘stablished years With days and months no longer bought in toil Of blood and tears. Grave, happy time of wakenings and farewells, Of looking deep into the new-stirred soul, If thou, strange year, were all! – but nay, Beyond thine utmost day My country still shall rear new citadels Of liberty and righteousness: How dark and hard soe’er the way To that high destiny, now onward press!

(The Known Soldier )

Howe’s vision is a secular variant of an American ideology whose origins are found in sacred form in Puritan New England. Accordingly, despite the shift in policy that underlies the poem, “” remains consistent with “To One Ashamed of Being an American,” particularly in terms of the nature of the cause for which America fights, characterized as it is by “truth,” as well as “liberty and righteousness.” In addition, one finds the sense not only of American righteousness but also of the vastness of the American future, a “high destiny,” “of potencies untold.” Percy MacKaye’s equation of “American” and “true” as well as his sharp distinction between America and Europe fit within this same framework. The mainstream of American culture as descended from the New England Puritans provided an ideological rationale for both the policy of neutrality and the policy of intervention. The poetry about American neutrality offers a glimpse of the way in which an important political transition played out at the level of culture. At the moment when the century-long tenure of the United Kingdom as the hegemonic power was coming to a close, the variant of American

Pervasive Anachronism


ideology – the activist (“errand into the wilderness”) variant – that would best enable the United States to assume the role heretofore performed by the United Kingdom moved to the fore. At the cultural level, American ideology is stable and durable, while at the political level it is somewhat more unstable – because ambidextrous – and subject to fluctuations. Prior to intervention in the war, that aspect of American ideology descended from the “Citty upon a hill” prevailed, and the nation stood aloof, militarily, at least. During this time of neutrality, the United States reversed the financial relationship between itself and the United Kingdom that had developed over the course of the late nineteenth century. The United States went from being a debtor to a creditor as the war drained UK financial reserves at an astonishing and unforeseen rate (Arrighi –). Having become a creditor, and thus concerned about the ability of its debtors, the Allies, to pay, led by the Wilson administration, the United States shifted ideological gears. In a short period of time, the United States switched from a policy of formal neutrality that effectively favored the Allies to being a belligerent, and sent troops to Europe. While it disregards the ambitious hegemonic project Wilson oversaw, at one level it is fair to say that the “Citty upon a Hill” had undertaken an “errand into the Wilderness” to secure its investments.

Pervasive Anachronism In later chapters, I will examine anachronism in the work of Alan Seeger and Edith Wharton in some detail. Here I survey anachronism in a variety of poets, focusing on its most common form in American First World War poetry and probably in American First World War discourse generally: medievalism. Anachronism appears both in a fragmentary, casual manner and in a more systematic form in American First World War poetry. In its fragmentary form, anachronism is seen most clearly at the level of diction. Even in poems not systematically anachronistic, terminology derived from a historical period not directly relevant to the Great War will often intrude. The best – and most obvious – example is “sword.” Casualties from combat in the First World War were usually the result of artillery, followed by machine gun and rifle, fire. The number of deaths from sword or even 

In The Conning of America: The Great War in American Popular Literature, Patrick J. Quinn focuses on the direct economic impetus to US intervention on the side of the Allies and the role of popular media, especially fiction, in justifying intervention. He provides an extensive bibliography of works engaged in this task of justification and promotion, as well as synopses and analyses of some of them.


American Intervention in the First World War

bayonet was insignificant enough to be listed by the British “among the . per cent of miscellaneous casualties and accidents” (Wintringham ). Yet the poetry and the posters of the period positively bristle with blades. Swords appear in the title of volumes: for example, Lynn Harold Hough’s prose justification of the war, The Clean Sword, and G. O. Warren’s volume of poetry, The Sword (less than a quarter of which is actually dedicated to war poems). Swords also appear in innumerable lines, usually functioning metonymically to stand in for all weapons. Some examples, such as Henry Van Dyke, displaying his adherence to the aesthetic values of the established literary culture of which he was a chief representative, assures Great Britain that the “world-wide race” of which she is the mother country will come to her aid and “break the sword that seeks thy life” (). In “War-Music,” the formally conservative Van Dyke attempts to incorporate the new realities of warfare: The hoarse roar Of the monster guns; And the sharp bark Of the lesser guns; The whine of the shells, The rifles’ clatter Where the bullets patter, The rattle, rattle, rattle Of the mitrailleuse in battle, And the yells Of the men who charge through hells Where the poison gas descends, And the bursting shrapnel rends Limb from limb. ()

Yet when he foresees the end of the war and, echoing H. G. Wells in The War that Will End War and anticipating Woodrow Wilson, the end of war itself, Van Dyke sees a time when “the bloodthirsty sword shall no longer be lord” (). Even when he attempts to incorporate a new reality, the anachronistic imagination asserts itself. William Hartley Holcomb’s “To Kinsmen On the Line” salutes, All honor, valiant Kinsmen, Your faithful patriot hand Takes up the sword in Freedom’s cause. ()


Pervasive Anachronism

In “The Spirit of ,” Holcomb replies to critics of the motives behind American intervention such as Senator George Norris: And like past wars of our free land, No selfish purpose underlies; The Spirit bids us on to save, Not lust of gain or grand emprise. Our aim is righteous, cause is just; We champion Liberty and Right; No Tyrant calls us to the sword, We, one and all, resolve to fight. ()

Denial of a political or economic motive, assertion of emancipatory and universal values, and anachronistic terminology coexist in the limited space of eight lines, evidence, incidentally, of the “social embeddedness” (Anievas ) as much as the influence of Wilsonianism. The anachronistic nature of “sword” – its association with chivalry – furthers the appeal to selfless ideals of justice, liberty, and right. Again, in Holcomb’s “Our Responsibility,” the sword appears in a casual, fragmentary manner: To us the World’s eyes now upraise – Then wield the sword and win its praise. ()

As is common in American First World War discourse, Wilsonian political sentiments combine with anachronistic diction, meeting on the common ground of high-mindedness. One last example is William Cary Sanger, Jr. who wrote from the Plattsburgh training camp, designed to further American preparedness for war: Dawn – on the fields of Flanders, Dawn – on the plains of France, A bugle call and a rampart wall And a day of sword and lance. ()

Sanger goes on to refer to “Guns that pound and pound,” but without ever pausing to think that those same guns assured that there would be no “day of sword and lance.” In uses such as these, “sword” is part of the high diction discussed by Paul Fussell in The Great War and Modern Memory, and it could easily be added to the “table of equivalents,” in which he translates modern into the “essentially feudal” terms one finds in much of the writing of – (–). Ted Bogacz describes this high diction


American Intervention in the First World War

as “an abstract euphemistic language . . . not rooted in observed reality; rather, it could all too easily be used by a writer to ignore or obfuscate his and others’ experiences” (). “Obfuscate” is certainly not wrong, but is perhaps too weak, and the emphasis on experience is limiting. This “abstract, euphemistic language,” so wedded to anachronistic conceptions, fundamentally misrepresented not only the nature of soldiers’ experience, it also fundamentally misrepresented the entire nature of the war. As Nicoletta Gulace points out, anachronistic discourse “represented the war not as an exercise in modern annihilation but as a crusade against a foe who was the antithesis of modernity itself” (). Anachronism fundamentally misrepresented the nature of the war so that it was possible to avoid seeing it as a conflict within modernity. This becomes clearer when we move from poems in which a term such as “sword” appears on its own in poems that are not overwhelmingly medievalist in character to a poem in which an anachronistic, medievalist conception of the war appears not sporadically, in relatively isolated pieces of diction, but rather systematically. Or at least more or less systematically, since logical coherence is not the prime concern of this discourse. For example, Edward S. Van Zile’s “Rise Up! Rise Up, Crusaders!” uses a combination of late-Roman and medievalist terminology to present the US and Allied cause as a crusade against a barbaric enemy. I examine this poem in some detail, identifying fairly exhaustively its formal features and their functions before moving on to a broader analysis, my one attempt at a reasonably exhaustive analysis based on the base/superstructure model, employing the concept of emergence discussed in the previous chapter. Formally, the poem relies mostly on ballad meter, sometimes varied slightly: forty-four of the poem’s fifty lines are more or less in ballad meter, while six lines are in a longer, six-stress meter. The poem deploys the technical devices of alliteration, end rhyme, internal rhyme, anaphora, caesura, and a combination of enjambment and end-stopping. It also uses rhetorical questions and figurative language, including extended metaphor, which will prove to be the single most important device. None of these devices are used in an especially skillful manner; rather, they operate primarily to mark the poem as poetic speech rather than to produce specific, local effects. Yet ballad meter easily produces a vigorous feeling, suitable to the poem’s subject, and this is enhanced by the reasonably heavy use of alliteration, generating a sense of a vigorous grappling with a stern reality. At the level of diction, the first words likely to strike the reader are those associated with barbarism: “Goths,” “Huns,” “hordes of Attila” (another name for Huns). The Goths and the Huns will later be joined by the Vandals in a sort of barbarian parade. The Goths were a Germanic people,


Pervasive Anachronism

and as such a seemingly suitable referent in the poem. They are strongly associated with the fall of the Roman Empire, hence their inclusion: they, like the Huns and Vandals, represent the forces of barbarism arrayed against the forces of civilization, although the poem avoids naming Rome, preferring apparently to allow these barbarians to function as the enemies of an unspecified, generic civilization. The Huns were a non-Germanic people from the Asian steppe about whom relatively little is known; surviving accounts come exclusively from their enemies and most are distinctly uncomplimentary. The term “Hun” was widely used to mean “German” in the first World War, despite the confused sense of the history of Germanic peoples in Europe it conveys. Finally, like the Goths, Vandals were a Germanic people. While their history is a good deal more complicated than this, Vandals appear in the poem because they looted Rome in , something the Visigoths had done in . The poem thus generates a composite barbarian identity, an identity of historical enemies of civilization in the past, and not of peoples possessed of any historical depth. The phrases “hosts of Hell” (line ) and “butchered millions” (line ) establish a link between these peoples of late antiquity and the Central Powers of the First World War. Rise up! Rise up, crusaders, to meet the hosts of Hell! They prate of Art and Science but they give us shot and shell; They call on God, blaspheming, as they plunge their hands in gore; They’ve butchered millions, millions, and they’d butcher millions more. ()

Because none of the Central Powers have been named, “hosts of Hell” suggests as readily the Goths and Huns of the previous stanza as the “they” for which it is the referent. This tactical ambiguity links the Goths, Huns, and eventually Vandals with contemporary Germany. Germany is suggested by “prate of Art and Science,” a reference to German Kultur, which 

The term “Hun” as applied to Germans derives from Kaiser Wilhelm’s address in  to troops dispatched to suppress the uprising in China known as the Boxer Rebellion. Outraged by the assassination of German envoy to China, Baron Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, Wilhelm told the troops, “as the Huns a thousand years ago under King Etzel made a name for themselves that has lasted mightily in memory, so may the name ‘Germany’ be known in China such that that no Chinese will ever again even dare to look askance at a German” (Hull ). The Foreign Office, realizing the Kaiser’s gaffe released an edited version of the speech, omitting the reference to Attila (Etzel) and the Huns, but the original was widely reported (Hull –). As Christopher Clark notes, the Kaiser was a frequent source of frustration and embarrassment for the German government (–).


American Intervention in the First World War

both sides contrasted with western civilization, and by “They call on God,” a reference to the expression “Gott mit uns ” (“God with us”) found on German belt buckles and to “Mit Gott fur Koenig und Vaterland ” (“With God for King and fatherland”), inscribed on the spiked leather helmets worn by Prussian troops in the early years of the First World War. The barbarians of old are continuous with the Germans of the present. The key word in all of this is “they”: the poem constructs a clearly demarcated alter or “they” identity (Therborn –). Analysis by word count, using Voyant tools (Sinclair, et al.), reveals the degree to which constructing clear alter and ego, or “we,” identities is the major concern of the poem. “They” is the word used third most frequently, after “the” () and “and” (). “They” is used ten times, and its possessive form another two times. Of these all but one refers to the Germans, the old barbarians, or some combination of the two. In addition, there are four uses of Hun or a cognate (Huns, hordes of Attila), two uses of Goths, and one use each of Vandals, “hosts of Hell,” and “madmen,” all terms or expressions that demarcate the “they” identity of the poem. What of “us”? That too occupies a prominent place. Pronouns marking the “us” position occur eleven times (one use of “they,” “I,” “you,” “we,” and “them”; two of “our”; and four of “us”). Being pronouns, they are without content, except as they take on meaning from the more substantive language of the poem, primarily “crusaders.” “Crusaders” functions for Americans in a manner analogous to that performed for the Central Powers by the composite barbarian identity, providing a historical antecedent to, in this case, the demarcated “us” position. These “us” terms become more frequent toward the end of the poem, while “them” terms preponderate in the opening sections. This is the primary political determinant of the poem: clearly demarcating alter and ego identities and ideologies. 

Peter Heather notes that clearly demarcating a barbarian identity as the other was crucial in the ideology and culture of Rome itself, making this poem’s failure – or refusal – to link the United States or the Allies to Rome all the more interesting. Van Zile apparently wanted a more “liberal” ego identity, and so differed from writers such as Courtney Langdon, John Armstrong Chaloner, and Edith Wharton who, as I demonstrate in Chapter , explicitly identified the Allies with the Roman Empire. The ideological nature of these identities is clear from the fact that while terms such as Goth, Hun, Vandal, and crusader can have complex historical referents, this poem assumes an audience for whom these terms have simple referents. In fact, knowledge of the historical referents interferes with the poem, which relies on the audience not to consider the significance of the fact that Goths fought on both sides at the siege of Orleans and the Battle of the Catalaunian Plain, where Attila’s Huns were first defeated, nor to wonder whether “Goths” refers to Ostrogoths or to Visigoths, nor to doubt whether God actually willed the First Crusade. These simple referents then ought to be


Pervasive Anachronism

Even more than the terms for the alter identity, the principal term for the ego identity, “crusaders,” is strikingly devoid of context or explicit content. Thus, one must infer the determining logic of “crusaders,” but it seems safe to assume that the term refers to something like “those who fight in a divinely sanctioned cause.” The motto of the First Crusade, after all, was famously, “God wills it!”: an expression that ascribes determination to a force outside the natural or social worlds altogether. Whatever this might lack by way of plausibility, at the very least we should recognize its neatness of fit with the providential understanding of American involvement in the First World War, something to which the poem refers at its conclusion, the moment, in fact, when the term “Crusade” returns, and the moment when the political nature of the poem suggests its economic dimension. The final stanza insists that “We” are not “madmen” who are Now arming, God be with us, for the last, the great Crusade; Nor they who fight our fight with us, Across the surging sea, Where men are facing madmen That all peoples may be free. ()

This crusade is characterized as “last” and “great.” If this is “the great Crusade,” it apparently eclipses prior crusades, and if the last, it is a culminating event. The “lastness” of this crusade emerges from even as it expresses the millennialism characteristic of American First World War discourse. Millennialism has been central to American discourse since the seventeenth century Puritans conceived of themselves as New English Israelites, led into a new Promised Land, where they would establish a New Jerusalem preparatory to Christ’s return to earth. By invoking a “last . . . great Crusade” the poem is determined by (at the same time it employs) a centuries-old millennialist discourse. The centrality of this discourse to American culture is itself historically determined in that it appealed powerfully to potential settlers of North America. Historically, the material understood as mediating the historical referents. The Crusades were determined primarily at the level of the political if we understand the Crusades as a venture designed by the Vatican to control the power of feudal nobles by harnessing it to a Papal military-religious venture. The Germanic incursions into the Roman Empire in the fifth century were determined by something like necessity itself, if we understand the pressure placed on these peoples by the Huns to the east as the primary force behind their movement further westward, disrupting the modus vivendi between the Germanic peoples and the Romans that had prevailed for over three centuries.


American Intervention in the First World War

basis for American millennialism originated in the conditions of settlement of colonial America, in the availability of potential settlers to people the eastern seaboard of North America, potential settlers divested from landholdings in England (something discussed in Chapter ). Parallel to this, land was available for settlement because of the reduced indigenous population through the effects of disease and the conquest of lands held by Native Americans. Thus, primitive accumulation on both sides of the Atlantic provided the material basis for millennialist ideology. In the twentieth century, millennialism was both intrinsic to and a problem for the project to establish US hegemony globally, of which American intervention in the Great War was a part. The project of US hegemony was imagined by Woodrow Wilson in religious-millennialist terms that recall those of the seventeenth century: “Woe be to the man or group of men that seeks to stand in our way in this day of high resolution when every principle we hold dearest is to be vindicated and made secure for the salvation of the nations” (War Addresses –). Such a way of thinking and speaking was functional to the project of US hegemony insofar as it emerged from a cultural apparatus that justified the hegemonic project in the loftiest imaginable terms, so that this political and economic project was understood in quasi-religious terms as a project to redeem the world. However, millennialism also proved a problem for the hegemonic project. The poem’s last line, “that all people may be free,” expresses the universal nature of the millennialist vision, a vision that embraced even the Central Powers. In his request for a declaration of war from Congress, Wilson distinguished between the German people and the German government: “We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling towards them but one of sympathy and friendship. It was not upon their impulse that their government acted in entering this war . . .” (Political Thought ). Wilson in this speech counsels liberality to the enemy: they would be among those to be made free by van Zile’s “last . . . great Crusade.” And yet “Rise Up!” characterizes the Central Powers as Goths,

Wilson continued to speak in this way after the end of the war as well. In an address to the Senate on July , , he offered, “The stage is set, the destiny disclosed. It has come about by no plan of our conceiving, but by the hand of God who led us into this way” (Papers : ). And in a public address in St. Paul, Minnesota on September , : “America does not march, as so many other peoples march, looking back over its shoulder. It marches with its eyes not only forward, but with its eyes lifted to the distances of history, to the great events which are slowly culminating, in the Providence of God, in the lifting of civilization to new levels and new achievements” (Addresses ).

Pervasive Anachronism


Huns, and Vandals as well as as “madmen” and the “hosts of Hell.” Such an enemy is hostile to the most basic human (“the smile upon a baby’s face”) – to say nothing of liberal-democratic – values, negating the liberality of Wilson’s ostensible program. The internal incoherence of the poem parallels the incoherence in Wilson’s program itself, whose millennialism tended simultaneously to require that Germany occupy the position of the anti-Christ and to project an emancipatory vision whereby the German people would be among those made free. The determinants operative at this point are multiple and diverse, both in the levels at which they are found and in their historical origins. Millennialism – expressed in the idea of “the last, the great Crusade,” “that all peoples may be free” – is both a deeply rooted element in American culture, whose material origins lie in the conditions of settlement of New England and an element simultaneously dysfunctional and functional in the Wilson program for establishing US hegemony, a program made possible – and in that sense determined – by the achievement of the structural preconditions for such a hegemonic project in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On the other hand, it is worth considering that the extremist logic of the crusader discourse might have helped to thwart the project of US hegemony once this project shifted from a war-making to a peacemaking footing: who wants to incorporate a bunch of “Huns” into one’s hegemonic project? The problem here is not logical – if he was right about nothing else, Louis Althusser was surely right about the irrelevance of contradiction in ideology – but rather emotional and political. According to John Milton Cooper, antiGerman sentiment was actually used to argue in favor of the League of Nations as an instrument to contain the Hun, although Wilson himself used such a tactic “sparingly.” Cooper finds Wilson’s restraint “remarkable and creditable to him” (), but this restraint also answered to the demands of the hegemonic program in so far as it required the incorporation of Germany into the hegemonic bloc, Lippmann’s “Atlantic world.” But once the genie of anti-German sentiment was set free, it was not easily returned to the bottle. Indeed, the anti-German sentiment drummed up during the war years may have operated against Wilson, the League of Nations, and the hegemonic project by reinforcing the American impression that Europe was the Old World, not to be trusted, and, if possible, avoided. The ultimate failure of the hegemonic project launched by Wilson was the result primarily of a relative political immaturity, with the Republicans insufficiently integrated into the project (Knock –, ). At the same time, Wilson had alienated large sections of the Left,


American Intervention in the First World War

much of which had actively supported him (Knock –, , ; Tooze –; Anievas –). In addition, the labor troubles of  and the anti-union American Plan of thes demonstrate the economic immaturity of the United States once we move beyond sheer productive capacity. However, a poem such as “Rise Up!” suggests that the cultural apparatus brought to the task of hegemony-building was also immature. While powerful and deeply rooted, it was relativly crude in its then-current form, one in which the religious element in a sacred-secular cultural complex was extremely powerful. This crudity unsuited it to the demands of hegemony. “Rise Up! Rise Up, Crusaders!” sets up a broadly medievalist framework from the perspective of an advocate of American intervention in the war. The poem is ostensibly addressed to crusaders, or potential crusaders. Apparently some young men responded to this kind of address, not only going off to fight the war, but also imagining themselves and their actions in medievalist terms; indeed, imagining themselves as crusaders. The opening pages of the collection Songs from the Trenches give several other examples; Arthur Sprague’s “The Crusader” leaves little doubt that it was possible to imagine oneself as a crusader reborn: Sailing for France! My heart beats high to-day: I’ve reached the crossroads, and have made the choice, I’ve donned the new, and cast the old away; Yes, DIEU LE VOLT, I, too, have heard the voice. Brave spirit of the past, thy words are true, Guide thou my sword, for I have donned the new. ()

“DIEU LE VOLT,” “God wills it”: imagining oneself as replaying the role of the crusaders takes on a strikingly literal quality here. And imagining the war in such terms resolves a paradox. As the speaker engages in this medievalist exercise (“Guide thou my sword”), he claims that he has “donned the new, and cast away the old.” It might seem that just the opposite is true. But the speaker has donned the clothing of a new life – his uniform – a new life characterized by the crusade, doing the will of God. The old that has been cast away is – one must construe, since the poem is terse, but all contextual evidence suggests this – private life, self-seeking, and so on. Characterizing the war as a crusade and one’s role in it as that of a crusader removes the war and one’s actions in it from the sordid world of economic and political power and interest.


Pervasive Anachronism

Several pages later, a similar note is struck by Frank Ravenscroft McCall in “A Modern Crusader.” McCall combines the crusade motif and Wilsonian universalism with a disregard for worldly goods and life itself that, as we will see in Chapter , will be typical of Alan Seeger. And where Seeger will model himself after Sir Phillip Sidney, McCall alludes to Richard Lovelace’s embrace of “A Sword, a Horse, a Shield” () in “To Lucasta, Going to the Warres”: Nor fame nor fortune I demand, Nor guerdon for my holy task; A crust, a shield, a flaming brand And strength to fight is all I ask. Lord God of nations, whose command All powers of earth and heaven obey, Give strength unto my good right hand And keep me strong from day to day. Be with me, Lord, in freedom’s fight, With all who long for liberty, Till despots die and sin takes flight And all the whole wide world is free. And if I fall before the foe Ere peace come to the world again, I die content, if I but know My sacrifice is not in vain. ()

McCall conflates the religious-moral and the socio-political: “despots die and sin takes flight/And all the whole wide world is free,” a conflation rooted in evangelical Protestantism as it developed in the nineteenth century (Appleby ). This conflation underwrites the ideological functioning of McCall’s poem. Framing himself as a modern crusader, asking only to be supplied with “A crust, a shield, a flaming brand,” McCall is listed as an Electrician Sergeant, Second Class in an artillery unit, as if to illustrate the misfit between medievalist thought and modern deed. And while he demonstrates some similarities to Seeger, one difference is telling: McCall’s task is “holy,” and he beseeches “Lord God.” His medievalism, like that of most other American First World War poets is heavily Christian. Medievalism seems, among other things, most often to emphasize – or to implicitly assert – the holiness of the Allied cause, in so far as it has this Christian character. Seeger’s medievalism will inflect in a


American Intervention in the First World War

martial-aristocratic, rather than a Christian direction. In both cases medievalism provides a flattering ego ideology. Medievalist language and the highly romantic image of warfare and warriors it gave rise to so pervaded First World War discourse that one could break with the dominant pro-war culture merely by rejecting medievalism. Howard Swazey Buck rejects the identity of the medieval knight and thus differentiates himself from the pro-war poets: Let us go quiet, clean, The silver ways among; Not singing what cannot be sung. O never blow your bugles brave for me – I am no hero-knight with courage keen, Nor ever dream to be. ()

Medievalist discourse was so strongly identified with the war that poets could begin to voice a kind of dissent simply by rejecting it, at least as applied to oneself. Buck – whose volume, The Tempering () was the first in the Yale Series of Younger Poets – was a writer of what might be called the protodisillusionment, a group of writers that also includes Byron H. Comstock, whom I will discuss in Chapter Five. These proto-disillusionment writers were never incorporated into the modernist canon of disillusionment, but they shared or anticipated many of the objections to the war or the war culture that one finds in Hemingway and Cummings, among others.

Poetry and Interpellation Clearly, one of the functions of anachronistic discourse was to provide the subjects of its address with ways of imagining the war and their role within it in a meaningful and acceptable context. It created subject positions through which its addressees could imagine themselves or their children, parents, friends, and neighbors in a favorable light; enemies were typically assigned unfavorable, often highly unfavorable, positions. Furthermore, the entire enterprise of the war and one’s role in it was elaborated in such a way that it was endowed with meaning at a variety of levels: individual, familial, communal, regional, national, international, and ultimately, transcendental and cosmic. Not all poems work on all levels, of course, and one way of organizing many of the poems of the war would be according to the primary mode of ideological interpellation according to which they operate. Below I provide a far from exhaustive overview of some of the major modes of interpellation.

Poetry and Interpellation


The medievalist discourse I have been examining provided an ego ideology to American soldiers and, perhaps more crucially, to American society generally. That is, medievalism provided a positive definition of the American individual and collective self, seen most clearly in the frequent use of the term “crusaders” to describe American soldiers. By referring to the American soldiers as crusaders, van Zile’s poem and other poems like it provide an ego ideal gratifying both to the individual and to the broader society. The crusader as understood here is righteous, selfless, and valiant. By extension, the nation that produces and sponsors these crusaders is endowed with devotion to a cause that exceeds even the broadest interests of the collectivity of the nation because of the sense of religious mission entailed by the term “crusader.” This sense of religious mission intersects with the millennialism characteristic of American nationalist ideology. Thus, the individual and collective ego ideal entailed by the crusader discourse operates also to produce an alter ideology in which the other is other precisely to the crusader, is thus the infidel or barbarian, a logic amply testified to by a wealth of First World War discourse. Visual examples of these ego and alter ideals are seen in Figures ., ., and .. The religious underpinning of the concept of the crusader and its attendant ego ideology suggests that it functions in what Goran Therborn calls the inclusive-historical register, in which “human beings are constituted as conscious members of historical social worlds” (), including some, the subjects or objects of address, and excluding others, typically “the Hun,” “the Teuton,” or “the Prussian.” Because any given individual is potentially the subject of multiple inclusive-historical modes of address, the relations of conflict and subordination within and between inclusivehistorical ideologies are highly significant. Inclusive-historical ideologies have enormous power to obscure political relationships, which is crucial to the discourse under examination here because it defines the war in such a way that a political objection to US involvement in the war, or even seeing the war as primarily political in nature, is categorically denied. McCall’s conflation of the religious-moral and the socio-political in “A Modern Crusader” is very much to the point. Prominent in the First World War era, medievalist discourse, especially though by no means exclusively of the crusader variety, served a particularly important function. It provided a system of values and identifications within which heroic violence was a central component, and in this way opposed the values and identifications characteristic of capitalism. The mechanism operating here is identified by Karl Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, where he notes that


American Intervention in the First World War

Figure .. Ego-ideology on Horseback: Doughboy as Crusader. Poster advertising Pershing’s Crusaders, US Army, Signal Corps. University of North Texas Libraries, Government Documents Department, University of North Texas Libraries Digital Library.

unheroic as bourgeois society is, yet it had need of heroism, of sacrifice, of terror, of civil war and of national battles to bring it into being. And in the classically austere traditions of the Roman Republic its gladiators found the ideals and the art forms, the self-deceptions that they needed in order to conceal from themselves the bourgeois limitations of the content of their struggles and to keep their passions at the height of the great historical tragedy. Similarly, at another stage of development, a century earlier, Cromwell and the English people had borrowed speech, passions and illusions from the Old Testament for their bourgeois revolution. (Marx-Engels –)

As a discourse that made legitimized violence central, medievalism provided something that specifically capitalist ideology lacked, but of which the American war effort had need, a need not unique to it but rather, as Marx notes, and as Franco Moretti has elaborated on considerably in The Bourgeois, a need regularly recurring within the history of capitalist social formations.

Poetry and Interpellation


Figure .. Alter-ideology: German as Hun. “Beat Back the Hun,” poster by Frederick Strothmann, University of North Texas Libraries, Rare Book and Texana Collections, University of North Texas Libraries Digital Library.

The transition of the early twentieth century was perhaps not quite as epochal as that of the English seventeenth or the French eighteenth century, though certainly not as parochial as that examined in the Eighteenth Brumaire. The transition of the early twentieth century was simultaneously one within capitalism as a world system, in which the position of hegemonic power was contested, and correlatively one concerning the character of capitalist hegemony, in which the exact nature of the constitutive elements of the system were subject to redefinition. Put concretely, the early twentieth century saw a contest over which nation would succeed the United Kingdom as the hegemonic capitalist power, the US or Germany, as well as the terms on which this hegemony would be realized, which would entail, as Arno Myer, Adam Tooze, Alexander Anievas, and others have argued, the US responding to the pressure exerted by the Russian Revolution and the emergent Soviet Union. Medievalist and other anachronistic, or seemingly anachronistic, discourses were functional to the American war effort, then, in a multitude of


American Intervention in the First World War

Figure .. Ego Ideology, Alter Ideology, and Anachronism – Note the Doughboy’s Weapon – All in One. “Halt the Hun,” poster by Patrick Henry Raleigh, University of North Texas Libraries Government Documents Department, University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library.

ways. The gratifying ego ideal made serving in the military – or simply supporting the war effort by buying war bonds, reducing consumption of foodstuffs, and so on – a flattering endeavor. The ostensibly non- and even anti-capitalist nature of the crusader ideal in the popular imagination effectively masked the economic dimension of US involvement in the war. The strong element of violence that informs this ego ideal suited it nicely to the task at hand. And, finally, the religious underpinning of the crusader ideal meshed with the religious underpinnings of American millennialism, and thus tapped into a wellspring of cultural sanction contested by only the most radical critics. While inclusive-historical modes of address are crucial to American First World War poetry and its broader discursive context, the entire range of ideological interpellations Therborn identifies is sounded. His anatomy of “the ideological universe” () identifies four registers, of which the historical-inclusive is one. All of these registers and their constitutive processes locate the subject in various ways, most of which are not

Poetry and Interpellation


Figure .. “The Universe of Ideological Interpellations,” table by Goran Therborn, The Ideology of Power and the Power of Ideology (London: Verso, ), .

immediately political in character, and whose mediated relation to the political must be revealed by analysis. Inclusive: being a member of some particular human community. Positional: having a particular place in that human community. Existential: “being a sexed individual at a particular point of one’s life cycle related to other sexed individuals . . . at a certain point of their life cycle” (). Historical: “being a person who exists only in certain human societies” (), for example a cooper, a machinist, a nurse, or a professional surfer. These inclusive, positional, existential, and historical elements of subjectivity combine to produce four major types of ideology: .)

Inclusive-Existential ideologies concern themselves with one’s place in the cosmos, what it means to live and to die, what is good and bad, and so on, matters typically dealt with in mythology, religion, and “secular moral discourse” (–). .) Inclusive-Historical ideologies: “Through these, human beings are constituted as conscious members of historical social worlds” (). These are multiple and overlapping: thus, conflict is possible. Any given individual is potentially the subject of multiple inclusivehistorical modes of address: the relations of conflict and subordination within and between inclusive-historical ideologies are crucial. Because this is an inclusive ideology, it also entails the exclusion of those who are outside a particular group. Which inclusions and exclusions are most significant is a matter of great importance and of social, political, and cultural conflict.


American Intervention in the First World War

.) Positional-Existential ideologies place one in a particular position in the world according, for example, to the distinctions between self and others, the genders, the life cycle, etc. “[T]hey tell one who one is in contrast with others, what is good and what is possible for one” (). Struggles such as those we think of as characteristic of youth, for example, often are found here, and focus on the developing sense of self, understood in opposition to a world of others. .) Positional-Historical ideologies locate occupants of historical social worlds in relation to other such occupants. So, one may be a member of a particular community and within it occupy a particular place in relation to others: in First World War–era society in the United States, for example, a machinist was below a surgeon and above a manual laborer in status (). Since I have already examined examples of inclusive-historical modes of address in some detail, I will here concentrate, though briefly, on the other

Figure .. Anachronism with a twist: a positional-existential ideology (“women”) is deployed simultaneously with an inclusive-historical ideology (“of America”) through the agency of Joan of Arc, a common figure in First World War American poetry. “Joan of Arc Saved France,” poster by Haskell Coffin, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Divisions, WWI Posters, LC-USZC-.

Poetry and Interpellation


three modes. First, inclusive-existential ideology appears frequently because it is in this mode of address that human mortality is confronted – or evaded – and war by its very nature immediately raises the prospect of death. In a poem I have already examined in terms of anachronism, “A Modern Crusader,” Frank Ravenscroft McCall, ends by considering the possibility of death: And if I fall before the foe Ere peace come to the world again, I die content, if I but know My sacrifice is not in vain. ()

The stanza begins with the first of two conditional constructions: “if I fall” acknowledges the possibility of death, ever-present for humans, but heightened in times of war. The second conditional construction is a little more complicated: “if I but know.” Knowing is subjective, and liable to revision – though not, obviously, by the dead. The entire force of the poem works to minimize the possibility of doubt contained within these conditionals, particularly the second, thus ensuring that death is meaningful, so long as those who survive see to it that . . . despots die and sin takes flight And all the whole wide world is free. ()

This is one way of expressing Wilson’s vision of the war: death becomes meaningful so long as it occurs within the framework of a political program understood apolitically – it is sin, after all, that must be extirpated. The poem encourages the reader either to identify with the speaker and assume the mantle of the modern crusader or, if doing so is impossible because of age, sex, or some other reason, provides the reader with a means of making sense of the deaths of others. Just as mortality is made sense of by understanding it within a religious framework that obscures the political, so too can ethical or moral discourse frame the war apolitically. A poem such as Amelia Josephine Burr’s “The Enemy,” characterizing Germans as Huns, not only constructs an alter ideology for Germans and an implicit ego ideology for Americans, but it also characterizes Germans as bad, or more accurately, evil, and Americans as good. Not against flesh and blood do we contend – Against invisible and awful powers The battle that is ours,


American Intervention in the First World War The rulers of the darkness, and the might Of evil in high places. God, send light Upon our spirits – make us brave and wise. Give us throughout Thy hard-pressed world to know The Enemy, whatever his disguise – And knowing thus, to fight. (–)

When the fight is not against “flesh and blood,” it is no longer a part of human history and politics; it becomes transcendent, here explicitly religious. “The Enemy” can be no less than the Enemy of Mankind. Such an understanding, or something closely related to it, is common in American First World War poetry. Felix E. Schelling’s “Thor” converts a hybrid Christian-Pagan practice found in Germany and Austria into a Germanic mythological-Satanic practice. In Germany and Austria citizens pounded nails into wooden statues for the price of a monetary contribution to the war effort (Goebel –). Schelling presents this as an atavistic rite with sinister pre-Christian origins; the idols constructed in these driven-nail statues project not only the outward, physical characteristics of the people who build them, but also their inner nature, their spirit: They fashioned them a wooden idol, (Such their fathers made of yore), In likeness of a man they made it, (None so huge had been before); A god of girth, prodigious, burly, Grim of countenance, gruesome, surly, Wide of back and broad of thigh, He held a hammer raised on high, A hammer, brandished, raised on high; – Tool for using And abusing, Making, breaking, beating, bruising, Wrought by force in fire by fusing, Type of brutal strength and pride. ()

The predominantly trochaic meter (NONE so HUGE had BEEN beFORE) contributes to the sense of threatening weirdness that predominates in the

Schelling was a former instructor of Ezra Pound at the University of Pennsylvania. They continued to exchange letters after Pound left the university (see The Letters of Ezra Pound, –).


Poetry and Interpellation

poem. Schelling goes on to connect the hammer carried by the idol to the hammering of nails into it, thus underscoring the idol’s quality as an objectification of the spirit of the Germanic people: Among them there’s a time-worn adage, Buried deep in savage lore, ’Tis, “If you but wound your idol, He will grant what you implore.” So they drove sharp nails into him, Strove with thrust and cut t’ imbrue him In his own most precious gore; Nails they drove of copper, silver, Fruit of raid, of fraud or pilfer, Nails of iron and of gold, Driven hard and driven bold. ()

Next, Schelling connects the idol and those that made it to barbarians of old, at the same time that the connection between these ancient peoples and contemporary Germans is made explicit: Thor ’tis rapes, enslaves and murders, Deals the coward ’s blow ‘neath the sea; Hun nor Goth nor Turk nor Vandal’s Left a blood trail such as he; Vandal, Turk, nor Hun nor East Goth’s Left a name as black as he. ()

Against this strange god, Schelling invokes the Judeo-Christian God. He transforms the conflict between the Allies and the Central powers into a conflict between the true God and a pagan pretender and thus removes it from the world of political conflict: Thor! Thor! Thor! Thor! God of carnage, god of gore, Thy blood-stained track lies foul behind thee, God, in his righteous vengeance, find thee, God in his mercy, bind thee, Blind thee! God of slaughter, god of gore! ()

If by chance the poem failed to get the point across, the illustration on the front cover, with its war hammer and its simultaneously Nordic and Satanic horns (Figure .) was sure to do so.


American Intervention in the First World War

Figure .. Cover of Felix E. Schelling, Thor and Some Other War Rhymes ().

Both types of inclusive ideology, historical and existential, figure prominently in American First World War poetry and play a crucial role in framing the nature of the war as a conflict between peoples, rather than between nation-states. Positional ideologies play a different role, since they address relations within rather than between groups. Positional-existential ideologies are concerned with the position of subjects within the life cycle and the sex/ gender system, and thus the vast number of poems concerned with familial relations between parents and children, which are typically, though not exclusively, about mothers and sons, fall within this register. Motherhood or the relationship between mother and son appears frequently in the American poetry of the First World War. These poems tend to be highly sentimental, a product perhaps of the juxtaposition of the maternal with the state. The maternal was imagined in American society during the First World War as warm and affectionate; the state, relatively cold, even in a

Poetry and Interpellation


Figure .. The Stern Address of the State as Delivered by Uncle Sam. “I Want You for U.S. Army,” poster by James Montgomery Flagg, University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.

national culture that characterized the state through the slightly rumpled figure of Uncle Sam (Figure .). Against the male demand of the state, the mother embodied feminine and affective relations. The sentimental nature of many American First World War “mother” poems may result not only from the subject matter as such, but also from the difference between Mother and Uncle Sam. The war years saw an overwhelming number of “mother”-themed poems produced; their sheer number suggests that they form a topic that merits greater attention than I am able to pay it here. However, to make a start on analyzing them, one can say that these poems form a continuum. Poems that put the words of the state in the mouth of the mother are at one end, those that simply acknowledge the difficulty of parting with one’s child are somewhere in the middle, and those that take the loss or potential loss of a child as the emblem of the destructiveness of war, and thus oppose it, are at the other end. George Corbin Perine in “The Mother’s Farewell to Her Boy,” for example, refuses to acknowledge the pain of separation and potential loss.


American Intervention in the First World War In bidding you farewell, dear boy, I do not hesitate nor cry, But bid you go with all my heart To conquer or to die! If this were but a war for wealth Or conquest, then my heart would break, But ’tis for liberty or death, A world’s peace is at stake! The men who willed to us this land Were freemen both in limb and brain, And God forbid while time shall last Their children wear a chain! I say therefore again farewell, Nor do I hesitate nor cry. But bid you go with all my heart To conquer or to die! ()

The spirit of Perine’s poem is in keeping with the tradition of Republican Motherhood, which “made use of the classic formulation of the Spartan Mother who raised sons prepared to sacrifice themselves to the good of the polis ” (Kerber ). A Spartan mother may be a little harder than Perine’s, but not much. In the second stanza, the mother offers the Wilsonian vision of the war as the reason why she does not “hesitate nor cry” to send her son off to war. In the third stanza, she cites the precedent of the founders of the nation as the warrant for this war for liberty: the nation’s sons are liable to preserve and extend American liberty; their mothers are liable to send them off to do it without a tear. Here, the discourse of the mother and that of the state are in substance nearly identical. An example of poems that acknowledge the pain of sending one’s child off to war is found in one of the few volumes of First World War poetry by an African American. Negroes Call to the Colors and Soldiers Camp-life Poems by Walter E. Seward combines dialect with more formal verse. One of the dialect poems, “Since Ephun Went Away,” includes a few phrases from the public discourse of the war but concentrates on the feelings of a mother whose son has gone off to France. The first stanza is concerned exclusively with this: My heart is full uv sarrer, En um feelin on der bum, Case I’se seen dat life wuz trubble,


Poetry and Interpellation An mer rainy day is cum. I didn’t think I’d worry, Befo dat partin day, But things aroun here look gloomy Since my Ephun went er way. ()

As with other poems of this kind, “Since Ephun Went Away” deals with the combination of the loss of a child to adulthood – a biological necessity, part of the human lifecycle – and the loss, temporary or permanent, of the same child to the war. I miss him en er thousan ways, Dat boy uv mine, I say; Whut used ter slip off frum der fiel, En hustle off to play. I used ter take him dere ter work, We wuz er happy pair; But Uncle Sam he sent for him, En took him Over Dere. ()

Uncle Sam intervenes in and perhaps accelerates the lifecycle; the poem does not protest against the war, but at the same time it does not mask the sorrow of separation and possible loss. The poem’s last stanza is in keeping with this: Now I’m left ter only pray Der Lord ter gide his feet; En ef he dies ‘fore he returns, I pray his soul to keep. I hope ter meet him ergin Sum whar en sum ol day; For things aroun here look gloomy Since my Ephun went erway. (–)

Writing in ballad meter, Seward effectively integrates the title of the poem as a refrain appearing as the last line of the first and the last stanzas. The poem’s speaker does not doubt the official justification for taking her son away, I say now dat um awful glad Ter have er son so brave, Ter sail ercross der water dere, Democracy to save. ()


American Intervention in the First World War

But the Wilsonian loftiness of the announced purpose does not lessen the sorrow of separation, which is emphasized using the refrain: “things around here look gloomy/Since my Ephun went away.” A poem similar to Seward’s in terms of the balance it strikes between accepting the official discourse of the war and acknowledging the pain of separation is William Hartley Holcomb’s “Sonny, Dear.” Three months have gone, my Sonny, Dear – Three dismal months of dread and fear – Since that eventful gala day When my brave soldier marched away. I hear again the people’s cheers – Cheers rising from a sea of tears; I hear again the martial strain Of music, echoing forth my pain; I feel again your loving arm – Your kiss, those lips – so fresh and warm; My ears still catch your stifled sigh – You were too big and brave to cry; And then, the troop train rolled away, And Life took on its hue of gray. ()

Iambic tetrameter and mid-level diction differentiate this poem from Seward’s, but many other elements carry over: both soldiers are brave; the departure of the speaker’s son turns the world gloomy or gray; and there is no doubt expressed concerning the justness of the cause that is understood to necessitate this separation. Holcomb, even more explicitly than Seward, notes the bittersweet nature of raising children, something raised to a higher level of poignancy by the war: A Mother once, is Mother still; And somehow never grasps the plan Of years that changes “boy” to “man.” While praises of you give me joy, Somehow, I’d rather have my boy – My boy, with curly head at play, Playing the soldier he’d be some day – Than winning Glory now in France, ‘Midst gas and shell and Life’s one chance; Somehow, I’d love him just the same Without the Glory and the Fame. ()


Poetry and Interpellation

Mother is less demanding than is Uncle Sam. And watching one’s children grow, even as they earn the praise of others, brings a certain amount of pain that the poem does not try to reconcile. Still, Holcomb steers the poem toward a conclusion less lyrical and bittersweet: If three months more would bring you here; Our arms unconquered – Peace at last – A Peace to bind the whole world fast; That not again shall mother’s heart Break, as she sees her son depart; A Peace that makes all Nations free, That saves for us our Liberty. And Sonny, Dear, ’tis hard to say, Somehow, if Peace comes not this way, And you must fight on to the end, Then I to Fate will humbly bend; Upheld, to know my son died brave – A worthy son, in an honored grave. ()

The transcendent nature of American war aims (“A Peace to bind the whole world fast” and “that makes all Nations free”) provides solace for the speaker, and thus the discourse of the state is mediated to the reader through the maternal, with its more profound affective dimension and its rootedness in existential reality. In terms of ideology, this seems to be the point of the “mother” poem: to soften the official discourse of the war, without substantially altering it. This function of the “mother” poem becomes most visible when one looks at the most extreme example of the type. Appearing in the third bestselling title in nonfiction for , Everard Jack Appleton’s With the Colors (Unsworth), “The Alien” begins with a disclaimer, if a half-hearted one:

Holcomb appears to have taken a special interest in familial relationships, particularly the relationship between mother and son. “Goodbye, Mother: A Recruit’s Letter” resembles “Sonny Dear” in that it acknowledges the real pain of separation at the same time that it reinforces the justness of the demands of the state. “A Proud Mother,” on the other hand avoids the softer emotions: I have no fear – I am proud of my boy, Who grew by my side with his prattle – I know he will bring his mother true joy When he wins his first glorious battle. ()


American Intervention in the First World War (Of course, this didn’t happen, But if it had – Would you have been shocked?) ()

An open form narrative poem in which lineation deployed to highlight the semantic content of phrases is the chief poetic device, “The Alien” tells the story of a young American woman who marries Karl, “a handsome polished Prussian,” while the United States was still neutral. They have a child, Big and blue-eyed, Solemn and serious, With his father’s arrogance in the small. ()

The child’s physical resemblance to his father reveals an underlying resemblance of character. And this character is not good, as becomes obvious once America enters the war, Then the man, Who had been almost human, Dropped his mask, And uncovered his ragged soul. Having no sense of right or wrong – No spiritual standards for measurements; Feeding upon that same egotism That swept his country Into the depths of hate. (–)

Just as the child is the father in little, so is the father the embodiment of the German national character, arrogant and without non-material values, which leads it, presumably, to be ruthless in its pursuit of power. The Prussian father is placed in a dentition camp by the Secret Service, on charges unknown to the reader. When the mother tries to have her husband released they are disclosed to her. The mother’s naiveté, revealed when she trusts in her husband’s innocence, shows that she, too, embodies national characteristics. Like the US, she is “so easy-going and so slow to learn” (). After a week passes, the mother visits her husband in the detention camp, bringing their baby with her. Here the reader learns why Karl is being detained: “Did you know, Karl,” she whispered, “That my brother was on that transport –


Poetry and Interpellation My only brother – a soldier – my only blood? If it had gone down – that transport – been sunk – ” “Well?” said he. That was all. “My brother – my only – Karl!” “Well?” said he again. “What of it?” ()

Two sets of familial relations conflict: wife/mother versus sister. But the wife/mother relation, since it is with an alien – something driven home by the flat indifference of Karl – cannot compete with the sisterly relation, a synecdoche for the relation to the nation-state. However, the concluding act of the poem lies with the mother: Swift as the eagle that drives a lamb to death She whipped a hat-pin from her dainty hat, Drove it with steady aim Into the baby’s heart And handed back to the gulping man All that was left of what had once meant joy – A dead baby with red bubbles on its lips! ()

The nation and the mother – both expressed by the eagle – may be “so easy-going and so slow to learn,” but once they determine a course of action, they become stern and decisive. As important as the logic of synecdoche is the role of familial relations in the poem. Here the blood relation of siblings trumps the role of the mother, since the child is only half American, and his “Prussian” traits, as the reader is reminded more than once, predominate. The mother as representative of the state finds its fullest expression here, symbolically, since the mother abandons the imperative to protect her child in favor of the ties of nationalism, ties expressed in the sibling relation. “Mother” poems often operate significantly in both the positionalexistential and in the positional-historical registers. Indeed, part of the nature of the “mother” poem as a mode of war discourse is to mask the historical character of the poem with its existential character. This is possible because even though motherhood and the discourse of motherhood is subject to sentimental distortion and manipulation it is not for all of that simply false. However, many poems avoid the existential paradoxes and tensions of the “mother” or other types of heavily positional-existential poem and operate more purely within the positional-historical register. Such poems, concerned primarily with the placement of subjects within American society relative to the war, take a variety of forms. Poems


American Intervention in the First World War

concerned with the role of non-combatants in the struggle operate most clearly within this category. Farmers, family members of service personnel (imagined outside of their biological and existential being), male workers who remained in civilian industries, and a variety of others were subjects of American war poetry. A particularly clear example of a poem that sounds the positionalhistorical register is George Corbin Perine’s “Three Cheers for the Men in the Shipyards.” The first stanza offers a condensed overview of the variety of workers who build ships, emphasizing that they, too, help defeat the Kaiser: Three cheers for the men in shipyards! The men with the hammer and saw, The rivetters too And all of the crew, For every blow They make we all know Is a rap at the Kaiser’s door! ()

Workers in the shipyards are thus explicitly integrated into a vision of the war seen in a great many poems, and this vision figures in the inclusive “We” of the title of Perine’s volume, We’re Coming, Bill, We’re Coming, as well as in the “we” of “we all know.” The second stanza of the poem takes up an issue also addressed, with greater subtlety, through the engineer’s rolled-up shirtsleeves and broad shoulders in Figure ., the poster Team Work Wins!: the masculinity of men not at the front. Perine writes, Three cheers for the men in shipyards! The men with the brawn and muscle – Before you count three They will bridge the sea, With scarcely a loss For our boys to cross, Then watch out, Bill, for a tussel!

(sic, )

Given that men were recruited to military service in part on the basis of an appeal to their masculinity (see Figure ., Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man), there was need to assure those men who remained behind but who worked in areas vital to the war effort that their masculinity was not in question.


Poetry and Interpellation

Figure .. Positional-Historical Address: You, Too, Have Your Place. Since Engineers Are Necessary to the War Effort, Ideologies Of Masculinity Must Be Negotiated Carefully. Note the Rolled-Up Sleeves. “Team Work Wins,” poster by Roy Hull Still, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, WWI Posters, LC-USZC-.

Shipyard workers are not only fully as masculine as soldiers, they are also fully as patriotic, Perine tells us in stanza three: Three cheers for the men in shipyards! For they’re every one as true A patriot quite As any knight Who shoulders a gun To look for a Hun, Or a barrage of fire goes through! ()

The anachronistic terminology so rife in First World War poetry returns here to reveal the standard by which the shipyard workers are judged and not found wanting. Similarly, in the last stanza, the discourse of religion returns, that God might offer His opinion of the shipyard workers:


American Intervention in the First World War

Figure .. Positional-Existential Address: You Are a Man, Aren’t You? “Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man,” poster by Howard Chandler Christy, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, WWI Posters, LC-USZC–.

Three cheers for the men in shipyards! The men who are speeding the fall Of the devil’s rule, (For William’s his tool!) That might’s over right, Though not in God’s sight! May the Lord bless you one and all. ()

Again, a type of discourse found throughout American First World War poetry returns, placing the war and the war efforts of the shipyard workers in a broader context. God’s sanction for the American war effort extends beyond the soldiers and sailors, to those who make it possible for “Our Boys in Khaki and Our Boys in Blue,” as Perine’s “Dedication” reads, to fight. If shipyard and other workers were central to the war effort, then this potentially entailed an increase in economic and social power, something


Poetry and Interpellation

at least theoretically acceptable in the terms of Wilson’s vision of the war effort and its objectives (Kennedy –). But the practical working out of this war effort as well as the nature of the wartime coalition that Wilson found himself in meant that less progressive attitudes toward labor could be found inside the pro-war camp (Kennedy –). For example, Anthony Euwer’s “He Struck” emerges from anxiety about the reliance of the state on industrial workers in the era of total war: He struck! So did ten thousand more – Mechanics and the like – Big burly chaps – machinists some – They all walked out on strike. ... They struck because the ship-yard man Refused to pay them more, Though what they got was big compared With what they drew before. ()

Elsewhere in the same volume it becomes clear that Euwer felt that among the greatest threats to American society was that people would use the war to their advantage; the title of the poem “The Vultures” suggests his attitude. In “He Struck” workers – the masculinity of the “[b]ig burly chaps” now a potential threat – refuse to be satisfied with the increased wages brought by the wartime boom and an inflationary economy. The rapaciousness of the striking worker contrasts with the exemplary self-sacrifice of his brother: He struck! His brother volunteered. He entered for the strife – Gave all his service and threw in A big chance on his life. He took his training – went across, Was killed – shelled through the cheek. The other brother’s back to work – They came to terms last week. ()

Euwer juxtaposes the two brothers to contrast right and wrong behavior: the key word here is “gave.” Whereas the brother who volunteers gives – what he takes is his training – the striking brother simply takes. By striking he destroys what was sometimes called “the socialism of war,” “the ideal of a more intimately and organically united community, forged upon the


American Intervention in the First World War

shared experience of danger and war” (Losurdo , ). This enhanced sense of social solidarity in the face of a common enemy was supposed to offer an alternative to the grasping individualism of ordinary capitalist society, and while one brother heeds its call, the other does not. That it calls one to a higher duty is illustrated by the last four lines: whereas the soldier dies a sacrificial death, the striking brother is caught up in the mundane terms of market society: coming to terms in a contract negotiation. “He Struck” makes negatively the point that everyone has a role in the war effort, offering a morality play about those who do not acknowledge the justness of the demands made upon them. The contrast between the fates of the brothers is emphasized through the end rhyme of “cheek” – where one brother was fatally wounded – and “week.” The poem suggests strongly that the desire of the striking brother’s union for higher wages leads to the death of the brother who volunteers: “He struck” a blow for Germany and against his brother. By acting like good capitalist subjects and attempting to maximize their position in the market, the union becomes the collective, and the striking brother the individual, a negative exemplar of behavior in wartime. Familial discourse here operates to parallel and reinforce national identity. The poem presents the identity “union worker” as one that should be subordinate to “brother” and “American.” “Three Cheers for the Men in the Shipyards” and “He Struck” deal with male industrial workers. The roles of other types of subjects are addressed elsewhere. Liberty Loan poems address those who do not serve in the military or in the ancillary services such as the YMCA or the Red Cross, and whose work may not directly advance the war effort. Farmers are addressed as “soldiers of the soil,” the title of a poem by Everard Jack Appleton. Women – as subjects of historical-positional address – are spoken to, and for, in poems about Red Cross nurses, little sisters, sweethearts, and, of course, mothers. Members of the military not serving in the front lines are addressed in poems such as Amelia Josephine Burr’s “The Engineers”: We build the roads where others march to glory, Brothers in danger, weariness and cold. They are the heroes of a world wide story; Ours is the story that is never told. Is the game hard? The better worth our playing! We are the men who meet and conquer chance. Victory treads the roads that we are laying; Justice is coming, Belgium – Peace, O France! ()

Poetry and Interpellation


Like many poems of its kind, this may be undistinguished as verse, but it is not doggerel. Burr writes the poem in iambic pentameter, but the oddnumbered lines are of eleven syllables ending on an unaccented, feminine, syllable, forming ABAB quatrains. The dignity of regular, crafted verse suits the purpose of the poem: to acknowledge the place of the engineers as well as infantrymen – those who “march to glory” on the roads built by the engineers – in the national war effort. The second stanza of “The Engineers” is more varied in its topics and terminology than the tightly focused first stanza. The first line uses the language of “playing the game” – originating in “Vitai Lampada” by the Englishman Henry Newbolt – much in evidence in the poetry of the First World War. While Newbolt’s poem and “playing the game” in general emphasizes pluck, Burr’s engineers approach “the game” in a calculating manner, the better “to meet and conquer chance.” In this, Burr participates in a small way in the spirit of the campaign of non-military engineers to rationalize American life, although the goal here is to deliver justice to Belgium and peace to France (Kennedy, –). The engineers’ methodical approach to war is necessary, Burr’s poem argues: the engineers have their place. “The Engineers” is typical of a number of poems about members of the armed services who are not in one of the prototypical areas of service. The infantry was the assumed arm of service in the poetry of the Great War. However, the air service provided the subject of many poems considerably out of proportion to the numbers of men involved or its strategic importance; as is frequently noted, aerial combat lent itself to romantic depiction in a way that trench warfare did not. The artillery appears to be the opposite case: it is represented in poetry far less often than strict accuracy would dictate, particularly if one takes into account its impact on the battlefield – it was “the dominant weapon . . . in –, because in those years it killed most enemy soldiers and did most damage to their defences, and was the most effective weapon for hampering movement behind the front line” (Wintringham ). The relative paucity of poetry about the artillery, especially when contrasted with the wealth of poems about airplanes and pilots, makes clearly the point that the literature of – was driven, not only, and not primarily, by the reality of the war, but rather by that reality as it intersected with and was processed through writers’ cultural and ideological presuppositions and requirements. Among these requirements was that of asserting, and by this means achieving, unity amidst a complex war effort, one facet of which was the highly specialized and differentiated nature of modern, industrialized warfare. If the medievalist discourse of knights and crusaders provided an


American Intervention in the First World War

undifferentiated ego identity that could be assumed by or imposed upon an Electrician Sergeant, Second Class serving in an artillery unit, a fighter pilot, or an infantryman, “The Engineers” and similar poems offer more finely variegated accounts of who “we” are. For example, the navy was essential to the war effort, particularly in light of the fact that great numbers of American troops had to be transported to Europe across a hostile Atlantic patrolled by German U-boats. Poets dutifully supplied poems in honor of the navy and naval personnel. Easter W. McIntyre addresses directly the task of such poems: Ah! much has been said for the soldier Who dies for his country and thee; And now comes a song for the sailor Who perishes, deep in the sea. ()

In “The Call of the Sea,” Temple Scott commands, Bastions of steel, Steady on keel, Encircle our land with your grey iron wall. Lads of the main, Hark, to the strain; Your captain has sounded the battle’s call. Then heave away, my hearties, heave away! Haul the flag aloft. In the breezes let her waft; The Stars and Stripes have something now to say. ()

Wilson serves as the figurative captain for all the sailors, while as commander-in-chief he is captain to the nation. Sailors form part of the differentiated whole who follow “where the Stars and Stripes wave” (). These examples of poems operating primarily in the historical-positional register could easily be multiplied. They are also taken at times to their logical limit. Charles S. Divine in his “Verses to a Mule” extends the operations of the register beyond the human: Oh, he’s the brute who lugs your heavy rations to the door, The brute who labors, hauling, from the quartermaster’s store, The one who stumbles through the mud and always finds his feet, With loads of hay and wood and coal and clothing, bread, and meat. ()

Divine frequently appreciates, in a light comedic mode – the ballad meter is well-suited to it – things others overlooked; in City Ways and Company



Streets he extends his appreciation to the inanimate in “To Thy Beauty, O Mess Kit” and “The Hob-Nail Shoes.” The mule, on the other hand, is decidedly animate. He possesses virtues and depths unsuspected by others, in particular the representative mule-skinner in the poem. But Divine tells us: He He He He

looks at you as if his soul lay sleeping in his eyes, plods the roads as if the world for him held no surprise, pulls the combat wagons over ruts as high as trees, wallows where the others shrink and dirties up his knees. ()

Divine sees that the type of poem operating primarily in the historicalpositional register creates the opportunity for a poet with a light comedic touch to push the form, ordinarily so earnest, outward toward creatures and objects that do not lend themselves readily to the form’s standard, often painful, sincerity. The mule becomes a sort of comic exemplar to the troops.

Conclusion While in the remaining chapters I focus on individual writers or genres, in this chapter I have tried to indicate the range of First World War poetry written in the US. For surveying such a range while also analyzing its ideological and rhetorical dimensions, Goran Therborn’s model of the “universe of ideological interpellations” () is helpful, since it aims to understand the ideological dimension of things that are not immediately ideological in the commonly used, pejorative sense. Therborn’s model thus makes it possible to understand the ideological uses of different aspects of human subjectivity as it is lived in the world. The result is not a simple indexing of ideological types with ideological positions. As we saw, poems about mothers can take up a variety of specific positions within the ideological universe, although in the examples I study the mother-son relationship never calls into question the justness or necessity of American intervention into the war. But whatever the specifics of the case at hand, Therborn’s model provides a ready means by which to analyze the ways in which the figure of the mother and the relationship between mother and son can mediate between the demands of the state and the lived world of affective relations and experience. The earlier sections of this chapter, on poems about American neutrality in the first years of the war and anachronism, indicate other fields of


American Intervention in the First World War

research available in American First World War poetry. Thematically organized analysis of poems about the American flag, baseball and football terminology, food, the Marquis de Lafayette, Joan of Arc, and so on can only deepen our understanding of the variety of ways in which the war was explained and justified to the people who were being asked – or required – to give up their money, foodstuffs, conveniences, loved ones, or lives to the war effort.

 

“Devotions Loyal Even to Death” Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, and the Martial Ideal

Even prior to American entry into the First World War, Alan Seeger was seen as the archetypal American soldier-poet of the war (Miller, Alisa), a slightly misleading status. Seeger was idiosyncratic in the intensity and consistency of his commitment to the medieval and martial values that shaped his perspective on the war. While the intensity of his embrace may be unusual, that Seeger thought of war in a manner derived from an imagined premodern past is unsurprising. As we saw in the previous chapter, medievalism was very much a part of how the war was imagined. And Seeger’s background formed him in such a way that it would be astonishing had he not shared in the post-Romantic poetic culture analyzed by Paul Fussell, Ted Bogacz, Samuel Hynes, and others. Born into an old New England family, Seeger attended the Hackley School in Tarrytown, NY, prior to entering Harvard University as a member of the class of . In his senior year at Harvard, Seeger roomed with T. S. Eliot, while Eliot, who had earned his bachelor’s degree in three years, was working on his master’s degree in philosophy (Miller, James ). After graduation Seeger lived briefly in Greenwich Village before moving to Paris, where he was living at the outbreak of the war (Hart, “Alan Seeger” ). Shortly after the war began, Seeger enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, which offered him as a US citizen, an avenue to military service with France (Howe, “Alan Seeger”). While service in the Foreign Legion was motivated in part by his love for France, it was also motivated by a deep-seated desire to experience war: after Seeger died from wounds received in combat in July , a friend wrote that Seeger fought on the side of the French because he had been living in France, as he would doubtless have fought on the side of the Germans had he been living in Germany (Reeves ). Although Seeger became obscure, more likely to 

Seeger uses the phrase “devotions loyal even to death” in his review of Laurence Hope’s Poems in the Harvard Monthly.



Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

be known to the historian than to the reader of American poetry, he enjoyed a brief moment of posthumous literary fame. His collected Poems, published late in , was a non-fiction bestseller for  and  (Unsworth). Seeger believed that exposure to war benefited men, a belief not uncommon among the educated elites of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as T. J. Jackson Lears reveals in the chapter of his study of antimodernism devoted to “the martial ideal.” At the most general level, martial virtue and the rigors of soldierly life were contrasted with the sloth and ease into which developed industrial societies had fallen. Such fears and contrasts were fueled in part by the inherited anxieties of the republican political tradition, with its belief in the inevitable degeneration of societies once their successful republican polities had provided a standard of material comfort that threatened to lapse into the dreaded contagion of luxury. While the republican tradition predates industrial capitalism, the course of the American nineteenth century ensured that its anxieties would be well aroused at the opening of the twentieth, with the emergence of a reasonably large, prosperous, and educated social elite. Lears describes the appeal of militarism to a segment of the American upper class in terms of its utility in rallying the restive lower orders around the American flag, rather than the red or the black one, or the union banner. In addition to remaking society without class antagonism, war seemed a good way to reinvigorate upper-class manhood, and by this means also to reassert the leading role of the elites: War promised reestablished social dominance not just because it distracted populists and socialists from their grievances but also because it offered a stronger, purer sense of selfhood to a flaccid urban bourgeoisie. “Idleness and luxury have made men flabby,” a North American Review contributor observed in , wondering “if a great war might not help them all to pull themselves together.” Imperialist adventures offered a chance for enervated young men to follow Francis Parkman’s prescription: “to realize a certain ideal of manhood – a little medieval.” As the Century wrote in , the contemporary passion for war signaled a yearning for purification: “we think of war nowadays, not so much as being a means of making others suffer as an occasion for giving ourselves up to suffering.” ()

By embracing suffering, the martial ideal contrasted itself with the unheroic nature of bourgeois existence at the same time that shunning the life of ease opened the way to a type of asceticism. Both the martial ideal and asceticism were often expressed through the vehicle of medievalism.

Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal


In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James, discussing asceticism, notes that A strange moral transformation has within the past century swept over our Western world. We no longer think that we are called on to face physical pain with equanimity. It is not expected of a man that he should either endure it or inflict much of it, and to listen to the recital of cases of it makes our flesh creep morally as well as physically. The way in which our ancestors looked upon pain as an eternal ingredient of the world’s order, and both caused and suffered it as a matter-of-course portion of their day’s work, fills us with amazement. ()

James goes on to concede that some allowance may be made for voluntary subjection to “the hard and painful” within the ordinary experience of humanity, but also seeks to differentiate this from more extreme or dramatic manifestations: Where to seek the easy and the pleasant seems instinctive – and instinctive it appears to be in man; any deliberate tendency to pursue the hard and painful as such and for their own sakes might well strike one as purely abnormal. Nevertheless, in moderate degrees it is natural and even usual to human nature to court the arduous. It is only the extreme manifestations of the tendency that can be regarded as a paradox. (–)

Asceticism, then, occurs along a continuum running from those “who can live on smiles and the word ‘yes’ forever,” completely avoiding the hard and the difficult, all the way to the pathological. Understood as a psychology of asceticism, this appears useful enough, but greater interest lies in its application to the broader social world, specifically to that world that James himself occupied, of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American culture. As Lears in particular has shown, the increasing security and ease of life for the affluent in America provoked a reaction from within this same group, one manifestation of which was a tendency toward asceticism. Among those who deliberately chose the hard and the difficult was Alan Seeger. In his desire to experience war, Seeger exemplified what Lears calls “the militarist search for authenticity” (). But as Lears also shows, embracing the martial ideal not only satisfied a subjective need for authenticity, it also provided a reassuring sense of girding oneself against the social threat posed by restive lower orders: the militant trade unionists, socialists, anarchists, and immigrants that, however unfashionable they may have been, appeared to possess in abundance the vitality that the upper class feared it was losing, indeed, was fated to lose according to the republican


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

vision of history. For Seeger, the value of martial ideals and martial experience was primarily personal and only secondarily social, although the personal value was no doubt enhanced by the invidious comparison with others it invited. The personal significance of the martial was bound up with the value of asceticism for Seeger. Seeger’s asceticism appears to fall under two of the six categories that James derives when he examines the different psychological underpinnings of asceticism. First, “[a]sceticism may be a mere expression of organic hardihood, disgusted with too much ease.” The demands of asceticism “may also be fruits of love, that is, they may appeal to the subject in the light of sacrifices which he is happy in making to the Deity whom he acknowledges” (). As “fruits of love,” Seeger’s asceticism will prove to result more from participating in the deity than from making sacrifices to it. That is, Seeger is not a Christian ascetic; rather, his asceticism, so far as it has a transcendent dimension, relates more to the philosophy of Empedocles, for whom the universe is dominated by two opposite but complementary forces, Love and Strife (Kahn ). Closer in time, Theodore Roosevelt’s notion of “the strenuous life” provided a warrant for gratuitous suffering in a variety of ways, including military service and war. Importantly, the second entry on James’s list: “Temperance in meat and drink, simplicity of apparel, chastity, and non-pampering of the body generally, may be fruits of the love of purity, shocked by whatever savors of the sensual” (), appears not at all to apply to Seeger, who delighted in the pleasures of the flesh. Seeger’s early poetry, in particular, flirts with decadence in its immersion in sensual pleasure, while his wartime poetry embraces the harshness of military experience without denouncing the pleasures of “softer” experiences. For Seeger, ascetic experience associated with Empedocles’ Strife simply balances fleshly experience, associated with Love, as its complement. Seeger espoused consciously and deliberately ascetic, medieval, and martial values that appear in a more diffuse form in the broader culture of the era. These values informed American participation in the First World War. Thus, Seeger and, the available cultural evidence suggests, the United States as a whole, engaged in the war on a paradoxical or perhaps contradictory basis: the war was imagined as the opportunity to assert values eclipsed in, at the same time that the war itself took place at the cutting edge of, capitalist modernity. It was fought using the most recent developments of the second industrial revolution, and propelled by the conflict between the “unlimited dynamism” imparted to Germany by “the imperative to expand of a massive capitalist economy watching its statistical curves soaring upward” (Hobsbawm, Age of Empire –) and the United

Seeger Before the War


Kingdom, attempting to preserve its global economic and political dominance. Yet this strikingly modern war was often, as we have already seen, imagined in terms seemingly at odds with the modern.

Seeger Before the War In the spring of , Seeger, then a sophomore at Harvard, wrote an essay, “Suggestions for a Dissertation on the Historical Development of the Faust-motive.” His professor for Comparative Literature , M. A. Potter, responded favorably to Seeger’s essay, part of which was concerned with the historical nature of the Renaissance, which Seeger presents as a play of new and old: It is simple enough to see the new impulses, but what shall be said of the things that are no more, of the spiritual light that has vanished out of men’s hearts? I suppose that it is only within recent years that the sophistication of three centuries has so far abated as to allow of a more correct and sympathetic estimate of the mediaeval world. ()

In this play of new and old, Seeger prefers the old. For him, a baleful “sophistication” has overwhelmed the “spiritual light” of the medieval, a spirituality that appeared to reassert itself before retreating once again: there was the sporadic impulse of the Romantic Revival, but not apparently based upon a mature enough self-consciousness to attain that perfection toward which it was progressing when blighted under the great returning tide of materialism that has afflicted the last half-century. ()

Seeger wants to reverse this “tide of materialism” so that the “spiritual light” emanating from the medieval world might shine again. The spiritual light of Seeger’s imagined medieval world combines with another source of appeal in the medieval: violence. Seeger embraces a particularly flamboyant violence in an unpublished poem he wrote in his last year at Harvard, “The Ballad of William of Cabestan,” based on the vida of the troubadour, Guillem de Cabestany. It is a particularly gruesome tale: William’s love for Rosamond, the wife of Raymond of Roussillon, leads Raymond to fight and kill William. Raymond afterward removes William’s heart and head from the corpse. The heart is cooked and served to Rosamond; afterwards William’s severed head is displayed to her as proof that she has indeed eaten the heart of her beloved. Overcome, she hurls herself from a window to her death. Seeger shared with the American reading public this attraction to the medieval as a more spiritual era than the modern, one that did not flinch from an often gruesome violence. Jackson Lears cites the popularity of


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

Francis Marion Crawford’s Via Crucis: A Romance of the Second Crusade as evidence of this attraction; the novel is filled with passages such as: The Norman slew like a bright destroying angel, breathing the swift and silent wrath of God upon mankind. Blow upon blow, with clash of steel, thrust after thrust as the darting of serpents, till the dead lay in heaps, and the horses’ hoofs churned blood and grass to a green-red foam. ()

As is Via Crucis, Seeger’s imagined world in “The Ballad of William of Cabestan” is violent but also courteous, in keeping with the dictates of chivalry. For example, when Raymond challenges William to combat, William responds, “Then do thy best,” young William said, “As do my best shall I, And ere this summer’s day be sped, The one of us shall die.” ()

This attitude will reemerge in Seeger’s view of the Germans in “Sonnet Xl” from Seeger’s “Last Poems,” when he writes of “Our valiant foe and all his deadly tools” (Poems ). As an element of chivalry, courtesy to one’s enemy would have appealed to Seeger as an aspect of the medieval. Medieval settings or themes are prominent in Seeger’s prewar poetry: “Vivien,” “Broceliande,” and “Lyonesse,” all work with traditional Arthurian material, while “Coucy” concerns a castle in France that was home to several crusaders. Less obviously medievalist, his poem “The Rendezvous” concerns a lover awaiting his beloved in a Catholic church. He seeks out her face among the congregants: But the long vespers close. The priest on high Raises the thing that Christ’s own flesh enforms; And down the Gothic nave the crowd flows by And through the portal’s carven entry swarms. Maddened he peers upon each passing face Till the long drab procession terminates. No princess passes out with proud majestic pace. She has not come, the woman that he waits. (Poems )

The setting in this poem derives its flavor in large part from the Catholic revival movement, a component of Victorian medievalism. The “Gothic nave” and the “portal’s carven entry” provide a backdrop intended to make the lover’s disappointment all the more poignant.

The Coming Storm


The Coming Storm Seeger’s penchant for the medieval, for role-playing, and for a peculiar and crucial form of abstraction may be seen in a February  letter that Seeger wrote while he recovered from a respiratory infection contracted in the trenches. He explains to his sister that in his first years at Harvard he was a devotee of Learning for Learning’s sake . . . The events of that life were positive adventures to me. Few, I am sure, have known more than I did then the employ of intellect as an instrument of pleasure. I shut myself off completely from the life of the University, so full, nevertheless, of pleasures. I scoffed at these pleasures that were no more to me than froth. I felt no need of comradeship. I led the life of an anchorite. (Letters and Diary )

The choice of terms is significant: while not an exclusively medieval phenomenon, anchorites are strongly associated with the medieval. As a sort of anchorite, Seeger devoted himself to “Learning for Learning’s sake.” The capitalization is typical of Seeger, who tended to abstract and to allegorize. This learning of his produced not, apparently, knowledge or understanding, but pleasure; Seeger’s sensibility was fundamentally, although complexly, hedonistic, as is seen further in his account in the same letter of his turning away from learning. Comparing himself to characters in Balzac, Seeger says, “Obsessed by the burning vision of Happiness they left the quiet groves of the Academy and went down into the city in search of it” (Letters and Diary ). He continues: But my hedonism, if such it may be called, was not superficial like that of so many, to whom the emotional means only the sexual. I was sublimely consistent. For seeing, in the macrocosm, all Nature revolve about the twin poles of Love and Strife, of attraction and repulsion, so no less in the microcosm of my individual being I saw the emotional life equally divided between these two cardinal principles. . . . [M]y aspiration was to go all the gamut, to “drink life to the lees.” My interest in life was passion, my object to experience it in all rare and refined, in all intense and violent forms. The war having broken out, then, it was natural that I should have staked my life on learning what it alone could teach me. (Letters and Diary )

The capitalization continues in this passage, but now Seeger’s abstraction and allegorization take on a slightly different cast. First, the melodramatic 

In the Letters and Diary, this letter is identified as being written “To a Friend” by Seeger, rather than to his sister, as it clearly was; the original is in the Houghton Library. It is also edited. Both alterations seem intended to make Seeger appear more conventional than he was. Presumably these changes were made by Seeger’s father, Charles, Sr., who assembled the Letters and Diary for Scribner’s (Letter to R. Bridges, March , ).


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

quality of Seeger’s imagination becomes even more prominent. But beyond this, his move into the abstract stands in curious relation to the desire for experience Seeger expresses in the letter. But then again, however concrete and particular any given experience may be, nothing is more abstract than Experience. This is not all. In his movement from whatever the particulars of a given experience may be to the terms in which he understands it (Love, Nature, Strife) Seeger elides the realms of the social and political. In his war poetry, the war will remain largely a matter, on the one hand, of sense experience and, on the other, of remote abstraction. Thus, the war rarely appears in his writing, either poetry or prose, as a political conflict. While this elision typically allows Seeger to avoid types of ideology common in much of American poetry between  and , it also displaces ideology to those levels that are presented, most clearly but not exclusively onto the abstractions, Love, Nature, Strife, Romance, and so on, through which he processes the particulars of experience. Seeger, like many of the writers discussed in the previous chapter, thus also displaces ideological conflict to the level of the imaginative, as when he makes an imagined medieval world or imagined medieval figures repositories of antimodern values. While Seeger attempts to explain the varying patterns of his life in this letter to his sister, emphasizing the break between his existence as an anchorite and as an active participant in the world, a strong continuity underlies his concerns: the medieval functions in the same manner in both the “Faust-motive” essay of  and in his wartime writing. In the essay, Seeger imagines a break with “the sophistication of three centuries,” with capitalist modernity. Clearly, such a change would be epochal, and Seeger becomes simultaneously apocalyptic and prophetic as he imagines the possibility: “Now we are dwelling in the uncertain lull and sultriness that precedes a storm. Now we have reached the issue when materialism has been weighted and found wanting” (“Suggestions,” ). Apocalypse and prophecy enter here in the figure of the waiting storm, a storm that would indeed break six years later with the advent of the war. For Seeger, this storm promises to end the era of materialism that has so far defeated the romantic return to the spiritual. What is to be the color of the dawning spirit? I fancy this: it is to be a new romanticism, a romanticism based on a truer perfection of man’s relation to Nature; it will be that renovation which shall be the death of all our shallow refinement that so unduly emphasizes the psychological in human intercourse, which shaking off the trammels of a deadening sophistication shall return to those purer ideals when mankind was only artistically admissible


The Storm Breaks

in so far as entered into his proper relation to the universal and encompassing Beauty. (“Suggestions” )

Here, in this sophomore term paper, much of the basis of Alan Seeger’s career as a poet may be seen. Both Seeger’s poetry and his embrace of the war emerge from his rejection of the materialism and sophistication characteristic of life in the modern era. Seeger’s program opposes the irony, a sophisticated response to the war, which Fussell sees as characteristic. Seeger, even as an undergraduate, calls for a return to a naïve sensibility. He will advocate, and attempt to embody, a kind of new romanticism that revives the values of the medieval world and aspires to the ideal. Seeger intends his medievalism, then, foremost as a rupture with modernity.

The Storm Breaks The deep-lying nature of Seeger’s sensibility is glimpsed in the terminological consistency between the “Faust-motive” essay and his wartime writing. In an essay published in the New York Sun in  and later incorporated into his posthumously published Letters and Diary, Seeger refers to his unit’s encampment as “romantic” (, ). In a later article for the Sun, Seeger refers to going on a night reconnaissance patrol as “the one breath of true romance” to be found in “the monotonous routine of trench warfare” (Letters and Diary ). In one of his wartime sonnets, one in which he, atypically, imagines life after the war, he sees a future in which . . . the great cities of the world shall yet Be golden frames for me in which to set New masterpieces of more rare romance.

(Poems )

Romance promises to restore to life the spirituality lost during three hundred years of “sophistication,” three hundred years that correspond roughly to the era of capitalist modernity.

Seeger’s medievalism thus differs from British and German medievalism as analyzed by Stefan Goebel. Goebel emphasizes the “assertions of continuity” with “a remote yet meaningful past” (Great War and Medieval Memory , ) in war memorials. While he acknowledges the attempt to maintain a sense of continuity in war memorials, Samuel Hynes (War Imagined) emphasizes a more widespread sense of discontinuity in his survey of English culture and the war from  to . This discontinuity was occasioned by the war. But unlike Seeger’s, the discontinuity Hynes perceives was more comprehensive: the war put the lie to much of the past, including Seeger’s beloved romance.


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

Between  and , Seeger looked to the war to usher in the revived romanticism he imagines in the “Faust-motive” essay, a romanticism whose values opposed the “materialism” and “deadening sophistication” of modernity. But as may be gleaned even in the brief quotation in which he refers to “the monotonous routine of trench warfare,” the war does not offer the prospect of this romanticism in any unproblematic way. If patrols and raids offer the “one breath of true romance,” then the norm of warfare experienced by Seeger and his comrades is that of “monotonous routine.” Seeger described this routine at some length in an earlier article for the Sun. Trench warfare, dominated by artillery, “is extremely modern, and for the artillerymen is doubtless very interesting, but for the poor common soldier it is anything but romantic” (Letters and Diary ). The war threatens to be another version of the very modernity that Seeger hopes to see ended by the storm that is the war. Indeed, trench warfare transforms soldiers into the very embodiments of monotonous routine: industrial workers. Seeger was not the only one to see war becoming like industry. In an interview with the New York Times about a year after Seeger published this in the Sun, Thomas Edison described his vision of an American military adapted to the new conditions of war: “the new soldier will not be a soldier but a machinist; he will not shed his blood but will perspire in the factory of death at the battle line.” Edison clearly approves of this development. Seeger seems to agree that war has taken on an industrial character, and writes that as afternoon shades into evening, and the artillery fire ends, “Everybody turns out like factory workmen at  o’clock” (Letters and Diary ). This most unspiritual experience of war emphasizes the basic material aspects of existence and threatens to provide the basis not of a new romanticism, but of a kind of ultra-materialism. Seeger allows this criticism of modern warfare to be voiced most powerfully by a Serbian comrade: It is ignoble, this style of warfare, he exclaims. Instead of bringing out all that is noble in a man, it brings out only his worse self – meanness and greed and ill temper. We are not, in fact, leading the lives of men at all, but that of animals, living in holes in the ground and only showing our heads outside to fight and to feed. (Letters and Diary )

So reduced is the existence of the soldier in trench warfare that “the matter of eating assumes an importance altogether amusing to one who gives it only very secondary consideration in time of peace” (). War, rather than rescuing life from the materialism of modernity, threatens to intensify modernity, lowering one even further from the spiritual.

Love and Arms and Song


At this point, Seeger withdraws from the negativity of his portrait of trench warfare and presents a more pleasing vision. Describing sentry duty, Seeger notes that “the sentinel has ample time for reflection. Alone under the stars, war in its cosmic rather than its moral aspect reveals itself to him” (Letters and Diary ). Joining the train of writers analyzed by Paul Fussell for whom the sight of the sky was freighted with meaning, Seeger is transported by the remote stars to the cosmic plane, away from the sordid materiality that surrounds him, and put in mind of the spiritual meaning of the war, which for him lies in participation in the elemental Strife of nature. In a transfer of focus we will also see performed in “The Aisne,” spiritual meaning overcomes material being, and war’s romance returns; rejoined to the timeless demands of Nature, war leads away from, rather than further into, modernity. Here Seeger shifts from the conditions in which he experiences warfare – conditions that render it disturbingly modern – and places it within what he understands to be a larger significance. By doing so, he shifts from the human world to the realm of Nature and elemental forces, skipping altogether the dimensions of the social and the political, through which human experience of Nature is mediated. Seeger thus reifies – out of a subjective necessity – the very realm of experience to which he resorts as an escape from the modern, material reality of the twentieth century. Having initially acknowledged the modern, unromantic nature of his war experience, he then places it within the context of an all-embracing and unmediated nature. This recontextualization makes possible the project imagined in the “Faust-motive” essay, that of a new romanticism that would revive the spiritual values of the medieval world.

Love and Arms and Song The nature and function of the medieval in Seeger’s poetry is most visible in the first sonnet from the “Last Poems” section of his Poems. Seeger wrote the entire section after the war began, and the war provides the topic of or a significant backdrop to all the poems in it. In the first of a series of sonnets, Seeger apostrophizes Sir Philip Sidney: Sidney, in whom the heyday of romance Came to its precious and most perfect flower, Whether you tourneyed with victorious lance Or brought sweet roundelays to Stella’s bower, I give myself some credit for the way I have kept clean of what enslaves and lowers,


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal Shunned the ideals of our present day And studied those that were esteemed in yours; For, turning from the mob that buys Success By sacrificing all Life’s better part, Down the free roads of human happiness I frolicked, poor of purse but light of heart, And lived in strict devotion all along To my three idols – Love and Arms and Song.

(Poems )

The object of this address, Sidney, functions as the ideal of manhood, the “perfect flower” of the “heyday of romance.” Sidney, of course, was not really a man of the medieval era, but Seeger betrays a similarity with his old college roommate, T. S. Eliot. Writing about Eliot, Michael Alexander comments that his “English history is not medieval, but is taken from the period between the executions of Mary Queen of Scots and those of Laud and Charles I. The Caroline spirituality ended by the Cromwellian reformation figures as a little Middle Age of Anglicanism” (). But Mark Girouard notes that, “In England, mediaeval chivalry had an Indian summer during the reign of Elizabeth – a summer which lasted on into the early seventeenth century” (Girouard ). When Eliot and Seeger use this “little Middle Age” as a repository of antimodern values, they draw upon elements actually present in Elizabethan culture although seemingly at variance with important developments in Tudor society (Anderson –). Seeger, and Eliot, would have seen Sidney’s likeness regularly as an undergraduate, pictured in stained glass windows in Harvard’s Memorial Hall. Sidney is portrayed three times in these windows. The upper portion of window number five in what is now called Annenberg Hall (Figure .) shows Sidney holding in his left hand a piece of paper containing lines from the Old Arcadia, with a sword at his hip: poet and warrior. The lower portion represents the scene related by Sidney’s friend and first biographer, Fulke Greville, in which Sidney, wounded – somewhat ironically given his function for Seeger – by a bullet at the Battle of Zutphen, gives his water bottle to a fellow casualty with the words, “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine” (). The window displays Sidney as selfless and valiant. Sidney appears again in the south transept window in another representation of

Mary was executed February , , while Sidney, who died October , , was interred in the old St. Paul’s on February , . Laud was beheaded January , , and Charles I followed him on January , .

Love and Arms and Song


Figure .. Sidney and Epaminondas, stained glass window by Daniel Cottier. Memorial Hall, Harvard University. Photo Credit: Stephen Sylvester and Yosi A.R-Pozeilov. Used by permission of the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

the same scene. Here the scene functions somewhat differently than does the one in Annenberg Hall; in the south transept, “general and ideal” figures of “the Soldier (or Knight) and Scholar” flank “concrete examples of virtues which should characterize these ideals” (Hammond ). In the first case, the wounded Sidney plays out a characteristic scene from his life. In the second, he provides a concrete illustration of right behavior on the part of the abstract soldier. In the Shakespearean “Sonnet I,” Seeger asserts that Sidney embodies values alien to capitalist modernity. The first stanza celebrates Sidney, noting in particular his martial prowess, his ostensible devotion to Penelope Devereux, and his poetic skill, while the second stanza presents the speaker as a student of Sidney. Stanzas three and four become slightly more concrete, and we see what it means to pattern oneself on Sidney, or on the ideals esteemed in his day, which entails rejecting material success and wealth in favor of devotion to “Love and Arms and Song.” By patterning himself along the same lines as those he imagines to have defined Sidney, shunning “the ideals of our present day,” the speaker positions himself as non-contemporaneous with modern, commercial society.


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

Seeger, then, based his life and his poetry on a medievalism that led him to idealize the past, yet also, in an irony of which he seems unaware, led him to idealize the present in the form of the First World War. He saw the war as the proper site for the practice of his devotion to “Arms and Song,” and it lent special poignancy to “Love.” Seeger sought in the imagined past, of which Sidney is the “most perfect flower,” an alternative to the world of industrial capitalist modernity. In this, Seeger follows in the footsteps of the late nineteenth-century antimodern militarism. This antimodern militarism typically favored medievalist forms of expression, with the medieval knight being the preferred means for expressing the ideal of martial virtue. According to Lears, two versions of the knight were dominant in late Victorian America: the Galahad figure and the Saxon (). The Galahad figure emphasizes purity and the Saxon a kind of ferocious vitality, but Seeger’s Sidney provides an attractive alternative because his status as a poet allowed Seeger to synthesize the martial ideal with the religion of beauty, a variant of nineteenth-century medievalism. Unlike Galahad or the Saxon, Sidney was a lover, a fighter, and a singer: the quintessence of Romance. The list with which Seeger concludes this sonnet, “Love and Arms and Song,” provides the topics of the sonnet sequence which the apostrophe to Sidney initiates. Love provides the topic for eight of these sonnets, with the topic turned in various ways by Seeger. A general pattern of increasing urgency and suffering loosely organizes them. Sonnet III, the first of the love poems, avoids the reversal of seasonal symbolism that we will see in “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” and, following convention, associates Love with spring: Why should you be astonished that my heart, Plunged for so long in darkness and in dearth, Should be revived by you, and stir and start As by warm April now, reviving Earth? I am the field of undulating grass And you the gentle perfumed breath of Spring, And all my lyric being, when you pass, Is bowed and filled with sudden murmuring. ()

While the poem avoids the snares that might be encountered by steering toward the seasonal associations encountered in “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” in which spring is associated with death, it also ends in a tentative manner that prepares the way for the less happy poems to follow:


Love and Arms and Song I asked you nothing and expected less, But, with that deep, impassioned tenderness Of one approaching what he most adores, I only wished to lose a little space All thought of my own life, and in its place To live and dream and have my joy in yours.

(Poems )

“I asked you nothing”: Seeger withholds the response, thus emphasizing not any narrative the poem might generate, but rather that which is properly lyrical in it, its mood. The fourth sonnet approaches Love in the manner familiar from the religion of beauty. In what might also serve as a reasonably accurate summary of Seeger’s work, at least as Seeger saw it, the religion of beauty is described as “a protest against the religion of Self, of Materialism, and of Worldly Advancement” (Galloway vii). This religion of beauty appears throughout Seeger’s poetry and, like the earlier form of medievalism from which it descends, Seeger’s version of the religion of beauty presents the singleness of its obsession as an alternative to the practical daily-mindedness of commercial society. Compared to the religion of beauty, religion as such pales, becoming part of the routinized world, like that of the world of the office and shop, against which the speaker rebels. The sonnet ends: Enchanting girl, my faith is not a thing By futile prayers and vapid psalm-singing To vent in crowded nave and public pew. My creed is simple: that the world is fair, And beauty the best thing to worship there, And I confess it by adoring you. (Poems )

Love and song meet at this point: the object of love is the “enchanting girl,” who provides the subject of the poem, which as art is also a form of the beautiful. Seeger’s immersion in beauty sets up a model of human subjectivity and a set of values that seem to provide an alternative to those dominant in industrial capitalist society. After the fourth, the sonnets become increasingly, overtly, rhetorical. The speaker of “Sonnet V” pleads with his beloved: Oh, be my gentle love a little while! Walk with me sometimes. Let me see you smile.

(Poems )


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

Seeger uses the first couplet in his unusual rhyme scheme (ababcdcdeefggf ) effectively to contain the poem’s plea. The final quatrain explains the value of her favor in the context of the war: Watching some night under a wintry sky, Before the charge, or on the bed of pain, These blessed memories shall revive again And be a power to cheer and fortify.

(Poems )

The basic rhetorical ploy here, to soften the resistance of the addressee by invoking the proximity of suffering and death for the speaker, characterizes also sonnets VI and VII, although by VII the rhetoric is more oblique as the speaker accepts and even embraces defeat in love, since it makes easier severing the bonds with life that his return to the front may necessitate: There have been times when I could storm and plead, But you shall never hear me supplicate. These long months that have magnified my need Have made my asking less importunate, For now small favors seem to me so great That not the courteous lovers of old time Were more content to rule themselves and wait, Easing desire with discourse and sweet rhyme. Nay, be capricious, willful; have no fear To wound me with unkindness done or said, Lest mutual devotion make too dear My life that hangs by a so slender thread, And happy love unnerve me before May For that stern part that I have yet to play.

(Poems )

A variant form of the Shakespearean sonnet (ababbcbcdedeff ), the poem features an octave that presents the change in the speaker from impetuous and demanding to patient and grateful. The sestet, however, which invites the beloved to abuse him, reveals that while he may not “storm and plead” or “supplicate,” he has not foregone persuasion. The shift to this oblique approach, while it has not utterly abandoned hope of success in romance, initiates a sequence of three poems in which the speaker has done so, ultimately abusing love. Of these three the last, “Sonnet X,” seems the least rhetorically contrived performance and the one most deeply embedded in Seeger’s general worldview.

Love and Arms and Song


I have sought Happiness, but it has been A lovely rainbow, baffling all pursuit, And tasted Pleasure, but it was a fruit More fair of outward hue than sweet within. Renouncing both, a flake in the ferment Of battling hosts that conquer or recoil, There only, chastened by fatigue and toil, I knew what came the nearest to content. For there at least my troubled flesh was free From the gadfly Desire that plagued it so; Discord and Strife were what I used to know, Heartaches, deception, murderous jealousy; By War transported far from all of these, Amid the clash of arms I was at peace.

(Poems )

Coming at the end of the series of sonnets devoted to love, this poem bids love farewell in terms derived from Seeger’s Empedoclean philosophy: if the world as experienced may be divided into Love and Strife, the poem ironically and paradoxically reverses values so that Love provides the truest experience of Strife, while Strife – in the form of war – provides a refuge from the “heartaches, deceptions, murderous jealousy” that characterize the pursuit of pleasure and happiness. Not only does this poem present its contents in the characteristic language of Strife and Discord, it also presents clearly the nature of Seeger’s asceticism. After a series of poems dedicated to love, Seeger concludes the sequence with two poems, one contrasting the men at the front with those who are not, and the other an anticipation of life after the war. Sonnet XI, “On Returning to the Front after Leave,” returns to Seeger’s conception of war in its social aspect: soldiers are the elite, forming a community whose willingness to sacrifice themselves and whose commitment to one another contrast with the ruling individualism of peacetime existence. Apart sweet women (for whom Heaven be blessed), Comrades, you cannot think how thin and blue Look the leftovers of mankind that rest, Now that the cream has been skimmed off in you. War has its horrors, but has this of good – That its sure processes sort out and bind Brave hearts in one intrepid brotherhood And leave the shams and imbeciles behind. Now turn we joyful to the great attacks, Not only that we face in a fair field


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal Our valiant foe and all his deadly tools, But also that we turn disdainful backs On that poor world we scorn yet die to shield – That world of cowards, hypocrites, and fools.

(Poems )

A variant form, Sonnet XI combines the relaxed rhyming demands of the Shakespearean sonnet with the strong division between octave and sestet of the Petrarchan sonnet. After women are exempted from criticism in the first line, the remainder of the poem contrasts two orders of men: the “leftovers” who do not fight, and the “cream” who do, and to whom the sestet is dedicated. Praising war for separating these two orders of men occupies the second half of the octave. The characterization of the impact of war on those who fight, to “bind/Brave hearts in one intrepid brotherhood” is consistent with Seeger’s contrast elsewhere between the possessive individualism of ordinary existence and the higher community to which war calls one. Seeger celebrates a version of the “socialism of war” widespread early in the war, and in so doing makes clear once again that the values of his poetic world are profoundly anti-bourgeois. The sestet of “On Returning to the Front after Leave” combines an archaic conception of war with an ironic conception of its function: a split more dramatic than it may initially appear. Seeger and his comrades, “turn . . . joyful to the great attacks,” an attitude difficult to comprehend, and perhaps believe, especially given that the great mutinies in the French army were only about a year off. The “valiant foe” is met in a “fair field,” a conception of the war unusual in American poetry. Characterizations of the enemy tended toward the demonic because of the need to mobilize the American population to support a war against an enemy incapable of directly threatening the security of the American mainland, precluding the generosity to one’s opponent prescribed by the chivalric code. And the landscape produced by the war can hardly be described as a “fair field.” In this field the foe wields “deadly tools,” a surreptitious acknowledgment of the mechanized nature of modern warfare, perhaps, but in language that actually evades the real nature of these “tools,” whether machines or chemical compounds, as products of the second industrial revolution. Such language is another example of the high diction analyzed by Paul Fussell and by Ted Bogacz, whose definition of it as “elevated language . . . not rooted in observed reality” that “could all too easily be used by a writer to ignore or obfuscate . . . experiences” () seems particularly apt in this case. Yet while Seeger’s language certainly ignores and obfuscates, it also must be seen to emerge from Seeger’s program to realize a new, medievalist, romance.

“All Are Made One”


Still, a potentially discordant note enters: that the soldiers in facing their foes turn their backs on those at home uses a schematized vision of the western front to pass judgment on those who remain behind, thus setting up an irony, the ramifications of which Seeger does little to explore. The soldiers’ “disdainful backs” are turned, “On that poor world we scorn yet die to shield.” This contempt for those not at the front is the negative obverse of the “intrepid brotherhood” of those who fight, a sentiment found not only in Seeger, but also in the writing of veterans of the various countries involved in the war. The war inspired a widespread sense that it called people to a higher form of community and that in enabling community to trump the marketplace, the war transcended ordinary prewar existence. While this sense of solidarity was – at least at the start of hostilities – experienced throughout the societies engaged in the war, Seeger limits the experience to the soldiers who serve at the front, anticipating the ideology of the frontsoldat that emerged most famously – and disastrously – in Germany during the postwar period. However, the basic elements of this ideology were common to many of the armies (Leed, –, –). Yet Seeger himself does not develop or explore this irony, as indeed he cannot without abandoning his attempt to resurrect a naïve and wholehearted embrace of the ideal.

“All Are Made One” The martial ideal so central to Seeger’s poetry is clearly articulated in three essays written by people affiliated with Harvard University during Seeger’s time there, demonstrating that however idiosyncratic Seeger could be in some ways, he also shared elements of his fundamental sensibility with others. The Harvard Monthly, where Seeger served as an editor and published a number of poems (“Editors of The Harvard Monthly, ” ) published two essays about military training, Louis Grandgent’s “Camp Sketches” in and Richard Douglas’s “A Rookie in the War Game” in . Like Seeger, Grandgent presents military experience as a dramatic break from the civilian norm, “ . . . in lively, romantic, strenuous qualities no game surpasses the game of war . . . the isolated nature of military training binds the participants together and lends to their life a peculiar charm” (). Grandgent’s list of the qualities that distinguish “the game of war” is significant: “lively,” not dull; “romantic,” not humdrum; “strenuous,” not lethargic, a list to which Seeger would no doubt assent, despite his experience of monotony in the trenches. Beyond this, Grandgent and Seeger share the conception of “the game of war,” although Grandgent


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

experienced war literally as a game, while the game-like quality of war in Seeger emerges from his sensibility, not from the war itself. As will Douglas and Ralph Barton Perry, Grandgent emphasizes the democratic nature of military experience: it brings together a cross-section of American society: They are of all kinds, – white and black, regulars and militia, infantry and cavalry, artillery and engineers; and whether they hail from Virginia or northern New York, these are all in the same service as yourself. Some come from the mass of factory hands, some from farms, some are doctors and lawyers in fashionable organizations, some have been tramps; but all are made one by the uniform of the American soldier. ()

Military service becomes a way of reestablishing the organic community that has disintegrated under the pressures of modernity. Striking a note that will be repeated in countless poems written during the war, Grandgent presents regional and class differences as dissolved by the unifying force of “the uniform of the American soldier.” In Douglas, also, military experience levels in a way that does not challenge social hierarchy, even as it temporarily erases it. A corporal “bosses a gang of former lawyers, doctors, and professional men, now doing dago-work for the good of the service” (). David Kennedy comments that advocates of universal military training “seemed . . . to offer military service not as a means to achieve equality, but as a substitute for it” (). The community of the battalion makes these men willing to do “dago-work” and thus it levels the social hierarchy within it; yet the work remains “dago-work.” Also emphasizing the commonality of military experience is Harvard philosophy professor Ralph Barton Perry, who published “Impressions of a Plattsburg Recruit” in The New Republic. The Plattsburg military training camp that Perry attended resulted from a movement to provide military training to American men in a format similar to that of a summer camp. Like his fellow Plattsburg recruits Perry was a civilian. Yet Perry, and apparently his fellow “recruits,” felt the same sense of unity as that to which Douglas and Grandgent, who trained with the National Guard, attest: Soldierly experiences are common experiences, and are hallowed by that fact . . . To walk is one thing, to march, albeit with sore feet and aching back, is another and more triumphant. It is “Hail! Hail! The gang’s all here,” or “Glorious! Glorious! one keg of beer for the four of us” – it matters not what the words signify, provided they have a rhythmic swing and impart a choral sense of collective unity. Special privilege and personal fastidiousness, all that marks one individual off from the rest in taste or good fortune, seeks to hide itself. Instead there is the common uniform. ()

“All Are Made One”


Apparently, the “socialism of war” does not absolutely require war, or even membership in an officially organized military unit. Training for war suffices to eliminate those marks of distinction that in other contexts are not hidden, but rather displayed. Again, community and commonality are achieved through the mechanism of military training and experienced within a hierarchical community imagined as organic. Military experience generally, and not just war, appeared to provide “a means of transcending social and economic contradictions” (Leed ). But this supposed transcendence was based firmly on those selfsame contradictions. The martial ideal as embraced by the Harvard men – Grangent, Douglas, Perry, and Seeger – offered an experience of community not readily available to men who, despite their privileges, still found themselves competing against one another in the world of “[g]etting and spending” with which, Wordsworth famously tells us, “we lay waste our powers” (). It also offered these writers community with those below them in society, though without in any way affecting the class hierarchy that was occasionally and temporarily overridden by the hierarchy of rank. Thus, the martial ideal offered, or seemed to offer, an alternative to those elements in bourgeois society destructive of community. At the same time, by embracing suffering, the martial ideal contrasted itself with the unheroic nature of bourgeois existence, while shunning the life of ease opened the way to a type of asceticism. In the case of Seeger, this asceticism complements rather than contradicts hedonism: both asceticism and hedonism offer intense experience. Gemeinshaft and powerful personal experience, a heady combination for Seeger and, apparently, for many others. Seeger emphasizes the personal, not the social, value of martial ideals and experience. However, Alan’s older brother Charles believed that the Seeger children were raised within a clear set of social values. He considered his and Alan’s father the “snobbest of the snobs” (Pescatello ) and summarized his sociopolitical outlook: Seventy percent of the human race was fit only to be governed; another twenty percent was intelligent enough to act under direction; the remaining ten percent was constituted by the competent who had the discipline, the sense of moral duty and physical ability to give that direction for keeping the remaining seventy from mere savagery and anarchy. It was taken for granted that we children inherited the qualifications and duties of membership in this ten percent. (Pescatello)

Charles felt that it took enormous effort to overcome “the ‘anti-lower class’ attitude that he had imbibed from his father and the rest of the Seeger clan” (). Raised in the same environment as his brother, Alan was


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

exposed to the same attitude. While Charles struggled against it, the role of “the élite” in his poetry suggests that Alan did not, or rather that he transformed the social elite of his father into a warrior elite. The attributes required of the “ten percent,” “discipline, the sense of moral duty, and physical ability,” demonstrate how easily Seeger would have associated the martial, asceticism, and elitism. For Seeger, military service calls to and creates a class of supermen, a term he uses in the letter to his sister in which he recalls his former dedication to Learning. He refers to “all those who, in their passion to live fully, are the supermen, the élite of humanity” (Letters and Diary –). In “The Hosts,” Seeger celebrates these supermen: These are the men that have taken vows, These are the hardy, the flower, the élite, – These are the men that are moved no more By the will to traffic and grasp and store And ring with pleasure and wealth and love The circles that self is the center of; But they are moved by the powers that force The sea for ever to ebb and rise, That hold Arcturus in his course, And marshal at noon in tropic skies The clouds that tower on some snow-capped chain And drift out over the peopled plain. They are big with the beauty of cosmic things.

(Poems )

War destroys the economic rationality and egoistic calculation that the ideologues of capitalism elevate as the greatest of all virtues. In so doing, war returns men to the world from which they have been sundered, allowing the combatants to reorient themselves in line with the elemental forces of nature. By doing so, they become fertile, pregnant in fact, “big with the beauty of cosmic things,” ministers not of death and destruction, but of life and beauty because war provides relief from modern values and habits of life. In “The Aisne (–)” he writes, . . . that high fellowship was ours then . . . With those who, championing another’s good, . . . More than dull Peace or its poor votaries could, Taught us the dignity of being men.

(Poems )

Heinz Eulau mentions Seeger as a member of the Harvard Socialist Club (). Otherwise, nothing suggests that Seeger had any interest in socialism.

“There Was Only an Industrial World”


“High fellowship” and “championing another’s good” are not values of the competitive marketplace, but rather essential values of chivalry, promoted in Sir Walter Scott, Kenhelm Digby, and the literature of the English public school (Girouard). As with Seeger’s attitude toward warfare generally, his transcendence of self, accomplished through warfare, is mediated by the transformative power of a medievalist imagination.

“There Was Only an Industrial World” Seeger imagines military experience to provide an escape from and an alternative to the alienating individualism of modernity; in doing so it provides a means by which to return to the ideals of Sir Philip Sidney and “the heyday of romance.” Yet the kind of military experience Seeger underwent was decidedly modern. Leed argues that the First World War destroyed the illusion that military experience lies apart from ordinary modern experience: “In war combatants learned there was only an industrial world, the reality of which defined them much more in war than it had in peace. In the trenches men learned that mechanized destruction and industrial production were mirror images of each other” (). Some combatants learned this. Not Alan Seeger. Indeed, the lesson that Leed asserts was taught to men in the trenches appears to have been learned less frequently than he suggests, at least by American soldiers. Jonathan Ebel argues that the industrialized violence of the Western front prompted many American soldiers and war workers to make sense of their experience in religious, predominantly Christian, terms (–). This Christian theologizing of the war finds a significant point of contact with Seeger’s poetic imagination in the figure of the crusader, which sanctifies military violence by endowing it with Christian moral purpose. Part of the larger pattern of medievalism, as we have already seen in Chapter , the crusader appears throughout American literature and culture during  and . The poster for the movie Pershing’s Crusaders (Figure .) provides a sense both of this pervasiveness and of the function served by medievalist discourse and iconography. The visual logic of the poster is obvious enough: the American Expeditionary Force led by General Pershing represents a modern version of the crusaders of the Middle Ages. The crusaders are understood, as they must be for the logic 

On the pervasiveness of the Crusades and crusading in American First World War discourse generally, see Ebel, –. Goebel discuses crusading in British culture (– and –), as does Elizabeth Siberry, New Crusaders, –.


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

Figure .. Student and Soldier, stained glass window by Francis Millet. Memorial Hall, Harvard University. Photo credit: Stephen Sylvester and Yosi A.R-Pozeilov. Used by permission of the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

to be effective, as unproblematic moral agents: the Crusades were untainted by involvement with the political and the economic, and so too by extension are their modern counterparts. The whiteness of the crusaders’ robes and horses expressed visually this purity. Medievalism did not typically manifest itself in terms of the Crusades in Seeger. Yet he would have been exposed to their iconography as an undergraduate at Harvard. As was Sidney, both abstract and concrete crusaders were represented in the stained glass of Memorial Hall. The upper portion of window number thirteen depicts an abstract soldier, arrayed as a crusader. The lower portion depicts the crusader charging on his steed (Figure .). Window number twelve depicts a specific crusader, Godfrey of Bouillon (Figure .). Seeger’s medievalism was thus nurtured and reinforced by the culture around him, even as medievalism seemed to provide an alternative to the values dominant in the society. Alisa Miller has argued that Seeger’s life and writing “supplemented the rhetoric established by the propaganda, official and unofficial, being produced by the Entente nations as well as by interested individuals and groups in the United States” (). The full truth of this

“There Was Only an Industrial World”


Figure .. Godfrey of Bouillon, on right. Bernard and Godefroy, stained glass window by Edward Sperry. Memorial Hall, Harvard University. Photo credit: Stephen Sylvester and Yosi A.R-Pozeilov. Used by permission of the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

emerges when one examines the imaginative framework of Seeger’s writing, especially medievalism and the values associated with it. At the same time, Seeger embraced a version of the medieval different from that most commonly found in American First World War discourse. Whereas one frequently finds the medieval understood in terms of the dominance of Christianity, Seeger’s is an aristocratic version of the medieval. For Seeger the appeal of the medieval lies in its offering a type selfhood not found in capitalist society, a warrior-aristocratic self that contrasts sharply with the bourgeois self. Given that Seeger reacted against the cultural effects of industrial capitalism by embracing medievalism and the martial ideal, his death from wounds received in combat becomes deeply ironic. Seeger died in a minor operation as part of French support for the British in the Battle of the Somme. Thus, Seeger was one of around , French casualties killed or wounded, or one of over , Allied casualties, or around . million total casualties killed or wounded in the battle between July  and November ,  (Keegan, First World War –). Seeger died as a result of machine gun fire, not only a common cause of death in the war, but one


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

that reveals the modern and industrial character of the warfare experienced by soldiers like Seeger. In The Face of Battle, John Keegan characterizes the machine gun as, a machine, and one of a quite advanced type, similar in some respects to a high-precision lathe, in others to an automatic press. Like a lathe, it requires to be set up, so that it will operate within desired and predetermined limits; this was done on the Maxim gun, common to all armies of –, by adjusting the angle of the barrel relative to its fixed firing platform, and tightening or loosening its traversing screw. Then, like an automatic press, it would, when actuated by a simple trigger, begin and continue to perform its functions with the minimum of human attention, supplying its own power and only requiring a steady supply of raw material and a little routine maintenance to operate throughout a working shift. The machine gunner is best thought of, in short, as a sort of machineminder. (Keegan, Face )

Seeger, as did many others, died as the result of someone’s routinized labor, in which the machine technology characteristic of the second industrial revolution was applied to the business of killing people. Furthermore, the action in which Seeger was killed, the Somme offensive, was financed by the House of Morgan, since French and British finances were in shambles after two years of expensive, industrialized warfare. Seeger’s fatal romantic adventure was bankrolled by Wall Street (Tooze ). Obviously, Seeger’s perception of himself and what he was engaged in on that day in  are remote from war as Keegan, Leed, and others describe it and equally remote from the sordid financial reality. In this, Seeger is simultaneously idiosyncratic and typical. He is idiosyncratic precisely in the way indicated by the comment of an acquaintance: “Alan was consistently medieval” (quoted in Howe, Memoirs of the Harvard Dead ). Seeger’s medievalism was more thoroughgoing than was common, and to this extent idiosyncratic. Seeger did not merely transmit a received anachronistic culture. He developed his anachronism precisely as a counter to capitalist modernity and its attendant values and culture. Fussell emphasizes the persistence of “the old rhetoric” () and Bogacz argues that this persistence was not a matter of simple inertia but rather “a defense and barrier against a threatening modern world” (). Seeger’s medievalism, part of the more general anachronism examined briefly in Chapter , provided an ideological alternative to modernity, an alternative Seeger consciously and actively cultivated. While Seeger’s is an extreme case of the anachronistic imagination, it provides a sense of the imaginary alternative supplied by anachronism in less extreme cases.

“There Was Only an Industrial World”


This alternative should not be seen as altogether false. As Lears points out, the martial ideal “contains an admirable streak of honest stoicism” () necessary to confront the element of pain that life entails, but that the culture of consumption evades. In this way Seeger’s contrast between the elemental reality of his military experience and the distracting superficiality of ordinary existence contains a critical component. Yet the martial ideal and medievalism, with few exceptions, ultimately failed to pose any significant challenge to the culture of consumption, the second industrial revolution, or capitalist modernity more generally. In Seeger and in the broader war culture, medievalism, in particular, functioned as an alternative ideology in the sense developed by Raymond Williams, a set of meanings and values that differed from that of an enveloping industrial capitalist modernity (). But even Seeger’s actively and consciously constructed medievalism remains only alternative and not, in Williams’s terminology, oppositional. Indeed, insofar as the First World War occurred within, not against, capitalist modernity and is a part of its unfolding dynamic, medievalism was largely incorporated by the social forces it scorned, providing Seeger and others with vital self-deceptions that helped enable one of modernity’s greatest atrocities. For Seeger, fighting in the war and writing poems about it contrasted with modern existence, dominated by commercial values, distracted by the pursuit of the false and the trivial. Fighting, preferably for France perhaps, but often in his writing, simply fighting, offered an opportunity to be part of a fundamental animating principle of existence: Strife. As an elemental part of reality, war provides a means of access to experience that lies beyond “[g]etting and spending.” In “The Hosts,” the combatants are: Purged, with the life they left, of all That makes life paltry and mean and small, In their new dedication charged With something heightened, enriched, enlarged, That lends a light to their lusty brows And a song to the rhythm of their trampling feet.

(Poems )

As is typical in Seeger, and there will be more of this in “The Hosts,” the war revivifies those who fight, those who have broken with the routines of domestic life. War is profoundly antimodern in Seeger’s conception. It destroys the narrow economic rationality and egoistic calculation that the ideologues of capitalism identify as the very essence of human being. In so doing, war


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

returns men to the world from which they have been sundered. Again, Wordsworth springs to mind: Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! ()

That, of course is the ordinary run of things. But war allows the combatants to reorient themselves in line with the elemental forces of nature. Seeger demonstrates admirable consistency in “The Hosts”: he recognizes that by moving to the elemental he bypasses the level on which national distinctions amount to much. Thus, the poem celebrates all combatants, all those who reject the supposedly bourgeois values of domestic life, and who form a higher brotherhood: Comrades in arms there – friend or foe – That trod the perilous, toilsome trail Through a world of ruin and blood and woe In the years of great decision – hail! Friend or foe, it shall matter nought; This only matters, in fine: we fought.

(Poems )

Participation in the war becomes an end in itself, and the war becomes a sort of Valhalla for the living in which fighting is a self-justifying activity. A kind of sport, really, but one that promises to provide an alternative to routine existence, not a mere respite from it. Seeger goes on to project his own vision of his war experiences onto the mass of participants: For we were young and in love or strife Sought exultation and craved excess: To sound the wildest debauch in life We staked our youth and its loveliness.

(Poems )

Both Love and Strife offer the opportunity for “wildest debauch,” revealing the martial ideal to be as susceptible to decadence as love and beauty. This renders the politics of war insignificant, ultimately irrelevant: Let idlers argue the right and wrong And weigh what merit our causes had. Putting our faith in being strong – Above the level of good and bad – For us, we battled and burned and killed

“There Was Only an Industrial World”


Because evolving Nature willed, And it was our pride and boast to be The instruments of Destiny.

(Poems )

It is, of course, the place of supermen to be beyond good and evil, “Above the level of good and bad,” just as Nature knows no morality beyond necessity. But Seeger’s vision is ultimately liable to an alienation strikingly similar to that diagnosed by Ludwig Feuerbach: There was a stately drama writ By the hand that peopled the earth and air And set the stars in the infinite And made night gorgeous and morning fair, And all that had sense to reason knew That bloody drama must be gone through. Some sat and watched how the action veered – Waited, profited, trembled, cheered – We saw not clearly nor understood, But, yielding ourselves to the masterhand, Each in his part as best he could, We played it through as the author planned. (Poems –)

An unknowable “author” is responsible for the war, and the best and wisest thing to do is to submit to this “master hand.” Seeger’s apolitical vision of war becomes a kind of joyful submission in which the ailments to which the subject of capitalist modernity is liable: fragmentation, isolation, greed, are cured by the rigors of military service and the experience of war, both of which return right value to the world. For Seeger’s vision to make sense, the war must – against all merely sociological evidence – be imagined as being against modernity and not within it. “The Aisne (–)” offers a somewhat starker view, while also remaining within the conceptual framework one sees in “The Hosts” and throughout Seeger’s war poems. While the language of the poem is generally grim and vivid, Seeger displays greater restraint than is common for him, and this combination of elements makes “The Aisne” arguably Seeger’s most aesthetically successful performance. The unpleasantness and even the horror of the war is registered, if only to set up the transcendence the poem eventually presents as the war’s ultimate meaning. While Seeger continues to use archaic language and imagery, this mixes with a starker and what can only seem like a more realistic vocabulary. The opening stanzas record the first combat experience of Seeger’s Foreign Legion comrades:


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal We first saw fire on the tragic slopes Where the flood-tide of France’s early gain, Big with wrecked promise and abandoned hopes, Broke in a surf of blood along the Aisne. The charge her heroes left us, we assumed, What, dying, they reconquered, we preserved, In the chill trenches, harried, shelled, entombed, Winter came down on us, but no man swerved. (Poems )

The “wrecked promise and abandoned hope” registers the outcome of the First Battle of the Aisne: it stalled the counteroffensive of the Allies following the retreat of the Germans after the First Battle of the Marne. Seeger somewhat uncharacteristically places himself, as a part of his Foreign Legion unit, in a secondary position in relation to those who fought in the First Battle of the Aisne, taking up “the charge her heroes left us,” and preserving – important but less heroic – rather than reconquering. Preserving is relatively passive, and this in part accounts for Seeger’s language in the poem. Passivity was a requirement of trench warfare – which developed spontaneously along the Aisne as the Germans and the Allies proved incapable of defeating one another, and as the murderous nature of maneuver warfare in the era of the machine gun and the magazine rifle became increasingly evident in the early days of the war (Keegan, First World War –). Seeger reveals his dismay at this stationary warfare in his word choice: “harried, shelled, entombed.” Also, Seeger presents the war-ravaged landscape, plagued by miserable winter weather, as dismal: In rain, and fog that on the withered hill Froze before dawn, the lurking foe drew down; Or light snows fell that made forlorner still The ravaged country and the ruined town. ()

Seeger’s dismay thus far in the poem mirrors that found in his letter to the New York Sun. After describing trench warfare as interesting for artillerymen, Seeger describes the lot of the common soldier: His role is simply to dig himself a hole in the ground and to keep hidden in it as tightly as possible. Continually under the fire of the opposing batteries, he is yet never allowed to get a glimpse of the enemy. Exposed to all the dangers of war, but with none of its enthusiasms or splendid élan, he is condemned to sit like an animal in its burrow and hear the shells whistle over his head and take their little daily toll from his comrades. (Letters and Diary )

“There Was Only an Industrial World”


Perhaps most interesting are Seeger’s terms of contrast: modern vs. romantic, profoundly value-laden terms for Seeger. Trench warfare is modern: passive, mechanized, without spirit. It breeds “ill temper and disputes.” As a result, “the soldier’s life comes to mean to him simply the test of the most misery that the human organism can support” (). The sheer grinding unpleasantness of life at the front threatens to dampen even Seeger’s enthusiasm. However, the sky clears, literally. Immediately after complaining that . . . light snows fell that made forlorner still The ravaged country and the ruined town,

Seeger steers the poem in a very different direction: Or the long clouds would end. Intensely fair, The winter constellations blazing forth – Perseus, the Twins, Orion, the Great Bear – Gleamed on our bayonets pointing to the north. And the lone sentinel would start and soar On wings of strong emotion as he knew That kinship with the stars that only War Is great enough to lift man’s spirit to. (–)

The movement here is identical to that in “The Hosts”: War, as a prime example of the cosmic principle of Strife, unites Man with the elemental forces. Just as in “The Aisne,” the unromantic nature of the war disappears against this backdrop in his letter to the Sun, Standing facing [the enemy’s trenches] from his ramparts the sentinel has ample time for reflection. Alone under the stars, war in its cosmic rather than its moral aspect reveals itself to him. Regarded from this more abstract plane the question of right and wrong disappears. Peoples war because strife is the law of nature and force the ultimate arbitrament among humanity no less than in the rest of the universe. He is on the side he is fighting for, not in the last analysis from ethical motives at all, but because destiny has set him in such a constellation. The sense of his responsibility is strong upon him. Playing a part in the life of nations he is taking part in the largest movement his planet allows him. He thrills with the sense of filling an appointed necessary place in the conflict of hosts, and facing the enemy’s crest above which the Great Bear wheels upward to the zenith, he feels, with a sublimity of enthusiasm that he has never before known, a kind of companionship with the stars! (Poems )


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

Rather than the war’s absurdity, when Seeger moves away from the immediacy of the conflict he instead sees the fundamental rightness of it, its place in what he takes to be the grand scheme of things. Again, we see that Seeger’s sensibility oscillates between the poles of purely individual experience and the non-human, Nature, with little or no sense of the meditating role of human institutions between these poles. This provides the underpinning of Seeger’s allegorizing tendency, similar to that analyzed by George Lukács in the “The Ideology of Modernism.” At precisely the same point at which Seeger makes this shift in the way in which the war is regarded, the aesthetic register shifts also, returning to the idealizing: the starlight “Gleamed on our bayonets pointing to the north.” The image joins the cosmic and elemental with the individual equipage of war; significantly the stars gleam on the bayonets, bladed weapons wielded by individual soldiers and permitting the medievalist fantasy denied in the previous stanza where the soldiers are “harried, shelled, entombed.” In this transcendent moment, the solidarity of comrades trumps “dull Peace,” the realm of “soft things.” The men of “The Aisne” inhabit the terrain of Strife,”the terrible and stern.” Rather than ending on this transcendent note, with the emphasis falling on “the majesty of Strife,” Seeger concludes in a stoical mode unusual for him, although this stoicism is modified by the elevated, cosmic setting, and retains the sense of meaningfulness bestowed by the broader context previously established: There where we faced under those frowning heights The blast that maims, the hurricane that kills; There where the watchlights on the winter hills Flickered like balefire through inclement nights; There where, firm links in the unyielding chain, Where fell the long-planned blow and fell in vain – Hearts worthy of the honor and the trial, We helped to hold the lines along the Aisne. (Poems )

As we will see, alongside the “I” and the personified “Death” of Seeger’s most famous poem, “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” the humility and ordinariness of “We helped to hold the lines” is striking, and, to a degree at least, counterbalances the idealizing language and imagery found elsewhere in the poem. While the masculine stoicism, the hostility to the “poor votaries” of “dull Peace,” and the seeming preference in the poem for the “terrible and

“I Have a Rendezvous with Death”


stern” over “soft things,” might appear to warrant an understanding of this poem primarily in terms of gender, focusing on Seeger’s preference for masculine as opposed to feminine values and qualities, such a focus must not overlook the context in which the preference exerts itself. First, Seeger does not actually disdain the “soft things”: After soft things, the terrible and stern, After sweet love, the majesty of Strife

(my emphasis, Poems )

“Sweet love” and “Strife” are both elements of the Empedoclean cosmos in which Seeger’s drama plays out. Fullness of life, as Seeger sees it, requires the experience of both.

“I Have a Rendezvous with Death” In the last stanza of his most popular poem – “as important in the American war experience as Brooke’s ‘The Soldier’ was in the English experience” (Quinn ) – “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” Seeger concedes, God knows ‘twere better to be deep Pillowed in silk and scented down, Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep, Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath, Where hushed awakenings are dear.

Yet he still prefers the martial to the sensual and remains faithful to it: But I’ve a rendezvous with Death At midnight in some flaming town, When Spring trips north again this year, And I to my pledged word am true, I shall not fail that rendezvous.

(Poems )

While in all of his wartime poems Seeger prefers the martial to the sensual, he does not deny or excoriate the pleasures of the flesh. Rather, these two exist in a necessary tension: for this reason, the speaker’s preference in the poem for the martial may be expressed in the language of romance. He has a “rendezvous” with Death, just as he might with his beloved, and to his “pledged word” he is “true,” again using the conventional language of love. This ambivalent reliance on the language of love is consistent with the general form of the poem. As elsewhere, Seeger writes in closed form. Here


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

he uses a regular iambic tetrameter. And while he employs no set stanza form, the stanzas have a kind of regularity because of the way in which they increase in length: from six to eight to ten lines. Similarly, Seeger employs end rhyme, though not in any conventional pattern. In a poetic era that for some critics and historians is nearly defined by experiments in open form, Seeger – like many others now even more obscure than he – operated within a reasonably loose version of closed form decisively influenced by Romanticism. This freedom within the confines of tradition is best seen in his reversal of the symbolic import of the seasons, whereby spring, normally associated with the restoration of life, becomes the occasion for death. This reversal appears also in the opening line of a much better-remembered poem, written by Seeger’s former college roommate: “April is the cruelest month” (). Eliot reviewed Seeger’s Poems in The Egoist, of which he was an editor. But unlike Eliot’s reversal of conventional seasonal symbolism, Seeger’s is grounded in a firm fact of practical life: spring was the time when large-scale offensive operations became possible again. Thus, I have a rendezvous with Death At some disputed barricade, When Spring comes back with rustling shade And apple-blossoms fill the air – I have a rendezvous with Death When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

(Poems )

Seeger plays Death off of the traditional association of spring with life, and he contrasts the unpleasant – death – with the pleasant – “blue days and fair.” This reversal was much on Seeger’s mind, as demonstrated by “As a Soldier Thinks of War,” an essay published in the New Republic. It opens: The winter’s trials are about over. Already the larks are singing in the dawn that every week seems earlier, and whenever the cloudbanks roll away there is real warmth in the sunshine. The season of good weather that will bring great events and precipitate the action which all winter has been more or less in suspense will at the same time make the business of fighting harder to those of us in whom spring will wake other thoughts and other impulses. For war seemed perfectly proper when the fields were sere and nature 

Fussell writes, “The irony attaching to spring’s being the favorite time for launching offensives is still resonating four years after the war in the ironic pastoral of Eliot’s ‘April is the cruelest month’” (). This reversal likely comes to Eliot via his old roommate’s poem.

“I Have a Rendezvous with Death”


abounded in images of death. But the bursting shells that hitherto have only sent the crows clamoring out of the bare forests will seem a strange anomaly when they scatter the cherry blossoms that will soon cloud the hillsides here where our trenches run. ()

As in the poem, the reversal of the usual connotations of the arrival of spring is foremost, and this reversal carries with it some sense pain. And in both cases, the reversal, subjectively poignant, is based in sheer practical reality: as the weather improves large-scale military operations resume. The large-scale nature of these operations, however, is minimized in the poem, where Death is personified. Death takes the part played by the lover in Seeger’s prewar poetry in that it is Death that takes the active role, while the speaker is curiously passive given that not only is he the warrior-hero, a man of deeds, but also because the poem is so insistently “I-oriented.” This becomes clear particularly in the middle stanza: It may be he shall take my hand And lead me into his dark land And close my eyes and quench my breath – It may be I shall pass him still. I have a rendezvous with Death On some scarred slope of battered hill, When Spring comes round again this year And the first meadow-flowers appear. (Poems )

Romanticized and personified, Death is above all death individualized: “he” either shows for the rendezvous, or does not, like the lover appearing or failing to appear for the assignation. Should he appear, he will bestow his attention on the speaker as an individual: “It may be that he shall take my hand . . .” Seeger’s acknowledgment of the very real possibility of death denies the form death usually took, a denial that helped him and others avoid – in imagination – the reality of industrialized killing.

His correspondence also shows how aware Seeger was of the significance of the seasons for the soldier. In one passage in a series of “effusions,” as he calls them, Seeger writes, May has come, bringing with it the eternal rebirth of love and beauty to all the rest of Nature save Man. Bowered now in leaves and blossoms rise the rent walls and shattered peaked tile roofs of the ruined village. They are more or less visible emblems of the desolateness of our own lives in the midst of a world where everything speaks of forces quite the opposite to those of which we must continue to be the instruments. (War Journal ) Similar, although less elaborate, observations occur elsewhere in Seeger’s correspondence.


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

“The Emotion That Was Mine” For all his desire for experience, Seeger was seemingly impervious to it: nearly two years’ service in the Foreign Legion seems to have altered him very little. Clearly, Seeger knew the randomness of industrialized warfare: “A chance shell that came through the roof of a building where an artillery regiment was cantoned in our village one night cost more lives than were lost during their whole retreat from Belgium” (Letters and Diary –). And yet he retained his view of war as a field for the display of individual virtue: “Nothing but good can befall the soldier, so he plays his part well” (Letters and Diary ). Some explanation for this lies in Seeger’s aestheticization of experience, whereby experience becomes the occasion for sensation. This is seen nowhere more clearly than in his account of reading letters collected from a dead German soldier: They were postcards, dated the last of August and the first of September last. I wish I had taken them down textually so that you could share some of the emotion that was mine, contrasting with the poor shell of humanity up there in the grass these so living tokens of the ties that once bound him to earth. It was Austin Dobson’s “After Sedan” exactly. The cards, that were wonderfully preserved, were addressed to a certain “Muskatier Maier, bei Strasburg, the th Regiment of Bavarian Infantry,” if I remember correctly. They were headed “Mein Lieber Bruder,” “Lieber Sohn”- simple little family messages, reflecting a father’s pride, a sister’s love, a mother’s fears. Far away in some German village they have long since found his name in the lists of missing. But soon we will go out in the night and bury these bodies nearest our lines as a sanitary measure, and the manner of his death or the place of his nameless grave they will never know. (Letters and Diary )

Seeger misremembers the name of the Dobson poem, “Before Sedan,” which does indeed present a scenario similar to that experienced by Seeger: Here in this leafy place, Quiet he lies, Cold, with his sightless face Turned to the skies; ’Tis but another dead; All you can say is said. Carry his body hence, – Kings must have slaves; Kings climb to eminence Over men’s graves; So this man’s eye is dim; – Throw the earth over him.

“The Emotion That Was Mine”


What was the white you touched There by his side? Paper his hand had clutched Tight ere he died; – Message, or wish may be; – Smooth the folds out and see. Hardly the worst of us Here could have smiled! – Only the tremulous Words of a child; – Prattle that has for stops Just a few ruddy drops. Look. She is sad to miss, Morning and night, His – her dead father’s – kiss; Tries to be bright, Good to mamma, and sweet. That is all. “Marguerite.” (–)

When Seeger says that “it was Austin Dobson’s ‘After Sedan’ exactly,” he refers to the piquant emotion stimulated by the poem, not the analysis – slight enough in its own right – of the occasion for the soldier’s death: Kings must have slaves; Kings climb to eminence Over men’s graves

The overwhelming fact about Seeger’s account of this incident is indicated by his words, “some of the emotion that was mine.” Seeger’s anecdote provides the occasion for an emotional experience that is intransitive, going nowhere, an end in itself. In this it resembles emotion as found in the Genteel poets of the generation previous to Seeger’s own. For example, in Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s “The One White Rose,” A sorrowful woman said to me, “Come in and look on our child.” I saw an Angel at shut of day, And it never spoke – but smiled. I think of it in the city’s streets, I dream of it when I rest – The violet eyes, the waxen hands, And the one white rose on the breast! ()


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

The death of the child provides nothing but the occasion for strong emotion on the part of the speaking subject. Why did the child die? And was it really an “Angel”? Would it have to be for the woman to be sorrowful? And what about that “it”? If there is a real child as referent here, wouldn’t it be a “he” or a “she”? But the poem itself shows the irrelevance of these questions: “I think . . . I dream.” With Aldrich as with Seeger, an experience derives its significance, narcissistically, from its ability to agitate the emotions of the subject. As T. W. Adorno argues, this ought to be seen as not so much a failing on the part of the poet as individual – whether Aldrich or Seeger – as a symptom of the fate of the poetic in industrial capitalist society: it removed itself from the objective spirit, i.e. the living language, and replaced it with an antiquated one, a poetically created surrogate. The elevated, poeticizing, subjectively brutal aspect of subsequent weaker poetry is the price that had to be paid for the attempt to keep poetry objectively alive, undisfigured, untarnished. Its false glitter is the counterpart to the demythologized world from which it extricates itself. ()

But whereas withdrawal from the world takes poetic form in Aldrich’s “The One White Rose,” in Seeger withdrawal is nearly total: his poetry is part of the performance that is his life, which takes place imaginatively through models derived from the past – from a literary or mythologized past. By detaching the language and values of his poetry from his own present, Seeger attempts to create a meaningful and value-filled world for himself. Seeger was all of a piece, and his attempt to detach from the present held true across the board: in life as well as in song. But the subjective nature of this detachment opens it to the same irony that undermined the martial ideal as an alternative to the hegemonic culture generally. As Lears notes throughout No Place of Grace, while it conjures up values and duties that transcend the individual, it is based upon an individualist psychology that proved entirely adaptable to the emerging theraputic society and consumer capitalism that took off in the mid- to late twentieth century.

This emphasis on emotion also appears in Seeger’s correspondence. In an unpublished letter to his mother, dated September , , he writes, “Our lives pass in an atmosphere of heroism and glory, of tragedy and pathos. The soldier alone can know these heights and variety of emotion. I do not know how I will get along after this is all over, for I will see life from a plane unattainable and incomprehensible to those who have not gone through the same experience.”


Seeger as Public Poet

Seeger as Public Poet Two of the “Last Poems” differ from most of Seeger’s poetic works in that they are directed to the broad American public, and their rhetorical quality thus differs significantly from that of poems such as “Sonnet V.” However, the underlying conception of the war – and of war in general – is consistent with Seeger’s other poems. “A Message to America” begins by characterizing American virtues as being limited by the overly individualistic nature of the culture: You have the grit and the guts, I know; You are ready to answer blow for blow You are virile, combative, stubborn, hard, But your honor ends with your own back-yard; Each man intent on his private goal, You have no feeling for the whole; What singly none would tolerate You let unpunished hit the state, Unmindful that each man must share The stain he lets his country wear, And (what no traveler ignores) That her good name is often yours.

(Poems )

The diction of the poem departs radically from the norm in Seeger: it is not archaic, and at mid-level, rather than elevated. Seeger does not attempt to create a world elsewhere in this poem; he attempts to persuade – and attempts to persuade the mass of American opinion, not some coy damsel. Yet the complaint resembles that of Seeger’s other poems: “Each man intent on his private goal/You have no feeling for the whole” resonates with Seeger’s praise for those who have broken out of “The circles that self is the centre of” in “The Hosts.” But whereas the emphasis in poems such as “The Hosts” is to praise those who fight and die – and to condemn those who do not. In “A Message to America,” Seeger focuses not so much on elaborating his worldview as on convincing an imagined audience of American readers to shed their neutrality and the political figure most powerfully associated with it, Woodrow Wilson, in favor of becoming a party to the conflict and embracing the political figure most powerfully associated with intervention, Theodore Roosevelt. Thus, even though the fundamental worldview lying behind and articulated throughout the poem is largely consistent with Seeger’s other poems, the diction differs because of the poem’s intended audience and purpose.


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

The second and third stanzas combine a cosmopolitan disdain for provincial American racism with an attempt to incite Americans to a national pride they seem – to the speaker at least – reluctant to feel. This is fueled by an anxiety that the objects of American racism have retained the collective virtues that Americans have lost or forgotten: You are proud in the pride that feels its might; From your imaginary height Men of another race or hue Are men of a lesser breed to you: The neighbor at your southern gate You treat with the scorn that has bred his hate. To lend a spice to your disrespect You call him the “greaser.” But reflect! The greaser has spat on you more than once; He has handed you multiple affronts; He has robbed you, banished you, burned and killed; He has gone untrounced for the blood he spilled; He has jeering used for his bootblack’s rag The stars and stripes of the gringo’s flag; And you, in the depths of your easy-chair – What did you do, what did you care? Did you find the season too cold and damp To change the counter for the camp?

(Poems –)

This last line sets up the contrast typical of Seeger’s romantic anti-capitalism: “counter,” the realm of commercial, individualist values versus “camp,” the realm of martial, collective values. In this contrast, Seeger articulates the old republican ideology once so powerful in the United States. From this perspective, the virtues of the “camp” threatened to disappear amidst increasing prosperity, the progress so widely – but not universally, or perhaps more accurately, not unequivocally – celebrated in the United States. As Lears notes, “For centuries, republican moralists had insisted that Spartan virtue was a necessary antidote to the corruption bred by commercial ‘luxury’” (). While republican moralism constitutes only a fragment of Seeger’s general ideology, it provides a significant undercurrent to his sensibility. An updated version of republicanism for the twentieth century was available in the doctrine of “the strenuous life” and belief in the value of war offered by Theodore Roosevelt, an offer to which Seeger responded. He had written a poem, “At the Tomb of Napoleon Before the Elections in America – November, ,” supporting Roosevelt in the  election. As far as I know, the poem was unpublished until the Poems came out.


Seeger as Public Poet I stood beside his sepulchre whose fame, Hurled over Europe once on bolt and blast, Now glows far off as storm-clouds overpast Glow in the sunset flushed with glorious flame. Has Nature marred his mould? Can Art acclaim No hero now, no man with whom men side As with their hearts’ high needs personified? There are will say, One such our lips could name; Columbia gave him birth. Him Genius most Gifted to rule. Against the world’s great man Lift their low calumny and sneering cries The Pharisaic multitude, the host Of piddling slanderers whose little eyes Know not what greatness is and never can.

(Poems )

That Roosevelt’s significance for Seeger – nearly two years before the outbreak of the war – lies in his embrace of the martial ideal becomes obvious from the implied equivalence of Napoleon and Roosevelt. Furthermore, the obstacle to Roosevelt being acknowledged as a great man is the “Pharisaic multitude,” commercial society. In The Great Adventure: Present-Day Studies in American Nationalism Roosevelt writes, “honor, highest honor, to those who fearlessly face death for a good cause; no life is so honorable or so fruitful as such a death. Unless men are willing to fight and die for great ideals, including love of country, ideals will vanish, and the world will become one huge sty of materialism” (). The question here does not concern whether or not one should be willing to die, if necessary, for ideals, but rather the consequence of Roosevelt’s logic. Since among the great ideals is love of country, and men live in different countries, countries with differing national interests, then men motivated by the same great ideal will inevitably find themselves in deadly conflict. The inevitable result, death in war, is part of the moral hygiene that prevents the world from becoming “one huge sty of materialism.” This corresponds to Seeger’s belief in Strife as one of the animating principles of the universe and to his anti-commercial sensibility. It is thus unsurprising that, as we saw in Chapter , Seeger endorses the old Rough Rider again in “A Message to America”:


Roosevelt returned Seeger’s admiration “I had the greatest admiration for gallant, gifted young Seeger. He was one of the men for whom I grew to have a very real regard, he proved his truth by his endeavor; he was the dreamer of dreams whose deeds made his dreams nobly good.”


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal You have a leader who knows – the man Most fit to be called American, A prophet that once in generations Is given to point to erring nations Brighter ideals toward which to press And lead them out of the wilderness.

(Poems )

Roosevelt had lost to Woodrow Wilson in the  presidential election; this poem appears to have been written in  or , by which time Wilson’s policy of neutrality contrasted with Roosevelt’s vigorous endorsement of American intervention in the war on the side of the Allies. Seeger uses a phrase from the Gospels, “turn the other cheek” to characterize pejoratively Wilson’s policies. That Seeger rejects this precept in the course of praising and endorsing Roosevelt and rejecting and condemning Wilson reveals something about both Seeger and Roosevelt. Seeger rejects the liberal Protestantism that developed in nineteenth-century America. Similarly, although in a less extreme manner, Christianity was not central to Roosevelt’s vision. In this he differed from Wilson, the son of a Presbyterian minister. As Anders Stephanson puts it, “Christianity was for [Wilson] more than the cornerstone of civilization it appeared to be for Roosevelt; it was an always-present existential fact, pervading his language and dominating his outlook” (). Seeger could live with Roosevelt’s “cornerstone of civilization,” since Roosevelt’s vision of civilization retained a significant place for violence in the service of order and moral hygiene. But so long as Wilson’s Christianity seemed to be underwriting pacifism – soon enough it would become clear that it could also underwrite the use of military force – Seeger, consciously or not, would use the language of Christianity negatively against Wilson. Just as Roosevelt serves to rebuke Wilson, so in the next section does France serve to rebuke America: I have given my heart and hand To serve, in serving another land, Ideals kept bright that with you are dim; Here men can thrill to their country’s hymn, For the passion that wells in the Marseillaise Is the same that fires the French these days.

(Poems )

Characteristically, Seeger locates those values that he holds dear as originating in the past, a past to which France remains faithful, thus the animating spirit of the anthem of the French Revolution – Seeger does not appear to


Seeger as Public Poet

have considered the role of the Revolution in advancing that modernity he elsewhere reviles – still moves the French, and so that which is “bright” with the French is “dim” with Americans. Seeger concludes the poem by contrasting France and the United States again, now emphasizing France’s fidelity to the virtues of the camp and contrasting that with America’s fidelity to those of the counter: O friends, in your fortunate present ease (Yet faced by the self-same facts as these), If you would see how a race can soar That has no love, but no fear, of war, How each can turn from his private role That all may act as a perfect whole, How men can live up to the place they claim And a nation, jealous of its good name, Be true to its proud inheritance, Oh, look over here and learn from FRANCE!

(Poems )

Roosevelt, France, civic and military virtue are continuous terms, as are Wilson, America, commercialism, and materialism, although America may “learn from France,” and thus return from its current corruption to its former virtuous state. Here Seeger may be seen as part of a larger cultural/political bloc, one that will also include Edith Wharton, because Seeger’s anti-individualism is part of a wider reaction. For example, a thinker who would become important to Roosevelt, Herbert Croly, had written in The Promise of American Life, The existing concentration of wealth and financial power in the hands of a few irresponsible men is the inevitable outcome of the chaotic individualism of our political and economic organization, while at the same time it is inimical to democracy, because it tends to erect political abuses and social inequalities into a system. ()

Croly’s reaction to individualism takes a form radically different from that of Seeger, who is insistently personal, subjective, and aesthetic. Herein lies a paradox: Seeger’s anti-individualism retains significant narcissistic tendencies. Examined in terms of the larger cultural/political bloc of which it forms a part, Seeger’s anti-individualism of necessity concerns itself with the personal, just as Croly’s concerns itself with the political. But there is a second, perhaps less obvious element in “A Message to America” that places Seeger within the Roosevelt bloc: Seeger invites the United States to “look over here and learn from FRANCE!” This implies sufficient


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

continuity between France and the United States, between the Old World and the New that the United States can learn positive lessons from the Old World, rather than the negative lessons traditionally drawn by American exceptionalists. In the words of Anders Stepehnson, Roosevelt “was inclined . . . to see no ‘essential incompatibility’ between the United States and the other powers within Western civilization” (). Stephenson continues his analysis: “Young and vigorous, the American nation would perhaps one day become the New Rome, the latest or even last incarnation of the continuous movement of this civilization; it was not, as it would be for Wilson, a New Israel, a nation elect” (–). “A Message to America,” with its ideal “That all may act as a perfect whole” might well be seen as a poetic manifesto for Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism.” Like “A Message to America,” “Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France” is a public poem; however, as an ode, its manner of address is more formal than is that of “A Message to America.” Seeger exploits the openness of the ode, writing in irregularly rhymed lines of a very rough iambic pentameter in stanzas of irregular length. In the first stanza, Seeger places the subjects of his poem in relation to those who served in the Civil War – a comparison fairly common in American First World War poetry. Ay, it is fitting on this holiday, Commemorative of our soldier dead, When – with sweet flowers of our New England May Hiding the lichened stones by fifty years made gray – Their graves in every town are garlanded, That pious tribute should be given too To our intrepid few Obscurely fallen here beyond the seas. Those to preserve their country’s greatness died; But by the death of these Something that we can look upon with pride Has been achieved, nor wholly unreplied Can sneerers triumph in the charge they make That from a war where Freedom was at stake America withheld and, daunted, stood aside. (Poems )

Seeger constructs the stanza around a contrast between the graves of those who died in the Civil War, which had become a central part of American culture, located in America itself, and the graves of those who have died in France and not in America, and are thus not within the sight of the nation. Seeger asserts the meaningfulness of the deaths of the American volunteers


Seeger as Public Poet

by presenting the Great War as “a war where Freedom was at stake,” although this was not the view he typically offered in his private correspondence. While the United States in the form of its government has “stood aside,” the nation, in the form of these men, has not. The second stanza, like the first, exploits the coincidence of Decoration Day (the name by which what became Memorial Day was commonly known in Seeger’s time) and spring. Interestingly, in this public poem, Seeger does not perform the ironic reversal of seasonal associations that we see in “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” instead remaining within the conventional symbolism of the seasons. Seeger thus excludes even the relatively small element of irony that characterizes his more personal poetry when addressing the public: Be they remembered here with each reviving spring, Not only that in May, when life is loveliest, Around Neuville-Saint-Vaast and the disputed crest Of Vimy, they, superb, unfaltering, In that fine onslaught that no fire could halt, Parted impetuous to their first assault; But that they brought fresh hearts and springlike too To that high mission, and ’tis meet to strew With twigs of lilac and spring’s earliest rose The cenotaph of those Who in the cause that history most endears Fell in the sunny morn and flower of their young years.

(Poems )

Spring here is “reviving”: although those to whom the poem is dedicated died amidst the revival of life, Seeger uses the revival of life in nature as a source of solace. It is as if the dead are revived every spring, and revived in their youth. Death – although the subjects of this poem did not die, but rather “fell” – acts as a kind of preservative, whereby their youth, their “fresh hearts and springlike too,” answers spring’s renewal. The third stanza turns to the relationship between the fallen and France. Seeger reverses the anticipated sense of indebtedness so that the dead owe thanks to France for making it possible to serve her:


For example, an essay sent to Harrison Reeves Seeger describes the war in naturalistic terms as a matter of “integration and aggrandizement, supremacy going to the strongest, and force being the only arbitrament” (). Seeger knew this opinion differed from that of the public; in a cover letter he informed Reeves, “I am afraid the sentiments in these effusions are unprintable in the US” (n.p.).


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal Yet sought they neither recompense nor praise, Nor to be mentioned in another breath Than their blue coated comrades whose great days It was their pride to share – ay, share even to the death! Nay, rather, France, to you they rendered thanks (Seeing they came for honor, not for gain), Who, opening to them your glorious ranks, Gave them that grand occasion to excel, That chance to live the life most free from stain And that rare privilege of dying well.

(Poems )

By offering the opportunity to render her service, France offers three things, each expressed in a coordinate noun phrase. “That grand occasion to excel” provides the opportunity to display prowess. “That chance to live the life most free from stain” presents the life of the soldier as the most virtuous. While both of these contrast with what would become the dominant literary understanding of war in the postwar era, it is “That rare privilege of dying well” that offers the strongest contrast, since Ernest Hemingway responds to the sentiment, and almost certainly to the poem, in “Champs d’Honneur”: Soldiers never do die well; Crosses mark the places – Wooden crosses where they fell, Stuck above their faces. Soldiers pitch and cough and twitch – All the world roars red and black; Soldiers smother in a ditch, Choking through the whole attack. () 

Hemingway was aware of Seeger. In the manuscript of a story Hemingway wrote while hospitalized in Milan after being wounded at the front, the main character, Nick Grainger, reflects on his nearfatal wounding: “‘I had a rendezvous with Death’ – but Death broke the date and now it’s all over” (Reynolds ). Hemingway’s direct response to Seeger in “Champs d’Honneur” suggests that Keith Gandal’s reading of Hemingway can only be partially correct. Gandal sees Hemingway (as well as Fitzgerald and Faulkner) to write out of resentment at rejection by the US Army. Hemingway wanted to be a pilot – military aviation was the purview of the US Army Air Service – but his poor eyesight forbade this, and he ended up as an ambulance driver in the American Red Cross. Gandal does not discuss “Champs d’Honneur” or Hemingway’s other war poetry, concentrating instead on The Sun Also Rises. Consideration of the poetry and other aspects of Hemingway’s war writing would require a revision of Gandal’s assertion that Hemingway did not write to “break with a tradition that the catastrophe of the war had proven failed” (). However, everything I have discovered thus far corroborates Gandal’s assertion that “the literary fallout from the Great War has been dramatically underestimated or at least misunderstood” ().


Seeger as Public Poet

The immediate context of Hemingway’s poem highlights that aspect of the war that Seeger tends most to avoid: its industrialized nature, which eliminates so much of what Seeger values: individuality, prowess, “glory.” Hemingway’s word choice, accordingly, functions as a kind of opposite to that of Seeger. Rather than the lofty diction of Seeger, in Hemingway soldiers “cough,” “twitch,” and “smother”; crosses are “stuck,” not, say, “placed” above the dead. “Champs d’Honneur” might be understood as an attempt to destroy a poem such as “Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers” by focusing on the physical facts of death on the battlefield. Its poetics and rhetoric run counter to those of the “Ode”: it is terse rather than loquacious, plain rather than lofty, ugly where the “Ode” attempts to be beautiful. The fourth section of the “Ode” turns in a more overtly political direction, although Seeger carefully avoids violating the decorum of the ode by becoming clearly partisan: O friends! I know not since that war began From which no people nobly stands aloof If in all moments we have given proof Of virtues that were thought American. I know not if in all things done and said All has been well and good, Or if each one of us can hold his head As proudly as he should, Or, from the pattern of those mighty dead Whose shades our country venerates to-day, If we’ve not somewhat fallen and somewhat gone astray.

(Poems )

Seeger’s discomfort in the public mode is registered in the ungainly rhyming of “began” and “American,” although he was capable of howlers in less overtly rhetorical performances as well. More significantly, Seeger suggests that the failure of the United States to intervene in the war indicates that it might have declined from the glorious past forged and symbolized by the dead honored on Decoration Day. Against this possibility of decline, the dead commemorated by the poem take on their greatest significance, since they counter any such tendency. Yet Seeger presents the dead American volunteers as sacrifices made necessary by the failure of the United States as a whole; his celebration of the dead is, by his own standards at least, reasonably muted. He instructs his audience to “cry: ‘Now heaven be praised,’”


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal Accents of ours were in the fierce mêlée; And on those furthest rims of hallowed ground Where the forlorn, the gallant charge expires, When the slain bugler has long ceased to sound, And on the tangled wires The last wild rally staggers, crumbles, stops, Withered beneath the shrapnel’s iron showers: – Now heaven be thanked, we gave a few brave drops; Now heaven be thanked, a few brave drops were ours.” (Poems –)

Seeger retains here his notion of gallant and heroic behavior, but the scene is muted in that the reality of industrialized warfare is momentarily, at least, glimpsed. What is celebrated here is not victory, but rather participation in heroic defeat. In the final section, Death assumes a status higher than elsewhere even in Seeger’s poetry. This final section begins where the last left off, with the dead of “the last wild rally,” who have left the audience and speaker behind, setting up a tension between their likeness to the audience and their utter difference from the living. There, holding still, in frozen steadfastness, Their bayonets toward the beckoning frontiers, They lie – our comrades – lie among their peers, Clad in the glory of fallen warriors, Grim clusters under thorny trellises, Dry, furthest foam upon disastrous shores, Leaves that made last year beautiful, still strewn Even as they fell, unchanged, beneath the changing moon; And earth in her divine indifference Rolls on, and many paltry things and mean Prate to be heard and caper to be seen. But they are silent, calm; their eloquence Is that incomparable attitude; No human presences their witness are, But summer clouds and sunset crimson-hued, And showers and night winds and the northern star.

(Poems )

The dead are both similar to and different from the speaker and the audience. In their difference, the dead have entered into the primordial and eternal world of nature. This sets up a tension that Seeger does not


Seeger as Public Poet

manage to resolve: the meaning of the deaths commemorated in the poem is for the most part presented in terms of the world of human meanings and relationships, but the poem also removes the dead from this context, and does so in some of the most successful lines in Seeger’s entire output: “Dry, furthest foam upon disastrous shores,/Leaves that made last year beautiful, still strewn/Even as they fell, unchanged, beneath the changing moon.” The dead become not only different from but also superior to the living, even those living who run the same risks as did the dead. Here Seeger becomes involved in a further paradox or outright contradiction, since it does not appear to be resolved within the poem: the superiority of the dead to the living is such that . . .even our salutations seem profane, Opposed to their Elysian quietude; Our salutations calling from afar, From our ignobler plane And undistinction of our lesser parts.

(Poems )

Taken literally, these lines indicate that this poem violates the superior dignity of the dead, a situation that Seeger, apparently unable to resolve conceptually, mitigates through brevity, since he concludes the poem in a mere three lines, returning to the world of human history and human meanings: Hail, brothers, and farewell; you are twice blest, brave hearts. Double your glory is who perished thus, For you have died for France and vindicated us.

(Poems )

Such a conclusion cannot really resolve the contradiction in which Seeger found himself. It suggests the incursion into the poem of a romantic view of death that, while it was certainly incorporated into prewar writing – it presented a way of alleviating the anxiety that the prospect of death provokes – was not entirely reconcilable with the values and discursive logic of the pro-war cause, since the slide toward decadence looms within it. Seeger skirts this by simply ending the poem, yet others, including Seeger’s fellow Harvard alum, Harry Crosby, would work out this logic for those who did not have their death in the war, but rather found themselves still alive afterward, unable to escape the spell that death (or rather, Death) had cast over them.


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

After the Rendezvous “Obituaries and reviews became fluid genres during the war” (), Alisa Miller notes. Because Seeger’s Poems were published about six months after his death, separating the poetry from the poet, or the impression of the poet, was unlikely, especially given the increasingly partisan atmosphere in the United States as it moved from formal neutrality to direct involvement in the war. This situation would persist until Seeger had been dead for over half a decade. Many of the reviews-cum-obituaries associate Seeger with the English soldier-poet Rupert Brooke, who shared Seeger’s combination of good looks, youth, romantic outlook, and death in the war. Several also impute to Seeger devotion to “the cause of human liberty” (“The Point of View” ), even though little suggests that Seeger had any great interest in this or that he perceived the war in such terms. Seeger’s actual beliefs and words sometimes bear little resemblance to the image of him. It is not that the authors of these essays are obtuse, nor deliberately dishonest. Rather, they tend to emphasize elements in Seeger that harmonize with the American war effort such as his love of France and his romantic disregard for personal safety. Other elements that do not necessarily conflict with the American war effort but that do not entirely harmonize, at least when translated out of the poetic and into the everyday world of journalistic prose, such as Seeger’s medievalism are perhaps mentioned, but not elaborated upon; thus: “He was always keenly interested in the life and literature of the Middle Ages, and made a particular study of the medieval Romantic literatures” (“The Point of View” ). Closely related to this, Seeger’s disdain for modernity, especially as it was being realized in the United States, was discussed only by Seeger’s acquaintance, Walter Adolphe Roberts, the most frank, along with Harrison Reeves, of those who remembered Seeger in print. Roberts refers to Seeger’s “extraordinary ego” (), and admits that “his assumption of what can best be described as an intellectual aristocracy . . . was a little irritating” (). Roberts even notes that Seeger’s fellow Legionnaires initially disliked him to the point of suggesting it would be best were he to request a transfer to another company (). He steers his account toward a more laudatory conclusion, however, noting that the war occasioned Seeger’s growth as a poet, an assertion made also in Scribner’s Magazine and The Poetry Review, counterbalancing the fact of his death. 

Rupert Brooke’s name was used in the articles in Poetry Review (reprinted in The Living Age), Scribner’s Magazine, The American Review of Reviews, and The Literary Digest.


After the Rendezvous

Seeger was commemorated not only in prose, but also in poetry. Imitations of “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” by Frank E. Hering and Grace D. Vanamee maintain the iambic tetrameter and the stanza lengths of the original, and stick close to its pattern of rhyme. Hering attempts to replicate something of the tension between the return of spring and the proximity of death in the original by placing the charge in which Seeger was killed in the morning, rather than the late afternoon – where it is placed in the account published in Seeger’s Letters and Diary – thus substituting the cycle of the day for the cycle of the seasons. Hering makes Death individual and anachronistic even more than did Seeger himself: He drove his lance through your young side And fiercely loosed the crimson tide . . .

Seeger’s death is understood – as it is not in the original – as a sacrifice for France: You kept your rendezvous with Death, And spent your flaming life for France: So only might the fleur-de-lis And the beleaguered Marne be free!

And the imitation eliminates the original’s rhetorical tension between Love and Strife by reassuring Seeger that, God knew ‘twere better you should sleep A broken soldier on some hill, Your grave a shrine, than cradled deep With one you love, breath touching breath . . . ()

Seeger’s death is made less fully romantic and more sacrificial and heroic, better suited to the war culture than his real death, or even his imagined death in the original poem. Grace D. Vanamee’s “The Sequel: He Kept His Rendezvous with Death” begins by noting that Seeger survived spring, and that “Summer scents were in the air” when He kept his rendezvous with Death, He whose young life had been a prayer. ()

The rhyme of “air” and “prayer” signals the chief feature of Vanamee’s poem: she uses religiously-freighted terms to characterize Seeger. He is described as “Our soldier-singer, Heaven-sent.” His death becomes by implication a passage into eternal life:


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal He kept his rendezvous with Death And then emerged into the light Of that fair day that yet may be For those who conquer as did he. ()

The religious terminology stops just short of explicitly making Seeger’s death into a Christ-like sacrifice, although “conquer” here resonates more with the language of “Onward Christian Soldiers” than with Seeger’s own. Vanamee concludes the poem by emphasizing the unity of art and life for Seeger, a sound enough point, although Vanamee has no interest in exploring the consequences of this unity beyond the obvious. And with his greatest work undone He kept his rendezvous with Death. Brave Hero-Poet, we rejoice That Life and Art with you were one, That you to your own songs were true: You did not fail that rendezvous! ()

Vanamee abandons the coyness of Seeger’s play with the language of love in favor of a more straightforward celebration of the integrity of Seeger’s vision, with its unity of art and life, renewing Romantic themes such as the emphasis on potentiality (“greatest work undone”) and the person of the poet (“you to your own songs were true”). Very different from either imitation of Seeger, Haniel Long’s Petrarchan sonnet, published in Poetry, refuses to celebrate Seeger, but rather subjects him and his poetry to analysis: The shapes of waking moments wearied him; Heroic beauty stirred him as he slept; And so he lived his youth, and so he crept Back to old shadows beautiful and dim. But at the call to arms his eyes were grim – Dreams must be saved! So he, the dream-adept, Seeing young Death afar where horror swept, Leapt with a lover’s trembling in each limb. He sought her out he knew to be his maiden, And cried to her he flamed for as his bride; The thundering guns were viols for his suit, And iron shards his couch. The day was laden With scent of deadly blossoms, and he died. And now, wrapt with his maiden, he is mute. ()


After the Rendezvous

Long identifies Seeger’s preference for the past and suggests that this is perhaps not so heroic as Seeger’s champions would have one believe: Seeger “crept/Back to shadows beautiful and dim.” Creeping is unheroic, and that the shadows are beautiful and dim conveys both their attractiveness and their inadequacy. Whereas Vanamee seems not to detect any attraction to death on the part of Seeger (“God knows ’twas hard for him to go”), Long focuses on Seeger’s equation of Love and Death, which one sees not only in “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” but also, literally, in “Liebestod,” in which Seeger imagines Death as fulfillment: Sometimes I think that, where the hilltops rear Their white entrenchments back of tangled wire, Behind the mist Death only can make clear, There, like Brunhilde ringed with flaming fire, Lies what shall ease my heart’s immense desire: There, where beyond the horror and the pain Only the brave shall pass, only the strong attain.

(Poems )

Long’s sober treatment of Seeger refuses to romanticize or sentimentalize Seeger’s death, seeing it instead as the logical culmination of his desire: “He sought her out he knew to be his maiden.” Thus Long avoids the high diction of war, and so Seeger’s end is stated flatly: “and he died,” employing a rhetoric that feels deflationary if only because the common mode in First World War poetry is so determinedly inflationary. In a way, however, Long simply restates Seeger’s own understanding of himself. He wrote to his sister “My being here is not an accident. It is the inevitable consequence … of a direction deliberately chosen” (Letters and Diary –). While Seeger’s desire to experience war and to feel himself to be participating in the elemental forces of nature are significant here, so too is the allure of death, a mystical sense of death as at least potentially the portal to some knowledge greater than that allowed to mortals on earth. Death as the ticket out: Seeger’s old roommate had something to say about this: Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead, Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell And the profit and loss. ()


Alan Seeger, Asceticism, Medievalism, & Martial Ideal

Phlebas’ ticket appears to be only a ticket out, not one that will get him in elsewhere. Death is the door, not to greater knowledge or awareness, but to nothing. Still, Eliot contrasts, by putting them in separate lines, nature, “the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell,” with “the profit and loss”: contrasts the elemental with the everyday. Seeger felt this contrast, or better, wanted to feel this contrast so deeply that he was willing to die for it.

 

“Dulce et Decorum” Edith Wharton’s Great War

Edith Wharton, best known to most readers as the author of novels exploring the world of upper-class New York City in works such as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, experienced the First World War both intensively and extensively. Wharton did not have a casual interest in the war as an event, nor did she take the attitude of an onlooker at a massive catastrophe; rather, she was engaged by and in the war as a partisan in what she saw as a conflict between the bastion of civilization, France, and a nation inimical to that civilization, Germany. “France and civilization,” Hazel Hutchison writes, “seemed indivisible, and Wharton was ready to defend both” (). This partisanship in the cause of France characterizes Wharton’s writing during these years, writing that covers a variety of literary forms, and this variety of forms indicates the extensive nature of Wharton’s experience of the war as a writer: Wharton produced poetry, fiction, and journalism, and edited an anthology centered on the war. The fictional narratives spring in part from Wharton’s attempt to explore and depict the emotional, experiential aspects of the war, which in turn are based on her direct experience of living in France during wartime. Wharton’s journalism is based on her familiarity with France, and especially with France during wartime. The anthology Wharton edited, The Book of the Homeless, emerged out of Wharton’s efforts to assist Belgian refugees that found their way to Paris following the German invasion of . While Wharton was not a combatant, the war engaged her attention at least as fully as it did that of other American writers, including those who served in the military or the volunteer ambulance units. But if Wharton’s war writing is less familiar than is The House of Mirth, it is not altogether different. As Wai-Chee Dimock notes about that novel, 

Julie Olin-Ammentorp’s, Edith Wharton’s Writings from the Great War documents Wharton’s efforts as a writer, while Alan Price’s The End of the Age of Innocence: Edith Wharton and the First World War documents Wharton’s efforts more generally, particularly her work providing relief for refugees.



“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

“Wharton’s critique of the marketplace is essentially an aristocratic critique” (). This “aristocratic critique” is rooted in “early pieties,” “grave enduring traditions,” and “inherited passions and loyalties,” phrases Dimock pulls from the novel, and that share with Wharton’s writing on the First World War an emphasis on continuity with a temporally distant but culturally proximate past. And yet, Dimock argues, in The House of Mirth, Wharton can never quite believe her own critique, or at least she cannot believe in its social basis: “even as she articulates her ideal,” Dimock writes, “she sees that it does not exist” (). While Dimock does not comment on this, Wharton is right not to believe in the social basis of her ideal: the United States never had a real aristocracy, since it has no real precapitalist past apart from that of the Native Americans and perhaps the independent household producers of the pre-industrial era. It is as if Wharton realizes that her “old New York” of great families sometimes displaced by offensively nouveau riche plutocrats of the post–Civil War era was a product of mercantilist capitalism and to be differentiated only from industrial capitalism, not from capitalism as such. Any American aristocracy thus could be only an imitation of the European aristocracy, and not a real one, which would require a social basis different from that of the bourgeoisie. Dimock argues that The House of Mirth “is fueled . . . by an almost exclusively critical energy directed at the marketplace Wharton disdains. She can only confusedly gesture at a redeeming alternative; for her, the house of mirth has no exit” (). While this is true of The House of Mirth, Wharton’s First World War writing is somewhat different. As Dimock notes, Wharton casts around – even in The House of Mirth – for an alternative repository of value, an alternative to the world of generalized market exchange and reification. In her First World War writing Wharton feels she has found it in France. Thus, her writing in this period, while not utterly devoid of the ironist’s sensibility that we find elsewhere, is far more univocal and positive than her work that critics regard as her best, especially The House of Mirth and The Custom of the Country. And this largely explains the prevailing critical attitude with regard to her major work of war fiction, A Son at the Front. In  Peter Buitenhuis noted that this novel appeared alongside a spate of books that viewed the war skeptically, including John Dos Dassos’s Three Soldiers, E. E. Cummings’sThe Enormous Room, and Ernest Hemingway’s Three Stories and Ten Poems; as a result, “A Son at the Front seemed irrelevant, as it has to critics ever since” (). While several critics have attempted revisionary evaluations in the intervening years, A Son at the Front continues to be seen as a minor, if not

“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War


a failed, work because it lacks the ironic sensibility of Wharton’s major works. And it lacks this precisely because Wharton has convinced herself that she has found the alternative she elsewhere seeks, an alternative largely spared her ironic, critical gaze. Committed as she was to the defense of France from Germany, Wharton overlooks the major irony of the situation she confronts in her war fiction, the irony – or rather the dialectical nature – of history. Rejecting central elements of American, and more generally of industrialized, democratized modernity, Wharton endorses the Allied – especially the French – cause, and advocates American involvement in the war. Wharton sees in the war a defense of Old World culture embodied most fully in France, a culture in many ways opposed to – or at least an obstacle to – not only German military power, but also American economic, political, and cultural hegemony. David Clough notes that Wharton’s conception of France as the guardian of civilization is “in many ways the old romantic myth of Europe” and that A Son at the Front can be read as “a kind of last desperate attempt to reverse the process” of the destruction of whatever truth that romantic myth contained. Correct to a point, Clough’s assessment does not consider what was occurring around Wharton, or that she interpreted the war as a conflict between inimical civilizations. American intervention in the First World War was part of the project to establish the United States as the hegemonic global power, and the principles on which the United States set about the construction of this hegemony departed significantly from those of the conservative Old World that Wharton so vigorously embraced. The United States presented a progressive version of capitalism that endorsed national self-determination, made possible because “American capitalism expanded abroad by establishing an informal empire cutting across the existing division of the world into formal colonial empires” (van der Pijl ; cf. Tooze –). Wilson rejected the traditional great power politics of Theodore Roosevelt in favor of a universalist policy that provided a more positive reply to the political Left’s alternatives to a capitalist world order. But, as van der Pijl points out, this more positive reply was based in part on “a perceptive anticipation of the underlying social capacities of capitalism which would take the New Deal and World War Two to fully materialize” (). In other words, American intervention into the First World War, probably decisive in determining its outcome – if only because the prospect of having to defeat a fresh, massive American army as well as the rest of the Allies proved daunting to the exhausted Central powers – was conducted as part of remaking the world, including its


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

developed capitalist core, along the lines of what has come to be called Fordism. While the construction of Fordism was far from complete in the United States at the time of the First World War, the basic terms on which the United States became directly involved in the war are clear. While Wharton’s France needed American intervention to resist the Central powers successfully, the cost of such intervention would be, in the long run, the ascendancy of American power and American culture over that of the Old World powers of Europe, Allied and Central alike. Wharton’s conservative critique of the emergent Fordist model of industrial capitalism – “a new kind of rationalized, modernist, and populist democratic society” (Harvey –) – finds embodiment in a vision of the First World War as the result not of a contest for hegemony within the capitalist world order, but rather as a recurrence of a perennial conflict between Teutonic and Latin civilizations, with culture the driving force of history. Thus, a culturally determinist vision simultaneously explains, justifies, and glorifies the war to the public. Wharton’s journalism and fiction demonstrate that ideological mechanisms similar to those I have examined in poetry in previous chapters also operate in prose. However, in the exact nature of her advocacy of American intervention in the war, Wharton was part of a larger bloc – part of its literary wing – composed of those who did not share Wilson’s vision of the war as intensifying domestically and extending internationally American liberal, democratic, proto-Fordist society. Her friendships with Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, Wilson’s nemesis in the struggle to get the Versailles peace treaty passed by the US Senate, indicate the position Wharton occupied in the political world of –. Like Lodge, and more complexly, Roosevelt, Wharton adhered to a social and political vision in some ways less sophisticated than that of Wilson, unable or unwilling to grasp the adjustments rendered possible, perhaps necessary, by the “underlying social capacities of capitalism.”

Journalism: Fighting France and French Ways and Their Meanings Wharton’s first book of war journalism was Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belport. In one characteristic passage written from the Lorraine, Wharton first describes the general atmosphere of the front in May , then describes a routine episode of the war: Wherever I go among these men of the front I have the same impression: the impression that the absorbing undivided thought of the Defence of

Fighting France and French Ways and Their Meanings


France lives in the heart and brain of each soldier as intensely as in the heart and brain of their chief. We walked a dozen yards down the road and came to the edge of the forest . . . Suddenly, as we stood there, they woke, and at the same moment we heard the unmistakable Gr-r-r of an aeroplane and saw a Bird of Evil high up against the blue. Snap, snap, snap barked the mitrailleuse on the hill, the soldiers jumped from their wine and strained their eyes through the trees, and the Taube, finding itself the centre of so much attention, turned grey tail and swished away to the concealing clouds. (–)

In Wharton’s account, the war, a modern event, reliant upon industrial methods of production and distribution of the various goods needed to conduct war on such a massive scale, and its application of recent scientific and technological advances to warfare, transforms this group of Frenchmen into an organic society – they have a “chief” – bound by the singlemindedness of their devotion to defending France. For Wharton, this unified France contrasts with prewar France, divided by the antagonisms, especially class antagonisms, of industrial capitalist society. Seeing the war as a healing or cleansing experience precludes seeing it as a point of historical rupture, since its effect is ultimately to make France even more French, as it concentrates on the fundamental characteristics it defends. Consequently, there is no sense that the ordinary events of this war differ significantly from those of any other war at any other time: Wharton sees the Great War as fundamentally continuous with previous human experience. The airplane in her story could just as easily be a cavalry officer in the distance, and is in fact converted into an animal, one charged with a moral quality: “Bird of Evil.” Nowhere does one find the radical disorientation and estrangement displayed not only in the familiar American war writing of Hemingway or Dos Passos, but also in poems and personal narratives by far less well-known writers. For example, Byron H. Comstock’s “The Skyman” presents, in a series of internally and end-rhymed iambic hexameter lines, military aviation as a radically de-personalized and mechanized form of killing. One may conclude from the poem that aerial warfare may be “Evil,” but this is no mythicized “Bird,” and it knows no nationality: I hover there in the sunlit air, and I watch the bursting shell. I see men fall and that is all, I cannot hear them yell, As I watch from the sky, like a god on high, our travesty on Hell. ... Supreme I soar, and the motor’s roar sings the old blood lust. I would not do the things I do, I swear not, but I must.


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War What is to me the earth’s red sea and those specks in the lowly dust? (–)

While the “blood lust” of the speaker may be “old,” the poem emphasizes the mechanized and distanced nature of this form of warfare, an emphasis heightened by the alienated form taken by the speaker’s death: A sickening crash, an oily splash, my God the tank is hit. A crackling sound, I dare not look round, why does the plane shake so? In a burst of flame no hand can tame, the plane drops hard and low. A skyman lost, I pay the cost, from Heaven to Hell I go. ()

While his poems may lack sophistication, Comstock often manages to avoid the exalted diction and rhetoric of much wartime poetry, which allows him to register the war in terms of something other than the standard and anachronistic tropes through which aerial combat, in particular, was typically understood. Like Comstock, John Dos Passos recorded the conjunction of human flight and the industrialization of war, although in Dos Passos this conjunction takes on ironic resonance. Dos Passos records the birth of human flight in his biography of the Wright Brothers, “The Campers at Kitty Hawk,” in The Big Money, the final volume of the USA trilogy. Dos Passos presents the fulfillment of the ages-old human desire to fly through the efforts of the Wright brothers as both testimony to the capacities of ordinary people – “practical mechanics” () – and as a wonder of human ingenuity and persistence. But the Wright brothers and the beauty of flight are soon overtaken by the realities of the military-industrial complex and the war it supplies: In the rush of new names: Farman, Blériot, Curtiss, Ferber, Esnault-Peltrié, Delagrange; in the snorting impact of bombs and the whine and rattle of shrapnel and the sudden stutter of machineguns after the motor’s been shut off overhead, and we flatten into the mud and make ourselves small cowering in the corners of ruined walls, the Wright brothers passed out of the headlines. () 

A twice-wounded veteran of the war, Comstock wrote most of the poems collected in his  volume Log of the Devil-Dog while recovering in France (Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum).

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In USA, the war concentrates the essence of industrial capitalism and the version of modernity it produces. Accordingly, it arrives in the text as an interruption of the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright, outstripping them and threatening to overshadow their human proportions. The wonder of flight transforms into the mechanized horror of being strafed. To examine the difference between Wharton’s depiction of an airplane and that of Comstock and Dos Passos is to emphasize that Wharton saw the war in terms of continuity – despite her statement that after completing A Son at the Front, she had “intended to take a long holiday – perhaps to cease from writing altogether. It was growing more and more evident that the world I had grown up in and been formed by had been destroyed in ” (Backward Glance –). Whatever her thoughts on the matter when she wrote her memoir, published in , from  to , when she published A Son at the Front, Wharton presented the war to readers as though the familiar world had not been destroyed in , and her conviction that the war could be adequately understood in traditional and conventional terms underpins the political character of her depiction of it. In Fighting France, the nature of the conflict in the First World War is unambiguous. Wharton alludes to the atrocity stories that circulated in the early days of the war: “burning homes and massacred children and young men dragged to slavery . . . infants torn from their mothers, old men trampled by drunken heels and priests slain while they prayed beside the dying” (). These atrocities, shocking though they may be to the sensibility of the presumed reader, are unsurprising in that they spring from the deeper nature of Germany and the Germans as Wharton depicts them. The Germans are, among other things, enemies of Beauty. Wharton describes a destroyed town: below and beyond us lay a long stretch of ruins: the calcined remains of Clermont-en-Argonne, destroyed by the Germans on the th of September. The free and lofty situation of the little town . . . makes its present state the more lamentable. One can see it from so far off, and through the torn traceries of its ruined church the eye travels over so lovely a stretch of country! No doubt its beauty enriched the joy of wrecking it. ()

The last sentence is telling for Wharton’s characterization of the Germans, and hence of the nature of the war throughout Fighting France. Consistent with their status as enemies of Beauty, the Germans represent barbarism to France’s civilization, and hate as opposed to the essentially life-affirming character of the French. The characterization of


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

Germany as barbaric is perhaps nowhere clearer than when she notes, while traveling through the Argonne that On the way to Mousson the road is overhung by an Italian-looking village clustered about a hill-top. It marks the exact spot at which, last August, the German invasion was finally checked and flung back; and the Muse of History points out that on this very hill has long stood a memorial shaft inscribed: “Here, in the year , Jovinus defeated the Teutonic hordes.” ()

The present conflict between France and Germany folds into a perennial conflict between Latin civilization and Teutonic barbarism. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Great War becomes ultimately for Wharton a conflict between the principles of life and death. In Fighting France, Wharton walks past a school in which lace was being made before the approach of the German army. All the work had been neatly put down and covered with a handkerchief. Wharton takes this scene of arrested activity as a symbol of how, in hundreds of such houses, in hundreds of open towns, the hand of time had been stopped, the heart of life had ceased to beat, all the currents of hope and happiness and industry been choked – not that some great military end might be gained, or the length of the war curtailed, but that, wherever the shadow of Germany falls, all things should whither at the root. ()

Germany is unceasingly ugly, and Wharton renders mythical the secular conflict of the war so that it becomes simultaneously this-worldly – a contemporary event, after all, for her readers in  – and fantastic, resembling something out of J. R. R. Tolkien. In seeing and presenting the war in terms of a conflict between Latin and Teutonic, Roman and Germanic, Wharton is not unique, even within the limits of American literature. John Armstrong Chaloner – one of the odder figures of twentieth-century American poetry – also presents the war in terms derived from the Roman past, with the United States

In Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth, John Garth argues that much of the force behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy derives from Tolkien’s reaction to the war, whereby he renders the brutality of the war – the fascination with mechanized ways of killing characteristic of both sides – a property of the forces of darkness. Thus, he concentrates the nature of the war into a single principle and projects this onto a fantasized enemy; Wharton, as was common among supporters of the Allies, concentrates the nature of the war into a single principle and projects it onto Germany.

Fighting France and French Ways and Their Meanings


and the Allies presented as the successor to the Roman Empire. In the first quatrain of his Shakepearean sonnet, “Pax Romana I: The Allies,” Chaloner presents the empire as the guarantor of peace: We are for peace – the deepest ever seen – The peace that shone in Gibbon’s “Golden Age” The age o’ th’ mighty Antonines I ween The grandest peace e’er seen upon world’s stage! ()

But such a peace is not without its violence, as Chaloner freely admits in his gleefully archaic diction: But how, fair reader, was said peace attained? By “Peace-Societies”? I wot not well. For the skilled Roman short sword swiftly stained In rebel’s blood did Pax Romana spell! ()

In the third quatrain and the couplet, the United States, formally neutral when the poem was written early in the war (it is dated September , ), and the Allies are presented as successors to Rome, while Germany and Austria-Hungary are left to take the role of rebel: Thus only may the world have peace to-day Thus surely History repeats herself The Heirs o’ th’ Roman Power must hold sway O’er wicked nations whose pursuit is self By th’ Allies with Columbia combined The Pax Romana amply is defined. ()

By framing the “wicked nations,” the rebels whose blood “the skilled Roman short sword swiftly stained,” as driven by “self,” Chaloner’s presentation resonates with that of Wharton and a number of other writers of the period. First, the Allies – unlike Wharton, Chaloner does not 

Chaloner, who had changed the spelling of his last name from Chanler, was born into a family related to the Astors, Schylers, and other prominent families of New York, part of the social circle that included the Jones family into which Edith Wharton was born. Convinced he could communicate with the spirit world, Chaloner provided a striking description of Hell delivered to him by a deceased Confederate veteran. Chaloner was obsessed with his resemblance to Napoleon Bonaparte, particularly striking given that Satan also resembled Napoleon, according to his informant on Hell. When Chaloner divorced Amélie Rives, the settlement was deemed by his family to be wildly indulgent to her. They had him institutionalized in New York, but Chaloner escaped and fled to Virginia, where he was declared sane, although the ruling was binding in that state only (J. Bryan III; Lucey –).


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

emphasize France – continue and revive Rome. Second, the First World War, from this perspective, emerges from untempered assertion of selfinterest on the part of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Allies and, if Chaloner had his way, the United States provide a normative check on this typically modern vice. Wharton and Chaloner are not the only American writers of the era to draw on the Roman Empire as a precedent. Courtney Langdon in “Fuori I Barbari” presents Italy’s intervention into the war as a twentieth-century reprise of the ancient Roman role of guardian of civilization. To thee was given the hardest task of all, Brave Italy, when Europe to her aid Summoned the nations centuries had made Prime guardians of the light which Rome to Gaul, And Gaul to Britain, passed, till o’er the wall Of western seas it shone, too bright to fade. For thine it was to challenge, undismayed, The eastern Huns who, with thy gates in thrall, Threatened thy garden; then, through gun-swept snows, Master each Alpine peak and torrent-bed, And fight, – by faint praise cheered, – till each redout Held as a threat by Rome’s transalpine foes Was Rome’s again, and Hadria’s watershed Joined in the Latin cry: “Barbarians out!” ()

Langdon uses a slight variant on the Petrarchan or Italian sonnet – appropriately enough in the circumstances – in which the octave describes the task facing Italy, while the sestet, beginning halfway through line , commands the nation to reconquer “each redout/Held as a threat by Rome’s transalpine foes.” Italy’s intervention on the side of the Allies completes a somewhat faulty circle: the light of civilization passes from “Rome to Gaul/And Gaul to Britain,” and eventually to the new world, although the chief country of the new world, the United States, was not involved directly in the war when the poem was written. The date appended to the poem, August , , makes it appear to have been written in the wake of the Italian victory in the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo, which ended on August . Langdon specifies that the Italians face  

“Hadria’s watershed” appears to refer to the watershed of the Adriatic Sea, which takes its name from the commune of Adria, alternatively spelled Hatria. While the Italians regarded the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo as their first major victory of the war, it cost them the lives of approximately , soldiers and , total casualties. Their

Fighting France and French Ways and Their Meanings


“the eastern Huns,” Austria-Hungary, because Italy had not yet declared war on Germany; however, buoyed by the perceived victory in the Sixth Battle of the Isonzo, they were to do so within weeks of the poem’s writing. Langdon continues his Roman revival with “Alma Roma,” in which the lands of the former empire reunite to defend both its territory and its ostensible ideals: Spirit of Rome, eternal Latin Soul, Remembered Mother of the South and West, Thine heirs are met again, to stand the test Set by Barbarians who would fain control By ruthless Might a world, whose ancient goal Was Peace through Justice! What the gods deemed best They gave through thee; hence, at their new behest Thy provinces reform their whilom whole. Caesar’s three parts of Gaul, Brittania’s strands And Lusitania join with Italy And Africa, to win the Alps and Rhine; While on the Danube, Trajan’s Dacia stands, And calls on Greece to set the Orient free; And only Spain forgets that she was thine. ()

While “Alma Roma” is another Petrarchan sonnet, Langdon does not make conventional use of the organizational capacity of the form, which hinges on the division between the octave and the sestet. The organizational scheme of the poem’s contents is rather /, with the final line a rebuke to Spain as the only portion of the former empire not rallying to the ancient cause. This is not literally true, since reasonably large portions lay in areas that eventually became the Central powers. Such facts, however, are beside the point of the poem: to conjure up a sense of the grandeur of the Roman Empire. Caroline Winterer notes that “[i]nvocations of imperial Rome increased as America itself became a world empire

Austro-Hungarian opponents, who ceded ground but preserved their troops, lost around half that number (Schindler –). Similarly, Langdon praises Belgium by alluding to Julius Caesar’s comment from The Gallic Wars, “Horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae” – translated as, “Of all these [Gauls] the Belgae are the bravest” – in his poem “Liège”: “Ah, little Belgium, that in Caesar’s age/Wast of Gauls the bravest” (). Notwithstanding the appropriateness of applying a comment about a people of the st century BCE to a modern nation-state, Langdon disregards the fact that the Belgae were resisting the Romans when Caesar encountered them, and hence not a willing participant in the world of “Alma Roma.”


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

by the s, evoking military and cultural might rather than arcadian republican simplicity” (), which had been the point of emphasis earlier in US history. In “Alma Roma” Langdon bestows grandeur, not simplicity, upon the heirs of Rome. Alan Seeger, also, saw the war as a conflict between Latin and Teutonic cultures. In a letter to his sister Elsie, he writes, “Latin and Teuton are again at grips, as it is quite in the course of Nature that they should be” (December , ). Similarly, he writes in the journal he sent to Harrison Reeves of “this old conflict between Latin and Teuton” (). Seeger, however, refuses to make this a moral conflict between civilization and barbarism: the conflict “is not, as it is almost universally regarded, a conflict between right and wrong, but a conflict between two rights” (). In the letter to his sister, he notes, “my temperament inclines me more to the Latin than to the Teutonic culture.” Because he saw Strife as elemental in human existence, Seeger viewed the war as inevitable and not as the product of an aberrant Teutonic barbarism. His preference for France was simply that, his preference. Significantly, these statements were edited out of the Letters and Diary, published by Scribner’s after his death. Seeger, Langdon, and Chaloner, like Wharton, see the Great War in terms of continuity with the Roman past. Chaloner, furthermore, sees the war as originating in the assertion of self on the part of Germany and Austria-Hungary, which resonates with Wharton’s vision of the war as a rebuke to modern individualism. Thus, and in a way that one finds elsewhere in civic and political discourse of the day, for Wharton the war is good for France, awakening it to the essential in life. Alan Price accurately describes the “ambivalence between the horrors of war and the purifying crucible of war on human character” () in Wharton’s wartime writing. Despite the terrors and suffering – or because of them – the war cleanses, stripping the excess and individualism that flourished in peacetime. Wharton describes the effect that the presence of the war-wounded has and will have on Paris: Day by day the limping figures grow more numerous on the pavement, the pale bandaged heads more frequent in passing carriages. In the stalls at the theatres and concerts there are many uniforms; and their wearers usually have to wait till the hall is emptied before they hobble out on a supporting arm. Most of them are very young, and it is the expression of their faces which I should like to picture and interpret as being the very essence of what I have called the look of Paris. They are grave, these young faces: one hears a great deal of the gaiety in the trenches, but the wounded are not gay. Neither are they sad, however. They are calm, meditative, strangely purified

Fighting France and French Ways and Their Meanings


and mature. It is as though their great experience had purged them of pettiness, meanness and frivolity, burning them down to the bare bones of character, the fundamental substance of the soul, and shaping that substance into something so strong and finely tempered that for a long time to come Paris will not care to wear any look unworthy of the look on their faces. (–)

Wharton sees the war as morally cleansing, freeing modern society from the vices of modernity. While Wharton never renounces this view of the war, she will come later to see its cleansing effects as weaker than they are here, as wartime Paris reverts to some degree to its old ways in A Son at the Front. As we have already seen, Wharton was hardly alone in viewing the war as a cleansing experience. Her friend and fellow old New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt, displaying more positive enthusiasm for warfare than did Wharton, shared her sense of the good done by the experience of military service and warfare. Roosevelt’s The Great Adventure begins: Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure. Never yet was worthy adventure worthily carried through by the man who put his personal safety first. Never yet was a country worth living in unless its sons and daughters were of that stern stuff which bade them die for it at need; and never yet was a country worth dying for unless its sons and daughters thought of life not as something concerned only with the selfish evanescence of the individual, but as a link in the great chain of creation and causation so that each person is seen in his true relations as an essential part of the whole, whose life must be made to serve the larger and continuing life of the whole. Therefore it is that the man who is not willing to die, and the woman who is not willing to send her man to die, in a war for a great cause, are not worthy to live. (–)

As a way of testing the resolution of men and women, war serves a socially hygienic purpose. Wharton, along with Seeger and other writers of the day, can be seen as offering the cultural apparatus to accompany Roosevelt’s social and political program. War was imagined as the opposite of modern industrial capitalist society. Among the benefits the war provides is that it seemingly builds character, seen most sharply when Wharton distinguishes between the Germans and the French. Wharton sees the French soldier to be characterized by an admirable single-mindedness, a determination that reveals what the war has done not to but for the French. As she passes among a group


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

of chasseurs-à-pied stationed on a mountain in Lorraine, she sees this determination captured in a look, and “that look followed us down the mountain; and as we skirted the edge of the ravine between the armies, we felt that on the far side of that dividing line were the men who had made the war, and on the near side the men who had been made by it” (). Killing two birds with one stone, Wharton lays responsibility for the war at the feet of the Germans and asserts that the war, rather than weakening, has strengthened the French. Not only is individual character built by the war, but social health, as we have already seen, improves and social conflict disappears. At the very opening of the war, Wharton sees the formerly divided French nation suddenly unified. As the crowd watches volunteers march down the street, One felt something nobly conscious and voluntary in the mood of this quiet multitude. Yet it was a mixed throng, made up of every class, from the scum of the Exterior Boulevards to the cream of the fashionable restaurants. These people, only two days ago, had been leading a thousand different lives, in indifference or in antagonism to each other, as alien as enemies across a frontier: now workers and idlers, thieves, beggars, saints, poets, drabs and sharpers, genuine people and showy shams, were all bumping up against each other in an instinctive community of emotion. (–)

Whereas the people of peacetime France had been “as alien as enemies across a frontier,” in wartime the frontier, and with it the enemy, has been redefined. War has made a unified community – “an instinctive community of emotion” – out of a nation previously riven by antagonisms. This new unity manifests itself most crucially in the tie that exists . . . between officers and soldiers. The feeling of the chiefs is almost one of veneration for their men; that of the soldiers a kind of half-humorous tenderness for the officers who have faced such odds with them. This mutual regard reveals itself in a hundred undefinable ways; but its fullest expression is in the tone with which the commanding officers speak the two words oftenest on their lips: “My men.” (–)

The relationship between officers and enlisted men manifests the mutuality of connection that characterizes the ideal of organic society. Wharton’s perception of a deep solidarity across class lines was clearly important to her: it appears not only in Fighting France but also in A Son at the Front. Wharton had earlier experienced – or thought she had experienced – a form of this highly stratified yet solidaristic society at her estate in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, the Mount (Figure .). For Wharton the Mount represented an alternative to American reality both in its physical

Fighting France and French Ways and Their Meanings


Figure .. “The Mount from the Flower Garden,” photograph by David Dashiell. Used by permission of the photographer.

presence and in the miniature social order it contained. In its physical presence, the Mount was something like a rebuke to the thinness of American culture. Characterized by Jennie A. Kassanoff as “A new house designed to look like an old home,” the Mount’s “orderly spaces, its patterned gardens and its Arcadian views all embodied a utopian alternative to modern America” (). The Mount provided not only a physical alternative to modern America, but also an alternative social order, one in which a pseudo- or quasi-feudal loyalty and craft-identity still dominated individual consciousness. This is embodied in the figure of Wharton’s gardener, who continued to work for Wharton even after being offered better pay elsewhere. Quoting from French Ways and Their Meanings, Kassanoff analyzes the significance of this gardener: “For Wharton, the Mount’s gardener was an ideal laborer. Like the medieval craftsmen of yore, he worked ‘Not for greed of gold, but simply from the ambition to excel in [his] own craft’ (Wharton, French Ways ). His “indifference to pecuniary gain and his absence of class consciousness” (Kassanoff –) make him the ideal and comforting opposite to the restive working class of Wharton’s own historical moment. Wharton’s antimodernism manifests itself also in her way of seeing French participation in the war, which she presents as utterly singleminded and clear-eyed. Crucial to this certainty and clarity is Wharton’s refusal to see the combatants, particularly the French, to be driven by anything other than a rational devotion to duty. Indeed, Wharton’s insistence on the French soldier’s consciousness of the meaning of his 

Frederick Wegener’s observation that Wharton depicts her characters’ relationship to rural Western Massachusetts as analogous to that of colonizers to colonies makes Kassanoff’s comments on the Mount particularly telling.


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

own actions reads like an attempt to refute the alarmingly modern thinkers Freud and Marx, and their unsettling notions of thought and opinion typically being strangers to their own origins. Wharton refuses to entertain the notion that anything other than simple clarity underlies the actions of the French as they fight the war. Wharton watches conscripts called to service gather on August , : the steady stream of conscripts still poured along. Wives and families trudged beside them, carrying all kinds of odd improvised bags and bundles. The impression disengaging itself from all this superficial confusion was that of a cheerful steadfastness of spirit. The faces ceaselessly streaming by were serious but not sad; nor was there any air of bewilderment – the stare of driven cattle. All these lads and young men seemed to know what they were about and why they were about it. The youngest of them looked suddenly grown up and responsible: they understood their stake in the job, and accepted it. (–)

This becomes a major theme of the book: France fights in full consciousness. Such a vision of the nature of the confrontation between France and Germany permits Wharton to present the war as epic in character, but does not allow for the less wholesome and more ironic vision of the war emphasized by Paul Fussell that was to become increasingly predominant even before the war’s end. Thus, for Wharton the war may remain heroic, the calamity great, but not without embraceable meaning, and not without a reasonably firm sense of control: If France perishes as an intellectual light and as a moral force, every Frenchman perishes with her; and the only death that Frenchmen fear is not death in the trenches but death by the extinction of their national ideal. It is against this death that the whole nation is fighting; and it is the reasoned recognition of their peril which, at this moment, is making the most intelligent people in the world the most sublime. ()

These words, fittingly, conclude Fighting France, emphasizing both national heroism and conscious awareness of the real nature of the war. If Fighting France praises France and the French as it describes the nation at war, French Ways and Their Meaning examines the underpinnings of that which Wharton praises. The books are largely continuous, beginning with Wharton’s “Preface” to French Ways and Their Meaning. Here she offers that one may safely say that a man’s view on most things in life depend on how many thousand years ago his land was deforested. And when, as befell our

Fighting France and French Ways and Their Meanings


forebears, men whose blood is still full of murmurs of the Saxon Urwald and the forests of Britain are plunged afresh into the wilderness of a new continent, it is natural that in many respects they should be still farther removed from those whose habits and opinions are threaded through with Mediterranean culture and the civic discipline of Rome. (ix)

Racial consciousness pervades this passage, with race marking “differences of European nationality as well as broad ‘color’ divisions” (Esch and Roediger ). This has been emphasized as a feature of Wharton’s writing by Kassanoff, and more widely in the discourse of the war years by Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker. But as importantly, the lament for the brevity of America’s flirtation with civilization – characteristic of those writers Philip Rahv characterized as “Paleface” in “Paleface and Redskin” – sounds clearly. As in Fighting France, Wharton affiliates modern France with ancient Rome, an affiliation made again on the following page, where Wharton asserts, “It is an immense advantage to have the primeval forest as far behind one as these clear-headed children of the Roman forum and the Greek amphitheatre” (x). These inheritors of classical civilization are under siege, and attempt to repel the barbarian invader. Thus for Wharton, quoting extensively from G. W. Kitchin’s History of France, as in late antiquity, so today: the ground on which the future of the world is now being fought for is literally the same as that Catalaunian plain (the “Camp de Châlons”) on which Attila tried to strangle France over fourteen hundred years ago. “In the year  all Gaul was filled with terror; for the dreaded Attila, with a host of strange figures, Huns, Tartars, Teutons, head of an empire of true barbarians, drew near her borders. Barbarism . . . now threatened the world . . . If Gaul fell, Spain would fall, and Italy, and Rome; and Attila would reign supreme, with an empire of desolation, over the whole world.” “The whole world” is a bigger place nowadays, and “farther West” is at the Golden Gate and not at the Pillars of Hercules; but otherwise might we not be reading a leader in yesterday’s paper? (–)

Wharton’s France is civilization imperiled by the barbarian invader from the East, but also civilization resistant to the encroachments of a culture to the west more fully commercialized, more fully subject to the imperatives of the market than befits a true civilization. Wharton’s account of France defends a continuous classical civilization – and continuity made 

David Clough notes this same phenomenon, though he does not refer to Rahv, in “Edith Wharton’s War Novels: A Reappraisal,” Twentieth Century Literature . (): –.


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

civilization possible. As Hazel Hutchison observes, “Meaning, for Wharton relied heavily on continuity, on a shared register, which was why war threatened the very basis of civilization by rupturing cultural and social links with the past” (). This emphasis on continuity also expresses a powerful antimodernism. Thus, Wharton condemns material ambition and prosperity as well as the subordination of cultural values to the marketplace: The requirements of the average Frenchman in any class are surprisingly few, and the ambition to “Better” himself socially plays a very small part in his plans. What he wants is leisure to enjoy the fleeting good things of life, from which no one knows better how to extract a temperate delight, and full liberty of mind to discuss general ideas while pursuing whatever trade or art he is engaged in. (–)

While premised, as Dimock notes, in Wharton’s case on her place in the old New York elite, her stance, typical, again of Rahv’s “Paleface” tradition in American culture, permits a critical perspective on America and the culture of industrial capitalism not readily available in the more populist and democratic tradition.

A Son at the Front While it is a war novel that does not depict combat, A Son at the Front is deeply concerned with conflict. It combines elements of the kunstlerroman and the novel of divorce. As a kunstlerroman, the novel necessarily involves conflict since the artist, John Campton, must struggle with his own artistic consciousness, the refractory material of his art, and a public that may not understand his work. A less codified form than the kunstlerroman, the novel of divorce must also include conflict since there would presumably be no divorce were there no conflict. John Campton is an American who has forsaken the family business to become a painter in Paris. Like Henry James’s Daisy Miller, he comes from the provincial outland of upstate New York (Campton from Utica, Daisy from Schenectady). Unlike Daisy, Campton adjusts to the Old World and knows the value of its rich, inherited civilization. After many years of painting in obscurity, he has enjoyed several years of fame, following the “discovery” of one of his portraits of his son George. Yet Campton finds that success, which he has desired, requires him now to paint pictures of the rich and famous, the painting of whom he finds boring. Campton’s desire for success springs largely from his desire to be

A Son at the Front


able to support his son, the product of his ill-fated marriage to Julia, who has since remarried a wealthy banker, Anderson Brant, in whose household George has been raised. Campton is jealous of Brant, who has had the expense and pleasure of raising George during the period of Campton’s obscurity. As the novel opens, Campton waits impatiently to begin traveling in the Mediterranean with George at the end of July . Campton finds the prospect of war unbelievable, and more unbelievable is the prospect of his son’s involvement in it. Even though George is an American, he is liable to French military service because both he and his father were born in France. This coincidence provides the basis for the central struggle of the novel: Campton begins by seeing George’s liability to French military service as a mere accident. As the novel progresses, Campton comes to see such service as a necessity, as service to the defense of civilization itself. However, this reconciliation does not in itself end the novel, for the kunstlerroman element in the novel requires that Campton be reconciled to the war not only as a father, but also as an artist. Through the course of the novel, Campton will move from indifference toward the war, through an abstract support of the French cause – support that does not require him to sacrifice his son – to personal, practical support of the French cause, and finally to a full individual and artistic reconciliation with the war. This final stage in Campton’s development holds the key to the novel; consequently, the kunstlerroman provides the master narrative to A Son at the Front. This central drama of A Son at the Front is played out through Campton’s relationship with his son, a relationship complicated by divorce. As the novel opens, an impending trip to the Mediterranean presents to Campton the opportunity to develop a relationship that had been thwarted by his relative poverty. Campton’s hard-won and recent success allows him to imagine making George independent of his stepfather Brant, and thus the prospect, as Campton sees it, of winning him back. The war thus encroaches on Campton at a point where he is particularly vulnerable and threatens to take from him the son he feels he never truly had, but with whom he now hopes to solidify his bond. Whether George is truly his son, and what precisely this means, concerns Campton throughout the novel. Thus, his immediate reaction to the prospect of war is: “There can’t be war: I’m going to Sicily and Africa with George the day after tomorrow” (). The illogic of this statement makes Campton’s concern appear to be like that of so many characters for whom the novel has contempt: at this point Campton sees the world through his individual, subjective, concerns, and with little thought for the legitimate demands of society. Campton,


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

however, possesses greater self-consciousness than most of the other characters in the novel and rebukes himself: “He smiled inwardly, perceiving that he was viewing the question exactly” as do the most self-interested characters in the novel. “Yes – but his case was different . . . Here was the son he had never seen enough of, never till lately seen at all as most fathers see their sons . . .” (). Campton, then, has strong reasons for feeling that his son should not be taken from him. The process by which Campton comes to recognize that the claim of France trumps all of his otherwise legitimate desires provides much of the matter of the novel. For his part, George initially sees the prospect of war as unlikely and unwelcome, and considers his views to be typical of his generation: “I know French chaps who feel as I do . . . and lots of English ones. They don’t believe the world will ever stand for another war. It’s too stupidly uneconomic, to begin with: I suppose you’ve read Angell? Then life’s worth too much, and nowadays too many millions of people know it . . . People are too healthy and well-fed now; they’re not going to go off to die in a ditch to oblige anyone” (). However, George comes to think differently once the war has begun. Reports of German atrocities drive George to banish Germany from the realm of the civilized. When Campton tries to argue that France has perhaps been looking for a fight with Germany ever since the disastrous Franco-Prussian war, George responds: “Haven’t the Germans shown us what they are now? . . . They’re not fit to live with white people, and the sooner they’re shown it the better” (). George’s words here seem to betray a passionate conviction that Germany is in the wrong (as well as a racist conception that we may trace to Wharton herself ). However, George’s family – a coalition of Campton and the Brants – connive to see that George is assigned to a headquarters unit behind the front, a posting he accepts uncomplainingly; Campton is relieved that his son is in little immediate danger.


Wharton’s use of these atrocity stories raises an interesting aesthetic/ideological problem. Since the stories were widely believed at the time, Wharton can be seen as simply recreating the contemporary atmosphere. However, by the time of the novel’s publication, many of the atrocity stories, especially the most sensational, had been exposed as fraudulent. Since nothing in the novel’s form or content acknowledges this, the effect is that the novel appears to simply reproduce and hence endorse these stories. Similarly, the relationship between the brutality the German army exhibited in Belgium and the general brutality of the war never becomes a thematic element in the novel, undoubtedly because the brutality is assigned solely to the Germans. For a recent investigation of this aspect of the First World War, see Alan Kramer, Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War.

A Son at the Front


While at the opening of the novel Campton does not believe in the war, he comes to accept its necessity and the justice of the French cause, but still to reject the war’s or France’s claim on George. Campton had no “doubt as to the rights and wrongs of the case,” yet he also “still refused to admit that France had any claim on George, any right to his time, to his suffering or to his life” (). While Campton continues to feel this way, he eventually begins to question his son’s apparent lack of desire to be at the front, actually fighting: Campton found himself wondering at the perfection of his son’s moral balance. So many things had happened . . . the issues at stake had become so glaringly plain, right and wrong, honour and dishonour, humanity and savagery faced each other so squarely across the trenches, that it seemed strange to Campton that his boy, so eager, so impressionable, so quick on the uptake, should not have felt some . . . burst of wrath. ()

As it turns out, this passage reveals Campton’s state of mind through irony, since George will indeed feel a burst of wrath sufficient to get him transferred to the front, even as he will continue to write to his parents as though he remained in the relative security of his post at the rear. Campton’s progress continues: whereas he was anxious to keep his son away from the front early in the novel, by Book Two he refuses to take any further steps to ensure his son’s safety. His ex-wife, Julia Brant, asks him, “What’s happened to you? Who has influenced you? What has changed you?” (). Campton struggles to answer this question, even to himself, but comes to see his previous attempts to protect his son to be born of an instinct to protect his offspring, regardless of the claims of morality. Yet the example of those who, in Campton’s mind, had gone into the war with a clear understanding of its cause and nature have convinced him that George does indeed have a stake in the war, and that France can make a legitimate claim on all those who stand for civilization against barbarism. Campton has thus moved from being an individual who sees the war in terms of resisting the encroachments of the social to one who comprehends the claims of the social world upon the individual: Campton had never before, at least consciously, thought of himself and the few beings he cared for as part of a greater whole, component elements of the immense amazing spectacle. But the last four months had shown him man as a defenceless animal torn suddenly from his shell, stripped of all the interwoven tendrils of association, habit, background, daily ways and words, daily sights and sounds, and flung out of the human habitable world into naked ether, where nothing breathes or lives. That was what war did;


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War and that was why those who best understood it in all its farthest- reaching abomination willingly gave their lives to put an end to it. ()

Campton comes to see the inextricably social nature of human being, a concept often associated in the twentieth century with socialist and Marxist thought – indeed, it is a central underpinning of George Lukács’ critique of modernism – but it also, with different points of emphasis, forms a central part of some kinds of conservative thought. And here again we see Wharton’s “Paleface” characteristics emerge, for the Paleface attitude toward American culture is, in whatever bad faith or operating on whatever false assumptions, a conservative critique of industrial capitalist modernity, of which an exaggerated and fragmenting individualism is a crucial component. But also striking is the way that participation in the war is not only justified, but also made incumbent. Because of the horror of modern war, described elsewhere as “the insatiable monster” (), war must be eradicated. Such a formulation comes remarkably close to those formulations popularized by supporters of Woodrow Wilson, for whom American justification for intervention was provided by the role of the war in preventing any future wars. Yet by the time A Son at the Front was published, it was apparent that the Great War had not ended war: the Russian Revolution was followed by foreign intervention, a brutal civil war, and the PolishSoviet War; war broke out in earnest between the Irish Republicans and the British Empire; and the Greco-Turkish war demonstrated that even in the region where the Great War began much unresolved conflict had yet to play itself out. In A Backward Glance Wharton wrote, “The war was over, and we thought we were returning to the world we so abruptly passed out of four years earlier. Perhaps it was as well that, at first, we were sustained by that illusion” (). Wharton’s inability or unwillingness to acknowledge the dismal spectacle of the post–First World War reality in A Son at the Front suggests the depth of her alienation and dislocation, as she allows her characters to remain confined to the thoughts and language of wartime propaganda. The notion that precisely because war is so horrible this war must be fought produces the further consequence that Germany embodies the principle of war. War will be eliminated if Germany is defeated, a proposition that makes sense only if Germany is solely responsible for the war (and indeed, for modern war as a whole). This conception is consistent with Wharton’s view of the war as seen in Fighting France. Whereas the novels of Cummings, Dos Passos, Hemingway, and others present the war

A Son at the Front


itself as the enemy, as embodying that which is to be resisted, Wharton attempts to incorporate the reaction against the war by means of acknowledging its horror. She also assigns sole responsibility for the war – and thus the horror – to Germany. As a result, Wharton cannot depict the war with the power of many of her fellow writers since she cannot see any way in which the war is the product of the historical moment and its decisive forces, rather than the machinations of Germany. Assigning national blame allows Wharton to avoid confronting the nature of the world in which all nations acted, with none of them foreseeing the real consequences of their actions. Glanced at intermittently early in the novel, the status of the individual becomes an explicit topic as Campton continues to wrestle with his feelings about the war and his son’s role in it. In a passage that seems to be an attempt to paraphrase and refute Randolph Bourne’s assertion that in an industrialized society the active consent of the people was not necessary to the conduct of war, Campton attempts to defend what he takes to be his son’s view: “The whole thing is so far beyond human measure that one’s individual rage and revolt seem of no more use than a woman’s scream at an accident she isn’t in” (). Campton, however, “knew he was arguing only against himself. He did not in the least believe that any individual sentiment counted for nothing at such a time” (). Campton’s skepticism about the significance of personal opinion in the face of the war is an aspect of his integrity; while he does not believe that personal sentiment counts for nothing, he is contemptuous of his own ability, seemingly, to contribute nothing else. Through her main character, Wharton proposes a view of the war in line with that of Bourne and those who follow in his wake in the postwar years, but does not permit Campton actually to believe this. Book Two of the novel ends with Campton increasingly concerned that George appears not to feel any call to be at the front, making his personal contribution to the defense of France and civilization against the “Powers of Darkness” (). This concern disappears from the novel in Book Three, which opens with Campton and Anderson Brant traveling by car to the field hospital where a seriously wounded George is being treated. George has been deceiving Campton and his mother and stepfather, having put in for transfer to a unit at the front some months earlier. This section, including 

Bourne in “A War Diary”: “The kind of war which we are conducting is an enterprise which the American government does not have to carry on with the hearty co-operation of the American people but only with their acquiescence” ().


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

the scenes at the field hospital itself, is probably the most successfully realized of the novel. Wharton explores the shock of Campton at his son’s danger, but also his increasing reconciliation with his rival and erstwhile nemesis, Brant. Book Three also fundamentally changes the problem of the novel, since Campton is undeceived as to his son’s exposure to danger and his attitude toward the war and his proper role in it. While Campton will still have to wrestle with the nature of George’s service and whether or not he ought to return to the front, increasingly the novel will focus on the attitude that Campton takes toward the war as an artist, an attitude influenced by but not identical with Campton’s attitude toward the war as a father. As they drive to the hospital – their passage there, normally impossible for civilians, is made possible by the banker Brant’s influence – Campton’s mind is flooded with various memories, including that of the scene just recently past where he confronted his friend Adele Anthony, a fierce partisan of the French cause and a sort of unrelated “aunt” to George. Campton, having just learned that George has been serving at the front, and not at the rear, and that he has been seriously – perhaps fatally – wounded, accuses Anthony: “It was you who drove him to the front – it was you who sent my son to his death!” (). Anthony denies that she has done so, but not in order to evade responsibility; rather, she refuses to take credit where it is not due: “Without flinching, she gazed back at him. ‘Oh John – it was you!’” (). The family friend attempts to make clear to Campton that George is his son, that even in deceiving Campton, George behaves in a manner in keeping with his father’s deepest wishes, his deepest self. Campton further remembers the story of young George, who when given a first edition of Lavengro – a nineteenth-century adventure novel – devours it, revealing for the first time his love of literature. George is given the valuable book by Brant, who has the means to be a collector. Brant leaves the price tag in the book, and tells George that the book will “be worth a lot more than that by the time you’re grown up . . . To which George was recorded to have answered sturdily: ‘No it won’t, if I find other stories I like better’” (). This interchange had been reported to Campton by Adele Anthony, who was, once again, trying to make Campton see that George takes after his father, seeing the value of the book as intrinsic to it, in the pleasure its story brings rather than in the market price that it may fetch. This problem of the identity of George’s real, “spiritual” father becomes further complicated when Campton sees George and fails at first to

A Son at the Front


recognize him, so changed is he by his time at the front; only the shape of George’s hand convinces Campton that it is his son he looks at, not “a middle-aged bearded man” (). In a nicely wrought paradox, Wharton has Campton think, “It was in the moment of identifying his son that he felt the son he had known to be lost to him forever” (). Campton’s relationship with George has been troubled by divorce and his ex-wife’s subsequent remarriage. Now Campton finds that the gulf in experience produced by George’s service at the front presents another, seemingly unbridgeable, distance between father and son, the “something” in the quotation from Whitman that provides an epigraph to the novel: “Something veil’d and abstracted is often a part of the manner of these beings” (ii). Since Campton cannot possibly share George’s experience on the front, it would seem that his son, in his eyes never fully his, will now never be; only the kunstlerroman narrative will fully unite Campton with his son despite, and to some degree via, George’s experience of war. After receiving immediate treatment for his wounds at the field hospital, George is evacuated to a hospital far from the front, where Campton learns that George feels himself to have been loyal to his father at the moment of deceiving him. “‘When I exchanged regiments I did what you’d always hoped I would, eh Dad?’” (). Campton is nonplussed at the statement, in part because it simplifies the complex course of development through which his feelings have gone, but eventually stammers a reply, “I . . . good Lord . . . at any rate I’m glad you felt sure of me” (). When he tells George that he would have preferred to be let in on the secret of his transfer, George tells him that he deceived his father only because of his mother: “you see, there was mother. I thought it all over, and decided that it would be easier for you both if I said nothing. And, after all, I’m glad now that I didn’t – that is, if you really do understand.” Campton, seeing that he has regained his son, whom in a sense he has never lost, replies, “Yes; I understand” (). Yet, for Campton, regaining his son is a tortuous business, and so he wavers between the sense of loss of and ever more profound union. A rift again develops when George wants to return to his regiment at the front, rather than remaining in Paris to do staff work or traveling to the United States to assist the French cause there. As they argue, Campton looks at his son, until he recognizes in his eyes a look that puts him beyond Campton’s reach: “He had been gazing too steadily into George’s eyes, and now at last he knew what that mysterious look in them meant. It was . . . inaccessible to reason, beyond reason, belonging to other spaces, other weights and measures, over the edge, somehow, of the tangible calculable world” ().


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

Something like the value that lies within a book but has no relation to its market value, what possess George are compulsions based on experience and values from beyond the world of getting and spending. Service at the front affirms the non-material values that Campton has wanted his son to embrace, yet his embrace of them endangers his life, and thus seemingly threatens to remove him from Campton forever. When it actually occurs, Campton reconciles himself to his son’s return to the front. He cannot express his feelings to George, but Wharton permits the reader insight into his thoughts: “he saw, with an almost blinding distinctness . . . the extent to which his own feeling, during the long months, had imperceptibly changed, and how his inmost impulse, now that the blow had fallen, was not of resistance to it, but of acquiescence, since it made him once more one with his son” (). Campton’s spiritual union with his son is threatened, however, when – simultaneously with news of America’s entry into the war – word reaches Paris of George having been seriously wounded once again. This time George fails to recover, and dies, the word “Father!” virtually the last he utters. Campton, numbed by the blow, only fully experiences his sorrow three months later. Yet grief at the loss of George will be followed by Campton’s final and truest moment of reconciliation, a moment that Campton experiences both as a father and as an artist. Campton fully confronts his grief at the death of his son on the Fourth of July , as the newly arrived American troops march – badly, Campton notes, because they have had so little training – through Paris. He mixes among the officers and soldiers, “His whole creative faculty . . . curiously, mysteriously engrossed in the recording of the young faces for whose coming George had yearned” (). Campton returns to work the day after this experience. Even though George had provided his most important subject, Campton does not return to his late sketches of him; thus, it is an affront to his artistic inclination as well as to his fatherly pride when his young friend Boylston informs him that Julia would like for George to have a monument. Campton will not hear of it, whatever her wishes, or those of his stepfather, or Adele Anthony. Boylston tries to explain to Campton that while he may not need a monument, they do, precisely because George was Campton’s son all along: “‘Well, that’s just it, isn’t it, sir? You’ve had him; you have him still. Nobody can touch that fact, or take it from you. Every hour of his life was yours. But they’ve never had anything, those two others, Mr. Brant and Miss Anthony; nothing but a reflected light. And so every outward sign means more to them’” (). The problem of the monument joins Campton’s function as father with

A Son at the Front


his function as artist. However, Campton will be unable to turn immediately to it, involving as it does a revisiting of his old work, studying photos, recalling his son, all of which is too painful for him to contemplate. And finally, paying for the monument raises the issue of money, which made him unable for so long to function as George’s father in a practical sense. Campton brings himself around to the idea of designing and overseeing the making of a monument to his son once he comes to accept the truth of what others have told him, that George was indeed his son, not his mother’s and not Anderson Brant’s. Once Campton accepts this, his own life seems to him to possess richness denied to others, as stark as his loneliness might appear to be. And though he remains troubled by moments of overwhelming grief, through all these moods, Campton began to see, there ran the life-giving power of a reality embraced and accepted. George had been; George was; as long as his father’s consciousness lasted, George would be as much a part of it as the closest, most actual of his immediate sensations. He had missed nothing of George, and here was his harvest, his golden harvest. ()

Campton sees that the George who has died is truly his son. The younger George and the George who has elected to die in the service of France are united in Campton’s memory and consciousness, and awareness of this permits him to undertake the labor of designing the monument. Striking here is the sense of peace and fulfillment with which the novel ends: George’s death is part of “reality embraced and accepted”; it is meaningful. George dies because he has recognized that one cannot live for oneself only – the quality that makes him his father’s rather than his mother’s son. George has taught Campton the lesson he had originally learned from his father. Campton says to himself “‘The only thing that helps is to be able to do things for people’” (). And so Campton turns to his work, and can again look at his old sketches of George, his pain sublimated into purpose. The basic logic of the novel, then, boils down to this: Campton, through George’s instruction, comes to recognize that service to Art rather than Commerce is service to something greater than narrow self-interest, while America comes to recognize that service to civilization is service to something greater than national self-interest. In the familial discourse examined in Chapter , the family, particularly the mother, mediated the demands of the state, sometimes reproducing them, other times filtering them, adding an affective dimension otherwise absent. In A Son at the Front, parenthood provides a medium through which Wharton depicts a


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

variety of attitudes toward the legitimacy of the demands, not of the state, so much as of society, civilized society. Thus, the legal technicality that makes George liable to military service to France matters less than does the debt all owe to France as the exemplar of a civilized society. George and John Campton come to understand this; Julia does not. Here Wharton adds to the intricacies of matters internal to positional-existential ideology – for example, Campton’s agonizing over the significance of his bond with George – an argument concerning the proper relationship between the demands of the positional-existential and the inclusive-existential dimension of human being. However painful Campton finds it, relations based on one’s positional-existential being and status – father and son, most pointedly – must be subordinated to the inclusive-existential reality disclosed by the war. And that reality is that true, civilized social existence is under assault. The political nature of the demands of the state and the political nature of the war disappear amidst seemingly more fundamental matters. Such an understanding is of a piece with seeing the war as a conflict between Latin and Teuton. Wharton, in A Son at the Front, shares Seeger’s disdain for the world of getting and spending and, as was common at the time, understands the war as a regenerative experience, opposed to commercial society (Leed, Losurdo). The large-scale irony here is that this war, which prepared the way for the United States to become the hegemonic power of the capitalist world-system is understood to be itself fundamentally about values noneconomic and even anti-economic in character. Simultaneously, a war whose most distinctive characteristics derive from the thoroughly modern industrial economies that produced vast numbers of machine guns, artillery pieces, high explosive charges and shells, miles of barbed wire, tons of poison gas, and an extensive transportation network delivering all of these to the front is understood to concern and embody values whose roots lie in the pre-industrial, indeed, pre-capitalist, world. Thus, Wharton continues in A Son at the Front to understand the war in terms of continuity with the prewar past. While Campton’s largely internal drama provides the primary narrative of A Son at the Front, several subordinate elements of the novel remain worth examining. First, the war in many cases cleanses those who experience it, something we see early in the novel. Before war is declared, Campton’s friend, the noted doctor Fortin-Lescluze, has become enamored of a “Javanese dancer” (), an episode in the life of the frivolous prewar world. This world largely dissolves, however, upon the declaration of war, and when Campton ventures out to the family home of Fortin-Lescluze he is

A Son at the Front


greeted by the doctor, his wife, his aged mother, and his son, without a Javanese dancer to be seen: “Campton excused himself for intruding on the family, who seemed as happily united, as harmonious in their deeper interests, as if no musical studio-parties and exotic dancers had ever absorbed the master of the house” (). Here Wharton illustrates in fictive form her apology in French Ways and Their Meaning for the French system of marriage: “Marriage in France, is regarded as founded for the family and not for the husband and wife. It is designed not to make two people individually happy, but to secure their permanent well-being as associates in the foundation of a home and the procreation of a family” (). Love is taken seriously in France, but is understood to be too unstable to provide a firm foundation for marriage, which provides a foundation to society. Love is “the poetry of life,” but they have judged that “the family and the state cannot be built up on poetry” (). Love is accorded its place, but that place is minor compared to the place accorded the family, and upon the declaration of war in A Son at the Front we see the social and political centrality of the family assert itself. If the war recalls the French to their deepest values, it has a more miraculous effect on and for the American couple the Talketts. Prior to the war, George has fallen in love with Madge Talkett, wife of Roger Talkett. Before going off to war, George wants to have an affair with Madge; she is reluctant but not entirely unwilling. But when he returns, wounded, from the front, George insists that Madge divorce Roger before they consummate their relationship. The war has proved to be “the making of him,” as predicted by Adele Anthony, providing moral backbone and seriousness where it was lacking. But the transformation of George is as nothing to that of Roger Talkett, who, prior to America’s entry into the war was utterly subservient to his wife, saying “Why, I don’t believe in anything she doesn’t believe in” (). Talkett, like his wife, is a hanger-on in the vaguely bohemian artistic world, fond of mouthing hollow phrases about his supposedly subversive views. Talkett is Wharton’s consummate wimp, whose one virtue lies in the honesty of his devotion to his wife. But so powerful is the regenerative effect of the war, that once America joins the fray, even Roger Talkett takes up a rifle, volunteering for duty and shipping off for America to undergo training. Madge follows him to America: “I mean to take a house somewhere near him. He’s not well and he writes that he misses me” (). In doing so, she says she is “only trying to do what I suppose George would have wanted” (). George provides to all an example of the proper attitude, not only to the war, but to life generally.


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

Both the reassertion of the indissoluble nature of the French family and the conversion of Madge and Roger Talkett – characters openly mocked earlier – join with the renunciation of self-interest that forms part of Campton’s narrative as components in the deep anti-individualism of the novel. A number of other sub-narratives support this, none more clearly than the story of the family of René Davril, a young painter who dies of wounds sustained in combat. Davril admires Campton greatly, and the established painter goes to visit the young man in the hospital. Moved by his interview, Campton returns later to give Davril a study he made while working on the portrait of George that made him famous. Davril, however, has died, leaving behind him a destitute family. Campton sells the study and attempts to give the proceeds to Davril’s family, but they refuse to accept the money, proposing instead that it be shared out among painters, musicians, and authors whose livelihoods have been ruined by the war. The scheme laid before him, Campton listened with growing attention. Nothing hitherto had been less in the line of his interests than the large schemes of general amelioration which were coming to be classed under the transatlantic term of “Social Welfare.” If questioned on the subject a few months earlier he would probably have concealed his fundamental indifference under the profession of an extreme individualism, and the assertion of every man’s right to suffer and starve in his own way. Even since René Davril’s death had brought home to him the boundless havoc of the war, he had felt no more than the impulse to ease his own pain by putting his hand in his pocket when a particular case was too poignant to be ignored. Yet here were people who had already offered their dearest to France, and were now pleading to be allowed to give all the rest; and who had the courage and wisdom to think out in advance the form in which their gift would do most good. ()

The Davril family provides Campton with instruction in living for something other than self, a principle that Campton realizes in his vocation as an artist, but which remains unconscious to him and not integrated into his being until the war and the crisis that it entails erupts. On the whole, the war – despite Wharton’s description of it as “the insatiable monster” () – is good for people. One does not, of course, say this lightly, given Wharton’s real acquaintance with the suffering it entailed. Yet ultimately Wharton joins those antimodernists, like her hero Theodore Roosevelt, for whom the war presents the opportunity for moral and cultural regeneration. Antimodernism, however, is not a unified and coherent position, and one may find antimodernists among the major

A Son at the Front


figures of the reaction against the war, Hemingway and Pound foremost among them. Where Wharton differs from a fellow pro-war antimodernist like Alan Seeger is in her emphasis on allegiance to value systems and social institutions outside the self. Wharton fights a rear-guard action in defense of the social world that is supposedly being defended in the war, whereas Seeger imagined the war as part of a private drama of the self as a participant in the cosmic principle Strife, in which defense of anything enters only as a means of heightening the drama. Paradoxically, the kunstlerroman narrative makes this most evident and most central – paradoxically in that one version of the nature of the artistic temperament sees it as radically self-absorbed. But Campton’s absorption in problems of art, a realm of value outside of and above the self, sets him apart especially from his exwife Julia, who never transcends the confines of self: her concern for her son remains at the level of taking care of her own. Thus, unlike Campton, she cannot reconcile herself to George’s embrace of duty, and is the antithesis of the republican mothers I discussed in Chapter . Furthermore, as an artist, Campton does not create, but rather finds meanings. When the war arrives, he sees subjects who previously bored him transformed by their anxiety into worthy subjects: there is something to paint in them now. He does not, then, conjure up meaning where none previously existed. In this, he operates in the way that Wharton would see herself proceeding in her war writing, revealing to the public the latent meaning of the war: the monument to George that Campton turns to at the end of the novel and A Son at the Front itself are at heart the same project in different media. Both are, along the lines discussed by Steven Trout in Memorial Fictions, memorials seeking to render meaningful what threatened to be a politically and socially destabilizing event were it to be understood, as it already to some degree was when the novel was published, to be devoid of meaning. Adherence to a sense of one’s obligations to the state, part of the novel’s more general sense of the importance of fidelity to values that lie 

Maurice Beebe distinguishes two traditions in the kunstlerroman, the Sacred Fount and the Ivory Tower. The artist in the Sacred Fount tradition sees life and art to be closely linked and the value and richness of art to spring from that of life. The Ivory Tower artist, on the other hand, resents the interference of the demands of ordinary life on art and shuts out the world as much as possible. As Beebe notes, artists as portrayed in the kunstleroman usually combine some characteristics from both traditions. Campton clearly belongs more powerfully to the Sacred Fount tradition: the central problem of the novel concerns his relationship with his son, and his artistic problems are secondary. Yet the ascetic nature of his preferred surroundings in his studio, which contrasts sharply with Julia and Anderson Brant’s over-furnished interior, speaks to the partial attempt to withdraw from the world.


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War

outside the self, becomes particularly clear and, given the context in literary history, poignant, when Wharton introduces the phrase “dulce et decorum” into the novel. The famous lines from Horace’s ode, “dulce et decorum est/pro patria mori” functions as shorthand in Wharton to describe the mentality of the men at the front in a conversation between Boylston and Campton: Boylston’s round face became remote and mysterious. “We don’t really know – do we sir? – exactly how any of them feel? Any more than if they were – –” He drew up sharply on the word, but Campton faced it. “Dead?” “Transfigured, say; no, trans – – what’s the word in the theology books? A new substance . . . somehow . . . ” “Ah, you feel that too?” the father exclaimed. ()

Boylston’s assessment is confirmed by Campton: “‘There’s something in all their eyes: I don’t know what. Dulce et decorum, perhaps – – ’ “‘Yes’” (). For Wharton, Horace’s words describe without irony how those at the front feel about their service. While the elliptical nature of the dialogue makes the full meaning a matter of inference, it appears that the sacrifice of self to the greater good of the nation has remade these men into creatures of a different and extraordinary kind. In Wharton it remains “sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” The antimodernist subordination of self is part of the novel’s reassertion of Latin culture. This contrasts sharply with the decidedly ironic use of the quotation in both Ezra Pound and Wilfred Owen. In Hugh Selwyn Mauberly, published in , a kind of poetic self-portrait in context, Pound writes some of the most powerful lines written against the war by a non-combatant. His ironic use of Horace occurs as he describes the various states of mind and character in which different types of men went to war: Some quick to arm, some for adventure, some from fear of weakness, some from fear of censure, some for love of slaughter, in imagination, learning later . . . some in fear, learning love of slaughter; Died some, pro patria, non “dulce” non “et decor” (–)


A Son at the Front

Pound does not simply negate the lines from Horace: some of those who fought died for their country, but he inserts “non” to deny that there was anything “sweet” or “fitting” about their deaths. Pound’s soldiers who do not die, “return home to a lie” (). The lives of the dead are wasted; the countries they die for are unworthy of sacrifice. The world about which Wharton writes is perceived very differently: her soldiers engage in a virtually timeless act of sacrifice, reaffirm the nobility of dying for one’s country, and, despite occasional criticism from Wharton about life on the home front, it is never questioned that the war emerges from an inherent and ages-old conflict between Latin civilization, eminently worthy of sacrifice, and Teutonic barbarism. “Dulce et Decorum,” supplies not only part of the lines for, but also the title to Wilfred Owen’s most famous poem, and as with Pound, the contrast with Wharton is striking. Owen is probably the most famous of English combatant poets (killed in action shortly before the war’s end), and his poem reflects both his close familiarity with the misery and suffering of those who served in the trenches and with the rhetoric of those who glorified military service. Describing the effects of a gas attack on one unfortunate soldier too slow to get his mask in place, Owen writes, But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . . Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. ()

Owen then turns to the effect of seeing this, In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. ()

After sixteen descriptive lines to open the poem, Owen shifts to the predictive. The poem now is overtly addressed to an audience, presumably “Jessie Pope, etc.,” to whom the poem was originally dedicated [Jessie Pope was the pro-war author of Jessie Pope’s War Poems ()]. If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud


“Dulce et Decorum”: Edith Wharton’s Great War Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori. ()

The poem retains the sharp detail of the opening, but now represents not the event itself, but the event as replayed in the dreams of the speaker, and with the added complication of being a conditional construction: “If in some smothering dreams . . . If you could hear.” If the addressee knew the truth about dying “pro patria,” there would be no talk of “dulce et decorum.” Ignoring for present purposes the poetic richness of Owen’s performance, the poem distinguishes between the truth of experience and the falsity of the ideology and rhetoric that led so many to have that experience. The “dulce et decorum” that in Wharton’s novel explains the distance between combatants and non-combatants is for Owen “the old Lie.” These different uses of Horace indicate much broader differences in their evaluations of social reality: both Pound and Owen decry falsity at the core of the social world that underpinned the Great War; for her part, Wharton may have had her reservations about this or that aspect, but fundamentally she affirms the world that was simultaneously destroyed by and responsible for the Great War.

 

Some Versions of the Epic The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem

The long poem, particularly the modern long poem, occupies a commanding place in the annals of American literature. Long poems were written in North America beginning with Gaspar Peréz de Villagrá’s Historia del Nueva México (), an epic that scrupulously follows classical antecedents. Long poems began appearing in English in  with Michael Wigglesworth’s popular The Day of Doom; Or a Poetical Description of the Great and Last Judgment and the unpublished poetic jeremiad God’s Controversy with New England. Long poems, many modeled on the classical epic, continued to appear through the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. Within this history, Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself transformed the long poem, replacing the classical epic’s focus on the objective world – “The salient features of the Greek epic are objectivity and formality” (Hainsworth ) – with an attempt to encompass simultaneously the subjective and the objective, part of the broader Romantic shift emphasizing the subjective interior. In the twentieth century, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, and T. S. Eliot, to list the traditional, canonical modernist poets, all produced at least one major long poem. Pound in particular is associated with the modern long poem as descended from the epic; he first framed his intention around  or  (Stock ; Kenner ), and much of his career is dominated by his attempt to produce “a poem including history,” as he defined the epic (ABC ). Venturing out a little farther from the traditionally canonical poets, one finds Muriel Rukeyser, H.D., and Louis Zukofsky. Not intended to be exhaustive, this list indicates the richness of the form, or at least the compulsion poets felt in a poetic era dominated by the lyric to attempt a form in which to come to terms with the world beyond the self and its experience. Margaret Dickie describes the composition of these long poems – she restricts herself to the work of Eliot, Crane, Williams, 

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem and Pound – as “a second stage of creative activity for the American Modernists. Their first efforts had been to reduce poetic form, purify language, and focus imaginative attention” (). Moving to a longer form, with greater ambitions, including having some sort of public impact, posed serious difficulties for the poets involved, as the methods first developed, characterized by “the brief, difficult, non-mimetic lyric” (), as seen in Imagism, proved insufficient for executing the long poem, and they realized “the inadequacy of private and purified language to shape the public themes which they aspired to address” (). The difficulties faced by modernist poets working in a long form were amplified by their aversion to narrative and argument, traditional sources of coherence in long poems (). The modern epics produced by these poets “are in many ways deliberately provisional, open-ended, formally unfinished and distinguished throughout by the sense of possibility, of inclusion rather than perfected and completed design” (Whittier-Ferguson –). In part the epic could no longer be written in the old way – or one of the old ways – because of the subject of the poems considered in this chapter: the Great War. The First World War made it impossible to present military conflict in heroic terms (Whittier-Ferguson ). And yet [w]ar is traditionally at the heart of the epic. It is an occasion for heroic contests, and the gods’ spectacular interventions in human affairs. Nations are made and broken in war; humans achieve such glory that they become worthy of song. The First World War finds its way into The Waste Land, Ulysses, and the Cantos not as an event that generates narrative and heroism but as an enormously powerful force of negation, of anti-enlightenment. (Whittier-Ferguson )

The discontinuous poems produced by Eliot, Pound, and others feature complex, troubled, and sometimes troubling, if any, heroes. War tends to be presented allusively and obliquely. For example, in The Waste Land one of the many speakers calls out to someone who, like him, trudges to work “Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,” part of the “crowd” that “flowed over London Bridge.” Here one might see a fellow soldier or sailor from the Somme or Jutland, but Eliot’s speaker calls, “Stetson! You who were with me in the ships at Mylae” (). Simultaneously there and not there, the war cannot be represented. While the canonical and semi-canonical works previously discussed have received anywhere from massive to moderate attention, a group of poems unknown to literary critics and historians attempts to employ epic

The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem


or epic-like means to confront the First World War and does not share the modernists aversion to narrative and argument. They are a varied bunch: some are wholeheartedly in favor of American involvement in the war, while others aim for properly epic objectivity. Some stick closely to the epic conceived of as a list of literary conventions to be fulfilled, while others take considerable liberties with the form. All share the underlying quality of epic ambitions and techniques. The epic has been attractive to American writers throughout history because of its scope, its attempt to provide a picture of the world as a unified totality (Phillips). And as a means of synthesizing a world that many felt was dissolving into fragments, the epic seems to have been especially appealing as a way to present the Great War for those who did not feel that it, and modernity more generally, required a wholesale revision of the epic approach. However, while the epic may have provided a model for seeing the world as a unified whole, the usefulness of this model for writers of the twentieth century is questionable, or at the very least seriously attenuated. In his brief, incisive summary of the theory of the epic found in Hegel’s Aesthetics, Franco Moretti identifies a fundamental antagonism between epic and modernity. The conventions of the epic, Hegel tells us, are rooted in the era before the state and institutionalized religion made objective that which had previously existed primarily within the subject: “everything that later becomes firm religious dogma or civil and moral law still remain a living attitude of mind from which no individual separated himself” (–). The heroic age, in which power and authority dwelt in the person of the hero, provides the necessary sociohistorical basis for the epic. As power and authority become increasingly institutionalized and thus objectified, so too does the basis for epic shrink. Thus, “the nearer we come to the present, the more epic loses any meaning” (Moretti ). In modernity, the individual as the repository of universal value is definitively transcended, and so the hero cannot be the decisive factor in any action of great scope. The Great War demonstrated this gruesomely and at enormous human cost. Thus, at the same time that its scope and ability to incorporate historical content made the epic attractive to poets, its rootedness in – profoundly – pre-modern modes of social organization made it, at least in anything like its traditional form, inadequate to the task of representing the war. The modernists had a point. It is not a very cheering prospect, then, that this chapter presents: an analysis of poems in a form seemingly doomed to failure, about a horrific war. But failure

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem can tell us as much as success. And furthermore, there are a few surprises along the way. The seven poems examined in this chapter fall into three rough subcategories. William Carter’s The Gates of Janus, Lincoln Hulley’s St. Michael and the Dragon, and Georges Lewys’ Epic of Verdun all attempt to revive the epic form nearly wholesale. All three treat the epic primarily as a set of conventions which must be followed. Where conventions are violated – for Carter and Hulley, objective presentation; for Lewys this and scope – the conventions are more abstract than those that are observed; they are also more important to the form because central to it as a means of knowing the world. Unsurprisingly, given that objective presentation is an element of the traditional epic neglected in them, these three are the most tendentious of the seven poems – although Colcord’s Vision of War could plausibly be seen as equally, although differently, so. As a result, while they are the most conventionally epic, they are also the least properly epic, and for the same reason. Wed to conventions rooted in the pre-modern world, they cannot confront successfully an unprecedentedly modern war. Abe Craddock Edmunds’ Five Men at the Battle of Rheims and Leighton Brewer’s Riders of the Sky take greater liberties with the form. Edmunds fragments the heroic epic into five perspectives, avoiding tendentiousness

I have rejected several poems that might have a claim for inclusion in this chapter. Henry Frank’s The Clash of Thrones: A Series of Sonnets on the European War offers “a sort of poetic panorama of some of the great issues of the conflict” () thus providing the scope required of the epic. But without a narrative to link them, the sonnets that form the series are too fragmented to offer an approximation to the unity of an epic. Joseph Edward Lanouette’s Jean Rivard models itself on Goethe’s Faust: the main character has been reading Faust when the devil appears at his door and offers him a deal whereby he will become young again and be transported to the western front so that he may protect his son. However, Jean Rivard lacks the scope necessary for the epic, since the motivation of the main character is so much more limited than that of Faust. The poem remains confined to private life and private motivations, which only intersect with the public world accidentally and minimally. John Allan Wyeth’s sonnet sequence, This Man’s Army: A War in Fifty-Odd Sonnets is a series of impressionistic sketches of moments experienced by an unheroic soldier. The sonnets follow a clear narrative trajectory, autobiographical in character, beginning in Camp Upton, New York, where Wyeth received his final training, through his journey to France, then to areas near the front, and finally away from the front as the speaker’s war ends after he contracts influenza. In his introduction to a  republication of This Man’s Army, Dana Gioia comments that Wyeth “missed the opportunity of creating an epic poem” (xxvii). The autobiographical nature of the sequence prevents Wyeth from presenting the war on anything approaching the broad scale necessary, and the nature of the world as experienced by the speaker, often characterized by loneliness and impersonality, is too insistently modern for Wyeth to have maintained the integrity of the work while also meeting the demands of the epic.

The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem


by presenting the war through these five perspectives. The brutalizing effect of the war is dispersed across two figures, one German and the other English, who display this brutalization differently: a visceral, direct, and physical form in the case of the German enlisted man Helmut, and an abstract, indirect, and intellectual form in the case of the English officer Fenwick. Edmunds thus avoids the one-sided presentation typical of much American poetry of the war; having multiple perspectives furthers the cause of objective presentation. Conversely, Leighton Brewer retains the single hero character of the epic, with Bob Wainwright occupying this role, while other, more traditionally heroic figures are incorporated into the tale as digressions, a formal strategy more in keeping with the classical epic than is Edmunds’s multiplication of perspective. While this broadens the scope of Riders of the Sky, it does not allow Brewer to achieve a truly epic breadth since the aviator’s experience of the war is understood as exceptional. Indeed, that which qualifies him for heroic status, engagement in single combat, renders the individual aviator unable to serve as the repository of value since action of great scope in the Great War cannot be represented through individual experience. Brewer multiplies perspective through dialogue and narrative summary, allowing him to achieve greater objectivity of presentation, without achieving epic scope. Finally, Lincoln Colcord and Lindley Grant Long are simultaneously similar to one another and diametrically opposed. Both avoid the stilted diction that epic formality can entail, neither concerns himself with checking off the boxes of epic conventions, neither offers a heroic actor, both achieve great scope, and both achieve objectivity, though of different kinds. The objectivity of Colcord’s poem emerges from the speaker’s willingness to look at all nations through a single optic that is ostensibly indifferent to nationality. Belgium, Germany, the United States, all are seen in relation to a vision of inexorable, inevitable progress toward a predetermined end: “The Brotherhood of Man! ” Things are different with Long: even though the voice of his persona, Farmer Hiram, filters the reality presented, he gives fair, if skeptical, quarter to all. Farmer Hiram’s vision, while religious, does not negate the past as merely contributory to a redeemed future. And although Farmer Hiram is not much given to sentimentality, he also never displays the serenity of Colcord’s speaker. Whereas Colcord writes a modern epic in the manner of Whitman, Long writes what might be called a minimally epic poem: narrative, wide in scope, objective in presentation, and with a few nods to, or winks at, the classical epic.

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem

Epic as Genre: Carter, The Gates of Janus; Hulley, St. Michael and the Dragon; and Lewys, Epic of Verdun William Carter consciously shaped The Gates of Janus: An Epic Story of the World War according to the conventions of the classical epic. Carter tells the reader in his “Foreword” that “the Epic form of poetry, so long unused, is most admirably fitted for the narration of such a War as this, – greater than any in all the world’s annals” (). The scope of the war and that of the epic fit one another, and Carter hopes that by committing them to the epic form – one he hopes others will take up more successfully – the events of the war will enter more deeply into popular memory (–). Carter states clearly his partisanship, denouncing “the atrocity and fiendishness with which the War has been prosecuted by our enemies” () and holds one of the sources of his poem’s value to be its immediacy, its testimony about “things which the world knows now; has seen, has felt! ” (). Thus, while the scope, diction, action, and other specific features of The Gates of Janus conform to the conventions of the Homeric epic, it refuses Homer’s objectivity. Carter conceives of the epic as a matter of literary conventions, bent toward a primarily didactic purpose. Still, Carter includes those icons of objectivity: maps. Opposite the title page, one finds a “Map of the Battlefields of the Somme and the Hindenburg Line” complete with references to the corresponding pages in the poem. Carter thus attempts to root the poem in objective reality, even as he presents the war in terms of Furies and Dogs of War. Ten in number, the Furies seem to have more in common with the sins of Christianity than with the Furies of Roman or Greek mythology and goad the Dogs, the national militaries, to war. The war itself begins with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which Carter suggests was the result of an Austrian plot intended to provoke a war with Serbia (). The Germans are led to “forget their debt to human-kind” () by the Furies, a debt for the knowledge of the arts and sciences (–). “The Hun and Savage” Carter writes, “can imitate” (), but no more, denigrating the contribution of German intellectuals and artists. The Furies speak directly to the Kaiser, who then orders … his cohorts … with counsel stern, Bids them go forth, slay, mutilate and burn. () 

Born in England in , Carter moved to the United States in his teens, eventually becoming a Presbyterian minister (Hopkins ).

Gates of Janus; St. Michael & Dragon; Epic of Verdun


Carter does not aspire to the objectivity of the epic: not only is the war a conflict between unmixed good and evil, but even the war’s events are presented one-sidedly since the Central powers do not really provide a credible military threat to the Allies. For example, the Allied retreat from Mons in , an organized, fighting retreat by Allied troops following their defeat in the initial Battle of the Frontiers is celebrated as an outright victory: Aye, and they won great fame! Though heavy pressed, There was no rout! but they, – most often, – vexed Their foes with rallies, – brilliant, fresh and strong! Defeated! Nay! They sang the Victor’s song! ()

While Carter says the Allies were “heavy pressed,” the language of the poem gives no sense of this, and the presentation lacks concrete detail that might convey it as well. This is typical of the poem: the presentation remains vague and abstract, and the Allies are never really heavy pressed. Carter appears unable or unwilling to present the conflict as properly epic: conflict between two closely-matched sides, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Carter conceives of the war in religious terms. We get an inkling of this early on: Ah, little Belgium! Though on thee was pressed The crown of thorns! – Thou art by this confessed, Another Saviour of the human race! – And in the world’s heart thou hast highest place! Aye, Belgium! We will e’er remember thee, As one who has been crucified! – to free The world, from infamy and lust and wrong! Though weak, God made thee Saviour from the strong! ()

Depicted as a collective Christ, having sacrificed itself for humanity, Belgium refuses to allow German troops to cross its borders as neither a matter of asserting national sovereignty or its historic neutrality – worldly matters, after all – but rather as an ambitious moral stance: “to free/The world, from infamy and lust and wrong.” This describes political actions in a religious vocabulary at the same time that it ascribes to Belgium in  the rhetoric and rationale of Woodrow Wilson in . Carter’s epic thus moves easily into the terminology of the crusade, lent impetus by the events of the war:

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem Ah, Holy City! – goal of all the world! Where Frederick and Godfrey high unfurled That Red Cross banner, sacred now to all, – Save those who warfare wage in bitterest gall; – What has thy winning meant to human kind! What thanks went up from human heart and mind! When Allenby struck down, from David’s towers, The Crescent, for the flag of Christian powers! ()

British General Edmund Allenby, commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, joins Godfrey of Bouillon and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II as a crusader who brought Jerusalem under Christian control. The war sees Christianity array itself against the Infidel, whether the Islam of the Ottoman Empire, as above, or Nordic Paganism: As, ‘gainst them, then, the mighty Lord and God, Fought for His Israel, and their native sod! – So, now, ‘gainst Prussian power. His mighty arm Is loosed, and hurls on them all War’s alarm! Ah, Prussia! If thou’dst calmer, saner been, Thou never would ‘st have thought that thou could ‘st win, Against such mighty force and right combined! Our God’s against thee! – with most of mankind! What, if, the Furies, now, thy gods implore, From old Valhalla, for aid in this War? What, if, they counsel still and give their aid? Thou can’st not win, ‘gainst all this force arrayed! ... Whom gods destroy, they first, we’re told, make mad, – And thy gods, Hun: – Thor, Wodan, fierce and bad, Are set, thee to destroy, by counsels vile, Aided by Furies, with their craft and guile. (–)

The historical Huns may not have worshipped the Nordic gods, but they were infidels, and were defeated by a Christian army of Visigoths and Romans, setting a precedent: Ah, Hun! Did’st thou forget sure Hist’ry’s page? When Attila met Theodoric’s rage, Here at the Marne, in year four fifty one? That he was, then, driven back? That France, then, won?

Gates of Janus; St. Michael & Dragon; Epic of Verdun


Or did’st thou think that record could be changed? That thou could ‘st here avenge the Hun, then maimed? That thou could ‘st beat thy great progenitor, In military prowess and grim War? Nay! ’Twas not prowess that the Hun then lacked! ’Twas lack of God ! – A lack thou hast in fact! And Theodoric, – “Gift of God,” – invoked, By blessed means, that Presence with his host. ()

While the Furies are present in The Gates of Janus as part of the classical precedents that inform the poem, this mythology provides ornamentation only. The Christian apparatus, however, informs the way in which the war, its conduct, and resolution are imagined. The Battle of the Catalunian Plains, fought in , provides Carter with the confrontation of Theodoric and Attila even as it supplies a neat bridge from the classical to the Christian. While the crusader motif was common in American First World War discourse, it took on a literal quality when applied to the war in the Middle East. In The Gates of Janus this occurs most significantly in book , section : “The Battle of Armageddon,” in which Carter interprets Allenby’s Middle East campaign in terms of the Biblical Revelation of John: Ah, John! who did’st, on Patmos’ lonely Isle, Receive that Vision grand, that did’st beguile Thy soul with rapture! – Is this, then, to be The great fulfillment of thy prophecy? ()

While Carter phrases this in the interrogative, the level of detail in the following stanzas demonstrates that the question is more rhetorical than real: the speaker believes the war is Revelation fulfilled. For example, he asks if submarine warfare might not be the outcome of the emptying of the second vial of the wrath of God: The Second turned the boundless Sea to blood. Is this fulfilled in Ocean’s crimsoned flood, – Made such by U-Boats, with their mangled slain, Who have incarnadined the billowy main? ()

Using interrogative constructions whose answers seem clear, Carter offers interpretations of all seven vials described in Revelation, as well as of the Beast and the three unclean spirits:

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem Is Hun the “Beast”? – Turk, Bulgar, Austrian base. These “Spirits” named, that should give War its place? ()

Revelation fulfilled, the Battle of Armageddon won, the new crusaders have outstripped the old: Ah, fated Richard of the Lion Heart! Ah, Barbarossa, who with him did’st start!- – And Peter, Godfrey, Baldwin, Louis-Saint! – How slight were your Crusades, for Christian plaint! Spread, though they were, through ‘most two hundred years. How little yet at last for world appears! Though ye went but to win the “Sepulchre,” It still remained the Turk’s, as first it were! Now, here, brave men, in less than one short year, Have won all that which is to world most dear. ()

Carter reads the war in terms of prophecy, though hedging his bets slightly through the interrogative form. The geography of the war provides impetus to this prophetic reading, which ventures so far as to see the Allies’ victories outstripping those of the crusaders of old. And yet Carter hits a potential stumbling block in this highly schematized reading. While he refers more than once to the Cross triumphing: “ . . . Armageddon’s won by Christian Cross!” (), he knows many of the Allied troops were not adherents of the Cross. Carter acknowledges the religious heterogeneity of the Allies: Did I say Christian? Other faiths were there, Which stir our praise as they did deeds so rare: – The mixed religions of far India’s land; Jews, Druses, Arab and Mohammedan. ()

However, Carter never integrates religious heterogeneity, produced largely by the imperial nature of the Allied force, into his interpretation of the war, rendering it an inert fact, superfluous to the main energies of the poem. We are left with an ambiguous formation, with Revelation providing an interpretive framework that might be literally true, despite its inability to provide an adequate account of factual reality. Perhaps perceiving the difficulty of fitting a complex reality to a highly schematic Christian interpretive framework, Carter returns to the classical

Gates of Janus; St. Michael & Dragon; Epic of Verdun


framework to close the poem. Thus the final judgment is rendered not by God or Christ, but by Fate, who condemns the Kaiser and his allies. She also pronounces doom on the Furies and transforms the Dogs of War into watch dogs, no longer providing an impetus to war, but only providing the means of self-defense. The conclusion of the war has thus brought to pass the universal reign of peace and justice, as Fate explains: “A ‘League of Nations’ is, now, being made, “Which from War’s wrath will all the nations save. “It’s hailed, by all, as far diviner plan! “Twill be the glory and the pride of man! “Peace will indig’nous be to ev’ry land. “All men as brothers will united stand. “Protection, to weak nations, will be shown. “The right, not Might, shall rule, – and Right alone! “Thus, shall the world, in fellowship, be joined, “And newer watchwords for our use be coined. “‘Peace,’ ‘Fellowship’ and ‘Trust’ to all be given, “Great Freedom’s bond, and greater bond of Heav’n!” ()

The settlement of the war is consecrated by a synthetic classical-Christian deity, whose vision of the ends for which the war was fought echoes the speeches of Woodrow Wilson. Carter was aware of his limitations as a poet: “The author realizes, more than anyone else, the deficiencies of the work, and his inadequacy for the task” (). In light of Carter’s “deficiencies,” wondering why The Waste Land, say, rather than The Gates of Janus entered into the literary canon might seem foolish. Yet it is worth noting the differences between this poem and those from the same era that did enter the canon. The Gates of Janus features archaic diction, a static framework derived from classical mythology, an unproblematic Christian framework, and closed form – iambic pentameter quatrains featuring couplet rhymes – maintained over the poem’s nearly  pages. All in service to a vision of the war entirely consistent with that in Wilson’s speeches, as seen in the poem’s last stanza: Clang shut, ye Janian gates! Grim War is o’er. Peal out ye Peace bells: – Peace forevermore! Link hands and hearts mankind! Let flags be furled. Humanity hath made of one the world! ()

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem The poems of similar scope, the modern epics of the s, s, and s, differ in varying degrees in every particular. For example, the classical world is a very active presence in Pound, not an ornament; it opens up a pagan worldview, which, while more significant aesthetically than religiously, has also for Pound a richness not found in the monotheisms of Judaism and Protestantism. Although given the value of the aesthetic and its role as an index of social health (“the line grows thick with usura”) in Pound, aesthetic significance is no small matter. Similarly, while Pound employs archaic diction, he also uses colloquial and contemporary speech. In Canto XIV, one of the Hell Cantos, he uses a very direct and highly scatological version of contemporary speech to denounce and characterize the immediate postwar era: The stench of wet coal, politicians . . . . . . . . . . e and. . . . . n, their wrists bound to their ankles, Standing bare bum, Faces smeared on their rumps, wide eye on flat buttock, Bush hanging for beard, Addressing crowds through their arse-holes. ()

Along with British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson leads a parade of liars, people whose sin lies in how and what they communicate. Wilson’s vision of the war is a vast lie, and the high-mindedness with which Wilson conveyed this vision makes it only that much more false. Pound’s and Carter’s views of the matter as well as their manner of presenting it contrast starkly. And it was Pound’s rejection of the vision of the war dominant from roughly  to  that entered the poetic canon, as Lionel Trilling’s “adversary culture” became, within literature, the mainstream, occasioning a divide between the national literary culture of the United States and its broader culture. As does much of the poetry I examine in these chapters, Carter’s poem represents that broader culture defeated in the literary world, but still powerful outside it. As does Carter, Lincoln Hulley, in St. Michael and the Dragon, an Epic of the War takes seriously the conventions of the classical epic. Hulley models St. Michael and the Dragon explicitly on the classical epic. It begins, “I sing of war,” followed by an invocation of the Muse, Christianized: “For this great task I lift my soul to Thee,/Divine” (). Hulley also employs such features of the classical epic as Homeric similes (preferring the construction “As when . . .”), formal speeches, and a strong element of the

Gates of Janus; St. Michael & Dragon; Epic of Verdun


supernatural. St. Michael and the Dragon features a number of theological interludes and an unusual amount of metadiscourse, in which the speaker discusses the poem itself. For example, early in the poem Hulley explains his attitude toward and use of the Kaiser, Germany, and so on. He also emphasizes Prussian expansion and desire for global prominence, first under the shrewd, calculating, and realistic Otto von Bismarck, then under the impatient and ambitious Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Kaiser directly addresses the reader: he has long been plotting war, and the war is a consequence of German desire for global supremacy. Common in the poetry of the period, such a view of the Kaiser’s role in provoking the war solidified the moral sanction provided by belief in German responsibility, embodying it in one person, who also represented an archaic political system. The poem focuses on the Kaiser for much of its  pages even more than is common in American First World War poetry. The Kaiser speaks for much of the poem, explaining to the reader the nature of Germany’s superiority to all other nations, which justifies German conquest. Global conflagration suits the Kaiser and is an acceptable price for the fulfillment of Germany’s global ambitions. Significantly, the scope and scale of the war is presented as the product of calculation, not as an outcome contingent upon a variety of circumstances or underlying structural conditions. Hulley explains that the Kaiser represents “official Germany” (). The Kaiser’s attitude in this – an attitude colored by a personality warped by his overcompensating for his withered right arm – is presented as an amalgam of Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Darwin. For the Kaiser, God is dead and the law of the world is might; the war is the product of the German 

The role of Kaiser Wilhelm in fomenting the war, and the origins of the war more generally, has been the subject of research and debate too extensive to summarize here. However, particularly noteworthy in the present context are several books. Annika Mombauer’s overview, The Origins of the First World War, includes a useful section on “American Revisionists” (–) that outlines how American historians rejected the ascription of blame for the war solely to the Central powers, an important aspect of the intellectual environment of the s. Whereas Mombauer, influenced by Fritz Fischer, holds Germany more responsible than other countries for the war, Christopher Clark presents in The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in  a mosaic of conflicting intentions, motivations, understandings, and interests, all interacting in a world that none of the actors, whose modernity Clark emphasizes, really understood. Alexander Anievas’ Capital, the State, and War: Class Conflict and Geopolitics in the Thirty Years’ Crisis, – traces the origins of the multiple conflicts of Europe in  to the dynamics of uneven and combined development as well as the differential state of capitalist development across the globe and within the various nation-states. Finally, Adam Tooze, in The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, – does not examine the origins of the war, but he does detail the conditions of American entry into the war, emphasizing that Woodrow Wilson had hoped to establish American hegemony on an economic, political, and moral basis, rather than the largely military basis that emerged over time, beginning with intervention into the war.

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem will, embodied in him. Accordingly, and in a manner similar to what we see in The Gates of Janus, the assassination of the Archduke is treated as a pretext – as it is in such a serious contemporary historical work as Carlton J. H. Hayes’ A Brief History of the Great War. Sole German guilt, symbolized by the machinations of the Kaiser, absolves the modern, industrial, capitalist world of responsibility for the war in all of its aspects. Thus, portrayal of the war as horrible, of which there is some in St. Michael and the Dragon, indicts Germany. Hulley understands the war in supernatural terms, as the title suggests: it is a conflict between St. Michael, leader of the forces of God, and the Dragon, embodiment of Satan in the Book of Revelation. While St. Michael and the Dragon might fail as an epic poem on the aesthetic level – it is dominated by the verbose Kaiser, and its use of epic conventions smacks of empty formalism – it provides significant insight into how the war was imagined. Germany, as Hulley explains, is reduced to “official Germany,” which he splits from the people and the soul of Germany, in keeping with the liberal, Wilsonian, view. But the German people have been taken by the Dragon: The dragon left its marks on them; it’s teeth Sank deeply as its poisoned fangs infused The deadly virus into all their veins. ()

The Dragon lies behind the war in all its aspects. Thus, later in the poem, when Hulley acknowledges elements of the war that featured prominently in the disillusioned reaction against it, prostitution, gambling, and drunkenness, these are all the work of the Dragon (–). St. Michael and the Dragon thus occupies an unusual status: while it presents a view of the war consonant with the vision put forward by Wilson – although even more openly religious in nature – it also, being published seven years after the armistice, incorporates elements of the reaction against the war, neutralizing them by identifying them not with the war itself, but with Germany. If a religious view of the war informs Hulley’s presentation of the enemy, which is ultimately the Enemy of Mankind, so too does it inform his vision of the Allied cause. As is that of Lincoln Colcord, Hulley’s vision is of a utopian-idealist character: Shall selfishness, in all its hideous forms, That rides rough-shod o’er others be the aim? Is that worth while, a brutish instinct, sprung From savage beasts that snarl and bite and kill?

Gates of Janus; St. Michael & Dragon; Epic of Verdun


Not while the saints of every race and land, In whom the breath of God inspires the dream Of greedy passions conquered, shall strive on To bring fulfillment of their splendid hopes In noble social structures wisely planned. But for this end each one should look within. The laws of God are inward. Holy eyes Alone can see them clear. The wise man’s eyes Are in his head. The only real true things Are spiritual. ()

Like many others, Hulley sees the war as “anti-economic”: it is fought against those whose pursuit of self-interest leads them to give vent to their “greedy passions.” Fought against “brutish instinct,” it is waged to realize a utopian vision. Indeed, Hulley uses the term “Utopia” and refers to Sir Thomas More a few lines above this passage. This utopian vision is to be fulfilled by looking inward, where the “laws of God” are inscribed. The war was fought for the realization of these inward, spiritual laws, and against the principle of self-interest. Hulley sees this vision being fulfilled: The bloody struggles of primeval man, Who lived by slaughter, have been growing less. Industrial orders took their place and thrived. An economic warfare has ensued, With pressures, cleavages, and complex trends, That push us further from the battle fields To settle all our problems in debate. (–)

That Hulley can, in the wake of the carnage of –, hold that slaughter has diminished may only be explained by the power of his religious-utopian vision of history. Further, Hulley fails to see any link between industrial productivity and the massive, ironic destructiveness of that industrial productivity when it turns toward war. The religious interpretation of the war thus allows Hulley, and on the basis of the evidence of American poetry, many others, to avoid seeing any correlation between the war’s vast destructiveness and industrial capitalist modernity. Allegory provided a convenient and reassuring means by which to avoid confronting complex and disturbing social realities. If the attempts at epic treatment of the war may be divided roughly into those that choose classical treatment and those that do not, Georges Lewy’s

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem Epic of Verdun () falls clearly on the classical side of the divide. However, while Lewys (a pseudonym for Gladys Adelina Lewis) titles the poem epic, it lacks the scope of the classical epic, concentrating on incidents in the Battle of Verdun experienced by a French machine gun company, incidents that fail to open upon the broader aspects of the war. The poem also lacks the objectivity characteristic of the classical epic, particularly as seen in Homer; while not as stridently partisan as many poets, Lewys, even writing ten years after the conflict’s end, cannot resist pejorative characterizations of the German “foemen”: The great Teutonic war machine’s advancing! Comes on – comes on – unending, undenied Undoubting even it will be defied By one explosion, – since it thinks no thought At all. ()

The poem’s archaic diction ensures that its rhyming couplets cannot confront the nature of industrialized warfare, something that Lewys attempts: Shrapnel rent the valley base asunder, Exploding marmites, venomous with thunder, Decapitated at each a single thrust Some sodden dwelling on the crater’s crust, – A spectacle of most intense vibration, Increasing as the troops advanced their station. ()

While the scene is of chaos and destruction, the iambic pentameter couplets tie everything together neatly with the completion of each expected rhyme. As we will see with Farmer Hiram on the World’s War, couplets themselves do not render a poem too orderly to convey the disorder of the war, meter and especially diction have important roles. But at its worst, the combination of rhyme, meter, and diction in Epic of Verdun renders comic what should be horrifying: He severs at the waist – his upper corse Unseated, like a rider from his horse, And slipping to the earthway, slyly cut By shrapnel fragments in the proper rut To still preserve some semblance of the whole, – There finds a nesting in a fetid bowl Hewn out by early cannonade of Krupp, To lie in state – albeit downside up! ()

Five Men at the Battle of Rheims & Riders of the Sky


Lewis contrived to have Epic of Verdun and Ballads of France made part of the monument at the site of the Battle of Verdun – she was “a shameless self-promoter” (Keen and McDermott). The copy of the poem I read was a presentation copy inscribed to Henry Van Dyke. Despite Lewis’s best efforts, however, the poem appears to have disappeared as completely as any examined in this book. It marks a sort of limit case, where a lack of basic competence in versification renders a poem uninstructive, even as a historical document.

Heroic Epics: Abe Craddock Edmunds, Five Men at the Battle of Rheims and Leighton Brewer, Riders of the Sky While Carter, Hulley, and Lewys largely regard the epic as primarily a series of conventions, Abe Craddock Edmunds and Leighton Brewer take a somewhat more expansive view. Abe Craddock Edmunds’ Five Men at the Battle of Rheims () avoids the conventions of the classical epic, but features a broad scope and attempts an epic objectivity. Written in a loose blank verse, it is divided into three parts, each of which is further divided into sections varying in number. Five Men follows the fate of soldiers of four different countries as they experience the Second Battle of the Marne, also known as the Battle of Rheims, which definitively ended the German offensives of . The five men in question represent different national characteristics and human types. Colonel van Markert, calm and rational, is a German nationalist, with no love for war or killing, but willing to accept the war as the price of maintaining a Germany Great in power, thought, in all that makes For human dignity. ()

Michael has survived the ordeals of the French army without being hardened or brutalized by them, although he has been transformed: he feels unable to return home once the war ends. For how might he, with death upon his hand, On his face and soaked into his brain, Dance their dance or speak their peaceful tongue. ()

Fenwick, an English colonel, sees the war as a conflict with Satan, and himself as

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem An instrument of God’s Own Plan Whereby the purging of the world would be Wrought from carnage and by such grave nerve As now belonged to him. ()

Fenwick’s previous love of mankind has been replaced and exceeded in intensity by a deep hatred of all things German. Fenwick is even more inhuman than is Helmut, a German soldier who has served on both the eastern and the western fronts, and who has learned to relish killing: . . . in those long years he had known of war An overpowering, a sadistic pleasure Had come to fire his mind at thought of blood. ()

Finally, Coles is an American surgeon who has volunteered with the Red Cross for four years and seen so much death that he is filled with both contempt and pity for humanity. With this multi-character focus and open form, Five Men is more a modern than a classical epic, since it clearly lacks any single hero figure. Still, the multiple foci help lend scope to the poem, since each character brings a specific point of view to bear upon the war by virtue of his nationality and personal characteristics. In this way the poem is a sort of opposite to Pound’s modern epic in The Cantos, where the multiplicity of heroic figures (among others, Odysseus, Sigismundo Malatesta, Benito Mussolini, and Pound himself ) serves to lend some control, given the massive scope of the poem (Surette ). In The Spirit of Romance Pound says that one level of the significance of Dante as a character in The Divine Comedy is to provide “a symbol of mankind’s struggle upward out of ignorance” (). Pound’s heroic figures in The Cantos become part of this larger unifying theme, channeling the breadth of that massive work. By contrast, the scope of Five Men is limited to one key moment and the multiple viewpoints increase the breadth of scope within that moment. Five Men does not minimize the violence of the war, and in this regard, might be classed with the works of the disillusionment. Yet the format, concentrating on the five men, leads to a heavily personalized rendering of the war, reaching its climax when Michael notices Helmut, who haunts him: Helmut’s figure time and time again Had come to Michael and had chilled his blood, Giving rise to such unearthly dread As made a coward of him . . . ()

Five Men at the Battle of Rheims & Riders of the Sky


Helmut defeats Michael in protracted single combat with bayonets, weapons responsible for relatively few battlefield casualties, but well-suited to the depiction of single – indeed, heroic – combat. While Edmunds avoids a swashbuckling tone in his description, the nature of the combat, particularly within the context of the five focal characters, makes it impossible for Edmunds to capture the highly impersonal nature of a war dominated by artillery and the machine gun. Indeed, Michael operates a machine gun, yet the description of his firing of it: Sweep the path below . . .

Michael let his gun ()

is perfunctory. And since Michael finds himself transfixed, unable to fire at Helmut as he advances, his operation of the machine gun does not much resemble the depersonalized, industrialized warfare of which it was a prime manifestation. Instead, Michael becomes subject to an almost mystical and highly personal “sense of doom”: Dark and fatal as an eastern drug, A sense of doom had caught him in its grip. (–)

In his own way, by personalizing it, Craddock romanticizes the war nearly as much as did Alan Seeger. This personalization also fragments the view of the war into a series of attitudes, seen in the five focal characters, which defeats to some extent Craddock’s epic ambitions. Chronologically, the last attempt to produce an American epic out of the war appears to be Leighton Brewer’s Riders of the Sky, published in . Brewer attempts to incorporate many elements of the classical Greek and Nordic epic, but largely avoids archaic diction. Brewer wrote Riders of the Sky in blank verse, using end rhyme occasionally, especially in lyrically heightened passages. While modeled on the epic, Riders of the Sky is dedicated to the anonymous soldiers of the war, rather than the heroes, and looks to them as a collective muse: . . . I turn To that great army, the unhonoured throng Of whom so few have told, and summon them To be the inspiration of my song. (viii)

The poem displays many epic features subject to less alteration than is the invocation: catalogs of the host, pseudo-Homeric appositions, and

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem an objectivity that allows the Baron von Richtoffen to be a heroic figure, if also the enemy. Brewer’s poem thus constitutes a culturally and historically interesting attempt to produce an epic for a democratic age, parallel in some ways to Arthur Miller’s refunctioning of tragedy in Death of a Salesman. While Riders of the Sky appears not to be the product of a personal disillusionment on Brewer’s part, it remains more frank and critical than is the writing typical of the war and immediate postwar years. For example, in lines rendered more poignant through the judicious use of end rhyme Senegalese troops fighting for France are described as . . . herded slaves Drawn from their tropic clime by chain and rod To feed the fury of the white-man’s god. ()

Acknowledgment of the nature of imperial rule and the imperial nature of the Allies – especially France, which was usually idealized – is uncommon. Similarly, when the fliers discuss the Germans, one says that he hates them because of the atrocities they’ve committed; another debunks this, referring to two of the widespread stories of the day: “That’s all propaganda,” Said Stu. “Did you ever see a Belgian boy With his hands cut off, or a crucified Canadian?” “No,” replied Dick. “Do you know any man who saw one?” ()

This discussion leads to the fliers discussing why they fight. Stu Eliot, who has just characterized the story of the crucified Canadian as propaganda says he is “Fighting for fun, / For the adventure.” The war does not require hate because the Germans are merely “ . . . our rivals – Our economic rivals, and we’re fighting To make the world safe for our foreign trade, Whatever else we call it.” ()

The main character, Bob Wainwright, admits that Stu may be right, although he prefers another pilot’s more heroic rationale, that he is protecting “wives and sweethearts.” But

Five Men at the Battle of Rheims & Riders of the Sky


“As for myself, It seems a sort of challenge. I came here To do the thing I’m most afraid to do.” ()

Finding the meaning of the war in subjective experience provides a way of coping with the collapse of the Wilsonian vision and the hollowing out of the wartime rhetoric of crusade. It forms an important element of Willa Cather’s Pulitzer Prize-winning One of Ours, when, following the death in battle of her son Claude, Evangeline Wheeler consoles herself with the thought that death came to him before he could see what the war would lead to: When she can see nothing that has come of it all but evil, she reads Claude’s letters over again and reassures herself; for him the call was clear, the cause was glorious. Never a doubt stained his bright faith. She divines so much that he did not write. She knows what to read into those short flashes of enthusiasm; how fully he must have found his life before he could let himself go so far . . . He died believing his own country better than it is, and France better than any country can ever be. And those were beautiful beliefs to die with. ()

Absent meaningfulness realized through action in the objective world, subjective belief in meaning – illusion – will have to do. This shift to the subjective and the experiential is something Steven Trout finds characteristic of much of the writing by and for soldiers in the American Legion magazine. Such a shift made criticism of the war as a political event difficult. Speaking specifically of the American Legion, Trout notes that “Arguments that the war had been for naught, in terms of political outcomes, or even less than brilliantly conducted posed little threat to the Legion’s nostalgia-encased model of the past, which celebrated the virtues of wartime experience independent of larger historical issues” (On the Battlefield ). Removing experience and meaning from their political and historical context and shifting their basis from the objective to the subjective preserved their value, even if it diminished that value when regarded in terms of practical, objective effectiveness. Furthermore, while some of Riders of the Sky’s interpretations of the war and the significance of participation in it indicate Brewer’s awareness of the reaction against the war that was well established by the time of the poem’s publication, Brewer still presents aerial combat in heroic terms, which was typical of the war years. Indeed, Timothy Moy finds Brewer a clear exponent of the vision of aerial combat as removed from the unheroic

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem grime of modern warfare, and quotes Riders of the Sky when Brewer characterizes the sky in which this combat takes place as . . . [T]hat bright station where a glorious few – Knights of the world’s last knighthood – venture forth To tilt for life and death among the clouds. ()

The poem contains two references to Galahad, and when a pilot, Ham Coolidge, is killed he is described as, One after Arthur’s heart, and to the vows Of his high quest unwaveringly true. ()

This view of aerial combat as permitting a kind of chivalry not seen in trench warfare contributes to the evenhandedness with which a figure such as von Richtoffen is treated, since courtesy to one’s foe is part of the chivalric code. The poem’s medievalism sits uncomfortably alongside aerial warfare’s social basis in the world of the second industrial revolution, a social basis translated into the poem formally in its diction, use of familiar names (Stu, Bob, etc.), all the elements that indicate that Brewer attempts to adapt the epic to a mass-democratic social reality. In addition to a chivalric ethic, the poem features elements of Nordic culture, particularly a stoical version of heroism. The pilot and the observer in a Liberty bomber hold their place in formation as long as possible after their plane is hit by enemy fire and bursts into flame: . . . knowing the next in line, when they were felled, Would be attacked, although his clothes were burning, His hair on fire, the pilot Hardy held His plane in the formation without turning Until, at last, that Liberty became A mass of fire so high that nought but flame Could be distinguished; even then there came Tracer bullets from the observer’s gun. ()

The two endure terrible pain in order to protect comrades. If the flavor of this comes from the North, elements from Nordic mythology also enter directly into the poem. After Brewer gives an account of the “ghastly tribute to the valiant dead” German ace von Richtoffen, he goes on to list the top aces that had been shot down:

Five Men at the Battle of Rheims & Riders of the Sky


Immelmann, Boelcke, Ball, Guynemer, and now The great Red Knight – a brotherhood of heroes, Gone down in flame and glory to the doom They dealt so oft; yet willing to sit down As comrades at the banquet of the brave In Odin’s hall, or to stand side by side At the great day when Ragnarök shall come. ()

Brewer’s epic thus synthesizes elements from the classical and Nordic pagan worlds in an attempt to construct a version of the heroic suitable to the modern era. At times the conventions of the epic sit uneasily beside the world of industrialized warfare and democratic sociality of the Great War. To be clear: aesthetically, Riders of the Sky is a least offender here, but for this reason demonstrates all the more powerfully the difficulty of reconciling the project of updating the epic with generic conventions rooted in a social world so very different from the modern. For example, when Brewer gives an account of the labors required of the mechanics responsible for the maintenance of the aircraft, it squares uneasily at best with the heroic epic: . . . to test and tighten Every nut and bolt and pin and wire After a flight; to remove each soot-caked spark-plug, Sixteen in all, a dozen times a day; To rub and clean and shine that Spad until Their backs were broken and their fingers numb For weariniess . . . ()

Or when Brewer gives a catalog of the American fliers. The names Charlie, Bob, Dave, and Jerry have an informality that does not suit the formality of epic, elsewhere maintained, because modern American society is informal in a way that the societies out of which the epic sprang were not. Brewer’s attempted solution to this is to deliberately mix the formal and the informal, including elements of the comic, the mundane, and the gritty in his epic tale, bringing the epic down to the level of the democratic. The version of the heroic he ultimately endorses – and he endorses this version of the heroic rather than the war itself – is based on personal excellence. We see a particularly harrowing version of it when Hardy and Stevenson in their Liberty bomber – a British design built in the United States and elsewhere in the poem described as “obsolete fire

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem traps” () – expose themselves to physical torment in order to protect their comrades. In this sense, by maintaining the heroic ideal, Brewer produces an epic in keeping with the classical. But the heroism of Hardy and Stevenson is lent ironic depth by contrast with those at home who made money from the manufacture of a substandard aircraft. Hardy and Stevenson burn to death While men at home might profit reap and wave Their patriotic flags and some day make Fine speeches at the Unkown Soldier’s grave. ()

When Hegel comments that “nothing is more foreign to the epic than an ideological war,” he provides an insight to Riders of the Sky: the poem rejects the ideological version of the war put forward by the Wilson administration in favor of a heroic, non-ideological version of the war, in which valiant foes square off in aerial combat. Chivalrous behavior, stoical endurance of suffering, and technical excellence as a flier are the great values of the poem. While Brewer incorporates elements typical of the reaction against the war, the warrior values of the poem are largely consistent with those of Alan Seeger, though pitched to a much lower key. This produces a deep incoherence. Hardy and Stevenson’s sacrifice is both heroic and unnecessary, for example. But more clearly, and at greater length, the conclusion demonstrates the incoherence at the heart of the poem. Bob Wainwright lies in a German hospital after being shot down behind enemy lines. He dreams he has died and is led by Joan of Arc into Valhalla: “Heroes, all hail! We bid you come and take Your stations at the banquet of the brave In that high place where stands the throne of Thor, The hero-god who strikes the thunderbolts From his bright anvil; here, to lend your breath In council with our King, as comrades all.” ()

Other pilots enter with him . . . but no mechanics. Similarly, when Wainwright reflects on the war some thirty pages prior to his dream of Valhalla, his thoughts are not those of a hero:

Brewer is inconsistent in this, however. Germany is referred to as “the Dragon” occasionally in the poem, which sits uneasily with the heroic portrait of Baron von Richtofen, for example.

Modern Epic: Lincoln Colcord, Vision of War


“God damn the dirty Boches, And the politicians who kicked up this mess.” If he had his way, every blasted fool Of those who voted for a war should go The first into the front line and remain Until they died. Then there would be no wars. And history was just one page of blood After another – what a world! ()

Brewer attempts to incorporate various responses to the war into the poem, but he cannot make the epic accommodate this range of responses – an aspect of total war in complex democratic societies – and a heroic vision of war. To emphasize profiteers and politicians turns Hardy and Stevenson, for example, into victims as well as, perhaps more than, heroes. And if one stresses that the concluding vision of Valhalla is a dream and thus subjective, then the meaningfulness of the war, essential to the poem’s purpose, “to honour the memory of those who went to fly in France and did not return,” threatens to dissolve into unreality. The unviabilty of Brewer’s attempt may be seen in the synthetic nature of the religious-mythological heaven Bob sees in his dream: George Washington, Henry Percy, Hector, Saint Joan at the head of “The Girls of Odin, Choosers of the Slain” (). This hodgepodge encapsulates the incompletely realized synthesis of Riders in the Sky, an artistic failing, surely, but one that speaks to the nature of the world from which it sprang, one incapable of sponsoring a heroic epic.

Modern Epic: Lincoln Colcord, Vision of War In  Lincoln Colcord published Vision of War, the earliest American attempt at an epic of the Great War, written in the modern epic style of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. Long lines form stanzas of irregular length, grouped into numbered and sub-numbered units. There is no end rhyme; anaphora and parallelism lend a sense of formality. The poem begins with the speaker looking into the night sky, then at the surrounding landscape as he walks through a quiet, peaceful village and countryside. The speaker then describes another nighttime scene, but one dramatically different: Night, and a sodden field, and starlight over all, And on the ground the bodies of dead men lying; Tumbled, broken, grotesque, in attitudes unhuman, in lumpish, swollen heaps, they lie.

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem Where death suddenly snatched them up and flung them down. ()

Colcord’s depiction of the aftermath of battle is unromantic; the speaker sees A body that held the renmants of a man. He had dragged himself to the brook, he lay imbedded in tall waving grass; His stomach had been ripped open by shrapnel, maggots were heaving in the wound; (Did you know that a man could live while maggots formed in his flesh?) His muscles twitched convulsively, he was barely conscious; He did not notice the match I struck, his eyes were filmed over, he would not drink; The region that he inhabited was an unknown, un-imaginable land. (At home, a woman waits for news of him: It is well that she can never hear.) ()

From these contrasting scenes of peacefulness and the horrors of war Colcord moves on to a catalog – a convention of the classical epic carried over into the modern epic by Whitman – of the stuff of war, followed by a survey of the landscape of war and scenes of battle. The distance between speaker and scene is emphasized by the occasional gruesome or pathetic detail: A screaming horse dashes athwart the line, dragging his entrails on the ground. ()

Whereas in Homer the horrible is presented with a grim matter-of-factness, here the capacity of the horrible to excite an empathy that would render it unendurable is thwarted by a redemptive vision. War makes visible – at least potentially – truths hidden by what we call peace. Behold! Hour of the War! Life everywhere flowing in strange new channels! The world aroused, awakened! The silence rent! Peace shattered and overthrown! The well-ordered conventions rudely broken up! The illusions dissipated! The motives suddenly dis-closed! Men face to face with nature, death, and pain! The elemental shown! And dim and far, the truth appearing! ()

Modern Epic: Lincoln Colcord, Vision of War


And here is that which allows the speaker to remain calm, to retain his detachment: confidence that war furthers the cause of truth, and it does so in a non-partisan way. No side enjoys a monopoly on truth; rather, conflict itself advances the cause of truth in such a way that “in this campaign there are no defeats!” (). Vision of War takes its epigraph from Whitman’s “To Thee, Old Cause!” Colcord’s poem elaborates at length on Whitman’s, applying its message to the First World War, while the American Civil War provided Whitman with his immediate context. The same confidence in the hidden logic of history that characterizes Whitman’s far shorter, sixteen-line poem drives Vision of War. Thus the opening lines of Whitman’s poem could serve as a summary of Colcord’s effort: To thee old cause! Thou peerless, passionate, good cause, Thou stern, remorseless, sweet idea, Deathless throughout the ages, races, lands, After a strange sad war, great war for thee, (I think all war through time was really fought, and ever will be really fought, for thee,) These chants for thee, the eternal march of thee.

Just as an idea lay behind the Civil War for Whitman, so too for Colcord an idea, the working out of which forms the real theme of history, lies behind the First World War. This idea for which combatants fight, knowingly or unknowingly, makes it possible to observe the war with equanimity: war’s horrors are redeemed by it. Colcord, Christopher Lasch notes, was a throwback to an earlier period in American history. Born aboard a ship and from a long line of sea captains, he resembles the great figures of the American Renaissance more than he does those of modernism. Thoreau and Emerson as well as Whitman may be heard in the background. And the confidence that informs Vision of War seems also to be a throwback to a culture whose roots lie in the pre– Civil War era. Colcord views the Great War as an event in a larger drama, one that sees spiritual truth emerge slowly through time in the conflict between peoples. And if war is terrible and dark? “The darkness truer and better” () than the false light. What we call peace is just such a false light. War only destroys what is false; the true, the spiritual truth being realized in time, survives. Not only does the confidence Colcord exhibits suggest the pre-Civil War era, so too does his tendency to see the world through symbols. Ralph

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem Waldo Emerson writes in “The Poet”: “Things admit of being used as symbols, because nature is a symbol, in the whole, and in every part” (). This, too, allows Colcord to view the war calmly, with death a necessary reaping in service of truth: . . . if lives representing falsehood gain the majority, it is amending the life of truth to kill the majority . . . ()

Colcord’s vision is relentlessly idealist, and the material reality of the bodies maimed and destroyed, while noted in some detail, is easily transcended as the poem moves into the spiritual with unshakable serenity: Wherever men die for a cause, mistaken or not, misled or not, there truth advances, an imperceptible degree. ()

Spirit is supreme, and in the human willingness to die for a cause spirit reveals itself. Colcord’s case against peace is essentially that it enshrines the world as it is: The peacemakers speak as if the truth had already arrived; ... They cry that war is a hideous waste of wealth, the stored-up labor of hands; But if peace stores up the labor of hands for other hands than those which performed the labor, I say that such peace is more hideous waste of wealth than war; More hopeless waste, where laborers contribute all they have, to prop convention which makes no place for them . . . ()

The world as it is does not deserve to be preserved. War provides demonstrable proof of change and breaks up “materialistic peace” (). Peace offers nothing more than a slothful diversion from the demands of spirit, demands that ultimately benefit most those who are at present the least fortunate. Colcord here resembles most Henry David Thoreau in Walden. While Thoreau takes to the woods to allow him “to front only the essential facts of life” () Colcord sees war to perform a similar function:

Modern Epic: Lincoln Colcord, Vision of War


There life stripped to its fundamentals, seen at last, in the cold and hunger and wet, in the pain, in the presence and hour of death; All simple, wise, heroic, natural, true. ()

Like Thoreau, Colcord views the problem of social life primarily in terms of consciousness, of the subordination of spirit to matter. Thoreau likes the metaphor of awakening; the epigraph states that he intends “to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.” One can only wake up those who sleep. And Thoreau leaves little doubt about this metaphorical sleep: Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with drowsiness they would have performed something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. ()

Thoreau and Colcord share a concern with the nature of the life available to “the millions” and an admirable skepticism about the notion that every innovation is truly progress, clearly expressed in section X of Vision of War. Thoreau and Colcord espouse a type of radicalism rooted in the republican political tradition that differs from the Marxist and broader socialist mainstream by not beginning from materialist, but rather from idealist principles, with a corresponding emphasis on spirit and consciousness. Colcord’s modern epic of the Great War speaks from the s. In Vision of War his focus on a spiritual motive force found irrespective of cause or country allows Colcord to evaluate dispassionately the various nations involved – or in the case of the United States, not involved – in the conflict. He calls the bluff on “heroic Belgium” by recalling Belgium’s atrocities in the Congo. England’s defense of Belgium is ridiculed as selfinterested, and some of England’s less savory exploits in history are recounted. And so on through France, Germany, Russia, Japan, and finally the United States. For Colcord, his native country is characterized by potential: “supremely material, I think you are at heart a people supremely spiritual” (). Overvaluing the material stems from ignorance and selfishness brought over from Europe and will lead to the United States becoming involved in the war. This ignorance and selfishness must be overcome in order for the United States to realize its true potential.

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem Colcord’s acceptance of the war combined with his rejection of nationalism finds an ironic fulfillment in the vision of the war proffered by the Wilson administration. While American involvement stirred nationalist passions in the United States, and while Wilson’s vision of the war was deeply rooted in American culture, the United States did not understand itself to be nationalist, since it functioned in the imagination on the plane of the universal. Vision of War ends: I see – the vision rising – standing clear: – (O vision full, impeccable! O dream secure! O long march justified! O perfect day! O certain day!) Democracy of the World I see! Republic of Humanity! The Brotherhood of Man! (–)

One can see how easily this vision could merge with Wilson’s: one need only accept as true Wilson’s universalism. The poem’s most distinctive quality is its utter certainty regarding the deliverance of the earth from bondage, and that the Great War is an episode in the tale of this deliverance. One might say that Colcord is unconsciously nationalistic in his universalism, while Wilson, in the American grain, explicitly saw the US as an embodiment of universal principles: “American principles . . . are the principles of mankind and must prevail” (War Addresses ). Formally, Colcord takes over the techniques of Whitman in Song of Myself, producing a free-ranging synthetic vision unified by the speaking subject, whose certainty shines through at every turn. Whitman, Moretti argues in Modern Epic, presents multiplicity and polyphony in such a way that it is reduced to the monologism of the speaking self, the “myself” of Song of Myself (–). Similarly, Colcord reduces the seemingly refractory material of Vision of War to the certainty of the omnipresent – and seemingly omniscient – “I” of the poem – whose consoling vision this is.

An Encyclopedia: Lindley Grant Long, Farmer Hiram on the World’s War Part of neither the literary modernism that became enshrined after the war, nor the aesthetically defeated but still socially powerful remnants of the sentimental and Genteel elements in American culture is Lindley Grant

Lindley Grant Long, Farmer Hiram on the World’s War


Long’s Farmer Hiram on the World’s War. Long establishes the tone of his roughly  line poem in a brief “Foreword”: In making his bow, Farmer Hiram asks no apologies, and begs nobody’s pardon. He did not cause the war, nor even suggest it; but has simply attempted to tell the plain, unvarnished story of the tragic affair. (iii)

Such a tone, reminiscent of that often used by Mark Twain, is appropriate to a poem written in a determinedly colloquial voice. Farmer Hiram does not offer an epic hero nor does it fulfill most of the other conventions of the epic. And if Long’s persona, the voice that ties the encyclopedic action of the poem together, comes off as the only heroic element, this differs from the role of the unifying self of Colcord’s Whitmanian modern epic. Because, unlike Colcord’s, Long’s poem is filled with incident, the relating of which occupies most of Farmer Hiram’s attention, as he attempts to convey his “plain, unvarnished story of the tragic affair.” Farmer Hiram thus aspires to that which Hegel sees as essential to the epic, objective presentation, in which that being related is emphasized over the sensibilities and emotional experiences of the speaker or the characters. Long comments in his brief “Foreword”: Farmer Hiram, “Being merely a disinterested spectator, . . . could only see . . . from that standpoint; and, consequently, has striven to look upon all relevant matters with an eye of fairness and impartiality” (iii). Like Carter, Long admits to a didactic purpose. Farmer Hiram “felt it an impelling duty to write a true history of the great conflict, and thereby render a service to mankind by rescuing posterity from a perverted and improper conception of the same” (iii). In his own way, Long, like Pound, has attempted “a poem including history” (ABC ). Despite this didactic purpose, however, Long avoids any suggestion of high-mindedness. The poem’s seriousness of purpose never becomes lost in nor a hindrance to its refusal to take the war on the terms put forward by its proponents, British, French, German, or American. The sprightliness of the verse contributes to this: the -syllable line with an initial 

Lindley Grant Long (–) was born near Quaker City, Ohio. According to his student profile, “The first seventeen years of his life were spent on the farm,” before he attended Ohio Normal Universtiy (later Ohio Northern) and Ohio Wesleyan University. He then studied law at the University of Michigan prior to being admitted to the bar. He practiced law in Dayton, Ohio, also serving as a municipal judge (“Student Profile,” “Lindley Long, , Passes Suddenly”). Long published one volume of poetry prior to Farmer Hiram, Poems (Dayton, Ohio: United Brethren Publishing House, ). While some of these earlier poems feature rural dialect and others political attitudes similar to those of Farmer Hiram, most of Poems is strictly in the genteel tradition.

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem iamb followed by three anapests moves quickly and is well-suited to Farmer Hiram’s cheerful skepticism. Furthermore, unlike many attempts to produce an epic out of the world war, Farmer Hiram avoids antiquated diction and even the slightly elevated mid-level diction of Vision of War. The speaking voice is a version of Midwestern rural dialect, descended from Mark Twain by way of James Whitcomb Riley. This produces a predominantly deflationary rhetoric, whereby the otherwise world-historical events of the poem often appear petty, familiarized by the language of the poem. The voice contrasts with the poem’s epic scope: the one is decidedly, unapologetically, local; the other spans the globe. The poem opens with the origin of the war, something Farmer Hiram admits to having limited knowledge of, even as he feels confident to draw a conclusion: To one perched outside, lookin’ in thru a crack, It ‘pears that ol’ Franz heaved a bone to the pack, And the hul snarlin’ kennel, primed fer a scrap, Jest bristled right in – and so, there’s the first lap! ()

Hiram’s perspective may restrict what he can know of the details of the assassination of the Archduke, but the result demonstrates the nature of the combatant nations, Allied and Central alike: they are no better than a pack of ill-tempered dogs. This characterization is typical in refusing to regard the combatants with the seriousness with which they take themselves. From here Hiram begins to narrate the war’s events, giving a reasonably detailed description of Germany’s invasion of Belgium and France, halted at the First Battle of the Marne. Germany’s frustration at the failure of the Schleiffen plan to knock France out of the war quickly is represented through a personified Boche: He sulked in his tent, then he dug hizself in, And that’s how he saved his implacable skin. But William wuz wroth when he saw what wuz done; He went off a-cussin,’ and swore he had won. Now this is the end uv the first modern drive – While most uv ’em’s dead, there’s a few still alive! ()

After alluding to Achilles’ refusal to fight in the Iliad (“He sulked in his tent”), Farmer Hiram notes the beginning of trench warfare (“he dug hizself in”). The Kaiser appears petulant and self-deluding, which is

Lindley Grant Long, Farmer Hiram on the World’s War


consistent with the characterization of leaders in general and Wilhlem II in particular throughout the poem. And Long ends this first chapter with a brief summary opening onto the next chapter: carefully constructed segues form a recurring feature of the poem. A persistent theme in Farmer Hiram is the role of economic interest in determining opinion and action. It first appears in chapter , when Hiram discusses the pressure on neutral nations to align with one side or the other: It slowly developed, but later grew plain. That sumbody’s pockets were in fer sum gain. You can’t hev a war without powder and guns, And sumthin’ to eat, and a hul lot uv fun’s. Each noodral stood ready to serve his own friends, And salve up his conscience with prayers fer amends. I’ve often observed, when it’s time to disburse, A deacon’s emotions run close to his purse. So, each sidled up to the one that cud pay – And that’s how the most uv ’em got in the fray. ()

Not only does Long have Farmer Hiram espouse an economic interpretation of the conduct of neutral nations, he expresses this interpretation in language considerably less pious than that of most poetry of the era, interesting and perhaps surprising in a book published by an explicitly Christian publishing house. Long departs from the norm not only in his interpretation of the motives of neutral nations but also in his representation of aerial combat. As is frequently noted, aerial combat was romanticized because in it ideals of individual prowess and chivalry appeared to continue to have meaning. Not for Farmer Hiram. Chapter , “Skybugs and Battle,” views aerial combat as just another of the war’s many technological innovations in killing. If little Napoleon cud wake frum his sleep, And gaze round about, he wud sure learn a heap. He thot he knowed sumthin’ uv killin’ his kind, But wuzn’t much in it, ez he wud soon find. Ol’ Hindy er Foch, in a tame modern drive, Cud give cards and spades, and still skin ‘im alive. Where Napy had one way to put out yer light, The fellers to day hev a million in sight. It’s grandly inspirin’ to see reckless guys Go thunder’n’ on hoss-back, and rendin’ the skies. But that sort uv fightin’ is all out uv style –

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem The tricks uv to day simply make yer blood bile. You’re fed pizened gas, er blowed up with a bomb, Er drowned like the rats in a flood uv hot scum, Er bumpt by a tank, er caved in with a club, Er fouled on the wing, er let down by a sub, Er sealed in a trench, er stuck thru with a knife – Jest enny old way to git rid uv yer life. Whatever hez bin ‘mounts to little these days, When’t cums down to murder’n,’ and findin’ new ways. ()

Napoleon, who figures in several other First World War poems, cannot compete with the German Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg (“Hindy”) or the French Marshall Ferdinand Foch, shackled as he was by nowantiquated methods of killing. In this passage, modernity amounts to little more than a list of ways to be killed. In addition to airplanes, Hiram notes that the war saw the introduction of zeppelins as instruments of war, although, as he also notes, they proved vulnerable to improved air defenses. Long does not, as most other writers of the period do, see the use of zeppelins as a sign of German bloodthirstiness, but rather as another example of the technological nature of this war, a kind of perverted modernity in which the development of ever new refinements in killing is at a premium. Farmer Hiram, however, is broadminded enough that he does not simply denounce these innovations in killing, but rather looks at the nature of this warfare as experienced by combatants as well: There’s scads uv game fellers with sport in their veins, That relish adventure, not countin’ its pains. Along the hul battle-line, on every front, You see countless dare-devils doin’ their stunt. This fightin’ fer kentry, er king, er what-not, Puts iron in yer blood, and gives ring to yer shot. It may be plain murder, but doubtless a thrill Runs thru every ace when he sees a fresh spill. ()

Long has Hiram comment on the appeal of aerial combat – something that W. B. Yeats also does more famously, and more decorously, in “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” But after noting this appeal, he concludes the chapter by commenting on the pace and nature of technological progress as seen in the war:

Lindley Grant Long, Farmer Hiram on the World’s War


Our fathers scase dreamt, in the ages gone by, That showers uv blood wud e’er fall frum the sky. But, then, we are trav’lin’ a purty smart pace – And, if it keeps up, Heaven pity the race! ()

While most American poets of the war era blamed Germany for its ghastliness, Farmer Hiram does not: it is we who travel at this pace; it is Hindenberg and Foch that could teach Napoleon a few things about slaughter. While the dominant mood of Farmer Hiram is skeptical, this skepticism does not degenerate into mere cynicism. Farmer Hiram objects to many things, although he does not use sentiment to appeal to the reader. Chapter , “Roundin’ the Edges,” examines the war beyond the western front, including the Russo-Turkish front, where the Turkish massacre of the Armenians took place. Hiram comments, Mohammed will hev a hard time, he will find, Defendin’ the Turk in the court uv mankind. His heart is ez soft ez the heart uv a flint. And all uv his mercy wuz long ago spent. The soul uv Armenia he loveth so well – To keep it frum sinnin,’ he’d send it to hell! ... The crime uv the Christian is – bein’ alive! It’s only the dead ones that ‘pearantly thrive Beneath the mild sway uv the Musselman yoke – Where livin’s a lux’ry, and murder a joke. ()

Long allows Hiram to record and object to the massacre of the Armenians without abandoning the tone of the poem by continuing to employ irony, rather than shifting to a warmer, more emotional mode. When Long turns to the intervention of the United States into the war he maintains his objective stance and attempts to give a full account of the matter. Hiram summarizes the nature and effect of the British (“Johnny”) blockade of Germany, and the feeble US objections to it, as well as the German response, which led, among other things, to the sinking of the Lusitania (“the Lucy”) in . When William had watched Samuel’s bluff to the end, And give up all hopin’ that Johnny wud mend, He started right out to do sumthin’ hizself, And didn’t much keer who he laid on the shelf.

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem He ‘iled up his subs and went strait fer John’s throat. And told uther folks to look out fer their goat. His aim wuz to git him right under the gills, And poke down his neck a few red-pepper pills, And mebby he’d then cum across and be good. And let starvin’ kids hev a few scraps uv fud. It worked purty well till the Lucy went down – And that made the world kind o’ take on a frown. ()

The German case that the naval blockade by the British was starving its civilian population is briefly noted, as is the presence of munitions aboard the Lusitantia: Uv course, ‘twuz John’s vessel, and bore contraband, And under the rules, and the law uv the land, He had ample reason to capture, er sink – But drownin’ the wimmen’s what caused all the stink! Sam’s folks had had warnin’ before they went on, And most people ‘lowed that they shudn’t hev gone. But William soon found that he’d made a bad break; And, while not cunfessin’ his foolish mistake, He promised to settle with noodrals, and Sam, And pay all the damage, if they wud keep cam. While this wuz agreed to, it left a bad taste; And give John a chance to git round Sammy’s waist. ()

Long presents the outline of the facts of the case: – the Lusitania was indeed carrying munitions (Preston ) and the American public had been warned by the German government. He also registers the effect of the Lusitania sinking on American public opinion. While the sinking of the Lusitania drew the United States closer to the United Kingdom, it did not draw the United States into the war. For that, money was necessary: 

The following was printed in the New York newspapers: NOTICE! TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk. IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY Washington, D. C. nd April  (Preston –).

Lindley Grant Long, Farmer Hiram on the World’s War


One failin’ Sam hez, and that Johnny well knew – He loves the long green, and so there is yer clew. ()

The US pursuit of economic interest determined American entry into the war, since that was where the “long green” was. Hiram expands on this, presenting American involvement as an outcome of American lending to the Allies, who would be unable to repay were they defeated. You may think you’re free, but yer bonds bind you tight – ‘Twuz Morgan, not morals, got Sam in the fight. He’d sold, and he’d sold, till he had all their cash – When people can’t pay, bizness soon goes to smash. ‘Twuz either git in, and take oncuvered notes, Er eat yer own punkins, and ryebread, and shoats. Gold ain’t got no conscience, and wud jest ez lief, To make itself safe, plunge the hul world to grief. The truth plainly spoken, that’s jest what wuz done – So, don’t blame it all on the brutalized Hun! ()

Farmer Hiram avoids the emotionalism of the view put forward in Allied propaganda, particularly the doctrine of German responsibility for the war, which he alludes to ironically: “the brutalized Hun.” Instead, he finds an economic cause. An encyclopedic poem, Farmer Hiram on the World’s War provides a remarkably detailed panorama of the war – the section on the Battle of Jutland (–), the largest naval engagement, is a good example. And so Long inevitably must treat the war in the Middle East, which as we saw in the section on Carter’s The Gates of Janus, could provide the occasion for a millennialist interpretation of events. Hiram’s skepticism and Long’s pursuit of a properly epic objectivity forbids this in Farmer Hiram, and while Hiram notes and takes seriously the religious importance of Jerusalem, he does not view events through a millennialist lens. Instead, the reader is provided with a detailed account of the British campaign, led by Lieutenant General Frederick Stanley Maude: He summoned his Gurkhas, and Punjabs, and Sikhs, And sent ’em a-skitin’ off on sum new hikes. ‘Twuz up the Euphrates, this time, they must go, And not give the Turk a faint ghost uv a show. Them left on the Tigris, they’d chased to Tekrit – And now fer a jaunt up Euphrates to Hit. ()

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem Long has Hiram note the heterogeneous character of the British imperial army as well as the names of the specific places involved in the campaign. He then goes on to note the difficulties of warfare in this region, as The Desert broke loose, and a sandy cyclone Swep down like a blight frum the Devil’s grim throne. It blinded their eyes with its terrible blast, And scorched the hul earth ez it rumbled apast. It withered each soul that it techt with its breath, And left in its wake only ruin and death. ()

While Long openly admits to having a didactic purpose in his “Foreword,” he does not attempt to subordinate every fact of the war to a moral or political gloss. Indeed, his stated desire to “rescue posterity from a perverted and improper conception” of the war inclines him to avoid a tendentious presentation, thus furthering epic presentation. Farmer Hiram, however, displays some inconsistency with regard not so much to epic presentation as to Hiram’s willingness to ascribe supernatural causality to events. For example, when the German offensive of , which for a period of several months made imminent German victory on the western front appear possible, stalls, Farmer Hiram tells us . . . John and the Alleys, at last, dropt their fright, And went at the foe with a dragon’s grim might. They rushed to the breach where the Hun had broke thru, And staved off disaster – fer God, it seems true, Had laid on the enemy’s heart a strange fear That palsied his hand when his triumph wuz near. ()

Rather than to God, John Keegan, for example, ascribes the failure of the German offensive to a combination of the effects of the influenza outbreak on an army poorly nourished because of the British blockade; a failure to pursue the development of the tank as eagerly as had the French and the British; limited imagination on the part of Erich Ludendorff, the German general in command; and most decisively, inability to replace troops lost in the offensive, while the Allies were receiving the injection of French and seemingly endless numbers of fresh American troops (First World War –). Writing during or shortly after the war, and so without access to all of this information, Long has Hiram assign a supernatural agency.

Lindley Grant Long, Farmer Hiram on the World’s War


While the perspective in Farmer Hiram is slightly inconsistent, the prevailing mood is one of skepticism regarding the loftier claims of all parties involved. The general temper of the poem is indicated in the dedication “to those Good Old-Fashioned People who Refuse to Accept War as the Best Means of Perfecting the Happiness of their Fellow-Beings” (vi). While Farmer Hiram greets skeptically claims that the world will be made a better place by the war, at times he appears to adopt the rhetoric of proAllied forces. This emerges from two sources: first, Long seems to regard the Allies as the lesser of two evils, and so views the Allies in a slightly more favorable light than he does Germany and its allies; second, by having Farmer Hiram occasionally appear to accept and employ the Allied explanations for the war, Long sets up later deflations of that rhetoric, ultimately strengthening the critique of the war. For example, toward the end of the poem, Famer Hiram describes the peace negotiations, beginning with the atmosphere created by American wartime propaganda and Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points”: Peace, Jestice and Right, is the slogan that won, And all the world’s waitin’ to see how it’s done. The boasted foundation is “Woody’s Fourteen ” – A new Paradise that makes Envy look green. ()

The terms “Peace, Jestice and Right” are accepted by the public at face value. However, With curtains close-drawn, and the lattice shet tight, They laid off their wigs and went at the job right. To git the ‘‘P’ints ” sharpened to hang up the Hun, Wuz now the main bizness – since their side had won! The first move they made wuz to can all the josh About Right and Jestice – fer sich wuz mere bosh. ()

The “Fourteen Points” are transformed into weapons with which to despoil Germany, and “Right and Jestice ” turn out to be mere words. Germany, subject to looting, responds: He wriggled, and twisted, and squirmed like an eel, When triumphant Jestice fetched down her spiked heel. He wuzn’t prepared fer a jestice like that – Which tuck every thing save his socks and his hat. ()

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem Personified Justice becomes a malevolent figure, despoiling Germany, giving the lie to wartime rhetoric. The Versailles negotiations were a situation of “So blamed menny hogs, and so blamed little swill” (), summarizes Hiram in his deflationary, familiarizing manner. For Hiram, then, the war amounts to little but waste and ruin, and lacks the profound meaning that many found in it. In part this is because he rejects all along the theory of sole German guilt for the war. Hiram sees the origins of the war in inequality and injustice: When castles hev vanished, and caste is no more, Peace may cum fer keeps, but not likely before. While sum are still masters, and uthers are slaves, You’ll find the earth run by pluguglies and knaves, Ol’ Lenin and Trotzky may hev the dope right – Make all the world equal, and then they won’t fight. ()

While Hiram cites Lenin and Trotsky approvingly, he also ties the achievement of peace to Christianity, or more precisely Christ: I make no pretense to be prophet, er seer – But take it frum me, and you’ll hev the dope clear: You’ve got to git Christ, and the things he stands for, Wrot into men’s conscience, before you’ll end war! If Right you’d hev reign, and cam Reason to boot, You’ve got to find sum antydote fer the brute. Suspishion, and hate, and the fiends that kill love, Will never be banished, except frum above. You may long and pray fer blood-lettin’ to cease – But all else will fail save the mild Prince uv Peace! (–)

Long italicizes “the things he stands for ”: Farmer Hiram seems to call for the reader to embrace what he understands to be the fundamental principles articulated by Christ, not necessarily found in Christianity as a social institution. Thus a perspective that encompasses Lenin, Trotsky, and Christ becomes possible. After this, Farmer Hiram takes his leave of the reader in a passage that concentrates his essence as the voice of the poem: My task is now finished – and little I keer What uthers may think, fer I’ve spoke without fear. I may hev bin right – and I may hev bin wrong – Whatever its fate, ’tis the end uv my Song!


Conclusion There’s still much onsed – but I leave that fer those Who must earn the munny to buy their Spring clothes. I now bid farewell unto one and to all – And loathfully lead my tired Muse to her stall! ()

Throughout, Hiram has presented himself as plain-speaking and willing to accept that others may not share his views – although this likely means these others are wrong. And the entire poem has played its colloquial homeliness against its epic dimensions. Here, Long does this one last time, with Hiram leading his tired workhorse, a down-home version of Pegasus, to her stall for a well-deserved rest.

Conclusion Of the seven poems, the three written most clearly in imitation of the classical epic, those by Carter, Hulley, and Lewys, present views common in the United States during the war years. Carter and Hulley present strongly millennialist visions of the war, with an attendant demonization of the enemy; Lewys tends less toward millennialism, but also presents the enemy in bestial terms. Unsurprising in the case of Carter’s The Gates of Janus, published in , this might be more surprising in the case of Hulley’s St. Michael and the Dragon, published in  and Lewys’ Epic of Verdun, published in . If nothing else, such works demonstrate that the reaction against the war continued to find resistance within the literary culture of the day, so long as that literary culture is construed broadly. Strikingly, in his modern epic Colcord also presents a view of the war that became common following American intervention, although in his case he anticipates rather than perpetuates it. Colcord’s vision of war as part of the inexorable march toward the brotherhood of man, stripped of its more radical elements, fits nicely with Wilson’s presentation of the American role in the war. Edmunds and Brewer represent something different from any of this. Both might be seen as part of a reaction to the war broader than the so-called disillusionment, and more varied. Brewer, for example, retains a notion of heroism, and dedicates his poems to those aviators who did not return from France. But he also represents, not only in dialogue, but also in the speaker’s voice, attitudes toward the war typical of the literary reaction of the s. In this Brewer resembles some other American

 The First World War and the Modern American Long Poem soldier-poets such as Byron Comstock, Howard Swazey Buck and William V. V. Stephens, poets who have not entered into the literary canon but who differ also from the writers of the previous established literary culture. Edmunds differs from Brewer in that he did not, apparently, experience the war directly, but also in that he does not construct a mythological apparatus with which to surround the action of the poem. Indeed, the poem ends with one of the “five men” of the poem having his thoughts drawn away from the suffering around him until, Earthly thoughts whipped back the distant stars. Asked him this, pried to that or that Bitter point and bloody human folly, Took his eyes again from off the sky And glued them to the earth. ()

The American doctor, Coles, refuses the solace even of the nighttime sky. Finally, Lindley Grant Long’s Farmer Hiram rejects the vision of the war presented by the Wilson administration, as well as any other way of seeing the conflict that finds it redemptive, cleansing, or anything other than licensed slaughter. But unlike most of the writers of the disillusionment, Long appears to reject pro-war visions not on the basis of any firsthand experience of the war, either as a combatant or a non-combatant, but rather from a cultural-ideological complex that predates the war. The voice of Farmer Hiram is that of an American populism that, while informed by Christianity fully as much as was Wilson’s redemptive vision of the war, refuses that vision. Thus, Long’s poem contrasts sharply with the poems of Carter and Hulley. But the most interesting contrast is that with Colcord. Colcord sees the war as a step on the way toward a predetermined end: “The Brotherhood of Man! ” This provides the secret key to history; the horror of a “stomach . . . ripped open by shrapnel, maggots . . . heaving in the wound” disappears, nearly illusory. The great reality of Vision of War is a spiritual reality, allowing merely physical reality to be surpassed. Everything, in the last analysis, is a religious manifestation; Everything that is thought, is thought for a religious reason – everything that is done, is done for a religious reason. ()

Edmunds submitted his draft registration card on September , , two months before the war ended. On his card under “Present Occupation” he lists “Student” and under “Employer’s Name,” “Randolph Macon College” (“United States World War I Draft Registration Cards”).



For all of its scope – historical and geographical – Vision of War reduces all multiplicity, all particularity to the singularity of Colcord’s “I see!” Long presents a history in which all is unresolved, although he does provide a perspective from which to view history: Farmer Hiram “has simply given his view of the grim struggle as he sees it, and in his own way” (iii). This perspective also makes it possible to imagine a favorable outcome: “Make all the world equal, and then they won’t fight” (), and You’ve got to git Christ, and the things he stands for, Wrot into men’s conscience, before you’ll end war! ()

While religion obviously informs Farmer Hiram’s vision it does not negate past suffering as the mere predecessor to future redemption. For this reason Long’s speaker does not achieve – does not apparently aspire to – the serenity of Colcord’s. Whereas in Colcord’s modern epic this serenity is achieved by the effort of the heroic speaker, in Long’s minimal epic – contrasting here also with Edmunds and Brewer – the hero disappears. Long’s solution, then, to the simultaneous impossibility and appeal of the epic: eliminate those elements most deeply embedded in the sociohistorical conditions from which the form emerges and have the resulting poem be spoken by a figure whose voice emphasizes rather than minimizes the distance between the classical epic and this colloquial version.

 

“Wristers Etcetera” Cummings, the Great War, and Discursive Struggle

In his biography of E. E. Cummings, Dreams in the Mirror, Richard Kennedy asserts that “Cummings’ war experiences were not typical” (). One understands what he means. Cummings’s knowledge of French, combined with his friendliness toward the ordinary French soldier, meant that he was exposed to the profound disgust with the war that produced mutiny in late spring , the same time that Cummings and his friend Slater Brown joined their ambulance unit (Kennedy). Furthermore, Cummings’s imprisonment by the French, recorded in The Enormous Room, was hardly a typical experience, however analogous one may see imprisonment to the condition of being a soldier in the Great War. For reasons of background, temperament, and sheer misfortune, Cummings had a distinctive experience of the war, but it afforded him a broader experience than would otherwise have been possible. The question of the typicality of Cummings’s experience and the significance of that experience takes on great resonance because it coincides with Mark Van Wienen’s criticism of the modernist poetic response to the war, and Van Wienen, quoting Jeffrey Walsh, includes Cummings along with Ezra Pound, among the modernist American poets who respond to the war (Rendezvous ). Van Wienen presents Cummings’s response in terms that, like Kennedy’s, serve to isolate it. He characterizes him as disillusioned in a pejorative sense, isolating Cummings’s response both from the war itself and from most other poetry about the war, except perhaps that of other modernist poets. This may be a large exception in conventional literary terms, but not for Van Wienen because the modernist response is self-isolating and eschews political or social engagement. Van Wienen apparently sees Cummings’s poetry as typical of the ironic modernist response to the war and makes an invidious comparison between this poetry and what he sees as the politically engaged poetry written during the war itself. Despite his clear sympathy with anti-war sentiments, Van Wienen finds the anti-war poetry of the s such as that of Cummings 

Cummings, the Great War, and Discursive Struggle


debilitating because, unlike both the pro- and the anti-war poetry of the war years, it “invites inspection as a self-contained linguistic construct” (Partisans ), retreats into subjectivity, and reduces poetry to a privatized, isolated discourse (Partisans ). While Van Wienen successfully, indeed admirably, pioneers new terrain in literary history, he inadequately characterizes and, perhaps as a consequence, undervalues the exact nature of Cummings’s response to the war. In this chapter, I will examine Cummings’s response in two poems: “next to of course god america i,” a satirical poem that directly contests the discourse and culture characteristic of the war years, and “my sweet old etcetera,” which adds to this satirical negation a positive moment. In this positive moment, the lyrical nature of Cummings’s response to the war, far from signifying a simple retreat from the social and the political, indicates his affirmation of a realm of value antithetical to the lies enacted in and the destruction enabled by the prowar discourse that he elsewhere negates. Taken together, satirical negation and lyrical affirmation in Cummings should be seen as moments in a vital discursive struggle, in which he contests the meaning of the Great War, very much a matter of public concern. While Van Wienen sees postwar modernism in fairly straightforward terms, Malcolm Cowley was rather more ambivalent in his assessment. Writing in the aftermath of World War Two, Cowley offered that the writers of the s “were often described as being ‘disillusioned,’ but I have always felt that the adjective was badly chosen” (The Literary Situation ). Yet in Exile’s Return, his critical memoir of the s, Cowley had characterized the literary generation of the s in terms consistent with and that expand upon the notion of disillusionment (). Cowley describes the s generation in this representative passage: We had lost our ideals at an early age, and painlessly. If any of them survived the War, they had disappeared in the midst of the bickering at Versailles, or later with the steel strike, the Palmer Raids, the Centralia massacre. But they did not leave us bitter. We believed that we had fought for an empty cause, that the Germans were no worse than the Allies, nor better, that the world consisted of fools and scoundrels ruled by scoundrels 

Van Wienen appears to rule out any contextual consideration of a poem such as “my sweet old etcetera,” if we consider it a modernist poem, and thus as a speech act that emphasizes locution. The modernist poem “invites inspection as a self-contained linguistic construct, however dialogic, fragmentary, or indeterminate its effects” (Partisans ). But since the general tendency of Van Wienen’s work is to open the contextual frame within which poetry of the Great War is read and studied, his cordoning off of modernist poetry, or poetry emphasizing the locutionary, ought perhaps to be seen as a heuristic procedure, enabling him to open up a field of inquiry, “partisan-political poetry [that] foregrounds acts of illocution,” rather than as a definitive statement.


Cummings, the Great War, and Discursive Struggle and fools, that everybody was selfish and could be bought for a price, that we were as bad as the others – all this we took for granted. (Exile’s Return )

Written in the s, Exile’s Return admits the shortcomings of the s generation and its values, but he also defends it by arguing that those values were a genuine and largely justified response to the situation in which that generation found itself. For example, Cowley presents these writers as averse to politics but argues that this aversion sprang from a lack of viable options: All the moderate reformers, including the right-wing Socialists, had been discredited by the war and the Treaty of Versailles; all the radicals were impractical and silly. Guild socialists, anarchists and syndicalists belonged to a forgotten age of innocent aspirations. The communists were shrill futile voices crying out that we should imitate Russia – and to what purpose? (–)

Cowley elaborates on and draws the logical conclusion of this analysis a few pages later when he discusses the desire, widespread in the artistic community, to escape from “the mass that believed in Rotarian ideals”: There is danger in using the word “escape.” It suggests evasion and cowardice and flight from something that ought to be faced. Yet there is no real shame in retreating from an impossible situation or in fleeing from an enemy that seems too powerful to attack. ()

Cowley presents the aversion to politics of the s generation as itself political in so far as it springs from the political situation. He thus makes a historical point to those who would impose a moral or ethical demand on writers to be “politically engaged” regardless of the nature of the situation. Why then does Cowley eventually object to the terminology of disillusionment if it helps to describe a justified withdrawal from engagement in a hopeless confrontation? Because “disillusionment” is so rigorously and exclusively negative, describing these writers in terms of the loss of something that was false in the first place, a double negative that does not necessarily become positive. In his defenses of the s generation, Cowley suggests that within their negation lies some form of affirmation. While he suggests this in Exile’s Return, Cowley clarifies the point in The Literary Situation, immediately following his objection that “disillusioned” was an “adjective . . . badly chosen” to describe the writers of the twenties: “They were something quite different: rebels in life and art. To be a rebel implies faith in one’s ability to do things better than those in power” (). Cowley’s rejection and use of the terminology of disillusionment results

Cummings, the Great War, and Discursive Struggle


not so much from the passage of time between the writing of Exile’s Return (first edition ) and The Literary Situation () as it springs from an ambivalence internal to his understanding of the experience and situation of the American writer in the s, an ambivalence that helps to illuminate the work of one of the writers presented in Exile’s Return, E. E. Cummings. Published in Cummings’s  volume is , “next to of course god America i” parodies American political speech, especially as Cummings found it in the context of the war and the immediate postwar era. The heavily rhetorical speech characteristic of the war, but common in American political discourse generally, is directly – and caustically – mocked: “next to of course god america i love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh say can you see by the dawn’s early my country ’tis of centuries come and go and are no more what of it we should worry in every language even deafanddumb thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry by jingo by gee by gosh by gum why talk of beauty what could be more beautiful than these heroic happy dead who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter they did not stop to think they died instead then shall the voice of liberty be mute?” He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water (Complete Poems )

A variant form of the sonnet (ABABCDCD EFGFEG), the poem presents the speaker’s words as an incoherent string of phrases that seem only to rise to truth by accident, particularly in the line, “they did not stop to think they died instead,” which parodies Tennyson’s famous war poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”: Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. ()

But while Tennyson’s poem lives on in cultural memory, the texts characteristic of the more immediate atmosphere that generated Cummings’s response do not. To fully understand “next to of course god America i” we need to turn to the poems that provided the immediate context for Cummings. Representative examples are Agnes Chalmers’s “Gethsemane


Cummings, the Great War, and Discursive Struggle

Redeemed,” Mrs. Adna Clarke’s “Acrostic to the Flag,” and Mary DeMoney’s “Fields of Victory.” Chalmers’s “Gethsemane Redeemed,” occasioned by the Second Battle of the Marne, into which American troops were rushed to stop the  German offensive that threatened to break the Allies’ lines, resembles Cummings’s poem as much sonically as otherwise, though not, of course, with parodic intent: The men who stood on the river bank On that grave night last July, The world may well rise up and thank As the centuries pass by. They had naught to lose, They had naught to choose But to stand alert and wait. The men who watched on the river bank Came not one hour too late. The men who watched on the Marne and prayed With their guns that wondrous night Redeemed Gethsemane. They weighed A world in the scale of right. They had naught to lose, They had naught to choose But to slumber not and wait. The men who watched on the river bank Slept not one hour too late. ()

Also lightly echoing, consciously or not, Tennyson’s “Charge,” Chalmers’s poem typifies the pietistic attitude toward the war. This finds its purest expression in the opening lines of the second stanza, in which the American soldiers at the Marne, “prayed/With their guns,” lines one might find to be simultaneously the most and least truthful in the poem. Not only does Mrs. Adna Clarke’s “Acrostic to the Flag” inform “next to of course god america i,” it is also one of a flood of “flag” poems to emerge from the war. 

Other examples of poems from – taking the flag as their topic: Alfred Antoine Furman, “Old Glory, July , ,” The League of Nations: Poems on the World War, –; Luther Fink, “For the Old Red, White and Blue,” “For My Flag,” “The Spirit of Old Hickory”: Poems of the War and Miscellaneous Poems, ; –; William Barter, “My Flag and My Boy,” My Flag and My Boy and Other War Poems, ; Everard Jack Appleton, “The Colors,” With the Colors: Songs of the American Service, ; Mary Hartley DeMoney, “Our Flag,” Victory Verse, ; R. H. Langford and L. I. Campbell, “Old Glory,” Our Heroes, .


Cummings, the Great War, and Discursive Struggle A ‘M E R I C A

starry emblem greets our eyes, that marked a wondrous nation’s rise. id drizzling showers and beaming sun, It waved o’er victories proudly won. mblem of Hope and Truth full strong; Of Right triumphant over wrong. olled thy soft waves on breezes light, To bless the dying hero’s sight. n days of gloom each rosy band, Like sunrise glory kissed the land. an aught inglorious stain thy bars, Or brand of tyrant quench thy stars? h no! In triumph thou shall wave, O’er victor’s home, o’er hero’s grave. ()

From its lofty, antiquated diction to its presumably unintentional similarity to Mark Twain’s parodic “Ode to Stephen Dowling Botts, Deceased” through its use of a rhetorical question answered, “Ah no!” Clarke’s poem embodies the culture of uncritical and unreflective nationalism mocked by Cummings. Yet Clarke may take second in this regard to Mary Hartley DeMoney, whose “Fields of Victory” manages in its four quatrains to contain, by my count, ten clichés central to wartime poetic discourse: From over the fields of – Victory The poppies are nodding today Watching the silent sleepers, The Heroes who fell in the fray. The birdies warble so sweetly Chanting their peaceful lay – Telling each soldier while he sleeps Of the joyous victory day. Ah, rest in your peaceful slumbers! You fell, but not in vain, Your valiant deeds of courage Are felt o’er mountain and plain. Sleep on! Ye men of all nations! Aye, sleep ‘neath God’s glorious sun! Your names are emblazoned forever On God’s Honor Roll – “Well Done.” ()


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When Cummings writes, what could be more beautiful than these heroic happy dead who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter

he attempts to destroy poetry like that of DeMoney and the political speechmaking that is so very closely related to it. Poems like those of Chalmers, Clarke, and DeMoney are metrical, rhyming transcriptions of the American pro-war ideology of  and , part of the “ritual of consensus” in which “[s]acred and secular blend with formulaic ease” (Bercovitch, American Jeremiad ). Cummings highlights this “formulaic ease” by rendering his poem as a series of non sequiturs in his attempt to negate this type of public speech. But Cummings attempts to negate it not because it is public, but rather because it is false. While “next to of course god america I” may be seen as entirely negative, attempting only to destroy jingoistic nationalist discourse and presumably, by extension, jingoistic nationalism, “my sweet old etcetera” – also first published in is  – combines poetic negation with a positive moment in which truth is held up against the falsity mocked in the bulk of the poem. “my sweet old etctera” begins with the speaker saying: my sweet old etcetera aunt lucy during the recent ar could and what is more did tell you just what everybody was fighting for ()

Cummings defines Aunt Lucy precisely in terms of her familiarity with the discourses of –, with “just/what everybody was fighting/for.” There was no shortage of poems detailing the aims and fundamental characteristics of the various combatant nations. In these poems, as one might expect, the two nations whose war aims and fundamental characteristics were announced most often were the

For example, Alfred Antoine Furman alone provides a fairly comprehensive survey of nations in his work. Martial Lyrics: Poems on the War for Democracy offers “The New Japan” (–), “Brazil” (), and “To the Serbians” (–), while The League of Nations features poems on countries such as Austria (–), Germany (–), and England (–).

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United States and Germany. For example, two poems released in June  to the press by the Vigilantes, a pro-war group of writers, state clearly that for which the two nations, respectively, fight. Abbie Farwell Brown’s “Fourth of July, ” presents the cause of the United States as simple and intrinsic to the nation’s character: Let us be sternly quiet on this day, While they are far away; Proud of the stark tradition we inherit Of our forefathers’ merit; Vowed to devote our thought, our word, our deed To the same cause for which their scions bleed, – Our young Americans across the sea, – World-Liberty! (n. p.)

This poem concentrates two themes crucial to much war poetry of – : first, filial obligation to the national forefathers; and second, universalism, the idea that America’s cause in the war is universal, not particular to any national interest. Brown expresses this through the capitalized compound noun “World-Liberty,” emphasizing its conceptual status through the use of the upper case and the hyphen. While Brown focuses on the United States, Lee Wilson Dodd compares the American cause to that of Germany in “Pan-Germany”: Pan-Germany, to thee I sing, Land of Kultur and Light! Thy stern Efficiency shall bring The Golden Age of Might! When fair Columbia at Thy feet Fawns like a dog, at last, The world’s black future shall repeat The midnights of its past. Then shall be trampled ‘neath Thy heel The harlot, Liberty; Then man, re-chained, shall humbly feel How sweet is Slavery! (n.p.)

Dodd reprises in this comparison some of the same themes found in Brown: “Liberty” is conceived of as a universal cause whose agent is the United States, hence the defeat of “fair Columbia” would entail a “black future” for the entire world. Germany, on the other hand, is the agent of a universal slavery that amalgamates the past as an object of fear in the traditional American republican manner with fear of a rationalized future


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of “stern Efficiency.” This type of poetic discourse underlies the reference by Cummings’s speaker to his Aunt Lucy. Cummings shifts from Aunt Lucy’s encyclopedic and exact knowledge of national war aims – as related in the media of the day – to the rather different engagement of the speaker’s sister, Isabel, with the war. The poem lists items knitted by the sister in such a way that sheer productivity becomes a comic expression of Isabel’s lack of awareness of the nature of the war: my sister isabel created hundreds (and hundreds) of socks not to mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers etcetera wristers etcetera ()

The sheer asyndetic seriality of “shirts fleaproof earwarmers,” accentuated by “etcetera,” makes the sister’s activity appear pointless, which would seem to be not a matter of the intrinsic quality of the activity itself – shirts and socks are listed as well as the less functional “wristers” – but rather of the activity as it takes place within the context of the war. Placed in relation with the poetry of  and , Cummings’s depiction of the industriousness of the speaker’s sister provides an ironic counterpart to some specific depictions of women in the poetry of the war. An entire subgenre of poems written during the war encourages, celebrates, and praises the practice of sewing and knitting by women in wartime. For example, William Hartley Holcomb’s “The Women Knit” focuses on the proper performance of gender roles in wartime – the title is not as casual as it might appear. Holcomb begins with a brief walk through American martial history from the American Revolution through the Civil 

Ironically, while German “Efficiency” figures as part of the “Golden Age of Might” decried by the poem, the United States as well as Germany led the way in the promotion of the second industrial revolution value of efficiency, with the American Frederick Winslow Taylor as perhaps its purest avatar. As Samuel Haber notes, “Efficiency became a patriotic duty” in the United States during the First World War” (). Van Wienen shows in Partisans and Poets that numerous poems were written to celebrate knitting and sewing to support the war effort. He also reprints in Rendezvous with Death Sidney G. Doolittle’s cantankerous “Enthusiasts” (–), which decries the knitting of sweaters. “Wristers,” a kind of fingerless mitten, as well as what might be called patriotic knitting generally, are mocked also in the memoir of Lafayette Escadrille member James Norman Hall, High Adventure: A Narrative of Air Fighting in France, .


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War. From the beginning men have fought while women knitted, for this is the lot in life accorded them. And so it is in the present war: And today they knit while soldiers train To fight overseas for our land, And they knit in the Love that makes men brave With a magic dexterous hand. And history says ’twas ever thus, As that is the way of the world, For women to knit and men to fight The legions against them hurled. Those warm woolen socks and knitted scarf That come to him over the sea, Bring with them a flood of tender love And rechristen fond memory; They baptize anew his high design To win for his flag there unfurled, For women must knit, and men must fight For that is the way of the world. (–)

Typical of much First World War poetry, “The Women Knit” presents the war in terms derived from a distant, romanticized, and – given the nature of industrialized warfare – seemingly irrelevant past: the knitted goods replicate the talismans of chivalry, while the troops fight “legions against them hurled,” and entertain “high design.” This particular “knitting” poem thus also participates in the anachronistic medievalist discourse characteristic of much American First World War poetry. Similarly concerned with knitting but more ambitious is Anthony Henderson Euwer’s “The Hands that Drive the Needles,” a poem in ballad meter that manages to branch out from its local subject to include a passage on the Statue of Liberty, a bit of the American prospect poem, a psychologically astute interpretation of knitting as a form of prayer, and a dash of American millennialism in the Wilsonian vein also seen throughout American First World War poetry. The poem begins, Oh the knitters – have you seen them? Why they’re knitting everywhere, Knitting helmets, sweaters, wristlets for the soldier-boys to wear, And those who don’t are learning how and those who won’t I guess, Will soon be driven to it from their very loneliness. ()


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While the poem begins in this fairly lighthearted manner, by the end it takes a turn toward the serious, asking, Oh who shall say the knitters have not done a noble thing – That their knitting will not figure in the final reckoning, When the battling, blood-soaked nations shall their destinies fulfill, And the Voice that stilled the tempest shall again say, “Peace – be still!” And the hands that drove the needles for the boys beneath the sod Shall be raised in supplication to the great, white throne of God? Will He not hear their pleading for a peace that shall be worth All the lives that bled and suffered for a weary world’s rebirth? ()

The emphasis in the very last line, on the remaking of the world in a new image, “a weary world’s rebirth,” repeats Woodrow Wilson’s universalist and millennialist vision of the war and the American role in it. Thus, “The Women Knit” and “The Hands that Drive the Needles” are broadly typical of a segment of American First World War poetry, displaying the medievalism and the millennialism, respectively, common in pro-war poetry of the day. Knitting is seen as both a practical and, perhaps more significantly, a symbolic means of contributing to a war effort conceived of in precisely these medievalist and millennialist ways. Cummings continues to engage with this pro-war poetic discourse, moving toward a contrast between the pro-war sentiments characteristic of the speaker’s family and the speaker’s experience of the war. Cummings appears to use hyperbole to characterize the attitudes of the speakers’ parents toward service in the war: my mother hoped that i would die etcetera bravely of course my father used to become hoarse talking about how it was a privilege and if only he could ()

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When the speaker’s mother hopes that he “would/die etcetera/bravely of course” Cummings appears, as he certainly is, to be employing hyperbole as a comic device. Yet if one looks at poetry written during the war itself, one finds that Cummings inflates the parental rhetoric of the day, at least as represented in poetry, very little. Responding to the culture that underwrote American intervention into the war, Cummings’s poem negates a poem such as William H. Barter’s “That’s My Boy.” In “That’s My Boy,” the title serves as a refrain repeated three times by the mother of a serviceman. The first use occurs as the mother watches her son march off to war with his comrades and proudly comments, “That’s my boy” (). The second is prompted by the announcement that her son has been awarded the Croix de Guerre. The final appearance of the refrain occurs when she . . . reads that her Jim has gone. Same old smile of joy, Broken heart, but smiling on, “THAT’S MY BOY.” ()

“That’s My Boy” appears in Barter’s My Flag and My Boy, and Other War Poems, dedicated “To the American Mothers,” one of the vast number of poems focused on the figure of the mother of a serviceman, some of which I have already examined. Cummings’s hyperbole in “my sweet old etcetera” simply replicates in an ironic register the un-ironic emotional dynamics of a poem such as “That’s My Boy.” Fathers also appear in the poetry of  and , but to find the context most relevant to Cummings, one must turn to Edward S. Van Zile’s “We Pay the Price – We Old!” a poem that focuses on age, the crux of the father’s statement: Youth pays the price, you say? But I am old, My hair is white, the blood in me is cold; But is the agony that comes to me Less keen than his who dies beyond the sea? Nay, he has fought and fallen for the right, His soul has known the ecstasy of fight; He dies but once but daily do I die Who strike no blow, must let the ships go by. My heart’s not here, but somewhere there in France, Where life and death hang ever on a chance,


Cummings, the Great War, and Discursive Struggle Where heroes find their glory and their grave – The brave sleep well who sleep beside the brave. We pay the price, we old, who cannot fare Far, far afield with our crusaders there; Nor know the frenzy and the joy of strife, Nor win the death that ennobles life. ()

Like the father in “my sweet old etcetera,” Van Zile’s speaker regrets that age bars him from fighting and, with luck, dying gloriously. Cummings no doubt drew upon his own experience: the verse that Cummings’s father sent to his son via telegram shortly before he disembarked for France fails to resemble much of the wartime poetry only in its personal mode of address: As I said in advance I envy your chance of breaking a lance for freedom in France by driving and mending an ambulance.

(Kennedy, Dreams )

The parental figures in Cummings’s poem typify broadly expressed sentiments of the day. Both the mother and the father express sentiments – slightly inflated in the mother’s case – found elsewhere in American Great War poetry, and which were part of the manipulation of American culture necessary, especially given the way the war was financed, as I note in Chapter , to promote US intervention in the war. During the war, poets often used the language of family to make the war more palatable. Carl Sandburg’s  poem, “The Four Brothers” would be the most obvious example, but it also figures in, for example, Brown’s “Fourth of July, ,” in which England is that “stern Mother at whose knee we learned/Of liberty.” France figures as “our dearest sister.” In part the language of family here allows the poet to negotiate past conflicts between the United States, England, and France in terminology that familiarizes such conflict to the reader while simultaneously avoiding any real encounter with the relationship between these nation-states. The overlay of positional-existential ideology encodes reality in a manner that obscures its historical and political character. In the case at hand, Cummings parodies the familial and generational rhetoric used in much First World War poetry, a rhetoric that not only

Cummings, the Great War, and Discursive Struggle


connects a number of pro-war poems with one another, but which also connects the present to the past through an elastic rhetoric of filial obligation. As in Brown’s “Fourth of July, ,” so too in Holcomb’s “The Aegis of Our Fathers”: this obligation expands to one’s forefathers generally, a rhetorical strategy firmly rooted in American culture, dating back in American literary history to William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation. Holcomb employs rhetoric consistent with Bradford’s instructions for the second generation of Plymouth Separatists in the right understanding of the removal to North America. Bradford describes the experience of their arrival in New England eloquently, then asks the rhetorical question, “May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried out unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity,’ etc. . . . He hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor” (). Holcomb begins his poem, “Stain not the glory of our Father’s [sic] time,” () immediately articulating the imagined history of the nation-state within a familial terminology that establishes the sense of filial obligation. Holcomb thus deploys the terminology of the family to mask the historical – and political – with the existential in the manner we have already seen extensively in the literature of the war. He then recalls the voyage across the Atlantic, presenting this as likewise a means of escape from “the hand of the oppressor”: In vain they crossed the strange and boisterous sea To found a land for all who would be free, If we lack valor now to lead the fight And make secure for all their great birth-right. ()

Whatever its aesthetic shortcomings, Holcomb’s poem participates in what Bercovitch describes as “the richness, the complexity, and the continuing vitality, for good and ill, of American Puritan rhetoric” as it developed over the course of three centuries, specifically “the familiar figural imperative: what the fathers began, the sons were bound to complete” (American Jeremiad xii, ). To fail to fight in the Great War would be to betray “our Fathers.” Failure to intervene in a war between modern nation-states is rewritten and reimagined as a betrayal of filial obligation. A discourse of a positional-existential character displaces an inclusive-historical discourse, making the sense of obligation summoned appear more organic and implacable, and hence less political, than it is. In order to do so efficiently and


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effectively, Holcomb elides slavery, indentured servitude, and penal transportation as the occasion for removal to North America, making the poem a worthy, if quite unconscious, predecessor to Cummings’s “next to of course god america I,” as well as an example of an expanded form of the rhetoric of filial obligation satirized in “my sweet old etcetera.” After surveying the parental attitudes toward his participation in the war, the speaker shifts the subject of the poem to himself and a perspective that, Cummings implies, provides greater access to the truth of the war than does that of the home front family, whose knowledge of the war appears to be limited to the pervasive pro-war discourse. The contrast between the truth the speaker knows and the lies the family believes is emphasized by Cummings’s use of “meanwhile” to begin the final, and contrasting, portion of the poem: meanwhile my self etcetera lay quietly in the deep mud et cetera (dreaming, et cetera,of Your smile eyes knees and of your Etcetera) ()

The playfulness of the poem’s repetition of “etcetera” and the mildly – because everything is implied – carnal nature of the speaker’s dreaming contrasts with the idealized and desexualized objects of a number of “sweetheart” poems written during the war. For example, in “My Love Is a Soldier Boy” William Hartley Holcomb imagines a woman reconciling herself to her beloved’s departure with Spartan resolve. While she acknowledges that if . . . he need not take the chance Of that “two per cent” of lost ones On those warring fields of France, I would be the happiest mortal That kind God has ever made: Is there no way but through sorrow That old Earth’s sad debts are paid?

But the poem – written in a rather subdued ballad meter – ends with renewed resolve:

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There now, “Buck up,” says my soldier; “Right about” and “Dress” the line; “Forward, March”; I’ll show him, women Don’t all need to fret and whine; That we give up for our country All we have, and keep dry eyes; If the roll call finds them absent – Then – why, that’s our sacrifice. (–)

The speaker is here not only regendered, mimicking male ideals of behavior, behaving in what the poem understands to be male, soldierly fashion, but also divorced from emotion. Thus, the poem ends on a note of reconciliation which, because it abjures emotions previously acknowledged, seems all too easy. More complex is Agnes Chalmers’ “A Bully Sweetheart,” which simultaneously restores at least some of the beloved’s physical existence and masculinizes her to an even greater degree – or at least more explicitly – than does “The Soldier Boy’s Homecoming”: I’ve got a bully sweetheart over there, Back home in the good old, true old USA. I’ll say she’s treated me right on the square Since I have been away. She hasn’t said: “I wish that you were here,” Or, “I am missing you. The time seems long.” She hasn’t written once of doubt or fear Or loss or war or wrong. I’ve got a bully sweetheart over there, Back there in good old, true old USA. I’ll say she’s treated me right on the square Since I have been away. I’ve got a bully sweetheart, that I know. She seems forever like a chum of mine, A brother or a father or a friend, A mother often, too, this girl of mine, A pal to have and lend. She never once has written of a tear, An ache, a pain, a loss, a cloud, a fear Since I have been away, This sweetheart girl of mine in USA. (–)

This poem focuses on the beloved’s refusal to acknowledge any emotional reaction to her soldier boy’s absence to such a degree to tempt one to read


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it as ironic, something that Chalmers’s volume as a whole certainly does not license. While more than a few “sweetheart” poems may be found in the American literature of the First World War, and while the figure of the beloved as a “bully sweetheart” presents a figure of reliability, girlfriends and wives, because they are objects of romantic love, provide potentially unstable props upon which to rely. One way of avoiding the potential instability of romantic love as an underpinning of male resolve lies in the ultimate disembodiment of the sweetheart that also allows her to remain feminine, seen in William H. Barter’s “The Soldier Boy’s Homecoming”: When the dawn comes to the trenches, And the light is breaking through, And I’m feeling kind of tired and weary, too; There’s a something keeps me cheery, It’s the light of love, my deary, The light that sends me wandering back to you. When I’m standing post at darkness, Listening all the dreary night, Watching shadows still, way out on No Man’s Land, Some one seems to be quite near to me With a hand on mine to cheer me, It’s my mother’s hand, I know and understand. ()

Here we have arrived at something like the logical opposite of “my sweet old etcetera”: the trenches are perhaps unpleasant, but not gruesome. (One of the strengths of Cummings’s poem is that “etcetera” takes on different implied content in each use, some of which content is gruesome indeed.) The imagined presence is not an embodied woman, but rather a sentimentalized mother. Cummings’s poem implies a contrast between the reality of the pleasures of the dreamed of other’s “smile/eyes knees and . . . Etcetera” and the falsity of that which lies behind the omniscience of Aunt Lucy, the industriousness of the sister, and the rhetoric of the parents.

See also, for example, Amelia Josephine Burr, “The Meeting,” The Silver Trumpet: A Book of Verse, –; David M. Funk, “The Girl I Left Behind” and “The Faithful Girl,” The Doughboy’s Poems, –, ; Belle Gray Taylor, War Verse, ; Edward S. Van Zile, “The Armory Steps,” Songs of the World War, –. Jennifer Haytock notes that the mother as female figure of the home front has the advantage over the girlfriend or wife on the basis that her bond with her son is virtually unbreakable ().

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In both “next to of course god america i” and “my sweet old etcetera,” Cummings thus responds to quite specific elements of American poetic culture – though not just poetic culture – that manifested themselves in  and . In these poems and in his poems about the war generally, Cummings set out to destroy, through satirical means, part of the ideological armature of the American war effort – an armature that did not simply vanish or become irrelevant once the war ended any more than it sprang into existence ex nihilo in . Any account of the literature of the early twentieth century that removes this writing from the social world from which it springs and to which it responds simultaneously removes from it much of its significance. To be fair to Mark Van Wienen, the tendency in Cummings toward a subjectivism based in romantic individualism, ably discussed by his biographer, Richard Kennedy, remains central to understanding the trajectory of Cummings’s career (Dreams ). Furthermore, the objection that Cummings undercuts his political satire in a poem such as “my sweet old etcetera” has a distinguished history and was stated powerfully in  by Kenneth Burke: “Cummings as satirist is driven by his historical amorphousness into personal moods as his last court of appeal” (). Burke’s point – and Van Weinen’s with it – certainly has some force: Cummings’s most basic attitudes toward life forbid a thorough understanding of people as social animals (Kennedy, Dreams; Friedman, “Cummings Posthumous” –). There is a tension at the heart of “my sweet old etcetera.” Its raw materials are the discourses of the war, the poems that Cummings seeks to negate. These discourses are associated with those close to the speaker: the speaker’s Aunt Lucy, sister, mother, and father. But despite the shared use of familial relations to understand the war, the poem stands opposite to A Son at the Front. In Wharton’s novel, Campton comes to see that the urges derived from the positional-existential dimension must be subordinated to those derived from the inclusive-existential dimension, where France stands for civilized social existence, with Germany as its antithesis. In “my sweet old etcetera,” the family members all align with the state and its false values. Truth resides in the freely chosen, romantic, non-familial relation to the addressee, found in the domain of the positional-existential. Group life is the realm of the false, while truth resides in the individual. At the same time, however, in his response to the war Cummings criticized the discourse, and through it the culture and ideology, mobilized to enable the United States to carry out the war. The ultimate target of Cummings’s satire in these poems is the entire propaganda apparatus that used deceptive language to promote to the American public a war whose


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ultimate end was to establish the United States as the successor to the United Kingdom as the hegemonic power in the capitalist world-system. Cummings’s engagement with pro-war discourse ought not, then, be understood simply as a form of disengagement. Beyond this, Cummings’s movement into a decidedly subjective discourse toward the end of “my sweet old etcetera” in a way deepens his engagement with and critique of pro-war ideology. Cummings inclines more powerfully, perhaps, than any other major American poet of the first half of the twentieth century toward the lyrical, toward a poetic mode in which “the centre of the thing is not the occurrence itself, but the state of mind which is mirrored in it” (Hegel : ). Lyricism suited Cummings’s objection to the world unfolding around him, an objection that largely conforms to the general objection of the s literary generation prior to the advent of the Great Depression, as described by Cowley in Exile’s Return: “Although the existing system could satisfy men’s physical needs, they believed that it could never satisfy the needs of the individual spirit” (). Furthermore this lyricism underlies Kennedy’s observation that Although within short poems Cummings was able to work out patterns, he had no ability to develop real structural complexity. The problem is even more evident in his prose works. The only structural principle he was able to follow was an autobiographical one, of the sort we find in The Enormous Room. (“E. E. Cummings” )

Thus Van Wienen is correct to identify an irreducibly subjective element in Cummings’s war poems generally, and in “my sweet old etcetera” specifically. Yet to sunder the subjective existence expressed and realized in lyric poetry from the social world that gives rise to it is a profound mistake, one typically committed by formalists. The nature of this mistake is revealed in T. W. Adorno’s programmatic defense of lyric poetry, in the course of which Adorno locates lyric within the dynamic relationship between the individual and society: It is not only that the individual is inherently socially mediated, not only that its contents are always social as well. Conversely, society is formed and continues to live only by virtue of the individuals whose quintessence it is. Classical philosophy once formulated a truth now disdained by scientific 

Norman Friedman describes this aspect of Cummings’s vision thoroughly in E. E. Cummings: The Art of His Poetry, –.

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logic: subject and object are not rigid and isolated poles but can be defined only in the process in which they distinguish themselves from one another and change. The lyric is the aesthetic test of that dialectical philosophical proposition. (: )

Adorno maintains simultaneously the ontological priority of the social to the individual and the constitutive role of the individual in forming the social, which is to say, the ineluctably dialectical nature of the individualsocial relation. While the social is irreducible to the individual, it may be known, if only in a partial way, through the individual; and for Adorno the peculiar virtue of the lyric lies in its ability to reveal the social from the inside, as it were. Seen in these terms, Van Weinen’s understanding of Cummings,’ as an instance of the more general modernist, response to the war merely perpetuates through an inversion of values the split between subject and object, and between form and content, that characterizes the formalism that would appear to be Van Weinen’s clearest enemy. Operating from a Hegelian Marxist rather than a pragmatist framework, Adorno argues that lyric is irreducibly subjective, and precisely by dint of this therefore irreducibly objective as well; in his gloss on Adorno’s writing on language and style Fredric Jameson refers to “the objectivity that speaks through this most subjective of phenomena” (). It is indeed “objectivity that speaks” here because, as Robert Kaufman explains, “Adorno’s notion is not that a blithe, free-floating subjectivity should fancifully usurp the power of social reality, arbitrarily issuing pronounciamentos that presume to determine a social content or meaning whose determination really (‘objectively,’ as it were) belongs to society and history” (). Rather, lyric utterance permits objectivity to speak through the voice of the subject, a subject that speaking as a subject renders visible (or audible) the experiential reality of the objective. Within such an understanding of lyric, we may begin to understand more fully the nature of Cummings’s response to the war. “[N]ext to of course god america I”consists of a single movement, one of negation, while “my sweet old etcetera” operates in two phases. In the first phase, similar to the whole of “next to of course god america i,” Cummings negates the rhetoric characteristic of the Great War era, which used notions of bravery and sacrifice – a set of values false in the context – to induce young men (and, to a much lesser extent, women) to risk death, disease, and a dehumanizing exposure to violence on an unprecedented scale. Such risks, it became evident by the s, were not undergone, as Wilson had claimed, “for a universal dominion of right by such concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations, and make


Cummings, the Great War, and Discursive Struggle

the world itself at last free” (Political Thought ). The Wilson offensive failed, for the most part, and the reaction against the war of Cummings and other writers of the disillusionment was often a reaction against this political failure at least as much as it was a reaction against the war itself. In the second, positive phase Cummings affirms against false values what the poem asserts as real ones, those of: “Your smile/eyes knees and of your Etcetera.” These may not be the only real things of value in the world, and need not be held so in order to find the poem poignant, insightful, and in its peculiar way, beautiful. But Cummings reminds us of the importance of those modest, delicate values of the flesh and the spirit, and within them the promise of happiness, values and promises whose fragile nature was nowhere more powerfully demonstrated than on the western front in the First World War.


In a letter of December , , Robert Bridges of Scribner’s wrote to Charles Seeger, explaining why sales of his son Alan’s Poems and Letters and Diary had slackened: “the whole war interest seems to have collapsed.” As Steven Trout, Pearl James, and others have demonstrated, this collapse of interest in the war was not nearly so total or pervasive as it seemed to Bridges. Yet Bridges knew what he was talking about: by the end of  the type of pro-war poetry of which Alan Seeger was the prime representative nearly dries up, with poems such as Hulley’s St. Michael and the Dragon and Lewys’s Epic of Verdun isolated holdovers. While it may seem unremarkable today, this collapse of interest in, if not the war, then in prowar poetry, should be striking: just a few years earlier the war was imagined in countless poems as the agent of a dramatic domestic and international transformation, very often as a step on the road to a new millennium. Shortly after seeing it as ushering in a new era when America would lead the world into a redeemed future, Americans appear to have lost interest in the war, wearied with it and its resolution. Accustomed to hearing the war described as a crusade, the public then witnessed the spectacle of rancorous peace negotiations in Paris, followed by Wilson’s failed attempt to get the resulting treaty passed in the US Senate, as well as war in eastern and southeastern Europe. These ordeals demonstrated that neither war nor oldfashioned politics had been transcended on either the international or the domestic fronts. And while Jennifer Keene demonstrates that American involvement in the war contributed to “the remaking of America” (her book is titled Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America), she demonstrates also that it took years of often bitter debate, including a large-scale march on Washington, the Bonus March, before this remaking was seriously undertaken in the form of the New Deal generally and the GI Bill specifically. What Kees van der Pijl calls “the Wilson offensive” and Adam Tooze sees as the first phase in the construction of a new world 



order – the American hegemonic project – fell dramatically short of its goals. The millennium, to put it mildly, was nowhere in sight. The enormous falling off in the level of interest in the war by the early s was registered in fiction by Ernest Hemingway. In his short story “Soldier’s Home,” the main character, Krebs, “enlisted in the Marines in  and did not return to the United States until the second division returned from the Rhine in the summer of ” (). By having him enlist in the Marines, Hemingway makes Krebs embody the initial enthusiasm for the war that was found, or where not found, whipped up, in the United States. His late return, nearly a year after the armistice was signed, exposes him to the attitude of which Bridges speaks: “the reaction had set in. People seemed to think it was rather ridiculous for Krebs to be getting back so late, years after the war was over” (). Hemingway registers in fiction a phenomenon that Bridges registers in terms of trends in the literary marketplace. This phenomenon is not, perhaps, something as full-blown as disillusionment, but rather a kind of indifference born of disappointed hopes, itself a remarkable attitude given the language of crusaders and new dawns that had prevailed so recently. This language of crusaders and new dawns emerged to a great extent from the millennialist discourse that had been a part of American culture long before the establishment of the United States as a political entity. As Sacvan Bercovitch has most powerfully demonstrated, millennialism has been a distinctive element of American culture since the seventeenth century, one kept alive over time in a wide array of forms. As Giovanni Arrighi, Kees van der Pijl, Thomas Knock, Adam Tooze, and Alexander Anievas argue, the United States in the early twentieth century stood poised to launch a project to establish itself as the hegemonic power in the capitalist world-system. That older millennialist tradition provided a cultural and rhetorical tradition in many ways well-suited to the tasks of such a hegemonic project, a project promoted and justified in a variety of specific forms, not least of which was poetry. This poetry, like the pro-war culture generally, tapped into these deep springs of millennialism, just as the anti-war forces had tapped into those elements of the millennialist tradition that authorized maintaining distance between the United States and the rest of the world, especially the jaded Old World across the sea. Working with almost entirely different materials from those studied in this book, and examining both the war and postwar eras, Steven Trout has arrived at a similar conclusion: Postwar calls for disarmament evoked the same vision of American-led international progressivism that had underwritten the country’s intervention in a European conflict. And both sets of activity, the Great Crusade of wartime



and the Great Peace Crusade that followed drew their energy from deeply rooted conceptions of American exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny. In each case, America would lead other nations to lasting peace because it was America. (On the Battlefield )

Furthermore, American isolationism following the war was simply a transition back to one of the two major positions available within this millennialist cultural tradition, the “citty upon a hill” tradition that had prevailed among advocates of neutrality prior to US intervention. While crusading in the wilderness of the Old World, crusading to turn that world from its proclivity for war – as at the Naval Disarmament Conference of – (Tooze –) – and eventually keeping one’s distance may seem very different, their differences exist within an overarching, shared system of values and meanings. The language of the crusade emerged from the millennialist tradition, but also from the medievalist antimodernism prominent in American culture and running parallel to the burgeoning industrial productivity and fixation on efficiency characteristic of US society at the time. While other forms of anachronistic language appear in the literature of the First World War, particularly that concerning the Roman Empire, medievalism is certainly the most prominent. It obviously suited the crusader motif, but it also appeared in other ways, sometimes in a fragmentary manner, as when going to war is spoken of as picking up the sword, sometimes in a more fully elaborated manner, as when Alan Seeger constructed an entire knightly persona for himself. In its emphasis on violence, medievalist discourse coincided with the demands war placed on the public. In its emphasis on chivalry and the entire range of values of a way of organizing society that differed from those of the industrial capitalist society that Americans knew, medievalism masked the real nature of the war at every level, beginning with the individual experience of military life and combat. An enormous irony sits at the bottom of all of this: the hegemonic project being launched by the United States under the auspices of the Wilson administration would eventually, after a second world war, radically modernize the same Europe from which many of these anachronistic ideas were borrowed. But it also targeted recalcitrant sectors of American society that had thus far remained outside the sweep of the drive for efficiency and uplift. Writing about the actors in the French Revolution, 

One can question to what extent postwar isolationism was real: Tooze, for example, finds it truly characteristic of the early part of the New Deal only (, ), while Knock asserts that few opponents of the League of Nations were isolationists ().



Marx notes that they found in the distant Roman republic “the ideals and the art forms, the self-deceptions that they needed in order to conceal from themselves the bourgeois limitations of the content of their struggles and to keep their passion at the height of the great historical tragedy” (Marx-Engels ). When similar self-deception is foisted upon and participated in by the vast numbers that engaged in the First World War, the pathos is all the greater. Little of this is visible in the acknowledged great literature of the war. Even though poems such as Hemingway’s “Champs D’Honneur” and Cummings’s “my sweet old etcetera” react strongly against the dominant literary modes of the war years, sufficient time has passed, and the defeat of those formerly dominant modes has proven so total – in literary culture, anyway – that only by actively seeking out the now devalued texts of the era can these dynamics be seen. This involves a kind of reading different from the redemptive practices that characterized previous attempts to “broaden the canon.” Socio-historical research generally, and historical materialist research specifically, cannot restrict itself to the old canon of great aesthetic merit as adjudged using the criteria of modernism, nor can it indulge in the wish-fulfilling practice of restricting itself to texts that display such aesthetic and extra-aesthetic values as meet with one’s approval and thus prove worthy of redemptive reading. The entire range of texts must be engaged, since this is the ground upon which literary and cultural history, as a subset of history in general, is found. And one does not need to argue that the merits of poems about Joan of Arc or fighter pilots are greater than the merits of poems by Ezra Pound. That is not the point. The point is that history is registered in these texts in a way that needs to be explored. Such exploration involves an enormous number of texts, so great that the further development of computer-assisted methods of research – the “distant reading” advocated most prominently by Franco Moretti – can only help in the effort to understand what can be learned from them. Of course, one of the consequences of the war for literary and cultural history was precisely that it helped delegitimize the established literary culture and, as a consequence, gave further impetus to modernist aesthetics and the modernist canon. While modernism did not begin because of the 

The focus of this book is on a conjuncture in history rather than the “long dureé” that Moretti prefers and advocates as the object of study (Distant Reading), but I see no reason why methods of distant reading should not prove useful to the understanding of conjunctures and the relationship between conjunctures and structures as well.



war, the war both helped to shape its development and generated the conditions under which it became the dominant aesthetic ideology of the twentieth century. In so far as modernism developed against the discourses that justified the war, it also tended to reject the values associated with those discourses. Stanley Cooperman: “The producers of literary sentimentality were themselves products of older, more sentimental concepts of war, and their work must be understood clearly . . . if we are to understand the mental framework of disgust and mockery from which young writers created their testaments of disillusion” (). The reaction against the sentimental, established literary culture led to the development of an aesthetic ideology that had little room for those things central to the literary culture that had supported the war effort. This culture had helped convince millions of young men it was a good idea to kill and be killed in order to usher in a millennium that never arrived. However, the loans to the Allies were secured and the United States had the opportunity to become the hegemonic power in the capitalist world-system, an opportunity not seized – due to the political immaturity of the project – for another two decades and under circumstances in which the United States in many ways resembled an old-fashioned European power relying heavily upon armed might, something that Woodrow Wilson had hoped to avoid (Knock , ; Tooze ) – although the record of the United States in, for example, Haiti, during the Wilson administration might be seen to suggest no other outcome likely. The sentimental literary culture that Ann Douglas sees working “to obfuscate the visible dynamics of development” () in the nineteenth century continued to do so into the early twentieth century in the form of the established literary culture. The reaction against the cultural apparatus that sanctified the war was to a great extent a reaction against this culture. But the modernist rejection of sentiment came at a cost. Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home,” again, provides a useful illustration. Krebs, living at home after his belated return from Europe, attempts to eat the breakfast that his mother has prepared for him, while he also tries to avoid conversation about his future. After his terse replies to her inquiries about work, but more generally about his return to normal life in his hometown, his mother asks, “Don’t you love your mother, dear boy?” “No,” Krebs said. His mother looked at him across the table. Her eyes were shiny. She started crying. “I don’t love anybody,” Krebs said.


Conclusion It wasn’t any good. He couldn’t tell her, he couldn’t make her see it. It was silly to have said it. He had only hurt her. He went over and took hold of her arm. She was crying with her head in her hands. “I didn’t mean it,” he said. “I was just angry at something. I didn’t mean I didn’t love you.” His mother went on crying. Krebs put his arm on her shoulder. “Can’t you believe me, mother?” His mother shook her head. “Please, please, mother. Please believe me.” “All right,” his mother said chokily. She looked up at him. “I believe you, Harold.” Krebs kissed her hair. She put her face up to him. “I’m your mother,” she said. “I held you next to my heart when you were a tiny baby.” Krebs felt sick and vaguely nauseated. “I know, Mummy,” he said. “I’ll try and be a good boy for you.” (–)

The mother – and mothers are important figures in First World War poetry, as we have seen – attempts to manipulate her son, making false implicit claims (If you loved your mother you would settle down happily.) and making him responsible for his infantile helplessness (“I held you next to my heart when you were a tiny baby.”). Motherhood becomes another agent of manipulation and coercion alongside government propaganda. Hemingway’s destruction of an important aspect of sentimental culture could hardly be improved upon, particularly its exposure of the extortion that sentimentality enables through the manipulation of emotional bonds. But after this destruction, what? Not much, in a sense. As Larzar Ziff has argued convincingly, Hemingway’s style, such a fine instrument for exposing lies and veiled coercion, was poorly suited to any positive engagement with a dense and complex social reality. The reaction against the war and the society that produced and promoted it was both justified and flawed, and produced a culture seemingly critical not only of specific aspects of the society from which it sprang, but also of the very fact of society. Again, Hemingway serves to illustrate the point. The favored locales of his fiction, the woods and foreign countries, serve to allow the characters to escape “the immense and complex fabric of American social reality” (Jameson, Marxism and Form ); Hemingway avoids this so that he can do something authentic and fulfilling: write clean, spare sentences. And so Krebs “would have liked a girl if she had come to him and not wanted to talk. But here at home it was all too complicated. He knew he could never get through it all again. It was not



worth the trouble. That was the thing about French girls and German girls. There was not all this talking” (). The Hemingway sentence demonstrates his skill but also avoids the untruth and extortion of communication in the social environment, even as Krebs remembers wistfully a situation in which he could avoid these things. Ironically, this practice of individual (istic) skill and truth takes place in the most unremittingly social medium possible: language. One could argue that “Soldier’s Home” may be defended in precisely the same way that I defended Cummings’s “next to of course god america I” in Chapter , and that this exposure of the illicit uses to which motherhood is put clears the ground for an honest encounter: the negative implies the positive. And of course, it can. However, what also has occurred is that the exposure of the incursion of the false and manipulative rhetorical practice of the war years into the most intimate of relationships has undercut not only the rhetorical practice, but also the relationships themselves. This, obviously, is to paint with a broad brush: Cummings, for example, went on to write some quite beautiful poems about his parents. But as a rule, modernism did not deal with notable success with those things at the heart of the sentimental culture of the nineteenth century and still prominent in and tainted by the traditional literary culture of the war era. Even when modernism attempted to construct a positive program, as noted by Ricardo Quinones, it tended to do so by moving in the direction of myth – seen clearly in American literature in such figures as Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot – often another way of avoiding the density of social reality and emotions. Modernism was famously described by Lionel Trilling as an “adversary culture” (xv) hostile to bourgeois society. Daniel Bell expanded on Trilling’s analysis and described the conflict between this culture and the society from which it emerged as a “cultural contradiction of capitalism.” So far as this conflict or contradiction was real much of the impetus behind it, the sense that bourgeois society deserved to be destroyed, lies in the reaction to the First World War and the culture that promoted it. Peter Burger has analyzed the avant-gardes of the immediate postwar period as 

I find Ziff’s and Jameson’s accounts of Hemingway’s style more convincing than Gandal’s argument that sees “Hemingway’s modernist style as part of an ethnically inflected Anglo exclusivity” () reacting against the multiethnic meritocracy opened up by the US military during the war years. Stanley Cooperman saw clearly the cost as well as the virtues of Hemingway’s style: “Ritualized language and prescribed limitation of experience to be rendered or even talked about may produce honest and precise writing. Despite all the insistence on precision and virility, however, there is in Hemingway’s work an almost maidenish fear of the full spectrum of potentialities within experience. This is particularly true of love” ().



an attempt to destroy the bourgeois institution of art. While modernism was not synonymous with the avant-gardes, even in the Anglophone countries where the distinction is less than entirely clear, something of the animus against bourgeois society that propelled the avant-gardes was certainly present in modernism. But in the reaction against the society that had wasted so much and so many in the war, society itself, human social existence, could appear to be rejected, and not just the particular form of it that produced the war and all it entailed. When Georgy Lukacs assails modernism for “destroying the complex tissue of man’s relations with his environment” (), resolving human being into a solitariness that denies its incessantly social character, he targets this quality of modernism. The untruth that was seen as characteristic of human social existence – the only kind of existence humans as such can have – was in significant part the untruth of the war. We thus end up in a contradictory situation: the literature that rejected the war and the culture that promoted it had a profound political and social character as a commentary on the decisive event of the twentieth century. Yet it often ended up as a massive rejection of politics and society, or in the case of Pound and Eliot as a literally reactionary, backwardlooking rejection of modernity, the political and social dimensions of which were obscured. Crucial in all of this was the development and proliferation of the New Criticism, whose role in presenting a vision of literature that minimized its historical character has been analyzed quite thoroughly. Rather than rehearsing this analysis, I would prefer to note the practical working out of this in relation to the material at hand: New Critical methods and assumptions led to the scrubbing away of the context within which the writing that it valued developed, not only the broad political and historical context, but also the context most nearly adjacent, that of the literary and non-literary culture within and against which modernism developed. By doing so, literary criticism removed a crucial medium through which the political and the historical made themselves felt in the literary. Politics, history, social life in general, were left as distant forces outside the text with relatively little connection to the words on the page. Thus, the literary text, one of the few that survived to be incorporated into the narrow canon of literary merit, was conceived of in a way comparable to the “thrownness-into-being” (Geworfenheit ins Dasein) characteristic of human being as conceived of by Martin Heidegger. In both cases the emphasis lies not on the generative conditions through which things (individuals, literary texts) come into being and without which they could



not exist, but rather on the isolated entities themselves. Such an understanding thwarts explanation, since the causal linkages that structure society fall away, leaving us with – in the case of literary study – isolated remnants. Lukacs saw the Heideggerian conception of the thrownness of human being replicated in the depiction of human being in modernist literature, but under the New Criticism and much of that which came after, the literary text itself was conceived of similarly. In this way a literature engaged in a discursive struggle concerning the nature of the single most important event of the twentieth century could lose its historical and political character, which disappeared alongside all of those forgotten texts. Insofar as history remained relevant, it was a rather distant influence, since a crucial medium through which that history made itself felt had been deemed unworthy of attention. Of course, the New Criticism and variations on its formalism have been under assault for over thirty years now; therefore, regarded in terms of literary theory, none of this is likely to be news to anyone. But the subject and method of this book illuminate a decisive moment in the development of the literary ideology that dominated the United States, but not only the United States, for much of the twentieth century and whose influence continues today.

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Adams, Sam,  Adorno, T.W., , , ,  adversary culture, , , . See also Trilling, Lionel Aldrich, Thomas Bailey “The One White Rose,” – Alexander, Michael,  Allenby, Edmund, – Althusser, Louis, , ,  American Union Against Militarism,  anachronism, –, , , See also civilization; medievalism; Rome Andros, Sir Edmund,  Anievas, Alexander, –, , , , ,  Appleby, Joyce,  Appleton, Everard Jack,  “The Alien,” – Arrighi, Giovanni, , ,  asceticism, , – Audoin-Rouzeau, Stephane,  Barter, William H. “That’s My Boy,”  “The Soldier Boy’s Homecoming,” – base/superstructure model, –,  Becker, Annette,  Beebe, Maurice,  Belgium, , , –, , , ,  Bell, Daniel,  Bercovitch, Sacvan, –, , , ,  Bethmann-Hollweg, Theobald von,  Bhaskar, Roy, – Bismarck, Otto von,  Bogacz, Ted, , , ,  Bourne, Randolph, ,  Bradford, William,  Brewer, Leighton, , –, , –, – Bridges, Robert,  Brooke, Rupert, 

Brown, Abbie Farwell “Fourth of July, ,” ,  Bryan, William Jennings,  Buck, Howard Swazey, ,  Buitenhuis, Peter,  Burger, Peter,  Burk, Kathleen,  Burke, Kenneth,  Burr, Amelia Josephine “The Enemy,” – “The Engineers,” – Carter, William, ,  The Gates of Janus, , , –, ,  Cather, Willa One of Ours,  Chalmers, Agnes “A Bully Sweetheart,” – “Gethsemane Redeemed,” – Chaloner, John Armstrong,  “Pax Romana I,”  Channing, William Ellery,  Christ, Jesus, , ,  civilization, –, , , , , , , –, , , ,  Atlantic,  Latin, , ,  Clark, Christopher,  Clarke, Adna “Acrostic to the Flag,”  Clough, David,  Colcord, Lincoln Vision of War, , –, , –, – Collier, Andrew,  Committee for Democratic Control,  Comstock, Byron H., ,  “The Skyman,” – Coogan, John W.,  Cooper, John Milton Jr., ,  Cooperman, Stanley, , 




Cowley, Malcolm, , –,  Crandall, Charles Henry, – Crawford, Francis Marion Via Crucis,  Creaven, Sean, – Croly, Herbert,  Crosby, Harry,  crusade, crusader, , , –, , , – Cummings, E.E., , , , – “my sweet old etcetera,” , , – “next to of course god america i,” , , –, , ,  Danforth, Samuel,  Darwin, Charles,  DeMoney, Mary Hartley “Fields of Victory,”  Detmer, David,  Dewey, John,  Dickie, Margaret,  Dimock, Wai-Chee, –,  disillusionment, , , , , –, ,  proto-,  Divine, Charles S. “Verses to a Mule,”  Dobson, Austin, – Dodd, Lee Wilson “Pan-Germany,” – Dos Passos, John, ,  The Big Money, – Three Soldiers,  Douglas, Ann,  Douglas, Richard, – Edmunds, Abe Craddock Five Men at the Battle of Rheims, , –, –, ,  Edwards, Jonathan, – efficiency, – Eliot, T.S., , , ,  The Waste Land, –,  Emerson, Ralph Waldo, , , –,  Empedocles,  epic, –, – Euwer, Anthony “The Hands That Drive the Needles,” – “He Struck,” – familial relations, , , , –, , See also fatherhood; motherhood; siblings Feuerbach, Ludwig,  Fish, Stanley,  Foch, Ferdinand, , 

Fordism, ,  Frank, Henry The Clash of Thrones,  Frederick II (Holy Roman Empire),  Freud, Sigmund, ,  Freure, Russell,  Friedman, Norman,  Fussell, Paul, , , , , , , ,  Galloway, M.A.A.,  Gamble, Richard M.,  Garrison, William Lloyd,  Germann, Julian,  Germany, –, –, , –, , , –, , , , , , –, , –, , –, , , , , –, –,  Girouard, Mark, ,  Godfrey of Bouillon, –, ,  Goebel, Stefan, , ,  Goths, – Grandgent, Louis, – Great Awakening,  Greville, Fulke,  Gulace, Nicoleta,  Haber, Samuel,  Hainsworth, J.B.,  Hall, John,  Hammond, Mason,  Harding, Warren G.,  Hart, James A.,  Harvard Monthly, The,  Harvey, David,  Hayes, Carlton J.H. A Brief History of the Great War,  Haytock, Jennifer,  Heather, Peter,  Hegel, G.W.F., , , ,  hegemony as concept,  US project to achieve, –, , , –, , –, , – Heidegger, Martin,  Hemingway, Ernest, – “Champs d’Honneur,”  “Soldier’s Home,” , – Hering, Frank E. “You Kept Your Rendezvous With Death,”  Hietala, Thomas,  Hindenburg, Paul von,  historical materialism, –, –, See also base/superstructure model, ideology, Marxism

Index Hobsbawm, Eric, –,  Holcomb, William Hartley,  “My Love is a Soldier Boy,” – “Our Responsibility,”  “Sonny, Dear,” – “The Aegis of Our Fathers,” – “The Spirit of ,”  “The Women Knit,” – “To the Kinsmen on the Line,”  Homer, Homeric, , , , , ,  Horace, , – Hough, Lynn Harold, , –, ,  Howe, M.A. DeWolfe, , , –,  “,” – “To the President,” – Hulley, Lincoln St Michael and the Dragon, , , –, , –,  Hun, Huns, , , , , –, , ,  Hutchison, Hazel, , ,  Hynes, Samuel, ,  ideology, –, , , ,  aesthetic, –,  alter- and ego, , –, –,  American, , , –, , –,  inclusive-existential, , , ,  inclusive-historical, ,  positional-existential, , , , , , –,  positional-historical, , – Isonzo, Sixth Battle of the, – James, William, – Jameson, Fredric, , , ,  Jamieson, Kathleen Hall,  Joseph, Jonathan, ,  Kant, Immanuel, ,  Kassanoff, Jennie A.,  Kaufman, Robert,  Keegan, John, ,  Keen, Sarah,  Keene, Jennifer,  Kennedy, David, , –, ,  Kennedy, Richard, , – Kerber, Linda,  Kitchin, G.W.,  Knock, Thomas, –, , , –,  Kulikoff, Alan,  La Follette, Robert M.,  Lacher, Hannes,  Laclau, Ernesto, 


Langdon, Courtney, – “Alma Roma,” – “Fuori I Barbari,” – Lanouette, Joseph Edward Jean Rivard,  Lasch, Christopher,  Lavine, Harold,  Lears, T.J. Jackson, , –, , , ,  Leed, Eric J., , , ,  Lenin,  Lewys, Georges Epic of Verdun, , –, ,  Lippmann, Walter, –, ,  Lloyd George, David,  Lodge, Henry Cabot, ,  Long, Haniel, – Long, Lindley Grant Farmer Hiram on the World’s War, , , – Losurdo, Dominico, ,  Lovelace, Richard “To Lucasta, Going to the Warres,”  Ludendorff, Erich,  Lukács, Georg, , , , – Lusitania, RMS, , – MacKaye, Percy, –,  “American Neutrality,” – “Wilson,” – Manifest Destiny, , –,  Marne, ,  First Battle of the, ,  Second Battle of the, , ,  Marx, Karl, , , , ,  Marxism, , , , , See also historical materialism masculinity, – Maude, Frederick Stanley,  May, Henry F.,  McCall, Frank Ravenscroft “A Modern Crusader”, – McDermott, Sara,  McIntyre, Easter “Our Sailors,”  medievalism, medievalist, –, , , , , –, –, –, , –, , , , , –,  millennialism, millennialist, , , –, –, –, , , , , –, –,  Miller, Alisa, , ,  modernism, , , –, , , – Mombauer, Annika,  Moretti, Franco, , , , 



Morgan House of, –, ,  J.P.,  motherhood, –, , , , , , ,  Mouffe, Chantal,  Moy, Timothy,  Myer, Arno,  Nelson, Cary, –, – neo-Gramscian theory of international relations,  neo-pragmatism, – neutrality, ,  American,  New Criticism,  New World versus Old World, –, , ,  Newbolt, Henry “Vitai Lampada”,  Nietzsche, Friedrich,  Nordic mythology, , – Norris, George, ,  Olin-Ammentorp, Julie,  Owen, Wilfred, –, – Peréz de Villagrá, Gaspar Historia del Nueva Mexico,  Perine, George Corbin “The Mother’s Farewell to Her Boy”, – “Three Cheers for the Men in the Shipyards”, – Perry, Ralph Barton, – Pershing’s Crusaders,  Pescatello, Ann M.,  Phillips, Christopher N.,  Plattsburg military camps, ,  Pound, Ezra, –, –, –, , , , , , – “Canto XIV”,  An ABC of Reading, ,  Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, ,  Price, Alan, ,  primitive accumulation,  Puritans, American, , –, , , , ,  Quinn, Patrick J., , ,  Quinones, Ricardo,  Rahv, Philip, – Reeves, Harrison, , , ,  republicanism, , , , , , , , ,  Riley, James Whitcomb,  Roberts, Walter Adolphe, 

Rome, –, , –, – Roosevelt, Theodore, , , –, , –, –, ,  The Great Adventure, ,  Rorty, Richard, ,  Roosevelt, Theodore,  Sandburg, Carl “The Four Brothers,”  Sanger, William Cary Jr. “Reveille,”  Schelling, Felix Thor,  Scott, Temple “The Call of the Sea,”  Seeger, Alan, –, –, –, , , , , ,  “The Aisne (-),” , , – “As a Soldier Thinks of War,” – “At the Tomb of Napoleon Before the Elections in America – November, ,” – “The Ballad of William of Cabestan,”  “Broceliande,”  “Coucy,”  “The Hosts,” , –,  “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” –, , ,  “Liebestod,”  Love and Strife, as principles, , , , , , –, , , ,  “Lyonesse,”  “A Message to America,” –, – “Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France,” – “The Rendezvous,”  “Sonnet I,” – “Sonnet III,” – “Sonnet IV,”  “Sonnet V,” – “Sonnet VI,”  “Sonnet VII,”  “Sonnet X,” – “Sonnet XI,” – “Suggestions for a Dissertation on the Historical Development of the Faustmotive,” , – “Vivien,”  Seeger, Charles Jr., – Seeger, Charles Sr., , –,  Seeger, Elsie,  self-interest,  America’s freedom from,  A Son at the Front and, , ,  Central powers and, 

Index Seward, Walter E. “Since Ephun Went Away,” – siblings, , – Sidney, Sir Philip, –,  Smith, Barbara Herrnstein, –,  socialism of war, , ,  Sprague, Arthur “The Crusader,”  Stephens, William V.V.,  Stephenson, Anders, ,  Stephenson, Wendell,  swords, as part of anachronistic discourse, – Tennyson, Alfred Lord, ,  Teuton, Teutonic, , , , , ,  Therborn, Goran, , , , –,  Thoreau, Henry David, – Tolkien, J.R.R.,  Tompkins, Jane, – Tooze, Adam, , , – Trilling, Lionel,  Trotsky, Leon, , ,  Trout, Steven, , , , – Tucker, Robert W.,  Turner, Frederick Jackson,  Twain, Mark, –,  United Kingdom as hegemonic power,  in the First World War, , – universalism, –, , –, , –, , , , , , , , , ,  van der Pijl, Kees, , , – van Dyke, Henry, , ,  “War-Music,”  Van Wienen, Mark, , –, , –, –, – Van Zile, Edward S.,  “Rise Up! Rise Up, Crusaders!” – “We Pay the Price—We Old!”  Vanamee, Grace D. “The Sequel, He Kept His Rendezvous with Death,” – Vandals, –


Vigilantes, the,  Voyant tools,  warfare, ,  aerial, , – industrialized, , , –, , , , ,  submarine, , , –,  trench, –, –,  Wechsler, Arthur,  Wells, H.G.,  Wharton, Edith, , , – A Backward Glance, ,  The Book of the Homeless,  French Ways and Their Meaning, – Fighting France, – The House of Mirth, – A Son at the Front, –, , –, –,  Whitman, Walt, , , , , –,  “To Thee, Old Cause!”,  Whittier-Ferguson, John,  Wigglesworth, Michael The Day of Doom,  God’s Controversy with New England,  Wilhelm II, , , , ,  Wilson, Woodrow, , , –, –, –, –, –, –, , , , , , , –, –, , , –, , , , –, , –, –, ,  April   address, , –, – “Fourteen Points,” ,  Winthrop, John,  Withington, Robert,  Wood, Charles W.,  Wood, Ellen Meiksins,  Wordsworth, William,  Wyeth, John Allan This Man’s Army,  Yeats, W.B.,  Ziff, Larzar,  Zimmermann, Arthur, 