As we remember the unbelievable tragedy of the First World War, it is apt
that we should also honour the literary genius that was the product of such
unimaginable horror. This superbly produced Naxos issue surely takes the
cake for dramatic content and for the wide choice of poetry that is permeated
with the most appropriate music. The set is split into seven major subjects
amongst which one finds 'Anticipation', 'Battle', 'The Dead', Pastoral and
most important 'Afterwards'.
We are also faced with some of the finest poems of the century. Legends such
as Wilfred Owen'' bitter ''Dulce et Decorum Est' and Siegfried Sasoon's;
'To the Warmongers' are matched with the equally impressive 'Louse Hunting'
by Isaac Rosenberg and Edward Thomas' 'The Sun used to Shine'. In the
anticipation series one could single out Rupert Brooke's marvelous 'The Soldier'
in which the glorious ideals of patriotism find their niche. However it is
the shocking realities of war that really bring this set to grim life.
The tragic campaigns of Gallipoli, The Somme and other memorable battles
are brought to life in Owen's 'Spring Offensive' and most of all Roseberg's
heartbreaking 'Returning we hear the larks'. There are also a number of profound
aftermath statements by Ezra Pound and Edith Nesbit. Elgar's 'Enigma Variations'
makes an ideal backdrop to the grim and subtle texts whilst Britten's terse
'Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge' is also wonderfully atmospheric.
All readers are admirable in their dramatic poise and emotional restraint;
it must have been indeed heartbreaking for them as they leafed through these
deeply felt lines. Perry Keenylside provides notes of succinct quality and
perceptive information and he also quotes a number of lines to prove his
point. All in all, this set is a true memorial to those who died for all
of us and with Elgar's 'Nimrod' accompanying Laurence Binyon's 'For the Fallen',
the collection reaches a conclusion of heart rending passion and grief but
ultimately there is also spiritual triumph.
'Now the sprinkled blackthorn snow
Lies along the lover's lane
Where last year we used to go
Where we shall not go again'
Edith Nesbit: 'Spring in War-Time'