Archives par mot-clé : Charles Péguy

The French Poetry of Wilfred Owen’s Modernism


Wilfred Owen, Modernist Poetry, Laurent Tailhade, Charles Péguy, War Poetry, World War I.

Consideration of Owen in relationship to key modernists of his time concerning his poetic trajectory is a way of beginning. Key to Owen’s poetic stimulus was his decision to teach English in Bordeaux in 1913 and his encounter with Laurent Tailhade. The poetry Tailhade enjoyed was transmitted to Owen via his friendship, and through books and discussions. Owen’s knowledge of French poetry was considerable by 1918; he had been exposed to Barbusse, Duhamel, Péguy, Verhaeren, Flaubert, Mallarmé, Apollinaire, the Chanson de Roland and Hugo. One might also conjecture that he read Ronsard, and Villon, or learned something about them, if only from reading Tailhade’s poetry. But he probably missed one of Robert Desnos’s first poems, which offers an interesting counterpoint to his own meditations on war. Owen’s exposure to French poetry helped him to find his own way of writing about war. The paper ends with a coda: Geoffrey Hill on Wilfred Owen.

Quelques considérations d’Owen par rapport aux poètes modernistes de l’époque pour commencer, avec ce choix décisif d’enseigner l’anglais à Bordeaux à partir de 1913, qui est suivi de sa rencontre avec Laurent Taillade. L’amitié du poète expérimenté a un impact considérable sur Owen, qui a été ensuite lecteur de Barbusse, Duhamel, Péguy, Verhaeren, Flaubert, Mallarmé, Apollinaire, et de la Chanson de Rolland. Il est possible qu’il ait aussi lu Hugo, Ronsard, et Villon ou bien appris de leurs techniques à travers les poèmes de Tailhade. Mais il avait certainement manqué de lire un des premiers poèmes de Robert Desnos, un poème qu’on peut mettre en parallèle de ses propres considérations sur la guerre. On découvre que c’est la rencontre avec la poésie française qui permet à Owen de trouver sa propre manière d’écrire sur la guerre. L’essai se termine par un épilogue sur Geoffrey Hill et Owen.


This paper is dedicated to the memory of Dominic Hibberd,
who devoted much of his life to the study of Wilfred Owen, and whom I
had the pleasure of meeting at a conference in Caen in 2005. 

For one year, beginning in October 1917, no one, soldier or civilian, wrote English poetry more significant than his.  
— Dominic Hibberd, Preface to Owen the Poet (1968, ix).

… his shell-shock has to be recognized as an essential stage in his becoming, as John Middleton Murry was to call him, the poet of the war— Dominique Hibberd, Wilfred Owen, A New Biography (2002, 243).

Et j’ai dit qu’il fallait rire
et j’ai dit qu’il fallait chanter;
Laurent Tailhade, Apollinaire,
Je suis venu par les allées…
— Robert Desnos (“Dédicace”  in Prospectus 1919; qtd. L. Robert)

Born in 1893, five years after T.S. Eliot and eight years after Ezra Pound, Wilfred Owen came into the world in his maternal grandfather’s home in Oswestry, a small town in Shropshire. Owen’s path to poetry was notably different from theirs, though like them, he started learning French early. At the age of 12, letters from October 1905 show he was already studying French, and visited Brittany with his brother in June 1903. He returned to Brest in July 1909, also visiting Morgan (Complete Letters 27, 54-55).  Unlike Eliot and Pound, his premature death stopped short a promising poetic career. He was an evangelically inspired youth, who often read the Bible, following the example of his mother. Like Pound and Eliot, he was influenced by, as Dominic Hibberd discerned, “French and English Decadence” but unlike them there was also “Georgian innovation” in his work (Hibberd 1968, x). As a young adult, Owen was a lay assistant to the Reverend Herbert Wigan at Dunsden (near Reading) from September 1911 to mid 1913, stopping a few months after falling ill from bronchial attacks in February 1913.[1] His mother was aware of his desire to become a poet, and she gave him moral support, but no particularly rich cultural foundations, apart from the habit of evangelical bible-reading. Later in that year, after he turned 20, he followed a doctor’s advice to pass the winter in a warmer climate, and thus went to Bordeaux to teach English at the Berlitz School in September 1913. Jon Stallworthy told the story of his father visiting Bordeaux and being startled to find himself addressed as “Sir Tom Owen » because a title had been invented by his son (1974, 96). Owen had already understood that he could be limited by his class, so in France he opted to pretend he was from a different set.

            The aspiring poet had apparently held ambitions about getting to France for some time. The French language he was learning from at least the age of 12 had become fluent enough for him to purchase French books, first mentioned in a letter to his mother when he was 18 (dated April 1911). There he quoted a paragraph that he had translated into English from Alphonse Daudet, Lettres de mon Moulin (Collected Letters, 80).[2] His large literary interest was taking a decidedly French direction. In June 1911, he wrote to Harold Owen, quoting from Shakespeare’s Henry V, II.iii,57: “To France, to France . . . my boy’’ (73). In letters from the same period he quoted from John Keats and John Ruskin (74-75), suggesting that he was an avid reader of both poetry and prose. June 18, 1911, in a long letter to his mother concerning his discussion with Mr. Robson about possibly taking an internship with a vicar he added: 

I mentioned my scheme of getting a thorough knowledge of French in France, and he considered it a very good thing, but far better if a degree be obtained first. A year or two in France after that, and I should be worth something. (CL 76).

No doubt his early attraction to France was fostered also during several short trips to Brittany with his father in the summers of 1908 and 1909, when he was 15 and 16.

            In September of 1911, he enjoyed a trip to London as he planned to visit Dunsden, exploring the British Museum, where he admired Keats’s Manuscripts and contemplated other literary manuscripts by Walter Scott, George Eliot, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Milton, Lord Byron, Alfred Tennyson, and Robert Browning (82). He also went to see Macbeth (83) and visited the National Portrait Gallery (84). His literary game would be given a boost in the summer of 1914, when he was invited by one of his students, Mme Léger, to spend a month in the Pyrenees, where he would instruct her daughter, eleven-year-old Nénette, in English. He was met at the Bagnères-de-Bigorre station by M. Léger and Nénette and rode up the slope in their donkey-cart (Stallworthy 100).  Wilfred Owen arrived in Bagnères on Thursday July 30, on the eve of the war, and the day before Jean Jaurès was assassinated. There he experienced France entering World War I. Bagnères was associated with Laurent Tailhade; lines from one of his poems were carved into the supporting plinth of the statue La Muse Bagnéraise by Jean Escoula, (Hibberd 2002, 130). Theophile Gautier had also resided there for a time, so the town was associated with  ideas of “l’art pour l’art” (Hibberd 2002, 130). 

            Owen wrote of the war at some length in a letter that Stallworthy abundantly quoted. Specifically, his status in Bagnères was put in question, his movements could be restricted, and his salaried employment administering English classes could be affected: “Nearly all the men have already departed. (….). I had to declare myself, and get a permit to remain here; where I must stay still under penalty of arrest and sentence as a spy — unless I get a special visa for emigrating. I don’t know how this state of things will affect my Courses in Bordeaux.’’ (qtd Stallworthy 1974, 102). In 2007, James Fenton reminded readers of the Guardian of Owen’s good looks being “the object of a certain interest among the women in the household” and then:

But he also made a very big hit with a visiting celebrity and family friend, the poet Laurent Tailhade. Tailhade was 60, and his ill health, according to Owen’s biographer Dominic Hibberd, showed the effects of many years of over-indulgence in drugs and absinthe. (Fenton, Guardian, Sep 8, 2007)

Fenton noted the evidence in the Owen letters of Tailhade’s passionate attraction to the young Owen. 

            However, before we explore that situation any further, let us first take a step back and consider that the details of the biography of Wilfred Owen interest us so much today, not only because of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem written for the 1962 consecration of Coventry’s new cathedral, or the excellent scholarly work of Dominic Hibberd and Jon Stallworthy, but especially because Owen, and other war poets of his generation who died in the conflict, have become cultural icons for the many nameless fallen soldiers of the First World War. Owen’s predominance was highlighted in the 1960s, when renewed interest in World War I poetry was spurred forward by various colonial struggles as well as the Vietnam War. Jon Stallworthy recalled in 2013 how he came to read Owen for the first time, following his reading of Yeats’s introduction to the Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936) and wondering why Yeats had so detested Owen. Stallworthy found the reason: “the answer was inescapable: they represented competing value-systems—Ancient and Modern, Homeric and Humane — and in the 1930s, let alone the 1960s, there could be no competition” (Owen 2013, v.2, 555).[3]

            To some extent, those born after 1950 came to a different and perhaps deeper knowledge of World War I — and about how war affects humanity in general — through the poetry of Owen, Rosenberg, Gurney, Thomas, Sassoon, Graves, and Jones, as much or more than through historical accounts.[4] We owe to them the sensory experience we can glean of a historical event that comes from direct testimony captured in poetic form. Owen is the best known of British war poets, and by the time James Fenton’s Guardian article was published in 2007 — if not before — every detail of his personal life would hold as much interest for the general public as that of the other great modernist poets of his generation. The mysteries of his love life had become common gossip as much as the private lives of other literary personalities had: T.S. Eliot’s catastrophic first marriage to and separation from Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot, the subsequent Emily Hale episode, followed by his blissful second marriage with Valerie Eliot; or Ezra Pound’s many amorous adventures around his lifelong relationships with Dorothy Shakespear and Olga Rudge. And so, scholars and the public by now have been treated to what Philip Hoare wrote in the Guardian in 2018, “He met his first real live poet: Laurent Tailhade, an opium addict and anarchist who’d declared a terrorist bomb in Paris to be a beautiful gesture. Tailhade ‘slobbered over’ Owen, who accepted the compliment” (Nov 3, 2018).

Tailhade’s representation of French Poetry

To explore Owen’s connections to French poetry and to situate him as a modernist poet among others, Laurent Tailhade’s influence must be considered in some detail. He was indeed the first live poet Owen ever met, and that after at least four years of writing poetry in the style of Keats.[5] Not only was he the first poet Owen met, but he was the first of “three crucial encounters with living poets (the other two were with [Harold] Monro in 1915-16 and Sassoon in 1917)” according to Dominic Hibberd (2002, 165).[6] Tailhade’s doting attention was certainly valorizing for the young poet. His lasting influence could be felt in Owen’s way of viewing the war during the following year (Hibberd, qtd. Fenton), but even more in his formation of Owen’s world view about how literature intersects life. Tailhade was a Parnassian poet, who had navigated through the symbolism and politics of Stéphane Mallarmé’s mardis (weekly soirées) to being published in Anatole Baju’s Le Décadent. He was one of those in attendance at the Montmartre gathering place, Le Chat Noir,[7] and was known to be a virulent polemicist.[8] Originally from Tarbes, where he had been prone to nationalist and anti-Semitic views, after residing in Paris, he became an anarchist, a Dreyfusard, and a violent anticlerical.[9] He fought in duels. He lost his right eye due to a bomb placed (possibly by Félix Fenéon) in an assassination attempt,[10] in Foyot restaurant on rue de Condé, near the Luxembourg gardens, where he was dining April 4, 1894. His convalescence lasted six weeks. His subsequent literary isolation was perhaps worse than losing that eye. Because he had earlier praised an anarchist’s bomb, only Léon Bloy and Stéphane Mallarmé came to his defense. Other writers felt he had received his just desserts. In 1898 he lost most movement in one arm after a duel with Maurice Barrès. Tailhade’s portrait description of himself, composed while in prison at la Santé in 1902, contains these words that are desperate, self-deprecating and also vain:

Dans deux mois, j’aurai quarante-huit ans. Outre le jeu, les demoiselles, outre un mariage triste et l’autre cocasse, j’ai connu la morphine, la chirurgie et la prison. Je suis borgne, manchot, ventripotent. J’ai eu, plus ou moins, deux douzaines de duels. (…) (qtd. Rébérioux 2007).

            How important was this extravagant figure to Wilfred Owen? In his first 1968 biography of Wilfred Owen, Dominic Hibberd was already conscious of Tailhade’s crucial role in promoting French literature to Owen:

Owen’s debt to Tailhade and French literature has been generally overlooked (partly because fewer poems and letters survive from 1913-15 than from any other period of his adult life); unlike most British poets of his generation he encountered late Romanticism in France rather than at home. (Hibberd, 1968, 29).[11]

Owen’s connection to Tailhade and the complexities of the world of French poetry has parallels with other anglophone poets. Tailhade (1854-1919) was six years older than the poet that inspired T.S. Eliot, Jules Laforgue (1860-1887). Eliot gave Laforgue credit for developing his poetic voice and teaching him how to speak (Jack 2015). To René Taupin, Eliot wrote in 1930: “My first poems are almost pure Laforgue, with a little Baudelaire” (T.S. Eliot, Letters v.5, Jan 17, 1930, 35). Laforgue also had family connections in Tarbes, and his first poetry appeared in little magazines there (Simpson 1996).  Tailhade had learned from Mallarmé’s work and his mardis, where he met Oscar Wilde, and became a close friend of Verlaine. In 1968 Hibberd also described him as “an anarchist sympathiser, a dabbler in the occult and a celebrated dandy” (Hibberd 1968, 30). Owen’s poetic voice was developed when he met and read Tailhade, along with the French writers he recommended. Tailhade would have spoken with him about the Symbolists (Rimbaud, Verlaine, Mallarmé, and Laforgue) with the 1886 manifesto by Jean Moréas citing Baudelaire as a precursor. And he would have lauded the Decadents, whose name was coined by Maurice Barrès in 1884. They had their own magazine, Le Décadent by 1886, where Tailhade was often published. For them, civilisation was ripening to the point of decay and they offered in response a disembodied creative voice meant to shock (as expressed by Corbière, Huysmans, Anatole Baju, Miguel Fernandez, Jean Lorrain, Octave Mirbeau, and Tailhade). Though many writers were associated with both groups, the Symbolists and the Decadents were at times seen as rivals. Yet, their abundant use of irony as well as innovations in sound, made both groups an inspiration for Surrealism.

            When Tailhade and Owen first met, on August 22, 1914, Owen was attending Tailhade’s two lectures at the Casino of Bagnères-de-Bigorre (Hibberd 2002, 184). Tailhade as a connaisseur of French literature of the end of the nineteenth century demonstrated in the two lectures, through allusions to Gautier, Rabelais, Voltaire, Bossuet, Montesquieu, Michelet, and Renan, that France’s literary tradition would preserve her soul, even when faced with war (Tailhade, qtd Hibberd 2002, 166). 

            After the lectures, Tailhade was asked to dine at the Léger home at Villa Lorenzon on August 27 or 28 (Hibberd, 2002 and Stallworthy 1974, 108 mention it).[12] He lodged with the Légers for at least a week while Owen was there, and on September 7 gave him “a farewell present” in the form of two books: “inscribed copies of Flaubert’s La Tentation de Saint Antoine and Renan’s Souvenirs d’Enfance et de Jeunesse and, in return, Owen gave ‘son vieil ami’ his old fountain pen.” (Stallworthy 1974, 111).Tailhade and Owen were photographed together, with a book in Owen’s hand, most likely “the copy of Flaubert’s La Tentation de Saint-Antoine” (Hibberd 1968, 36). The symbolic gift of Owen’s pen seems to be an acknowledgement of how much the young poet felt he had learned from his friend; Owen would add the works of Mallarmé, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Gauthier, Flaubert, Renan, and Tailhade to his reading list. But as Hibberd tells the story in 2002, Tailhade “made several attempts to settle at the villa in September 1914, but retreated each time to his hotel, complaining of a neuralgic abscess” (Hibberd 2002, 169). Was there more than poetry involved? What we do know is that Tailhade wrote to Owen about the afternoons they had spent together in August and September 1914 six months later, mentioning that “he was still getting daily pleasure from using Wilfred’s old pen, imagining how often it had been in its former owner’s hand” (see Hibberd 2002 169). Hibberd’s 2002 biography of Owen puts forward that Owen and Tailhade had a sexual relationship (see also Hoare 2018).[13] What should interest us more is the lasting literary influence of Tailhade on modernist literature. Consider May Sinclair’s praising sarcasm in “The Reputation of Ezra Pound” which appeared in The North American Review in 1920:

Mr. Pound is not a respecter of respectable persons. He has displayed a certain literary frightfulness in the manner of Laurent Tailhade. He has shown an arrogant indifference to many admired masterpieces of his day. And he has associated himself with unpopular movements. His appearance in Blast blasted him in the eyes of respectable persons not hitherto hostile to his manifestations. People became unpopular through association with him. (Sinclair 658).

In the time Tailhade and Owen spent together, the older poet had encouraged his poetic composition and influenced it, just as his action also influenced Owen’s decision to fight in the war. In a letter to his mother Susan Owen, dated Friday, 6 November 1914, Owen wrote: 

I heard that Tailhade, together with Anatole France, is shouldering a rifle! Now I may be led into enlisting when I get home: so familiarise yourself with the idea! It is a sad sign if I do: for it means that I shall consider the continuation of my life of no use to England. And if once my fears are roused for the perpetuity and supremacy of my mother-tongue, in the world—I would not hesitate, as I hesitate now—to enlist. (CL 295-6)

            Soon after the French government left Bordeaux and returned to Paris (on December 10, 1914), and Owen left Bordeaux for Mérignac, pursuing the offer of teaching the young La Touche boys. He was still there in March, his journey planned for January being delayed by the presence of Zeppelins in the channel (CL 316). Owen read the la Touche boys Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris (Stallworthy 1974, 118), and the boys sometimes called him Brer Fox in their games (Stallworthy 1974, 118; letter to Colin Owen, 22 January 1915; CL 317).  In mid-April he interviewed a replacement for himself, and then left for England mid-May 1915 (Stallworthy 1974 119). As he planned his trip to England, he wrote to Susan Owen on Easter Sunday, April 4, 1915: 

My chief Easter Joy was your postcard . . . . My next-best treat was a charming letter from the Poet Tailhade, who is now in Paris, lecturing this week at the Odéon, on Britannicus, and next week on the Art of Belgium, and his personal souvenirs of that country. He, of course, advises me to travel via Paris, and talks of arranging to see me there. (CL 329).

Owen’s next meeting with Tailhade was in Paris, while heading for England, May 3-4, 1915. It resulted in Tailhade giving him a copy of Poèmes Élégiaques, dedicated “en souvenir de nos belles causeries et des beaux soirs à La Gailleste / Paris, le 4 mai 1915” (Hibberd 2002, 197, see also Hibberd 1968, 54). During that visit, we also know that Tailhade took him to a concert. Owen finally crossed the channel and arrived in London May 20 1915. He spent about a week with his family, and also had some time in London, returning to France on June 13. Tailhade had written to him in Britain, and his mother forwarded the letter: “The letter you forwarded was a piece of literature by L. Tailhade.” (letter postmarked to Susan Owen 29 June 1915, CL 342). This may have been the envoi that contained Tailhade’s Poèmes aristophanesques (Hibberd 1968, 36). On June 30, 1915 he wrote to his mother, still contemplating when he himself should enlist:

…was it not Belloc’s great forefinger which pointed out to me this passage of De Vigny: If any man despairs of becoming a Poet, let him carry his pack and march in the ranks.  (This quotation is from Servitude et Grandeur Militaires, 1835 / CL 342).

In the same letter he asked her to find the address of the “Artists Rifles,” the Corps “which offers commissions to ‘gentlemen returning from abroad’” (CL 342). In an undated, (possibly early July 1915) letter to Leslie Gunston containing the poem beginning “Now, let me feel the feeling of thy hand—,” Owen speaks of spending money on French lessons for himself, and reading the Chanson de Roland (CL 344). When waiting for response from Artists Rifles, Owen said he might rather “join the Italian Cavalry; for reasons both aesthetic and practical” (CL 347). In a letter to Leslie Gunston, July 25, 1915, Owen noted he had never read Théophile Gautier, but that he was reading Flaubert’s Salammbô (CL 350). Hibberd discerned that reading the Song of Roland and Salammbô were Owen’s way of getting a literary initiation to the idea of war (2002, 202). 

            Meanwhile, during the same month, at the age of 15, Robert Desnos composed a poem about the war, perhaps one of the first poems he ever published:


Les soldats ont brûlé la ferme et le château,
Abattu le donjon, la ruine romaine,
Qui, triomphant du temps, de la foudre et de l'eau,
D'un long passé restaient une preuve certaine.
Leurs débris maintenant détournent le ruisseau...
Monuments de tristesse et de guerre et de haine.
Les soldats ont brûlé la ferme et le château,
Abattu le donjon, la ruine romaine....

L'oiseau ne chante plus à l'ombre du rameau,
Le cerf ne vient plus boire à la fraîche fontaine,
Le lièvre a déserté le sinueux réseau
Des taillis épineux dont il fit son domaine...
Les soldats ont brûlé la ferme et le château,
Abattu le donjon, la ruine romaine....
                         Juillet 1915.   Robert Desnos[14]

While Owen certainly did not have access to this poem in 1915, and probably did not see it when it was first published in 1918 either, it makes an interesting counterpoint to some of his own contemplation about joining the war as well as his war poems: here Desnos was expressing what war was for civilians: he expressed the ruin of France by the war in 1914-15 in fourteen lines. Anatole France and Laurent Tailhade had reacted to the situation by going to the front themselves: Owen would follow.

            Meanwhile, Owen was reading war poems: his mother had sent him a copy of War Poems from the Times, which he received August 12 (Stallworthy 1974 124).[15] His next postcard to Leslie Gunston asked if he had seen the Times War Poems: “Newbolt’s & Clark’s splendid! Watson, Binyon all right! Tagore interesting. But who on earth are Maitland, de la Mare etc?” He also described the illustrations for the poems by Joseph Simpson to be “marvels” (CL 355). 

On September 15, 1915, he returned to England, accompanied by the La Touche boys who were to go to Downside by train, with intent to enlist. (CL 358). His first lodging was in a French Boarding House called “Les Lilas,” at 54 Tavistock Square (CL 359). On 21 September, he wrote to say that he had joined the army and had been inoculated for Typhoid (CL 360). In the same letter, he mentioned that “The Poetry Bookshop is about 7 mins. Walk!” (360).[16] In a letter to his mother postmarked October 27, 1915 he wrote:

Harold Monro himself read at the P. Bookshop this evening, and I had a talk with him afterwards. Dorothy was impressed by his Poems which I left at Alpenrose. Please send me Tailhade: Poèmes Aristophanesques, which is on the top shelf of the Book Case. (CL 361). 

So by the fall of 1915, after enlisting mid-September, not only had Owen been reading Tailhade’s two major volumes of poetry, he had also read War Poems from the Times (1915), and he had also been in contact with Harold Monro at the Poetry Bookshop in London. Soon enough he would be writing war poetry from the front. What did he discover in Tailhade’s poems that left a lasting influence? The sensuality of Poèmes Élégiaques (1907) was impressive, in the mystical and sentimental Parnassian style, and the invective of Poèmes Aristophanesques (1904) along with its crude realism was no less so. Tailhade’s support for Dreyfus during the Affaire was demonstrated throughout Poèmes Aristophanesques, particularly in the poem “Odelette.” It is not the only poem in the volume which makes much of the odor of feet among other seedy characteristics of the misguided bourgeois. The invective toward editors of the nationalist newspaper Gaulois is evident from the second line of the poem, and is followed by different categories of anti-dreyfusards.


(A la manière de Ronsard)
Chocolatier, faussaires,
Du Gaulois émissaires,
Et ce gredin choisi,

Les tantes, les crapules,
Evêques sans scrupules,
Artons déshonorés
               Et les curés;

Et les bonnes sœurs grises
Distillant pour les brises,
Au fond de leurs clapiers,
                L’odeur des pieds;

Les magistrats intègres,
Les cocottes, les nègres,
Les daims, les maquereaux 
               Et les bistros;

C’est ainsi qu’on recrute
Voleur, escarpe, brute,
Un personnel classé
               Au quai d’Orsay.

Ainsi qu’une relique,
Meyer, juif catholique,
Arbore avec bonheur
               La croix d’honneur.

Alfred Duquet, Mézières,
Loti, fleur des rizières,
Et les divers Quesnays
               En sont ornés.

Major de table d’hôte
Cassagnac ne fait faute
D’avoir cet oripeau
               Dessus sa peau.

Elle orne tes fumistes,
Wilson, les panamistes
Et Gaston Jollivet,
                Ce pur navet.

Ils sont hideux et bêtes,
Ils portent sur leurs têtes
L’air brutal ou sournois
                Propres au bourgeois.

Ils lèchent les derrières,
Les pattes meurtrières,
Les sabres dégainés
                Des galonnés.

Tous, ruisselant d’extases,
Bénissent les ukases,
Le drapeau tricolor,

Et c’est vraiment justice
Que ce monde obreptice
Et tous ces bougres-là
                 Chassent Zola.  

            12 avril 1898 (Tailhade, 1904, 57-59)

The poem is anti-bourgeois, anti-militarist, and anti-nationalist, with the primary focus of Tailhade’s invective here, as in the rest of the collection, aimed at the writers and journalists who wrote against Dreyfus, particularly Drumont, Rochefort, Barrès, Coppée, Loti and Cassagnac (Robert 2012). The visual images are nearly as crude and vicious as the illustrations published by Drumont in the La Libre Parole (1892-1924). Many of the poems in this volume were sonnets (“quatorzains”), in fact, one of Tailhade’s nicknames was “Serpent à sonnets” (Picq 2001). The following sonnet demonstrates Tailhade’s penchant for anti-militarist satire:

(A la manière d'Esparbès)

Aigle de Boustrapa, voici ton jour ! Les Gars,
Ceux de la Haute avec ceux de l'Epicerie,
Se gondolent vers ta loterie, ô Patrie,
Sous l'œil des marchichefs et des maires gagas.

Ils arrivent du claque ou bien des séminaires,
Fils de cocottes chez les Oblats éduquées,
Courtauds de magasins, lorettes dont les quais
Ont vu les jeux, parmi leurs dômes urinaires.

L'âme française chante (ô que faux !) dans leurs voix;
Ils arrêtent pour dégurgiter du pavois,
Tel un cabot perdu que l'on mène en fourrière.

La Victoire, aujourd'hui, leur montre le chemin
Et des boxons épars leur ouvre la barrière.
Vivat! Le copeau renchérira demain.

                     (Tailhade 1904, 24)

Laurent Robert has noted that Tailhade may have been influenced in his satirical invectives by Victor Hugo, especially in the long poem in terza rima, “Résurrection” by following Hugo’s lead (in Les Châtiments) of presenting a Christ oppressed by the falsely religious. Les Poèmes Aristophanesques are nonetheless composed of sets of ill-assorted texts that base their invectives on ad hominem attacks, and they do, like numerous other volumes of poetry published during the Belle Epoque, project the influence of François Villon, who was commonly referenced in French ballads of the late 19th century.[17] Villon was also admired by Charles Péguy, who also drew strongly on Victor Hugo, and Péguy, like Tailhade, also defended Zola: 

Je crois bien que la sincérité est le caractère le plus profond de Zola. Son entière sincérité est le fondement même de sa toujours jeune naïveté. (Péguy, 1899 in Œuvres en prose complètes I, 246).

In that very same text by Péguy from 1899, he responded to Tailhade’s article “Venus Victrix,” published in La Petite République,October 21, 1899. There Péguy maintained, against Tailhade (who was explicitly named twice), that Zola’s novel Fécondité (1898) is about love, not a book about peace and happiness (I, 250-251). Péguy republished his text in the Cahier that commemorated Zola, after his death, the fifth Cahier of the fourth series, in 1902. Péguy also reproduced a paragraph from Tailhade, entitled “courrier de barbarie” on the back cover of the Cahier published January 13, 1903, in another cahier from the fourth series:[18]

Le prêtre, par la honte de son état, par la hideur infamante de son costume, vit en dehors de la loi commune, de la solidarité. Contre lui tout est permis, car la civilisation est en droit de légitime défense; elle ne lui doit ni ménagement ni pitié. C’est le chien enragé que tout passant a le devoir d’abattre, de peur qu’il ne morde les hommes et n’infecte les troupeaux. Le prêtre, dans une société basée sur la raison et la science, le prêtre survivant aux âges nocturnes dont il fut un des plus redoutables produits, le prêtre n’aurait d’autre place qu’à Bicêtre, dans le cabanon des fous dangereux. Exclusion, ostracisme, prison perpétuelle, bagnes et cachots, tout est bon, tout est légitime contre lui. Discuter avec ça! Non, mais le museler, mais le mettre à mort : car la peine capitale, si odieuse qu’elle soit, ‘est pas trop forte pour cet empoisonneur plus effrayant que Borgia, plus infâme que Castalaing. Le respect de la vie humaine cesse envers ceux-là qui se sont mis volontairement hors de l’humanité. ([Tailhade], Lettre familière à M. Joseph Viollet, ratichon, dans la Raison du dimanche 21 décembre 1902.)

            For about a decade, Péguy and Tailhade, who were both Dreyfusards, were moving in parallel, and sometimes overlapping literary circles. So it is possible that Tailhade may have mentioned Péguy to Owen, though most likely unfavorably, judging by Péguy’s several short polemical digs. It is also possible that Tailhade might have suggested some Péguy for Owen to read at a later date. Given the diffusion of Péguy’s poetry in the Cahiers de la quinzaine from 1910-14 and in the publication of his Morceaux Choisis des Œuvres Poétiques (1914), Owen might have stumbled upon Péguy’s poems on his own.

Owen’s earliest period as an enlisted soldier in fall 1915, was spent in London, living in Bloomsbury, going to the drill hall in Tavistock Square, and included regular visits to Harold Monro’s Poetry Bookshop, on Devonshire Street (today’s Boswell Street). When he was transferred to Hare Hall Camp, Gidea Park, in Essex, he was on the same turf as Edward Thomas, though it is not clear whether either of the poets knew of the other.

In February 1916, he stayed at The Poetry Bookshop for ten days, discussing his poetic work with Harold Monro. By August, his perspective about being involved in the war may have changed. He wrote on August 23, 1916, from the Manchester Regiment, 5th Battalion, to his younger brother Colin:

            Of the last Draught that went out, men I had helped to train, some are already fallen. Your tender age is a thing to be valued and gloried in, more than many wounds. 
            Not only because it puts you among the Elders and the gods, high witnesses of the general slaughter, being one of those for whom every soldier fights, if he knew it; your Youth is to be prized not because your blood will not be drained, but because it is blood; and Time dare not yet mix into it his abominable physic.
             Only, all bright mettle rusts in the open air.
             Don’t rust rustically.
             Love Nature more than the Country, and know that to be natural is not to be countrified. 
             False men grow in the country more commonly than in the Town, for they are often turnips in disguise.
             Your farming is not without its dangers. 
                                           (CL 455-56)

One senses here that Owen wished to preserve his brother from the front, and also encourage him in his  farming endeavor, suggesting its own challenges and that the production of food could be a fit contribution to the war effort. At this point Owen was contemplating entering the Royal Flying Corps and becoming a pilot and even wrote a poem about it, that was apparently never published. To Susan Owen, he wrote four days later (August 27, 1916), that he imagined becoming a pilot: 

Flying is the only active profession I could ever continue with enthusiasm after the War. Once a certified pilot, the pay is £350. The Training lasts three months.
By Hermes, I will fly. Though I have sat alone, twittering, like even as it were a sparrow upon the housetop, I will yet swoop over Wrekin with the strength of a thousand Eagles, and all you shall see me light upon the Racecourse, and marvelling behold the pinion of Hermes, who is called Mercury, upon my cap. 
Then I will publish my ode on the Swift.[20]
 If I fall, I shall fall mightily. I shall be with Perseus and Icarus, whom I loved; and not with Fritz, whom I did not hate. To battle with the Super-Zeppelin, when he comes, this would be chivalry more than Arthur dreamed of.
Zeppelin, the giant dragon, the child-slayer, I would happily die in any adventure against him. . . .
 But I am terrified of Fritz, the hideous, whom I do not hate. (CL 408).

Both of these passages suggest that Owen had a love of peace: in the first passage, nature comes first; in the second passage, twice the phrase ‘Fritz, whom I do not hate’ is used.  The peace-loving Owen is also very present in a letter to his mother in mid-May 1917, from the 41st Stationary hospital, following him being declared neurasthenic, after having spent two weeks at the front, and having a shell explode 2 meters from his head. He was very worried that his younger brother (17 years old) would be called up to serve at the front. Owen emphasized how Christianity had become meaningful:

… I am more and more Christian as I walk the unchristian ways of Christendom. Already I have comprehended a light which never will filter into the dogma of any national church: namely that one of Christ’s essential commands was: Passivity at any price! Suffer dishonor and disgrace; but never resort to arms. Be bullied, be outraged, be killed; but do not kill. It may be a chimerical and an ignominious principle, but there it is. It can only be ignored: and I think pulpit professionals are ignoring it very skillfully and successfully indeed. (CL 461)

Owen’s pacifism seems to have matured here, and that may also reflect an influence from Tailhade, whether through his own texts or through their conversations together.

While being kept away from the Front in France, before making his way to Craiglockart, Owen managed to read Victor Hugo’s The Laughing Man (CL 462). His arrival at Craiglockhart Military Hospital was on Monday evening, June 25, 1917. He wrote to his mother about the journey the following day, June 26, even as the first American troops were arriving in France. During the train journey from London to Edinburgh he had “read some Israel Zangwill as far as the Midlands” (CL 471). Perhaps Owen had become interested in Zangwill from seeing that Péguy had published André Spire’s translation of Zangwill, Chad Gadya! in the Cahiers de la quinzaine (fifth cahier of the eleventh series, December 14, 1909), but perhaps his interest in Zangwill was merely a natural follow-up to his visit to the East End of London in the summer of 1915.

The poetry of Tailhade as influence for Owen’s poetry

Is there a lasting direct influence of Tailhade’s poetry on Owen’s? Philip Hoare suggested in a pithy phrase published in the Guardian, “like Tailhade, he would find art in disaster” (2018). Tailhade’s use of ugliness in poetry had been social, political and included denunciation of religion. Clearly Owen did not reject religion, but he may have transposed some techniques of Tailhade to his war poems, especially after reading Poèmes Aristophanesques. Hibberd suggested that Owen’s war poems, influenced by English Romantics and French Decadents, were “his passionate onslaught on the civilian conscience” in “a wartime version of the Decadent urge to shock” (Hibberd 2002, 171). But Owen’s first poem, following the August 1914 meeting with Tailhade, began “Long ages past in Egypt,” a manuscript that was fair-copied and dated October 31, 1914. It is a kind of ghoulish halloween poem, with, as Stallworthy notes, “a surfeit of Swinburne and Wilde” — it is fair to say that Oscar Wilde would have been mentioned by Tailhade in August or September 1914, and Owen’s poem, like Tailhade’s August lectures, appeals to literary tradition and uses irony. The only manuscript copy of the poem that exists was one given to Osbert Sitwell in 1918 (Hibberd 2002, 183), and Hibberd suggests it is a poem of “Romantic Agony” à la Mario Praz, where “the persistent theme of Romanticism from Keats and Shelley to Flaubert and Verlaine” may be equated with “the mysterious power of erotic desire, combining pain and pleasure, often symbolised as a face that attracts and destroys…” (Hibberd 2002, 184).

            Missing letters and missing pages in Owen’s diary perhaps leave the earliest influences of Tailhade and the reminiscences of Owen’s maturity, be they romantic or poetic, more mysterious than interpreters would like. Nonetheless most of Owen’s biographers have situated his first romantic relationships in 1914-15, and Owen’s poetry supports this, in poems like “Impromptu,” “A Palinode” or the poem beginning, “It was a navy boy…” (2013 v1, 76-80). The poetry of this period does involve romantic feeling and does suggest the stylistic influence of Tailhade. Owen had tried to translate Tailhade’s “Ballade” and on the verso of the paper is a fragment of his own about a boy that might have been Vivian Rampton (Hibberd 2002, 174), who was perhaps his earliest heart-flame, a young boy he admired while at Dunston. In Owen’s “The Sleeping Beauty” Hibberd discerned the influence of Verlaine and Tailhade (175).

            Tailhade can clearly be considered an influence on poems containing romantic feeling in 1914-1915. He may also have influenced Owen’s sonnet “Maundy Thursday” (Complete v1, 109) that seems to confuse the veneration of the cross with the Holy Communion service of the Thursday preceding Easter.[21] In the poem religious devotion is replaced by a desire for human contact. The poem, “From my diary, July 1914” written at Craiglockhart, is particularly evocative of his relation with Tailhade, and also is one of his early experiments in pararhyme. One should notice the single words which read vertically: “Leaves / Lives / Birds / Bards / Bees / Boys / Flashes …”—which seems to be a direct evocation of the sentiments of Tailhade as well as Mme Léger.

            Most importantly, Tailhade’s influence is found especially through his invectives, in Owen’s war poems, beginning with the sonnet “1914” which draws on many historical literary references. Santanu Das cited “Mental Cases” the poem Owen wrote about neurasthenia in 1918,[22] as markedly influenced by Keats, citing these lines:

Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented
Back into their brains, because on their sense
Sunlight seems a blood-smear; night comes blood-black;
Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh 
(Complete Poems and Fragments, i, 169 / qtd Das 82)

There are affinities for Keats here, but there are also hints of the seediness of Tailhade’s descriptions. “The Letter” in its ironic narrative and quick-paced changes of tone, between the man as he writes to his wife, and the words uttered in the actual situation, set up the dichotomy of language that all who were exposed to the bullets faced. The courageous discourse exists within the brutal reality, but the poem ends without the letter being finished: it will instead be a letter explaining how he died.  Even the sound patterns in “Dulce et Decorum Est” might be traced back to techniques used by Tailhade, as might the graphic naturalism that could have also been penned by a Zola: “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags” … “Drunk with fatigue” … “vile, incurable sores.”

Santanu Das, without ever mentioning Tailhade, in fact noted several characteristics of Owen’s war poems that demonstrated what he had learned from him: “his sensuous evocation of certain limit experiences where eros, violence, and sound are combined” (88). And to that, one should add the pitting of one’s present against antiquity, as Owen does so well in many of his poems, including “Strange Meeting.” 

            Owen’s pararhyme may come directly from Shelley, as Stallworthy observed, that in January 1912 he “was noting the possibilities of half-rhyme” as he read Shelley (Stallworthy 1974, 69-70). But many of his other stylistic features were drawn directly from French poetry. Like Tailhade, Owen knew he was writing for a cause. He was not interested in art for art’s sake, but in representing what he saw and experienced truthfully. So Middleton Murry, the “future pacifist” (and fan of Charles Péguy), who reviewed the first collection of Owen’s poems, prefaced by Sassoon and edited by Edith Sitwell, spoke of “the incredible shock of that encounter” (Murry, 1921, 705, qtd. Rawlinson 116). To conclude, Owen was convinced he was writing in the French tradition, as a humorous remark in a letter to his mother dated July 17, 1917 shows: in it there is the opening of a poem called “Antaeas” (writing poetry was encouraged by Dr. Brock), and signed “Wilpher d’Oen” (CL 477).[23] That particle, signifying noblesse, is humorous and telling, and reminds us of Owen’s attention to class, and his depiction of his father as Sir Tom Owen to friends in  Bordeaux.

What would Owen’s poetry have become if he had survived the war? All poets mourn not only the war dead but the creativity and poetry lost with them. In Owen’s case, the poetry was mature, and there would have been masterpieces, perhaps influenced by avant-garde French poetry. The Surrealists devised their own coping mechanisms for dealing with the war’s countless losses, often involving disjointed collages. Robert Desnos’s poem for Paul Smara, with its contrasts between the benevolent mechanics that give hot chocolate and the horrendous mechanics of death could be seen as a Surrealist poem, and perhaps Owen would have also experimented with those new avant-garde forms:

Elles sont mortes les abeilles
au cimetière des Lilas
Si vous voulez du chocolat
Mettez deux sous dans l’appareil

Il est mort notre Apollinaire
et mort aussi Laurent Tailhade
Cinq abeilles volent dans l’air
et les sirènes de naguère
pour moi s’abattent dans la rade

Meurent les porte-lyre
le rimeur Jean Aicard
ouvre la bouche en tirelire

                           Robert Desnos (1975, 20)

Coda: Geoffrey Hill and Wilfred Owen (or Owen’s Modernism in Geoffrey Hill’s French)

Geoffrey Hill never wrote a critical essay exclusively on Wilfred Owen, to my knowledge, but he did read his poetry intensively during his youth, memorizing some of his work, in one of the first important anthologies of poetry he possessed: the 1946, 672-page Oscar Williams anthology, A Little Treasury of Modern Poetry, English and American. Hill’s critical essays on World War I poetry were devoted to Ivor Gurney and Isaac Rosenberg. Yet Owen’s name crops up repeatedly. In “Language, suffering, and Silence” (1999), Hill commented on Owen’s remark, December 31, 1917, “I came out to help these boys—directly by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can. I have done the first.”  Hill wrote:

The disarming confession of limitation (in the final clause—‘I have done the first’) is offset by the imbalance of the premise. Owen’s sense of his own value as ‘pleader’ for the inarticulate common soldier presupposes his unawareness or inability to comprehend that at least three of the finest British poets of that war, Isaac Rosenberg, Ivor Gurney, and David Jones, had gone, or were still going, as ‘common soldiers’ through all that he describes—none of them rose above the rank of private. (CCW 399).

In “Isaac Rosenberg, 1890-1918” (1999) this evaluation of Owen is repeated:

Wilfred Owen, whose family circumstances were fairly modest and who would not have been considered suitable officer material in the peacetime regular army, took his status as a ‘gentleman’ for granted as he took also for granted his moral obligation to speak out as a witness on behalf of the inarticulate common soldier. Yet three of the most remarkable British poets of the First World War were members of that mute stratum. (CCW 452-3).

While Hill can appreciate Owen’s conforming to the romantic ideal of poet-teacher, he is also critical, showing that “the oratory of his voice is still much like that of Tennyson” (454-5), even though Owen was critical of Tennyson. Hill felt that “Owen’s strength and weakness” was that “he half-half-recognised how a radical doctrine of poetic teaching had become diffused, while it had also hardened, into a standing convention of ideals” (CCW 454). So it may at first seem to readers that Hill speaks of Owen primarily as a poet to whom he may compare the superior poetry of other war poets. But that is not a fair assessment. In “Alientated Majesty: Gerard M. Hopkins” (2000), Hill signaled the “limited but real success of Wilfred Owen’s half-rhyme and para-rhyme in his ode ‘Insensibility’”(CCW 529).

One should also consider that Hill spent considerable time reading and contemplating Owen’s poetry—from his youth to late poetic maturity. During the December 2014 lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry, “Mine angry and defrauded young,” he argued with Owen’s preface to his poems, saying: “The poetry can never be in the pity, the pity can only be truly registered in the poetry.” He also noted that Owen’s position as the poet of the war dates to the 1962 performance of Britten’s War Requiem (Hill 2014). Hill praised Stallworthy’s work in tracing sources for Owen’s poems, including the example of the poem “The Show” which was influenced by Henri Barbusse’s novel, Le feu. That lecture ends with Hill proposing that Isaac Rosenberg is the superior poet. However, it is very likely that Hill’s unacknowledged debt to Owen is found in the rhyming techniques used in his own The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy (1983). There Péguy’s charity, at least through poetics, extended as far as the most famous British poet of World War I, even as Owen’s influence extended to the late Modernist Geoffrey Hill.


Bell, John and Owen, Harold (eds). Wilfred Owen: Collected Letters. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Das, Santana. “War Poetry and the Realm of the Senses: Owen and Rosenberg” in Tim Kendall (ed). The Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry. Oxford: OUP, 2007, 73-99.

Desnos, Robert. Destinée arbitraire. Paris: Gallimard, 1975.

Eliot, T.S. The Letters of T.S. Eliot, v.5, Ed. Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden. London: Faber & Faber, 2014.

Fenton, James. “Not with a bang, James Fenton on poets and explosive events.” Guardian (Saturday 8 Sept 2007).

Hibberd, Dominic. Owen the Poet. Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1986.
_______. Wilfred Owen, The Last Year, 1917-1918. London: Constable, 1992.
_______. Harold MonroPoet of the New Age. London: Palgrave, 2001.
_______. Wilfred OwenA New Biography. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002.

Hill, Geoffrey. Collected Critical Writings, ed. Kenneth Haynes. Oxford: OUP 2008.
_______. “Mine angry and defrauded young” Oxford Professor of Poetry Lecture, December 2, 1914,

Hoare, Philip. “Into the dark water: the life and death of Wilfred Owen” Guardian (November 3, 2018).

Jack, Belinda. “T.S. Eliot’s Poetic Inspiration” Gresham College, lecture October 13, 2015,

Leroy, Geraldi. Charles Péguy L’inclassable. Paris: Armand Colin, 2014.

McPhail, Helen and Guest, Philip. Wilfred Owen. On the Trail of the Poets of the Great War. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Leo Cooper, 1998, 2002.

Middleton Murry, John. “The Poet of the War,” The Nation and Athenaeum 28:21 (19 Feb 1921) 705.  

Owen, Wilfred. The Complete Poems and Fragments. Ed. Jon Stallworthy. V.1 The Poems, V.2, The Manuscripts and Fragments.  Revised Edition. London: Chatto & Windus, 2013.

Péguy, Charles. Œuvres en prose complètes. Ed. Robert Burac. v.1-3, Paris: Gallimard, 1987-1992.

Picq, Gilles. Laurent Tailhade ou De la provocation considérée comme un art de vivre. Preface by Jean-Pierre Rioux. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 2001. 

Rawlinson, Mark. “Wilfred Owen” in Tim Kendall (ed). The Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry. Oxford: OUP, 2007, 114-133.

Rebérioux, Madeleine. “Gilles Picq, Laurent Tailhade ou De la provocation considérée comme un art de vivre.” Le Mouvement Social 219 (April-June 2007)

Ricketts, Rita. Scholars, Poets & Radicals: Discovering Forgotten Lives in the Blackwell Collections. Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2015.

Robert, Laurent. “Poétique de l’invective dans les Poèmes aristophanesques de Laurent Tailhade.” Contextes 10 (2012).

Simpson, Louis. “Two poems by Jules Laforgue” New Criterion 15.1 (September 1996) 81.

Sinclair, May. “The Reputation of Ezra Pound” The North American Review v.211, n.774 (May 1920) 658-668.

Stallworthy, Jon.  Wilfred Owen. Oxford: OUP, 1974.

Tailhade, Laurent. Poèmes aristophanesques, deuxième édition. Paris: Mercure de France, 1904.
_______. Poèmes élégiaques. Paris: Mercure de France, 1907.

[1] Some of the biographical facts of this paragraph rely upon: Helen McPhail and Philip Guest, Wifred Owen: On the Trail of the Poets of the Great War, Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1998, 2002.

[2] John Bell and Harold Owen’s edition of Wilfred Owen: Collected Letters (1967) of Wilfred Owen will be abbreviated throughout the rest of this paper as CL, followed by a page number.

[3] Stallworthy’s 1974 biography of Owen was dedicated to Harold Owen, the poet’s bother, who expurgated the diary and several letters. He had “entrusted his brother’s books and papers” to Stallworthy, who considered him a friend, and spoke to him about Owen (vii-viii). Dominic Hibberd acted as an assistant in deciphering manuscripts in preparation for the book, and is included in the list of persons thanked along with Louis Bonnerot and Dame Helen Gardner (1974, xiii).

[4] On this point see also Santanu Das, 76.

[5] Owen wrote “Written in a Wood, September 1910” in 1910, according to the Biographical Table in Complete Letters. Other indications of his desire to become a poet include his visit to the British Museum to view Keats manuscripts on December 9, 1911 (CL 10). In Owen, The Complete Poems and Fragments, Stallworthy dates the first Owen poem, “To Poesy” as 1909-1910 (2013 v1, 6).

[6] Meeting Tailhade, Monro and Sassoon led soon enough to other poetic encounters, among them, Robert Graves, and Osbert and Edith Sitwell… 

[7] Le Chat Noir, a café-cabaret founded by Rodolphe Salis in November 1881 at 84, bd Rochechouart, and then moved to today’s rue Victor Massé (then rue de Laval). To promote the cabaret, Salis created a weekly literary review, Le Chat Noir (1882-1895). Among those who were often present were: Charles Cros, Alphonse Allais, Steinlen, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Aristide Bruant.

[8] Literary figures Tailhade knew include: Alphonse Allais, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Moréas, Barrès, Fénéon, Victor Margueritte. After his second marriage, and return to Paris following the separation, he met Léon Bloy, and was in a romantic relationship with Edward Sansot. 

[9] Burac, notes in Péguy, Œuvres en prose complètes, I, 1915.

[10] Félix Fénéon (1861-1944) was an art collector, critic, and anarchist who worked on the board of La Revue blanche.    

[11] Hibberd generously spent several decades of his life pursuing this question, and the exact nature of Tailhade’s relationship with Owen.

[12] This paragraph incorporates some material from J. Kilgore-Caradec, “Blessures profondes dans les œuvres d’Owen, Péguy et Stadler,” La Lyre et les Armes, Poètes en guerre, dir. Tatiana Victoroff, Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2018, 61-73.

[13] Hoare noted that Owen was actually part of a Gay literary circle, extending from Tailhade to Sassoon, Ross, Osbert Sitwell, Harold Monro and possibly Charles Montcrieff. Hibberd spoke of Robert Graves, who mentioned that Owen had “picked up young men in Bordeaux, but had felt too guilty to form any lasting relationships. Graves’s stories are often unreliable, but he claimed to have had this one from Wilfred himself in 1918.” (Hibberd 2002, 182).

[14] Robert Desnos, La Tribune des jeunes. Revue bi-mensuelle littéraire, politique, artistique, humoristique, February 15, 1918, p.2. Desnos was on the Board of Direction, which included: 11. Henri Barbusse, Paul Cattin, Rolang Gagey, Roger Hagnauer, Charles Langronier, Léon Lecler, Henri Malassagne, Georges Marguin, Emile Rejou, René Sumest. Contributions were to be sent to R. Gagey, 9 rue du Pont-aux-Choux, Paris 3. 

[15] War Poems from the Times, published August 9, 1915, contained poems by Robert Bridges, Thomas Harding, Rudyard Kipling, Laurence Binyon, William Watson, Dudley Clark, Julian Grenfell, Ramindranath Tagor, Alfred Noyes, Henry Newbold, Robert Nichols, Walter de la Mare, C.W. Brodribb, and others.

[16] The Poetry bookshop was then located on 35 Devonshire Street (now Boswell Street) and was opened by Harold Monro in January 1913. The very building no longer exists (Collected Letters, note 3, p.360). 

[17] Laurent Robert mentions the Villon effect in poems by Tancrède Martel, Jean Richepin, and Théodore de Banville.

[18] Geraldi Leroy made allusion to this text on the back cover of the Cahiers (Leroy 2014 155) but mistakenly cited it as from the 9th series in 1907-8. See : 

Page de couverture du 9ème Cahier de la IVème série : 

Page 73 (non paginée) : 

Page 74 (non paginée) : 

[19] A note in Collected Letters, p.408, says that Harold Owen possessed ‘the only draft of this unfinished and unpublished poem’.

[20] unpublished poem mentioned in previous note.

[21] This poem may well have influenced Hill’s poem “The Bidden Guest” from For the Unfallen (1959).

[22] Das’s comparison with Sassoon’s “Repression of War Experience” or Gurney’s “Strange Hells,” other poems about the same subject, shows Owen more focused on “an obsessively corporeal imagination” (82). 

[23] This might suggest also that he had by then been exposed to the poetry of Ezra Pound, who was so taken with Langue d’Oc.

Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec is associate professor of English at Université Caen Normandie and a member of the LARCA research group. She is co-editor of the series Seminal Modernisms and edits Arts of War and Peace with Mark Meigs.

Can Literature and the Arts Be Irenic?

“We go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”  —Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry.

Citation  Arts of War and Peace 1.2. (November 2013)  Can Literature and the Arts Be Irenic?

Can literature and the arts be irenic?  How are the arts a unique vehicle for promoting peace?  How do they enhance memory?  How do the arts play a role in the formation of public opinion?  What possible effects could they have in policymaking?  How might literature and the arts be a vehicle of resistance to tyranny? While the role of epic poetry has often been to present the heroic grandeur of wars past, providing a type of justification for wars future, some poets have endeavored to depict the horrors of war in such a way that the cost of human suffering penetrates the reader’s consciousness. This issue examines and theorizes the role of literature and the visual arts in search for “positive” peace (the elimination of causes of violence and the avoidance of conflict) and the creation of a peace culture, by drawing attention to the writer or artist’s method and form, circumstantial motivation, use of memory and language as counter-propaganda, as well as reception by the public.

The importance of literary and artistic contributions to the obtaining and preservation of peace has been recognized by awards such as the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize (awarded to Mahmoud Darwish in 2003), and others, often lesser known, such as the Leeds Peace Poetry Award or the Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Award. Although the connection between the arts and the search for and preservation of peace is instinctively acknowledged, its exact nature is imprecise. This issue opens considerations that should be further explored.

The word “peace” itself may be considered problematic.  Is it merely the absence of war?  Thesaurus and dictionary listings for the noun and adjectival forms of the word include the following synonyms that inspired some of the authors of this issue:  Peace, peaceful, peacefulness, concord, harmony, harmoniousness, friendship, cordiality, amity, amicableness, goodwill, accord, agreement, pacification, conciliation, truce, neutrality, ceasefire, armistice, nonaggression, nonviolence, calm, calmness, tranquility, serenity, restfulness, repose, quiet, quietness, silence, hush, still, stillness, placidity, composure, repose, relaxation, rest, restfulness, serenity, pacific, pacifist, peace-loving, unwarlike, nonviolent, nonaggressive, non-belligerent, non-combative, mild, easygoing, gentle, amiable, amicable, friendly, good-natured,  peacemaking, placid, even-tempered, irenic, dovish, conciliatory, placatory, inoffensive, pacification, peaceful, quiet, restful, serene, tranquil, undisturbed, restful, balmy, harmonious, cordial, friendly, strife-free, peaceable.

The papers offered in Arts of War and Peace 1.2 result in part from a conference held in Caen (November 2010), co-hosted with Claire Bowen, as well as several articles originally planned for a projected issue of LISA e-journal, called “Poetry of War / Poetry for Peace.”  In many ways AWP has grown out of LISA and the encouragements of Renée Dickason, who is deeply thanked for allowing several earlier papers to be printed here.

In addition the issue of Arts of War inaugurates publication of original translations. Poems by the German poet Ernest Stadler are translated into French by Julien Collonges and into English by Richard Sheppard : the expressionist “Awakening,” written in 1913, may now be read as prophetic. For readers of Stadler, other translations exist in French by Philippe Abry, Eugène Guillevic, and Lionel Richard and in English by Michael Hamburger. Closing the issus are new poems by Owen Lowery, some of which suggest memory’s role in building a desire for peace.

Edited by Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec, 8 November 2013.

Michael Rotenberg-Schwartz
The Limits of Gore and Sympathy in Pacific Poetry: Southey and Hunt against an Augustan Tradition_8nov2013

Katharine Peddie
Auden’s Revisions and the Responsibility of the Poet

Cathy Parc
A Poet Laureate’s Front-Line(s): How to Wage a War of Words for Peaceful Purposes

Claire Bowen
War Pictures for Peace: Ernst Friedrich’s War Against War

Agnès Blandeau
The irenic effect of the Middle Ages on wartime England through film: the example of A Canterbury Tale by Powell and Pressburger (1944)

Adrian Grafe
Your sort of poet’s task: Tony Harrison’s ‘A Cold Coming’

Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec
Overlord vs. the Din: Writing Poetry to Promote Peace Now

Mary Kate Azcuy
Louise Glück’s Irenic Poems, “Crater Lake” and “Averno”

Anne Mounic
The Poetic Voice and the Paradox of Plenitude


Deux poèmes d’Ernst Stadler traduits par Julien Collonges

“The Awakening” translated by Richard Sheppard


Poems by Owen Lowery