Over the flat slopes of St. Eloi
A wide wall of sand bags.
In the silence of desultory men
Pottering over small fires, cleaning their mess-tins:
To and fro, from the lines,
Men walk as on Piccadilly,
Making paths in the dark,
Through scattered dead horses,
Over a dead Belgian’s belly.
The Germans have rockets. The English have no rockets.
Behind the line, cannon, hidden, lying back miles.
Beyond the line, chaos:
My mind is a corridor. The minds about me are corridors.
Nothing suggests itself. There is nothing to do but keep on.
Trenches: St. Eloi
(Abbreviated from the Conversation of Mr THE)
T. E. Hulme (1883-1917)
Until now the Allies were slightly ahead in the grisly business of killing off the artistic elite of the pre-war world. Germany had suffered the loss of its core creators of the Expressionist movement in art and literature—August Macke and Georg Trakl in 1914, August Stramm in 1915 and Franz Marc in 1916—whereas Britain had lost only Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, a promising artist and sculptor in 1915. But this would change on September 28, 1917 with the death of Lieutenant Thomas Edward (“T. E.”) Hulme.
Had he survived the war Hulme would undoubtedly have exerted great influence over British art and literature through his already-established reputation as a philosopher of Art, while his extreme conservatism would have served to moderate the influence of the politically-engaged (and left-leaning) poets of the 1930s.
What is perhaps forgotten is the handful of revolutionary poems Hulme left behind. Revolutionary poems from an arch-conservative? This sounds a bit strange, but it arose out of Hulme’s conviction that poetry needed to find a new path somewhere between the emotional, quasi-religious excesses of Romanticism and the dry-as-dust offerings of Classicism. What Hulme found was the power of the image, presented without rhetoric or sentimentality to evoke a response in the listener or reader. He influenced Pound away from his early lyricism and pointed the way toward what would become known first +as Imagism, then as Vorticism. This was the hard new poetic style that Pound promised would give you the exact curve that you wanted. Ironically for a poet whose stock-in-trade was fragmentation and regeneration, Hulme was literally blown to bits by a direct hit from a German shell. One suspects that he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Edward Thomas, poet. Died 9 April, 1917.
Edward Thomas was perhaps the best of the poets sometimes referred to as Georgians. These traditionalists shared a common love of nature and the English countryside. Although old enough to be excused from service, Thomas enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles where he achieved the rank of corporal before being commissioned in the Royal Garrison Artillery as a second lieutenant. Although listed as killed in action at the Battle of Arras in 1917, Thomas had survived the actual battle only to be struck down by the concussive blast of the of one of the last shells fired. It seems that he stood up to light his pipe.
Before the war Thomas had been friendly with the American poet Robert Frost and it’s said that Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” was addressed to Thomas and spurred his decision to enlist. His death was a great loss for English literature in general and for the Georgian school in particular. Had he survived the war, his gentle traditionalism and love of the land might have been a useful counterbalance to the surrealists of the 1930s.
Antonio Sant’Elia, an architect allied to the Italian Futurist Movement was killed on October 10 during the Second Battle of the Isonzo. His designs for a Citta Nuova, a “New City” were visionary masterworks but his death insured that they would live on in the pages of Futurist journals. We can never know whether Sant’Elia’s would have been realized had he lived, but they remain a part of Futurism’s vibrant legacy.
The English author Hector Hugh Munro, who signed his work “Saki” was a teller of mordant tales. His “Sredni Vashtar” has graced many an anthology of horror fiction. Refusing a commission, Munro enlisted as an ordinary trooper and rose to the rank of Lance Sergeant. He was shot and killed by a sniper during the Battle of Ancre on November 14, 1916. Ironically, one of his pre-war works was a political satire When William Came, A Story of London Under the Hohenzollerns.
Emile Verhaeren was a towering figure in the Belgian literary world and a leading poet in the French-language Symbolist Movement. Far too old to serve in Belgian army, Verhaeren went to war in his own fashion, writing stirring appeals in defense of his country and touring widely to rally the allies. Returning from such a speaking engagement in Rouen, France he fell beneath the wheels of a moving train and was killed instantly on November 27, 1916.
A non-literary death of note was that Emperor Franz-Joseph I, who ruled over the Austro-Hungarian Empire from December 2, 1848 until his death on November 21, 1916. During the course of his long reign he lost both his nephew, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Empress Elizabeth, to assassins. His son and heir, Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide in 1889.