Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell
Jon Silkin (ed.), The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (1996)
The selection of poetry from the First World War edited by Jon Silkin, The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (originally published in 1979 and revised with new material added in 1996) represents an expression of his pacifist ideals as much as his appreciation of poetry as an art form. Indeed, although Silkin claims in his introduction that ‘excellence’ was a key selection criterion, he implied that he understood excellence to usually encompass a critical attitude towards war.
In addition, while there is a preponderance of anti-war poems by the likes of Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and Siegfried Sassoon, Silkin felt obliged to include several patriotic war poems, like ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke, which are so famous that their absence would be noticed.
Silkin arranged the poems in a manner to invite his readers to see the patriotic poems placed at the beginning of the anthology as naïve compared to the more strident anti-war poems found further on in the text.
Silkin had a preference for selecting poems about the horrors of war and that display compassion for the victims of war. He also valued poems that expressed pacifist political protest. These are, in his opinion, the best of the poems. Consequently, this collection can be appreciated as having an overarching pacifist theme.
In the interests of diversity, feeling there were a great many poems by British males in the collection, for this edition Silkin added more foreign poems that were translated and several poems by women that express their sense of deprivation, pain and loss.
Silkin has put together a collection of poetry from the First World War for readers in the post-Vietnam War era, a time that experienced a burgeoning of pacifism and pacifist political activism from the Left. Silkin has provided a sense of tradition for the sentiments of the radical anti-war protesters and conscientious objectors of the 1960s and 1970s that seems intended to provide further enlightenment about the horrors of war and to provide the kind of validation that a sense of tradition can create.
Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez
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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal. (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.)
Subject: The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry meaning, The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry themes, The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry analysis, The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry notes