War Poetry

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Edmund Blunden in uniform photo

Behind the Front

Behind the Front - poems that explore aspects of the war outside the front line giving readers more rounded insight into the war.

As well as poems written about front line experiences, Blunden also recounted incidents that took place behind the front. These poems deepen the reader's understanding of what war was like for the British soldier. They explore the landscape and events that took place away from the battlefield adding texture to the pictures painted through the front line poems.

'Concert Party: Busseboom' was published in 1928 and recounts a concert party the soldiers attended one evening and the ensuing battle they witnessed on leaving.

Concert Party: Busseboom
The stage was set, the house was packed,
The famous troop began;
Our laughter thundered, act by act;
Time light as sunbeams ran.

Dance sprang and spun and neared and fled,
Jest chirped at gayest pitch,
Rhythm dazzled, action sped
Most comically rich.

With generals and lame privates both
Such charms worked wonders, till
The show was over lagging loth
We faced the sunset chill;
And standing on the sandy way,
With the cracked church peering past,
We heard another matinee,
We heard the maniac blast

Of barrage south by Saint Eloi,
And the red lights flaming there
Called madness: Come, my bonny boy,
And dance to the latest air.

To this new concert, white we stood;
Cold certainty held our breath;
While men in tunnels below Larch Wood
Were kicking men to death.
November 1928

To listen to Edmund Blunden reading this poem click the link at the bottom of the page. (This requires Real Player)

Themes and faces
The first three verses of the poem reveal it to be based on a pleasurable memory of attending a concert party with fellow soldiers 'a cherished diversion from the war'.The poet uses light, warm words to illustrate this such as: 'laughter', 'sunbeams', and 'gayest'. At this point in the poem the reader, like the solider forgets the presence of war and enjoys the warmth of the memory. However this feeling does not last and any enjoyment derived from the poem is snatched away from the reader and poet as they are confronted with the violence of battle a harsh reminder that the war is never far away.

This poem clearly shows us the conflicting faces of war. We may be surprised that such enjoyable moments took place during such a grim and harsh time and perhaps as a reader we feel relief that they did and gain some understanding as to how many soldiers survived out in France. However, our relief is short-lived as we are reminded that there were two faces to the war and the second face of violence held much more power.

Effect of time
The poem was written ten years after the war but the imagery is so vivid it seems as if it could have been written straight after the event. The poet has no difficulty in recalling the memory. The use of descriptive yet simple words, the rhyming scheme and form of the poem allow the verse to flow easily thus revealing the clearness and immediacy of the memory.

The poem shows us the type of things soldiers did for pleasure. The image of laughing men, sat side by side regardless of rank reminds us that the soldiers are much like ourselves, just ordinary men sent out to fight in an extraordinary war. The poem is also a stark reminder of whatever else soldiers experienced during the war the horrors and the violence were never far away no matter what the diversion. The final two lines deliver a blow to mirror the impact of one man kicking another to death, as the lightness of the previous scene is shattered. If you listen to the audio clip above you will hear the poet explain that these final two lines refer to the Germans having got into a tunnel being dug by the British and the British soldiers having nothing but their bare hands and feet to defend themselves with - they were trapped and the only option was to kick their way out. The watching British soldiers were aware of this and felt truly helpless listening to the blast of the German guns killing the British tunnelers.

Click here to listen to Edmund Blunden reading 'Concert Party' from a BBC 1966 recording

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