Orwell’s Blitz

December 15, 2015 at 9:17 pm (Orwell, poetry, Rosie B, Uncategorized, war)

There was piece about George Orwell: The Complete Poetry on Front Row this evening from 23:03

Orwell originally wanted to be a poet and did keep writing verse.

A Dressed Man is a neat, sharp piece.

His Memories of the Blitz is new to me. As the editor of his poems, Dione Venables says of his poetry in general, “It has its moments.” The Blitz has not figured much in poetry though it is prevalent in films and novels. I can recall some lines of Louis MacNeice’s:-

As sometimes in the blackout and the raids
One joke composed an island in the night.

World War I, a war fought by most able-bodied men, not just professional soldiers, produced many poets. But as for the civilian experience of the World War II, many writers – like C S Lewis (Home Guard) and T S Eliot (fire watcher) took part without turning their experience into verse.

Memories of the Blitz

Not for pursuit of knowledge
Only the chances of war,
Led me to study the music,
Of the male and female snore

That night in the public shelter
With seats no pillow could soften,
Where I fled, driven out of my bed,
By bombs too near and too often.

And oh, the drone of the planes,
And the answering boom of the gun,
And the cups of tea in the dawn,
When the flames out-did the sun.

That was a long time ago,
Three years ago, or nearly,
And more has perished than gas-masks,
I could not tell you clearly,

What there can be to regret,
In a time of casual slaughter,
When the windows were empty of glass,
And pavements running with water.

But the guns have changed their tune,
And the sandbags are three years older,
Snow has kissed the flesh,
From the bones of the German soldier.

The blimp has a patch on its nose,
The railings have gone to the smelter,
Only the ghost and the cat,
Sleep in the Anderson shelter.

For the song that the sirens sang,
Is sunk to a twice-told story,
And the house where the chartered accountant,
Perished in headland glory,

Is only a clump of willow-herb,
Where I share my sorrow
With the deserted bath-tub
And the bigamous sparrow.

That has some very good lines, especially:-

In a time of casual slaughter,
When the windows were empty of glass,
And pavements running with water.

With the abstract “casual slaughter” against the particularities of the blown out windows and the broken water mains.

Also these relics of an urban war with a high civilian death count:-

The blimp has a patch on its nose,
The railings have gone to the smelter,
Only the ghost and the cat,
Sleep in the Anderson shelter.

Which is evocative, like those grey concrete pillboxes you still find on the coast, sunk into sand. Three years ago “a long time ago” for Orwell who of course did not have much time left himself.

The other day a boy of eleven told me the that his class had been to see an Anderson shelter in someone’s garden. It was very damp and mossy, he said.

Homeguard

George Orwell in the Home Guard

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