The War Poets

Edited by Oscar Williams
IN A comprehensive anthology of more than 400 pages, Mr. Williams has tried to include all the best poems written about war in the present century. He includes Hardy and Yeats, eight poets of the last war, fifty-eight poets who are or have been in this war, and forty-one contemporary poets, not in the services, who have written on war-like subjects. There are also prose comments by twenty poets on war and poetry, an intelligent introduction by the editor, and photographs of many of the poets.
The point of view taken by Mr. Williams is that of Wilfred Owen, whom he rightly calls the best poet of the last war. It is a point of view which requires honesty and truth, and which rejects all inflation and sentimentality. “The poetry,” said Owen, “is in the pity. . . . All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true poets must be truthful.” And on the whole Mr. Williams has been careful to keep to this standard. He leaves out the inept effusions of Miss Millay and the strained humanitarianism of such poets as Auslander; but he also omits “High Flight,” the very popular sonnet of John Magee — an omission which I fear many readers will regret.
The poems are obviously on different levels. Some are largely descriptive, in the manner of Sassoon, though no descriptions so forceful as his have yet appeared from the present war; others are more reflective. A few accomplish the fusion of particularity and generality which marks successful poetry. The poems of Wilfred Owen still stand out above the rest; he seems to have said, for good, the central things a poet can say about war. Next to his, the best poems are those by W. H. Auden, Marianne Moore, and — though less successful on rereading than they seemed at first — those of Karl Shapiro. On the whole the American poets are more interesting and varied than the British, though the work of Roy Fuller is exciting, and that of John Manifold (Australia) is a real discovery. Captain Manifold’s poetry has a tang, a mature individuality, that is lacking in many of the other poets.
A considerable number of the poems in this anthology have only a slight connection with war — a fact which makes the anthology more varied, but which somewhat blurs its significance. For example, the two love sonnets of E. E. Cummings, though admirable as love sonnets, do not really belong here, and there are a number of other poems which a stricter anthologist would have left out. It is also regrettable that Mr. Williams has overlooked T. S. Eliot’s admirable and too little known poem, “A Note on War Poetry (1942),” which defines the problem, in terms of poetry itself, better than any of the prose statements made bv the poets Mr. Williams includes.
But as a whole the volume is well planned and valuable, though a selection made at the present time obviously cannot be final. There are doubtless many war poems now being conceived and written which a later anthologist of war poetry will want to use; we may hope that Mr. Williams himself may employ his critical taste to collect them.


By Robert Haven Schaujjler HOLT
A FULL biography of Robert Schumann has been long overdue. The Life by Frederick Niecks, which appeared just after the First World War, has stood alone these many years as the only adequate one in English. Many will be grateful to Mr. Schauffler for choosing a subject which so asks for retelling, for brushing off old bones in his own inimitable way, and for applying to them his readable, breezy, and unblushingly colloquial style.
Mr. Schauffler has plainly felt that the characters of both Robert and Clara Schumann (more particularly Clara, we gather) have been over-romanticized and idolized by writers in the past. If this is so, a correction is very much in order. Perhaps I am one of those offenders — I confess that the personality of Clara shining through her words and deeds has inclined me to be lenient with her shortcomings. Perhaps Mr. Schauffler is just in dwelling ruthlessly upon them. But those very limitations — her bigotry and partisan bias, her fatuous loyalty which sometimes excluded humor — could also be laid to her protective maternal instinct, which Mr. Schauffler also stresses.
Terms from the handbook of psychology can be enlightening, such as the interesting translation of Schumann’s Florestan-Eusebius dualism into “manic-depressive” phases. But these applications, when labored, tend to chill the author’s sympathy into cold analysis. Human warmth should not override, but it should always inform, judgment, and here it is gratifying to note that as Robert and Clara live, speak, and move through his book, the once ruthless Mr. Schauffler is found living at their side, detachment forgotten as he cheers them on.
Robert Schumann, an illusive subject at best, is far more approachable in a book than he could ever have been in real life, for the reason that he was shy, taciturn, and often morose in conversation. But with pen in hand, he could be lovable and knowable. For that reason the wise biographer (such as Mr. Schauffler) will sit back and let him speak for himself through his letters and criticisms. The chapter on the Dapidsbiindler is especially well handled. The music, always the ultimate approach to Schumann, is described with the ardor of the specialist and with plentiful examples. The portrait illustrations are outstanding.
The author takes exception here and there to things I have written about the Schumanns, and this is natural enough. There is only one major point: he deduces “strong probabilities” that the relation of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms reached the point of “extreme intimacy.” Even though a debate were here in order, I should remain quite content to let my case rest.
By Roland Hall Sharp LONGMANS, GREEN
IN THE increasingly tracked-up field of writers on interAmerican subjects, there is no more honest, conscientious, and hard-working observer than Roland Sharp, Christian Science Monitor correspondent since 1938 for the twenty republics below the Rio Grande.
For seven years Dr. Sharp has been constantly on the move in Latin America. He has not missed a single political or economic conference of importance, and very few major political or economic disturbances. But he is no aficionado for statesmen’s hand-outs, or for embassy or dictator’s palace gossip. He knows the tough going on the eastern slopes of the Andes; the — as he calls it — “earth in solution” in the Amazon valley; the bleakness of the Patagonian pampas and the Andean passes and deserts; and he knows the soft and whimsical life of the Latin American capitals.
Even more important. Dr. Sharp lias enough newsman’s courage to spurn the butter purveyed by certain dictatorial governments and some policy-makers nearer home. He openly brands the Brazilian government of Dictator Getulio Vargas, for instance, as much further gone in fascism than the still unjelled dictatorship of the more notorious Army clique in Argentina.
Dr. Sharp indicts the Vargas regime as the genuine ar tide — and, worse, as successful. In the Argentine, powerful forces, including the most influential section of the do mestic press and the foreign press, are still fighting tooth and nail against fascism. But in Brazil all these elements, and too many intellectuals as well, cynically accept it.
In other chapters of high merit Dr. Sharp concretely and uncaustieally debunks South America as a continent of easy economic promise. The Andes, the deserts, the vast tropical areas of flooded jungle, the fuel shortages — these make it no pioneer’s or small-venture capitalist’s land, but a country where the rewards will come chiefly to the exploiter of special sources, fabulously financed.
To get to the core of this book, though, one needs to overlook Dr. Sharp’s newspaper habits of organizing his material in a hurry, and of using stylistic cliches.
By W. E. Woodward DUTTON
THIS book is more a slapdash history of the American and French revolutions, punctuated by copious quotations from the writings of Tom Paine, than a biography. It shows signs of hasty editing; it abounds in enthusiastic assertion; of Paine himself it reveals little that could not be gleaned from his own words.
Mr. Woodward wrote the book, he explains, to refute the accumulation of “lies, false impressions, twisted remarks, and untrue and slanderous episodes” which have disguised Paine’s true place in American history. If vigorous contradiction alone could suffice, Mr. Woodward would get at least a draw for his client: Paine was not an atheist, and Mr, Woodward is able to quote him effectively as a deist. He was not a drunkard, not a chronic bankrupt. For the rest. Mr. Woodward depicts Paine as a highminded controversialist, persecuted by reactionaries on both sides of the Atlantic for no more than liberal political views. Today’s readers, Mr. Woodward argues, would count these views anything but startling, and most of his readers will be bound to agree.
Two examples of Mr, Woodward’s technique may be illuminating. Hampered throughout his inquiry by the lack of original sources, he nevertheless disposes boldly of many matters. Of Paine’s imprisonment in France he writes: “The daily life in the Luxembourg prison wras not as harsh and unpleasant as one might expect, but this statement is only a deduction growing out of Paine’s silence concerning the matter.” Denying James Clieetham’s description of Paine as a sot, Mr. Woodward explains: “He drank brandy with the idea . . . that it would keep up his strength.”
As to Paine’s last years, one need hardly consult the metaphysical to account for the disagreeable circumstances of his fatal illness. A sclerotic old man, living in poverty, having suffered two strokes of apoplexy. Paine is not to be judged by his final years. However much one might wish to applaud Mr. Woodw’ard’s determination to appraise Paine more fairly, it would seem that the wav is still open to future biographers of “America’s Godfather.”