THE YPRES TIMES heartless mirth. It would be to him much the same as the enemy's frightfulness, or the instructions issued to him by Headquarters for the proper patrolling of No Man's Land and raiding the opposite trenches. Once Blunden, who then had not reached his twenty-first birthday, told a general that he was fighting for one side because he was not born on the other side. He blurted out that by Ypres. We gather, however, that this unusual general understood young Englishmen much better than the patriots who then were treasuring unsullied love for their country in places where it could come to less harm. The general did not write to the Daily Mail about it. It must be confessed there is something more than odd in Blunden's story. As you read on into it your uneasiness grows. This poet's eye is not in a fine frenzy rolling. There is a steely glitter in it. It appears to be amused by drolleries not quite obvious to us. It is as though, in. the midst of a pleasing and animated conversation after dinner, you fancied you heard distant and indeterminate music not altogether unfamiliar. What was that? You withdraw your attention a little from the talk to get a clue to those disturbing strains; then become absent in mind from the lamp-light and the cosy talk, and see an outer world of dubious reflections and ominous shapes, a region vast and dark and as cold to human hope and aspirations as a polar solitude. Yet there the heads of those happy talkers remain between you and that foreboding night, still animated and unaware, and continue to say nothing while making foolishly eager movements. You have to pull yourself togethercome out of that disturbing dreambegiri talking with the others. There is loveliness in this book. Let no man read it who fears the magic of namesMesnil, Beaumont Hamel, Givenchy, Festubert, Mazingarbe, Zillebeke, Thiepval, Richebourg St. Vaast. And Ypres. The jags of that pallid ruin with its imprisoned echoes jibbering at the hurrying wayfarer rise again in Blunden's story. The fellows who went through the Menin Gate and vanished, they are here, they live again, and glints and suggestions of the night which swallowed them; the face of a boy seen for a moment by the light of a star shell; the friends in a dug-out eyeing each other while waiting to be buried we do not exist the elder chum who ignored the worst of it, whose complexion was always rosy, whose solidity could not be moved by any sudden frightfulness, and who jollied his weaker brethren then with steadying advice; the boozy sergeant-major, good- humoured and soft, who became a centre of gravity when things went wrong. After all, the men are the best of the book; and that is right. That at least we were sure to get from a poet. This story of war stirs and proceeds with living figures, and its scenes are authentic with trifles forgotten till Blunden reminds us of them. The old front line comes back. It is solid. You can hear the mud of the Salient when the duckboards squelch under the feet of unseen men going up at night. You can smell the Somme. You may potter around Mesnil, and shudder again in a veritable silence of ghastly sunlight. And if to stir those apprehensions does not mean we are reading the best prose, then there is no other way of proving it. Yet there is more in the book than that. Something seolian breathes through its lines. You may hear echoing, as one used to hear desolation murmuring when the night was suspect and the flares were few before dawn, the wonder and awe of the sacrificed who did not know why this had come to them; for Blunden's is a tribute to the unknown soldier more lasting than the pomps about a cenotaph. H. M. Tomlinson. (Reprinted by kind permission of the 'Nciv Adelphi.")


The Ypres Times (1921-1936) | 1930 | | pagina 26