Monday, July 28, 2014

ABOVE THE DREAMLESS DEAD: world war I in poetry and comics

Today is the centennial anniversary of the start of World War I, once known as "the war to end all wars." (If only.) It was 100 years ago today that Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. As noted in this recent article in The New York Times, World War I may not have ended all wars, but it did change how they were fought. For one thing, it introduced the world to the use of chemical weapons; for another, it involved an enormous amount of soldiers from many countries. More than 8.5 million people died during the war, and another 20 million or so were injured.

First Second Books will be issuing on September 23rd a spectacularly good (and horrifyingly awful, in the best sense of the phrase, meaning that it both horrifies and inspires a kind of negative awe) anthology pairing songs, a bit of prose, and the work of a number of war poets with the art of various comics contributors. The book is entitled ABOVE THE DREAMLESS DEAD: world war I in poetry and comics, and it is edited by Chris Duffy. The title is drawn from the final phrase in Wilfrid Wilson Gibson's poem, "The Dancers".

The anthology includes the works of Rupert Brooke, Wilfrid Owen, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and more. My only quibbles are (a) that it didn't include any of the work of Canadian war poet, John McCrae, who wrote what is arguably the best-known of the war poems ever, "In Flanders Fields", and (b) that it left out Rupert Brooke's most famous war poem, "The Soldier", a sonnet which begins, "If I should die, think only this of me/That there's some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England." But I suppose one can't have everything, though I do strongly believe that McCrae deserved a place in the collection, though Duffy seems to have limited the book to British and Irish poets.

Here is a page from "Therefore is the Name of it Called Babel" by Osbert Sitwell, illustrated by Isabel Greenberg:

The full text of the poem can be seen here in the journal Wheels, wherein it was first published in 1916: Page one of poem, page two of poem.

And here's a photo I took of the page featuring Hunt Emerson's adaptation of a soldiers' song entitled "I Don't Want to be a Soldier" (sorry for the quality, but it's pretty hilarious if you can read it):

For an excellent "tour" of the book, with good looks at the cover art on the jacket and on the book itself as well as excerpts from inside, I highly recommend Gina Gagliano's post for First Second. Definitely a book/comic to be on the lookout for come September!

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