January 18th 1935-November 19 2014

The death of Jon Stallworthy has saddened all who knew him, and all who knew his work. His numerous books – his acclaimed biography of Owen, his edition of Owen’s Complete Poems and Fragments, his study Between the Lines: Yeats’s Poetry in the Making, or, most recently, his New Oxford Book of War Poetry – both set the standard for the scholarly criticism and editing of war poetry, and brought countless readers to a deeper appreciation of the work of some of the century’s finest writers. More than anyone else in the last fifty years, he has shaped and enabled our understanding of the poetry written across two world wars. He tirelessly promoted the work of others – as editor, as critic, and as friend. Yet he was also a gifted poet himself, a poet of both love and war. This is from his 2009 sequence ‘War Poet’:

Without you, I am learning

about death. It cannot be true

that you – you – you –

and my numbness turning


to anger. But however slow

the fire, however deep the seam,

it will burn out, they say, in time.

In time for what? Forgiveness? No.


Acceptance? How should I resign

Myself to knowing that you lie

Under another sky

In other arms than mine?


Fran Brearton

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high…

            From In Flanders Fields by Lt-Col John McCrae (1872- 1918)

And Finally

Words don’t usually fail me, but it’s hard describe the three and a half days we’ve just spent in the Ypres area, on a battlefield tour organised by The War Poets Association. Does it seem a strange thing to choose to do – guided through those terrible, magnificent cemeteries in Flanders, maintained with such care and honour by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission? To study the work of great poets who have helped to define the First World War for us? To reflect on numbers of the dead so vast, so unfathomable, so indescribably cruel that your head reels and your eyes stare with incomprehension, beyond weeping?

            Sad and exhausting it certainly was (although we also had merriment and good conversations with like-minded people in our group) yet you return with your mind freshly angry at the thought of the catastrophic carnage while your spirit is humbled and uplifted by the power, the pity of war. Two years ago we went (with the same group) to The Somme; this centenary year we had to make another pilgrimage.

            A similar spirit of remembrance is taking thousands of people to see the powerful ceramic poppy installation at The Tower of London, knowing exactly what it represents as they stand silent before its beauty. We too were silenced at Tyne Cot, the largest cemetery (nearly 12,000 names) for Commonwealth Forces in the world – and also at Langemarck, where the total number of German soldiers buried or commemorated stands at 44,234. And each name invoking grieving mothers, wives, sweethearts, grandparents, children….

            So in love, awe and gratitude we went to bow our heads before history and sacrifice. On Monday night we were present at the 29,744th ceremony of remembrance at the great Menin Gate in Ypres (or ‘Wipers’ as my grandfather called it, who was there). As the crowd of something like 2,000 stood to hear the Last Post and then the band of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment played our National Anthem, I felt so very proud to be British. And I know that the fight to uphold and protect our values can never end.


Carcanet have recently announced  the publication of War Poet, selected poems by the Wilfred Owen Poetry Award winner Jon Stallworthy and Fall In, Ghosts: War Prose by Edmund Blunden, edited by Robyn Marsack. Jon Stallworthy wrote a biography of Wilfred Owen and Edmund Blunden was an early editor of Owen’s poetry.

War Poet by Jon Stallworthyimage002

Jon wrote his first poems during schooldays shadowed by the Second World War and a mother’s memories of a brother and friends killed in the First. At school, too, he was introduced to the poems of Wilfred Owen, whose biography he would later write, and to those of others who would be represented in his Oxford Book of War Poetry (1984, 2nd edition 2014).

 Jon Stallworthy attended Magdalen College, Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Prize of Poetry. A Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Literature, he is a Professor of English Literature at Oxford. His biography of Wilfred Owen won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, the W. H. Smith Literary Award, and the E. M. Forster Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

image005Fall In, Ghosts: Selected War Prose by Edmund Blunden

Edmund Blunden moved among the ghosts of the Great War every day of his long life, having survived the battles of Ypres and the Somme. His classic prose memoir, Undertones of War, and his early edition of Wilfred Owen’s poems were just two examples of the ways in which he sought to convey his war experience, and to keep faith with his comrades in arms. His poetry is suffused by this experience, and he was haunted by it throughout his writing life, as the men with whom he had served gradually joined the ranks of the departed.

 Edmund Blunden (1896-1974) was born in London. He received his commission in 1915 and served throughout the war, earning the Military Cross and, unusually, evading physical injury. Returning to Oxford in 1919 he became a close friend of Robert Graves and later Siegfried Sassoon. He went on to a long and successful literary and academic career, including positions as Professor of English at the Universities of Tokyo and Hong Kong, Assistant Editor of the Times Literary Supplement and Fellow of Merton College, Oxford. In 1947 he was part of the British liaison mission to Tokyo. He died at home in Suffolk in 1974.

 Robyn Marsack is the director of the Scottish Poetry Library. She completed her BPhil at St Anne’s College, Oxford and her DPhil at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. She recently edited an anthology of translations by Mikhail Lermontov.

Stephen Tyler, founder and musical director of Reading A440 Choir, has composed choral settings of “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, “Futility” and “The Next War”.  He has posted a video on YouTube:


Stephen has written about setting Owen to music in an article on the choir’s website:


A440 Choir is featuring Owen in its performances throughout 2014. Performances include singing in a vigil service at All Saints, Dunsden, on August 4th

The Death of Innocence
October 25—28 2014

A study tour that contrasts the jubilation of August 1914 as expressed by Rupert Brooke in ‘Now God be Thanked’ with the sombre reflection to the stalemate of the trenches and the futility of war in Charles Sorley’s ‘When you see Millions of the Mouthless Dead’. Besides examining the writing and poetry of the early months of the war we will spend time examining the work of the architects of the Imperial War Graves Commission who were challenged to commemorate those who had made the supreme sacrifice for their country.

Our tour looks at the events between August 1914 and December 1915 through the eyes of the writers and poets who commented on the tumultuous upsurge of patriotism and excitement that swept through Britain (and other warring nations) as war broke out. Brooke was in good company. He was joined by Gibson, Hodgson, Binyon, Rosenberg, Owen and many others who greeted, with patriotic excitement, the conflict that was to become the ‘War to End All Wars’ . The Great War was the first major literate war and the commentaries by the poets reflect not only their emotions but their response to the cataclysmic events that were unfolding.

Of course it was to be ‘Over by Christmas’ and thus the only concern was to join the fight before the opportunity was missed and the writers conveyed this joyous mood as they went to war. Some reflected on the cost Binyon’s For The Fallen, which includes the prophetic ‘They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old’ was written not after the slaughter of the Somme but in September 1914, long before the casualty rates grew to an industrial scale.

The bloody and futile battles of 1915, small in comparison with the killing fields of the later bloodbaths, saw many of the early idealists killed; Brooke died in Salonika, Sorley was killed at Loos and Julian Grenfell died of woundsin a base hospital. It was also the year that many of the later, great, writers were to join the conflagration. Edmund Blunden, Edward Thomas, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and David Jones began their war whilst Isaac Rosenberg, Ivor Gurney, Wilfred Owen all joined the swelling ranks of the army. During our tour we follow the journeys of all these writers as well as those from the other combatant nations. Their commentaries are the vivid images that form the backdrop of the war that was to kill over 10 million men, wound and maim twice that number and send millions more back to their families and communities, haunted by the most hideous memories.

The cost of the sacrifice caused a grateful nation to commemorate ‘permanently and in perpetuity’ those who had made the supreme sacrifice, and our tour will examine the work of the Imperial War Graves Commission who were tasked with interpreting Sir Fabian Ware’s vision; their ‘Silent Cities’ and ‘Memorials to the Missing’ are now the footprints of those wee follow to war and, in many cases, to their death.


Day 1 Saturday 25th October
Our luxury coach leaves Victoria Coach Station late morning for a Eurotunnel channel crossing. Arriving in France by mid-afternoon we head for Ypres which will provide the backdrop to the tour and we are intro-duced to the Salient with a visit to the world famous In Flanders Fields Museum in the iconic Cloth Hall. In the late afternoon we drive to the Altia Hotel in Neuville en Ferraine. Before dinner we meet for an aperitif which accompanies a short presentation to the background for the tour and an introduction to the places and people who will feature in our journey.

Day 2 Sunday 26th October
After a full buffet breakfast we depart from the hotel to travel to the 1915 battlefields. Here we visit Dud Cor-ner Cemetery and the Loos Memorial to the Missing before looking at the story of My Boy Jack and Kipling’s search for his son. We take in the architecture of the Indian Memorial at Neuve Chapelle and other significant sites in the area. A picnic lunch, with wine, is provided. Many of the great writers in the Great War fought, and wrote, in this area and we will hear their stories at the places that shaped their writing. We return to Ypres in the late afternoon and check in to The Albion Hotel in the centre of the historic town. Near to the hotel The Wipers Times was printed in the town ramparts and we are within easy walking distance for both the Menin Gate and Grote Markt with its many restaurants. Group members choose their own dining venue.

Day 3 Monday 27th October
After breakfast in the new dining room we depart from the hotel for a day in the Ypres Salient and follow the story of many important people in our story. We visit Essex Farm where John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields, Artillery Wood Cemetery to hear the stories of Hedd Wynn and Francis Ledwidge. We visit Sir Herbert Baker’s Tyne Cot, the largest British
cemetery in the world before travelling to the Irish Peace Park to study the work of the Irish poets who fought during the war. During the day we will study Blunden, ‘Tubby’ Clayton, Roland Leighton, Vera Brittain, Julian Grenfell and Bruce Bairns-father as well as visiting the site of the 1914 Christmas Truce. We return to the hotel and enjoy dinner together at a restau-rant in Ypres town centre.

Day 4 Tuesday 28th October
After a buffet breakfast we check out of the hotel to visit sites en route to our inbound shuttle. These include Brandhoek Mili-tary Cemetery and the new visitors centre at Lijssenthoek which has links to Ivor Gurney and several other important literary characters. After a picnic lunch we return to Calais and the group is due back at Victoria for their onward journeys at around 6.00 pm.

Please note that these notes are for guidance only as the final detailed planning will take place during the summer. If you would like to reserve a place on the tour please complete the accompanying booking form and return to Eyewitness Tour with a non-refundable deposit of £50. There are 40 places available and these will be sold on a ‘first come first served’ basis. The cost of the tour is £450 per person (£85 single room supplement). Included in the price are all travel costs, 3 nights accommodation in 2/3* hotels, dinner on Saturday and Monday evenings, a packed lunch on three days, museum entry, all fees, a comprehensive reading list and full background notes to the tour.

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