hulme

T.E. Hulme was born on the 16th September 1883 and killed in Flanders on 28th September 1917 when he was directly hit by a shell. Hulme is buried in the Koksijde (Coxyde) Military Cemetery, Belgium. His headstone carries the inscription “One of the War Poets”.

Hulme was brought up in the family home Gratton Hall, Endon in Staffordshire. The family was prosperous with money from pawn broking and the ceramic transfer business established by Hulme’s father. Hulme went to local schools and then to Newcastle- under- Lyme High School. At school Hulme’s intelligence and strong personality were in early evidence. His particular interests were science and mathematics.

In 1902 Hulme went up to St John’s College, Cambridge on an exhibition to read mathematics and, as at school, established his personality challenging the ideas of his friends and tutors and seeking argument and debate. At Cambridge Hulme moved away from maths preferring philosophy and art and talk. He founded a group called the Discord Club which engaged in a campaign of bad behaviour and some particularly boisterous activities after the Boat Race in 1904 led to Hulme being sent down.

Hulme continued with UCL in London but increasingly disliking his studies he left England in 1906 and spent time travelling in Canada where as Hulme described it “the first time I ever felt the necessity or inevitableness of verse was in the desire to reproduce the peculiar quality of feeling which is induced by the flat spaces and wide horizons of the virgin prairie of Western Canada”.

Returning to Europe Hulme lived in Brussels improving his French. Here Hulme properly discovered the philosophical works of Henri Bergson which had a huge impact on him and on his ideas on poetry as well as truth, knowledge and the world about him and put to an “end an intolerable state”.

In 1912 Hulme returned to St John’s College, Cambridge in order to get his degree but shortly left again without doing so when some love letters to an under aged girl written in the frank and explicit Hulme style were discovered. Hulme left Cambridge for Germany where he met the German aesthetician Wilhelm Worringer who was to be the next major influence on his thinking.

When the war broke out Hulme immediately joined the Honourable Artillery Company as a private and in December 1914 he went to France. He continued to write for The New Age in a series of War Notes. Hulme was wounded in April 1915 and sent home. His wound made him determined not to return to the trenches and in March 1916 he was commissioned into the Royal Marine Artillery and was sent to the Royal Naval Siege guns on the Belgian coast. Initially Hulme enjoyed the quieter war for which he had been looking. However the fighting intensified and on 28th September 1917, having just turned 34, he was killed near Nieuport.

Hulme’s reputation as “One of the War Poets” is based upon the small number of poems in the image form that he wrote during the short period that he was writing poetry. 6 of Hulme’s poems were published during his life in Christmas publications of The Poets Club and The Complete Poetical Works of T. E. Hulme published in 1912.

A final poem was published in Ezra Pound’s 1915 Catholic Anthology:

Trenches: St Eloi
TEH Poem: Abbreviated from the Conversation of Mr T.E.H.

Over the flat slopes of St Eloi
A wide wall of sand bags.
Night,
In the silence desultory men
Pottering over small fires, cleaning their mess- tins:
To and fro, from the lines,
Men walk as on Piccadilly,
Making paths in the dark,
Through scattered dead horses,
Over a dead Belgian’s belly.

The Germans have rockets. The English have no rockets.
Behind the line, cannon, hidden, lying back miles.
Behind the line, chaos:

My mind is a corridor. The minds about me are corridors.
Nothing suggests itself. There is nothing to do but keep on.

Hulme’s influence on the artistic world in the first decades of the 20th century was profound. He was part of the zeitgeist and Pound and Eliot in particular have acknowledged his contribution to modernism. Georgians, Imagists, Futurists and Vorticists were all reacting to and modernising old Romanticism and Hulme’s encouragement in his writings, his poems and his talks can be seen in the influence of modernist poetry on almost all major poets from the 1920s and the next generation of War Poets led by Keith Douglas.

Suggested reading:

Speculations by T.E. Hulme, ed Herbert Read, Routledge and Kegan Paul 1924;
T.E. Hulme by Michael Roberts, Faber and Faber 1938;
The Life and Opinions of T.E. Hulme by Alun Jones, Gollancz 1960;
The Collected Writings of T.E. Hulme, ed Karen Csengeri, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1994;
T.E. Hulme: Selected writings, ed Patrick McGuinness, Carcanet Press, 1998;
The Short Sharp Life of T.E. Hulme by Robert Ferguson, Allen Lane, The Penguin Press,
2002

Archive:

T. E. Hulme Archive
www.keele.ac.uk/depts/li/specarc/archives/tehulme.htm

David Worthington, April 2009.