By Jeffrey Walsh (auth.)
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Extra info for American War Literature 1914 to Vietnam
Other enemies of the war veteran are those who have chosen insensibility and who ... don't and never never will know, they don't want to no (p. 272) Poetic Language: First World War 29 'i sing of Olaf glad and big', originally published in the volume Vi Va (1931), employs Cummings's habitual mode of irony, and few poems more clearly specify his unquixotic, crusader in retreat attitudes. The pre-1918 ideals embodied in the work of such men as Seeger and Kilmer have been supplanted by a demonstrabJe assumption that the state entirely dehumanises the individual.
In place of Alan Seeger's sentry facing death from an enemy bullet in 'The Aisne' Cummings depicts a pacifist as hero, a man tortured and then executed by his own side. His murder, sanctioned by the president, is collectivised by 'all kinds of officers' and 'first class privates': Olaf's death is revealed as doubly ironic because he incarnates those 'brave' and 'blond' allegorical heroes found mythically in the poetry of such as Seeger. By directing precise attention to the brutal methods used to exterminate Olaf and by wittily underplaying his suffering Cummings concretises the ultimate effects of military disobedience.
An inquiry into the imaginative response of later writers to 'Armageddon' therefore demands from the critic an exegesis of the working of poetic language in action: particular poems need to be examined to demonstrate how the retrospection is formally structured. Such an enterprise will be attempted in the remaining part of the chapter which analyses several poems in great detail as case studies or foci where linguistic configurations may be located as an index of meaning. ion, heavily dependent upon lexical and typographical effects, exemplifies a unique resolution of the aesthetic problem of treating the First World War as a theme in American poetry.