“Poetry Afternoon”

I have chosen a War Poet, a First World War poet.  His name Richard Aldington but he was born Edward Godfree Aldington.

Born – July 8, 1892  Portsmouth, England.    Died July 27, 1962  Sury-en-Vaux, France.

Richard Aldington was known best for his World War I poetry, the 1929 novel “Death of a Hero” and the controversy resulting from his 1955 “Lawrence of Arabia:  A Biographical Inquiry.  His 1946 biography “Wellington” was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Richard Aldington was born in Portsmouth, the Son of a Solicitor and educated at Dover College and for a year at the University of London.  He was unable to complete his Degree because of financial circumstances of his family.   He met the Poet Hilda Doolittle in 1911 and they married two years later.

In 1915 Aldington and his Wife relocated within London, away from Holland Park very near Ezra Pound and Dorothy, to Hampstead, close to D H Lawrence and Frieda.  Their relationship became strained by external romantic interests and the stillborn birth of their child.  Between 1914 and 1916 he was literary editor of The Egoist and columnist there.  He was assistant editor with Leonard Compton-Rickett under Dora Marsden.

Aldington joined the British Army in 1916 during the Great War and was commissioned as a second Lieutenant into the Royal Sussex Regiment during 1917 and was wounded on the Western Front.  Aldington never completely recovered from his War experiences and may have continued to suffer from the then unrecognised phenomenon of posttraumatic stress disorder.

Aldington and his wife attempted to mend their marriage in 1919, after the birth of her daughter by a friend of writer D H Lawrence, named Cecil Gray, with whom she had become involved and lived with while Aldington was at War.   However, she was by this time deeply involved in a lesbian relationship with the wealthy writer Bryher, and she and Aldington formerly separated both becoming romantically involved with other people, but they did not divorce until 1938.  They remained friends, however, for the rest of their lives.

Aldington’s biography of T E Lawrence caused a scandal on its publication and an immediate backlash.  It made many controversial assertions.  He was the first to bring to public notice the fact of Lawrence’s illegitimacy and also asserted that Lawrence was homosexual.  Lawrence lived a celibate life, and the claim was contested by some of his close friends (of whom several were homosexual).  He attacked Lawrence as a liar, a charlatan and an “impudent mythomaniac”, claims which have colored Lawrence’s reputation ever since.  Only later were confidential government files concerning Lawrence’s career released, allowing the accuracy of Lawrence’s own account to be gauged,.  Aldington’s own reputation has never fully recovered from what came to be seen as a venomous attack upon Lawrence’s reputation.  Many believed that Aldington’s suffering in the bloodbath of Europe during World War I caused him to resent Lawrence’s reputation, gained in the Middle Eastern area.

Aldington died in Sury-en-Vaux, Cher, France on June 27, 1962 shortly before being honoured and feted in Moscow on the occasion of his Seventieth Birthday and the publication of some of his novels in Russian translation.  He did not approve of the Communist “party line” though and the Russians did not succeed in making him endorse it.  His politics had in fact moved far towards the right, but he had felt shut out by the British establishment after his T E Lawrence book.  He Lived in Provence at Montpellier, Aix-en-Provence and Sury-en-Vaux.

On November 11, 1985 Aldington was among 16 Great War Poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner.  The inscription on the stone is a quotation from the work of a fellow Great War Poet, Wilfred Owen.  It reads “My subject is War, and the pity of War.  The Poetry is in the pity.”

His obituary in “The Times” in 1962 described him as “an angry young man of the generation before they became fashionable”, and who “remained something of an angry old man to the end”.  I think the following poem depicts that.

 

“DAISY”

Plus quan se atque suos amavit omnes, nunc….  – Catullus

 

You were my playmate by the Sea.

We swam together.

Your girl’s body had no breasts.

 

We found prawns among the rocks;

We liked to feel the sun and to do nothing:

In the evening we played games with the others.

 

It made me glad to be by you.

 

Sometimes I kissed you,

And you were always glad to kiss me;

But I was afraid – I was only fourteen.

 

And I had quite forgotten you,

You and your name.

 

To-day I pass through the streets,

She who touches my arms and talks with me

Is – who knows? – Helen of Sparta,

Dryope, Laodamia…

 

And there are you

A whore in Oxford Street.

 

Not sure I like him or his work, but see what you think.

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on ““Poetry Afternoon”

  1. Actually I LOVED the poem, it was so raw and so plausible. And heart breaking. It’s great for making you wonder what happened to those people who passed through your life and you lost track of… His story is really tragic all the way around, isn’t it. I loved part of that inscription: The Poetry is in the pity…

    Liked by 1 person

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