Edmund Blunden Essay - Blunden, Edmund

Blunden, Edmund

Blunden, Edmund 1896–

English poet and biographer. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-18.)

In 1925 Edmund Blunden was still a poet of promise. Both [William Henry] Davies and Edward Thomas, though intimate with Nature, were more detached than any thoroughgoing Nature poet can be. Blunden, on the other hand, completely identified himself with Nature….

He was, perhaps, too good a poet at the beginning. If The Waggoner had appeared in 1930 instead of 1920, and had followed a series of inferior volumes, his admirers might have been more content. As it was, he filled the prose of his Undertones of War (1928) with the essence of poetry, and in the poems placed as an appendix to the book seemed not to maintain the splendid level of the prose. Throughout his English Poems (1925) there is no ease of utterance, no smoothness, no untroubled melody. Blunden was never a Nature poet in the narrow sense of being content to paint external appearances; and in the later poems there is a stronger metaphysical strain. His poetry 'is not the fruit of facility. I strive for utterance', he said [in his preface to English Poems]. And he speaks of 'half-ideas, verges of shadows and misty brightness.' This difficult wrestling of the poet with his material no doubt explains why his verse has an air of thwarted achievement—as if some obstruction impeded the fulfilment….

His collected Poems of Many Years (1957) provides an illuminating view of one man's poetic progress through nearly half a century during which, as the Preface to that volume says: 'I have seen with surprise how beloved examples have abruptly become horrible examples, and how a new day blows its trumpets for writings hard to connect with what was poetry just before.' To what extent the contemporary winds of change had affected Blunden's own poetry—and to what extent they had failed to change his fundamental vision—can be assessed by comparing any poem in the first fifty or so pages of the collected volume with any in the last hundred or so.

A. C. Ward, Twentieth-Century English Literature 1901–1960, Methuen-University Paperbacks, 1964, pp. 180-82.

Very early in [Edmund Blunden's] career it was seen that his mastery of language, imagery and technique was unusually strong. He enjoyed words and found music in the conversation of the countryman. He lingered over their possibilities, and added a virility to many of his verses by the skilful use of dialect…. His country poetry continued to increase his reputation, and as he experimented widely in ballads, lyrics, songs and love poems a more profound note was struck. The effect of the war would not allow him to pursue any other course; through his mind the themes were mixed—war, waste, nature, man's experience and man's relation to God. He struggled to connect all he knew, rather than give way to bitterness, a despairing negative creed. His imagination, more delicately poised over reality, went with a haunting dream-like quality. (pp. 16-17)

The corpus of [Blunden's] work both in verse and prose is formidable and comprehensive. English literature owes much to him for his biographical discoveries, critical originality and perspicuity; literary periods are now the fuller for his researches. The Romantics, for example, apart from his considerations of the central figures, have more depth of atmosphere and knowledge because of his treatment of Leigh Hunt, Kirke White, John Taylor, and, above all, of John Clare. His edition of William Collins with the prefatory biographical essay and his appreciation of many other quiet poets of the eighteenth century have enlarged our sense of the period, and adjusted the positions of the great names. Shakespeare and the seventeenth century, with Milton, Vaughan, Traherne, and Herbert in particular, by his sympathetic and imaginative treatment, have often had 'dead' passages brought to life. (pp. 34-5)

Alec M. Hardie, in his Edmund Blunden, Longman Group Ltd., for the British Council, revised edition, 1971.