Please help with an in-depth and critical analysis of Edmund Blunden's poem "Les Halles deYpres."On my own I have come up with the analysis of the first stanza, in which the speaker is lamenting...

Please help with an in-depth and critical analysis of Edmund Blunden's poem "Les Halles deYpres."

On my own I have come up with the analysis of the first stanza, in which the speaker is lamenting the destruction of the town (Cloth Hall), how profound the destructive forces of war are in reality, and how easily brick and metal (and all matter) is destroyed/dismantled beyond repair in its wake. The destruction of this particular place might be suggesting the destruction of civilization to some degree, as Ypres had been an important pillar in the progress toward civilization after the Dark Ages (it might be seen as an emblem of civilization, and was very prominent for trade after the Dark Ages). 

However, I am struggling with the rest, especially the verses with the more embellished, suggestive, and symbolic language. 

Also the pigeons at the end suggest something shallow perhaps. I don't understand completely what the purpose of the pigeons is. 

The Poem:

A tangle of iron rods and spluttered beams,
On brickwork past the skill of a mason to mend:
A wall with a bright blue poster – odd as dreams
Is the city's latter end. 

A shapeless obelisk looms Saint Martin's spire,
Now a lean aiming-mark for the German guns;
And the Cloth Hall crouches beside, disfigured with fire,
The glory of Flanders once.

Only the foursquare tower still bears the trace
Of beauty that was, and strong embattled age,
And gilded ceremonies and pride of place – 
Before this senseless rage.

And still you may see (below the noon serene,
The mysterious, changeless vault of sharp blue light),
The pigeons come to the tower, and flaunt and preen,
And flicker in playful flight. 



Asked on by lolaleon

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Only finally restored in 1967, the great Cloth Hall of Ypres in West Flanders (where linen was made) was completely destroyed during World War I and is now the site of a large WWI museum. It recalls the poignant poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McEnroe who wrote at the end of the poem,

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Situated in West Flanders, this town is the site of three horrific battles. During the first battle it was attacked by German forces, so the British forces came to protect it. After two more horrific battles with gas warfare, the British made Ypres symbolic of all for which they had fought. The Ypres League "transformed the horrors of trench warfare into a spiritual quest in which British and imperial troops were purified by their sacrifice." After WWI, Ypres became a pilgrimage destination for Britons even as it was part of the pilgrimage mentioned in The Canterbury Tales. 

Ypres also goes back to Roman times; therefore, it is very suggestive of history and the permanence of man despite destruction. The lines

Only the foursquare tower still bears the trace 
Of beauty that was, and strong embattled age,

suggests the resilience of the city of Ypres and of the spirit of the Allies. It will endure. 

Along with other jumbled images, the results of the memory of war, there are moments of beauty and tranquillity as the blue light is symbolic of the peace and calm that now comes to Ypres. The pigeons roost—"the pigeons come to the tower"—means all will go on as before the battles on the Western Front. That these pigeons are green is also connotative of growth and the renewal of life since the color green symbolizes newness, freshness, the renewal of life in the spring, and growth.

Sources:

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