Edmund Blunden Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

The reputation of Edmund Blunden as a major British poet is founded primarily, and perhaps unfairly, on the poems he wrote about his service in World War I. Similarly, his popular prose works were connected to his wartime experiences. His most famous prose work, Undertones of War (1928), which includes a section of poems at the end, is one of the least vituperative of postwar British memoirs. Blunden’s wartime experiences also featured prominently in the novel We’ll Shift Our Ground: Or, Two on a Tour (1933), written in collaboration with Sylva Norman, in which two central characters visit the former battlefields of Flanders.

In contrast to his poetry and popular prose, Blunden’s scholarly writing consisted primarily of biographies of important British literary figures—including Percy Bysshe Shelley,Lord Byron, andCharles Lamb—and rather impressionistic literary criticism. His scholarly approach was to focus on an author’s life to understand his or her writings. Toward this end, Blunden wrote studies of a wide variety of major English poets, including the seventeenth century poet Henry Vaughan(1927), the Romantic poetsLeigh Hunt (1930) and Shelley (1946), the Romantic essayist Lamb (1933), the early modern poet and novelist Thomas Hardy (1942), and fellow World War I poet Wilfred Owen (1931).


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Edmund Blunden’s formal honors had little to do with his war poetry. In 1950, for example, Blunden was elected an honorary member of the Japan Academy, mainly for his educational work with the United Kingdom Liaison Mission in Tokyo after World War II. In 1963, the Japanese government awarded Blunden the Order of the Rising Sun, Third Class. Blunden’s greatest honor had to do with his work in education and criticism: In 1966, he was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Barlow, Adrian. The Great War in British Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Although intended more for the student reader, this short book does an effective job of covering the major issues faced by British writers like Vera Brittain, Robert Graves, Richard Aldington, and Blunden.

Bergonzi, Bernard. Heroes’ Twilight: A Study of the Literature of the Great War. 1965. Reprint. Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1996. Bergonzi’s book was one of the first critical studies of its subject written for the nonacademic. This work postulates that British writers represented the war in terms of a “complex fusion of tradition and unprecedented reality.”

Cross, Tim, ed. Lost Voices of World War I. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1990. A moving anthology of poetry and other short works by writers who were killed in the conflict. It includes a fine introduction by Robert Wohl, a leading scholar of modernism, who offers valuable insight into how Blunden’s British contemporaries felt about literature and the role it plays in society.

Hibbard, Dominic. The First World War. London: Macmillan, 1990. This work offers a chronological study of the war seen through the eyes of the writers who represented it at the time and much later. Generally, Hibbard does not focus much attention on Blunden, although he does point out that writers were far from univocal in their treatment of the war; responses ranged from the kind produced by Blunden to the gossipy cynicism and outrage of Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon.

McPhail, Helen, and Philip Guest. Edmund Blunden. Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England: Cooper, 1999. A biography of Blunden that examines his life and works, focusing on his war writings.

Mallon, Thomas. Edmund Blunden. Boston: Twayne, 1983. Like other works in the Twayne series, this study of Blunden is a fine starting point for general readers who are unfamiliar with the poet or his poetry.

Scupham, Peter. “Edmund Blunden.” In British Writers: Supplement XI, edited by Jay Parini. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006. A basic biography and analysis of Blunden’s works.

Webb, Barry. Edmund Blunden: A Biography. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990. This biography goes into great detail about the difficulties he faced in finding suitable work and domestic happiness. The general picture that emerges is of a thoroughly decent, kindly man who made the best of the worst possible experiences.