A major purpose of the Kvten poets was to reject the synthetic optimism of the Socialist Positive Hero and of Stalinist Personality Cults. They turned to deglamorization of previously glorified heroes and historical events.
For Holub, who had lived through the Nazi invasion and the subsequent occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Russians, that deglamorization extended to war as a human experience, at first, war in his own time, as in “Casualty” and “Five Minutes After the Air Raid,” and later to war in general, as in “A History Lesson,” where a small boy after the teacher’s lecture on “two victorious wars” asks, “And did it hurt in those days too?” This deglamorization can also be seen in “Soldier,” where “the black shadow of oncoming eternity ooz[es] underneath.” Finally, Holub turned to particular wars in the past, as in “Fall of Troy” and “The Fly.” Sometimes he reduced historic generals to sorry figures: Charlemagne, Napoleon, Achilles.
The Battle of Crécy was an opportune subject for such deglamorization. It was instrumental in destroying the medieval system of warfare, and it helped bring about the decline of the Age of Chivalry. It was also one of the bloodiest of battles, destroying much of France’s nobility. The tragedy of war is conveyed through the use of vivid images: the groans of the dying, the mad panic of the foot soldiers, the disemboweled horse, the dead duke, the bodies...
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