Friday, March 26, 2010

Edmund Blunden: 'Trench Nomenclature'

As I said in a recent post, reading Edmund Blunden's Undertones of War is heart-breaking.  But I am also always amazed at the humor that persisted under the horrific conditions:  you have to shake your head and smile sometimes.

For instance: the naming of trenches and other military locations.  Blunden mentions the following trenches: Jacob's Ladder; Kentish Caves; Half Moon Street; St. Martin's Lane; Haymarket; Piccadilly; Esperanto Terrace; Coney Street; The Great Wall of China.  In addition to the trenches, Blunden mentions Valley Cottages (a battalion headquarters); Oskar Copse and Wilde Wood (adjacent battlefield features); Ocean Villas (a play on the name of a village - Auchonvillers - near the trenches).

Blunden includes a poem entitled 'Trench Nomenclature' in the final section of  Undertones of War.  Here are the first two lines and the final two lines of the poem:

Genius named them, as I live!  What but genius could compress
In a title what man's humour said to man's supreme distress?
. . .
Ah, such names and apparitions! name on name! What's in a name?
From the fabled vase the genie in his cloud of horror came.


Dwight said...

Thanks for the glimpses into Blunden's memoirs. I'm about to read Parade's End and may have to squeeze Undertones between books.

Stephen Pentz said...

Dwight: Thank you very much for visiting, and for your comment. I am ashamed to say that I have not yet read the Parade's End novels. (Yet more to read!) By the way, it is my understanding that Ford served with the Royal Welch Fusiliers, a unit in which Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, and David Jones also served.