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Undertones of War [Paperback]

Edmund Blunden

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Book Description

Sept. 15 2007
“I took my road with no little pride of fear; one morning I feared very sharply, as I saw what looked like a rising shroud over a wooden cross in the clustering mist. Horror! But on a closer study I realized that the apparition was only a flannel gas helmet. . . . What an age since 1914!”

In Undertones of War, one of the finest autobiographies to come out of World War I, the acclaimed poet Edmund Blunden records his devastating experiences in combat. After enlisting at the age of twenty, he took part in the disastrous battles at the Somme, Ypres, and Passchendaele, describing them as “murder, not only to the troops but to their singing faiths and hopes.”

All the horrors of trench warfare, all the absurdity and feeble attempts to make sense of the fighting, all the strangeness of observing war as a writer—of being simultaneously soldier and poet—pervade Blunden’s memoir. In steely-eyed prose as richly allusive as any poetry, he tells of the endurance and despair found among the men of his battalion, including the harrowing acts of bravery that won him the Military Cross.

Now back in print for American readers, the volume includes a selection of Blunden’s war poems that unflinchingly juxtapose death in the trenches with the beauty of Flanders’s fields. Undertones of War deserves a place on anyone’s bookshelf between Siegfried Sassoon’s poetry and Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That.

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Product Description


An established classic ... accurate and detailed in observation of the war scene and its human figures -- D. J. Enright --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Edmund Blunden (1896–1974) was already a published poet when he was commissioned as an officer of the British Army during World War I. The author of several volumes of poetry and literary criticism, he went on to hold academic posts at Tokyo University and the University of Oxford after his military service. 


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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best English Memoir of World War I April 22 2008
By Edward G. Lengel - Published on Amazon.com
"A pleasant summer-evening read"? So says a negative reviewer. Huh?

Undertones of War is, with those by Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, one of the best English memoirs of the First World War (John Lucy's 'There's A Devil in the Drum' is by far the best British memoir, and perhaps the best of all time). Blunden is, however, more subtle than they. An intellectual and poet, he portrays himself as a "pastoralist at war," and pays especial regard to the sacrilegious impact of war on the countryside--and life. And while his style may not provide the in-your-face appeal so dear to many American readers, it rewards the careful reader with an elegant, insightful view of the meaning of war.

Yet it can also be brutally honest. Who can forget the eyeball on the duckboard?

Read it while listening to Ralph Vaughan Williams' 'Pastoral Symphony' #3, which was composed behind the front lines of WWI. It goes with the book.

I have read hundreds of World War I memoirs. This book remains in my top five. Take your time reading it. Ponder it. You won't be disappointed.
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "It seemed a sin to soil the harmonious air/With the parade of weapons built to kill." July 29 2006
By frumiousb - Published on Amazon.com
I was inspired to read this book by a visit to the Thiepval War Memorial this past Spring.

During World War I, Blunden served as an officer in the Royal Sussex regiment. He fought through the war to its end, serving in the battles of both Ypres and the Somme.

Undertones of War is the memoir which he wrote about that period.

Delicately written and insistent, Undertones of War focuses on both the nostalgia for the countryside left behind and on the deep sorrow of trench warfare. It is a lovely and haunting little memoir. The Penguin edition is bound with a selection of Blunden's poetry. This works well for the overall effect of the book.

Recommended, particularly for those with an interest in World War I or military memoirs.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Dec 2 2005
By Linda - Published on Amazon.com
Right up there with Graves' Good-Bye To All That, Undertones takes you right into the trenches of the Western Front. I re-read every few years.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetic Memoirs March 24 2008
By Mike - Published on Amazon.com
This is a great book. Unlike Seigfried Sasson's "Memoirs of George Sherston" or Robert Graves "Good-Bye to All That" or Vera Brittain's "Testament of Youth", Blunden's book has no non-war introductory chapters. You are simply in the war from the outset of the book. Blunden arrived on the scene - the Western Front - at age 19 in time for the Somme offensive of July 1916. His writing has a poetic sense to it and sometimes the beauty of nature and Blunden's recording of it appear as a wonderful counterpart to the killing and agony going on almost everywhere Blunden happened to be. Although nature doesn't make-up for the horrors of World War I with its poison gas, rat filled trenches, relentless artillery, murderous machine guns and loss of friends and comrades, it is a tribute to Blunden's mind that he could take the time and remind us of the resolute qualities of nature. It also gives us an opportunity to get a sense of what soldiers on that front may have experienced by way of gettting away from the battles and wondering how they still lived. From the Somme offensive - a terrible slaughterhouse in its own right - Blunden is moved to Ypres just in time to be part of the Third Battle of Ypres. In this battle the blunders, the rain, the mud, the death, the confusion are everywhere on display. Fortunately Blunden survived it all and was able to chronicle this sad, sad war in a most poetic manner.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb imagery April 21 2009
By jbn 63 - Published on Amazon.com
Blunden set out to be honest, not to embellish, to tell it like it was. And succeeded magnificently. As others have commented, it can feel like hard going compared with Graves or Sassoon - there are some rather obscure references and tangents; but if read with the necessary patience - that is to say, with respect for the way in which Blunden has clearly measured every word a dozen times in his quest for accuracy - it is a deeply rewarding book, and takes one down into the gutter-like trenches, the putrid mud and the thudding nightmare of minenwerfers and nine-fives like no other. A book that absolutely cannot be rushed.

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