Poets Flog It! Travels Around Britain


Poets

Presenter Paul Martin follows the trail of Britain's greatest poets. He savours Wordsworth's stunning Lake District and contrasts the styles of two First World War writers.


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Flog It has taken me to all corners of the British Isles.

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It's been a wonderful opportunity to meet some fantastic people

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and delve into our illustrious past.

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In Britain we have a great literary tradition

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and poetry is a key part of that.

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Over the years, I've had the chance to follow in the footsteps

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of some of my favourite poets.

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And on this journey, I learn how the horrors of war

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have left their mark on two young writers and unearth the true passion

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of a Dorset poet best known for his novels.

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But firstly, I discover which of Britain's great romantic poets

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was inspired by this stunning landscape.

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The Lake District is home to some of the most spectacular scenery

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to be found anywhere,

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but for centuries, people didn't really see the beauty in the region.

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Instead, they considered its peaks and crags

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wild, savage and terrifying.

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All that began to change in the middle of the 18th century

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when observers looked at the region with new eyes.

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Amongst them was a great name in British poetry -

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William Wordsworth.

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Wordsworth was a member of what became known as

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the English Romantic Movement in the arts.

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He and his fellow poets and painters found inspiration

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in the power of nature in all its awesome glory.

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The romantics moved away from the structural, intellectual

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approach of the 18th century - which is sometimes known now

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as the age of reason or the enlightenment -

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towards ways of looking at the world which recognised the importance

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of the imagination and the emotions.

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The epic themes of poems by their forerunners,

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such as John Milton's Paradise Lost, where rejected by the romantics.

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They felt that poetry should be inspired by just ordinary events.

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In fact, one of Wordsworth's most famous poems

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was inspired by a communal garden plant

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and it grows in abundance during the spring.

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I wandered lonely as a cloud

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That floats on high o'er vales and hill

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When all at once I saw a crowd

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A host of golden daffodils

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Beside the lake, beneath the trees

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Fluttering and dancing in the breeze

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Continuous as the stars that shine

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And twinkle on the Milky Way

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They stretched in never-ending line

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Along the margin of a bay

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Ten thousand saw I at a glance

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Tossing their heads in sprightly dance

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And then my heart with pleasure fills

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And dances with the daffodils.

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Place and family were central to Wordsworth.

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Both in his poetry and his own life and he spent his happiest years here

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at Rydal Mount with his wife and children, his sister and his sister-in-law.

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The marvellous thing is, his descendants today

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still refer to this place as home.

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A servant once said to a visitor,

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"This is my master's library where he keeps all his books.

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"His study, well that, that's out of doors."

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And to this day, visitors come in their droves to Rydal Mount

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to pay tribute to one of English literature's greatest sons.

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300 miles south in Dorset, I had the pleasure of visiting the home

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of another of Britain's most famous poets - Thomas Hardy.

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Although, as a writer, he's better known for his novels

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such as Tess Of The D'Urbervilles and Far From The Madding Crowd.

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Hardy was born in this cottage just outside Dorchester in 1840.

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He lived here and grew up here

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with his family of stonemasons and builders.

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In his novels, he liked to describe real settings

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as the scenes for the plots.

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And in Under The Greenwood Tree published in 1872

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the cottage was described like this...

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"It was a long low cottage with a hipped roof of thatch

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"having dormer windows breaking up into the eaves,

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"a chimney standing in the middle of the ridge

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"and another at each end.

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"The window-shutters were not yet closed

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"and the fire and candle-light within radiated forth

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"upon the thick bushes..."

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After leaving school, Hardy became an apprentice to an architect

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and spent five years working and living in London.

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But his real passion was writing.

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So he returned to Dorset to try to get his books published.

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Towns, villages and buildings throughout the county

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are all recognisable from Hardy's novels.

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In The Mayor Of Casterbridge,

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Casterbridge is a thinly disguised Dorchester.

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The story centres around Michael Henchard

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who sells his wife and his daughter when he gets drunk.

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18 years later, they return to the town to find out that he's become

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the Mayor and is presiding over dinner here, in The King's Arms.

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"A spacious bow window projected into the street over the main portico,

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"and from the open sashes came the babble of voices,

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"the jingle of glasses, and the drawing of corks."

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I've come to Dorset County Museum

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to see some of Hardy's treasured possessions

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and talk to museum director, Judy Lindsay.

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Now, Hardy didn't come from a very wealthy background, did he?

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No, he didn't. He was born to a labouring family

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in the village of Bockhampton.

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And, although he describes his cottage as seven-bedroomed

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and rambling, it was still very much a labourer's cottage.

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When did he start to write novels?

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Thomas Hardy published his first novel in 1871.

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He had written one previously, The Poor Man And The Lady,

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but he'd failed to find a publisher for that.

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So the first novel he wrote was Desperate Remedies.

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He followed that up, however, with a much more popular novel

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and the one which really bought him public acclaim -

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Under The Greenwood Tree.

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Looking around the room, I notice a cello there

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and a couple of violins and there's one here.

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Did he actually play the violin?

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He started to play the violin aged only eight.

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He played for the Stinsford Band, which was a church band

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and it was very much a family tradition for him to do that.

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His father, grandfather and uncle all played in the string band.

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This was his violin.

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-May I hold this?

-Yes, you may.

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Wow, Hardy's violin.

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You really couldn't put a value on something like that.

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In antiques we talk about provenance and its history

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which adds to the value and I don't think it gets much better than this,

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-does it?

-No.

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We're very lucky in that all of the items in our Thomas Hardy collection

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-come with excellent provenance.

-Yeah.

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Tell me a little bit about the pens.

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Thomas Hardy was self conscious enough to label some of the pens

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that he wrote with so that we would know which pens he used

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to write which novels and poems.

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This one is labelled "Tess", as in Tess Of The D'Urbervilles.

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And this one is The Dynasts,

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which was his epic poem about the Napoleonic wars.

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Wow.

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Thoughtful chap, passing on his legacy there and then, really.

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Very much so.

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You mentioned his manuscripts, can we have a look at them?

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-Of course we can.

-You'll have to put your white gloves on to do that.

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-So if I move the violin...

-Thank you.

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..just to there.

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So this is the manuscript of The Mayor Of Casterbridge

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and this is a bound copy of the original manuscript.

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-So it's extremely precious.

-Wow.

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And one of the things I think is particularly lovely

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is that inside the cover, is says, "Presented by Thomas Hardy."

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Very distinctively his own signature.

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And there's also a note here saying, "Hand it on to the museum."

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Gosh, how exciting! Can you turn a page...please.

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I can, yes.

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When you research Thomas Hardy for any period of time

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you become so familiar with the handwriting

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it's absolutely distinctive.

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-Is he buried here in Dorset?

-When Thomas Hardy died,

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his family were very keen that he would be buried here

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and his heart was actually taken from his body

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and interred at the church in Stinsford

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which is very close to Bockhampton where Hardy grew up.

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The rest of his body was cremated and the ashes were interred

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in Westminster Abbey in Poets Corner which is particularly fitting

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because many people see Thomas Hardy as a novelist.

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Those who know his work better are aware that Thomas Hardy

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-saw himself first and foremost as a poet.

-Yeah.

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Some of the most arresting poetry of the 20th century

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was composed during the First World War.

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Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen are two of the most celebrated authors

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of this period, but both with contrasting and opposing approaches.

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Brooke was a student here at the historic Rugby School

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where I met with English master, Richard Smith.

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Richard, tell me a little bit about Rupert Brooke, the man himself.

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I know he used to mix with the Bloomsbury set

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so he was certainly in with the in crowd of the day.

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Yes and even before he leaves Rugby and goes to London

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and starts mixing with that Bloomsbury group of writers,

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he was a popular man at school. He mixed with the in crowd at school.

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Later he was described by another poet, Yates,

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as the most handsome young man in England.

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So perhaps that's one reason why he was so popular.

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Very fashionable guy. So, school, he obviously had,

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what, a ball in one hand and a book in the other?

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Yeah, he was a bit of an all-rounder.

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And he went off to fight in the First World War?

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Did he see any action?

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No. He died before he saw any action.

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He died in 1915 on his way to Gallipoli.

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He was quite excited about joining in, listing up,

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representing his country, wasn't he?

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Yes, I think that's one of the reasons why Brookes poetry

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is so different from the other First World War poets

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-simply because his poetry reflects that early optimism.

-Yeah.

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-Euphoria of fighting in a war.

-Being the hero.

-Yes.

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Blow, bugles, blow!

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They brought us for our dearth

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Holiness lacked so long

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And love and pain

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Honour has come back as a king to earth

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And paid his subjects with a royal wage

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And nobleness walks in our ways again

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And we have come into our heritage.

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It was believed that the war would be over by Christmas

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so there was that gung-ho attitude of fighting for king and country.

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Which is certainly reflected in his most famous war poem, The Soldier.

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If I should die think only this of me

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That there's some corner of a foreign field

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That is for ever England

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There shall be in that rich earth a richer dust concealed

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A dust whom England bore shaped and made aware

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Gave once her flowers to love her ways to roam

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A body of England's breathing English air

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Washed by the rivers blest by suns of home.

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Well, obviously, history tells us it was awful.

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In fact, it was a bloody mess and Brooke didn't see any of that.

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Yes, you're right. He was removed from the very worst of it.

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There's nothing like sitting in a cold damp trench like

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other poets like Wilfred Owen. Perhaps Wilfred Owen's poetry

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is more arresting for a modern readership, simply because

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he describes those terrible conditions.

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Wilfred Owen is probably Britain's most celebrated war poet.

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He enlisted in 1915 and was sent to the front

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where he saw heavy fighting and appalling conditions.

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His poems revealed how many soldiers spent much of the war

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huddled in trenches in all weathers.

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Our brains ache

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In the merciless iced east winds that knife us

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Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent

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Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient

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Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,

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But nothing happens.

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That winter of 1917 was particularly bad.

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Icy cold winds, relentless rain,

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I mean, that must've cut right through you.

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It's quite amazing to think such poignant works were produced.

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Yes and such beautiful words as well, from such horror.

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Because of his experience of fighting,

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Owen hated the idealistic views of writers like Brooke,

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who bought into the Latin philosophy -

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Dolce et decorum est pro patria mori -

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It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country.

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Am I right in thinking that Owen was sent home

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suffering form shell shock?

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Yes, he goes to a military hospital up near Edinburg

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called Craiglockhart.

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There he meets another famous First World War poet -

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Siegfried Sassoon - who had been decorated for bravery at the front,

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but had become disillusioned with the war.

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It's Sassoon who really encourages Owen to publish his works.

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-They formed a friendship, a bond.

-Yes.

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So, what happened to them both?

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Sassoon survives, he lives into the 1940s.

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Even during the Second World War he's writing poetry.

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Owen, poignantly, dies the week armistice is declared.

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It's said that his mother opened the telegram on the 11th November.

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-So it's quite a sad story.

-That is so sad.

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A sad ending and a sad loss to English poetry.

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Yep.

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Subtitles By Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail subtitlin[email protected]

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Away from the hustle and bustle of antiques, Flog It! presenter Paul Martin sets out on the trail of Britain's greatest poets. He savours Wordsworth's stunning Lake District, uncovers the poetic side of one of the country's greatest authors, and learns how the horrors of war influenced the contrasting styles of two First World War writers.


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