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War Poems: Aerial Edition

A review of 'Bomber County.'

3:40 PM, Aug 31, 2010 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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In this past weekend's Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard senior editor Robert Messenger reviews Daniel Swift's Bomber County: The Poetry of a Lost Pilot's War. Yes, much of the book grapples with the moral justifications for strategic bombing (the author himself reportedly does not take sides). But Bomber County also examines the place of the poet in the war—and how more than a few of them were not actually part of any flight crew. Writes Messenger,

Not every "war poet" was himself a soldier or airman. C. Day Lewis, Mr. Swift notes, viewed himself as heir to the trench poets of World War I, yet he did not fight—serving instead in Britain's ministry of information—and his perception of the bomber war as a new version of World War I's trenches was not based on personal experience. This is true of Jarrell, too, who served in only marginal roles on stateside bases, inventing the images and events of his bomber poems.

T.S. Eliot, too old for service, was a fire-watcher during the Blitz, scanning from a London rooftop for bomb damage that might spread. What he saw invigorated his last great work: the final of the "Four Quartets." ("Dust inbreathed was a house— / The walls, the wainscot and the mouse, / The death of hope and despair, / This is the death of air.") Stephen Spender was in the National Fire Service, having failed his medical exam when he tried to enlist at 35. His war poems focus on the destruction of bombing, seeing both poet and bomber similarly bound up together as creator and destroyer.

Read the review in its entirety, then read the book.

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