Herbert Read (1893-1968)
Looking for clear, pictorial images, he wrote a group of brief "imagist" poems often describing how our war could destroy, in barely a moment, the illusion of any possible idealized "Kiplingesque sentiments", overcome by a wild, uncontrolled survival instinct.
Born in Yorkshire, the writer Herbert Read also wrote art criticism and literature on addition to poetry. During the war he served for four years as a Captain in the Yorkshire Regiment and even won some medals. Although his poetry is mainly romantic, he also wrote some violent and striking poems on wartime episodes.
One of the main poems written by this writer is The Happy Warrior:
His wild heart beats with painful sobs,
His strain'd hands clench an ice-cold rifle,
His aching jaws grip a hot parch'd tongue,
His wide eyes search unconsciously.
He cannot shriek.
Dribbles down his shapeless jacket.
I saw him stab
And stab again
A well-killed Boche.
This is the happy warrior,
This is he…
The title of the poem is taken from Wordsworth's who, in his Character of the Happy Warrior, idealistically wrote: This is the Happy Warrior; this is He that every man in arms should wish to be".
The title already looking from the preface sounds bitterly ironic , and turns the poem itself into the tragic parody of the warrior who, crazy with terror and no longer able to control himself, stabs a "well-killed Boche" again and again. The soldier is described with the animal-like attributes (jaw, bloody saliva), as if the war has annulled human dignity in him. The identity of the soldier is also annulled in the generic "Boche", the German enemy.
In style the poem also contrast sharply Brooke's pleasant, smooth sonnet. It is made up irregular broken lines, marked by strident onomatopoeic words and by alliteration. The rhythm is urgent, especially in the last part. Focus is on the "happy warrior", but the poet is also present, and is recognized as a witness to human folly (this is underlined by the use of the word "I saw").