WB Yeats would have nothing to do with the popular attitude that the First World War had been a tragedy, not within the proper meaning of the word. A tragedy was something virtually chosen, by tragic heroes who were not victims but 'such men as come proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb'. The war was if anything an accident. 'Some idiot had driven his car on the wrong side of the road and that was all.' And in a strongly-worded, even cruel, aside, he described the poems of Wilfred Owen, whose influence on the Thirties generation dismayed him, as 'all blood, dirt and sucked sugar-stick'.
I, too, saw God through mud -
The mud that cracked on cheeks when wretches smiled.
War brought more glory to their eyes than blood,
And gave their laughs more glee than shakes a child.
Merry it was to laugh there -
Where death becomes absurd and life absurder.
For power was on us as we slashed bones bare
Not to feel sickness or remorse or murder.
I have made fellowships -
Untold of happy lovers in old song.
For love is not the binding of fair lips
With the soft silk of eyes that look and long,
By Joy, whose ribbon slips -
But wound with war's hard wire whose stakes are strong;
Bound with the bandage of the arm that drips;
Knit in the webbing of the rifle-thong.
Nevertheless, except you share
With them in hell the sorrowful dark of hell,
Whose world is but the trembling of a flare
And heaven but as the highway for a shell,
You shall not hear their mirth:
You shall not come to think them well content
By any jest of mine. These men are worth
Your tears. You are not worth their merriment.
Sunday Indo Living