This blog post is part of a World War I series. Throughout 2017, we will be posting student blogs relating to Ohio State and its involvement in the war.
Inspired by the legacies of Homer, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Walt Whitman, poets of the Great War wrote verse that recorded their experiences on the front. By reading war poems, those who were lucky enough to stay home could understand and imagine the perspectives of the soldiers. Some of these poems were published in The Lantern, coordinating with Professor Joseph Villiers Denney’s research and lectures on the subject.
Featured here are a few of the poems that were published in The Lantern. These poems, as well as the others published in The Lantern, are fairly simple. They have mass appeal and avoid confusing symbols and indulgent imagery. Rather, these poems avoid a complex rhyme scheme, consisting mostly of literal language and including motifs of nationalist symbols. Ohio State Professor of Journalism Osman C. Hooper focused on the songs of the Liberty Bell, appealing to patriotic American readers. Hooper writes to the Liberty Bell, desperate for its song to bring peace and solace to the world. This poem, published in Columbus in 1916, expresses the idealist and isolationist mindset that occupied most Americans. Since these fresh poets did not feel the need to follow traditional expectations or standards, World War I poetry is unorthodox and unique. Lieutenant Colonel John McCrea of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces wrote a poem titled In Flanders’ Fields about the dead lying in open fields. Inspired to write an answer to this poem, a Columbus librarian, C.B. Galbreath, penned a poem of the same name. Galbreath honored those who have fallen in Flanders’ Fields, comforting the Lieutenant Colonel. By interacting with a soldier on the front, Galbreath was able to bring the war home. When these poems were written the United States had yet to join the war so these poems allowed readers to connect with the conflict overseas. This conversational poem is consistent with other WWI poems that transform traditional poetry to more casual and playful. By not following specific rhythm, length or composition requirements, these poems are able to achieve great diversity. This broad range of poems and poets provided Joseph Denney with vast material to use in his upcoming lectures and essays.
After graduating from University of Michigan in 1885 and a short stint as a journalist and high school principal, Joseph Villiers Denney came to Ohio State in 1891 as an associate professor of rhetoric. In three short years, Denney was promoted to full professor. Over the next forty years, Denney made his mark on the university, performing a variety of roles. His position was constantly evolving as he moved from professor to Secretary of the Faculty to, eventually, Dean of the College of Arts, Philosophy and Science. Denney’s experience in a wide array of roles at the university made him well known and beloved by the faculty and students. Much of the work throughout his career was published in a variety of outlets, spreading across the country and occasionally across seas. In 1918, when Denney concluded his research on war poetry, he made the rounds across campus, visiting various clubs and lecturing around the city.
Joseph Denney, 1926
In 1918, Denney published his paper titled “War and Poetry” in The Ohio State University Monthly. He argued that the ideals for which the Great War was fought also made their way into poetry. Great advancements of the 20th century improved lives and inspired people to live more intensely. This new ferocity for life is evident in the poems of the Great War. Not only does their previous life give soldiers something to fight for on the battlefield but it also provides comfort and nostalgia while reminiscing in down time. Professor Denney writes that the War expanded the ordinary man’s senses, augmenting the sensation of life and soldiers captured these phenomena in the verses of the War.
Regardless of the greatness or longevity of the verses, poems of the Great War succeeded in communicating the experiences of war to those left at home. Denney argues that this literature is essential to bonding a nation’s population. This poetry generates understanding and enthusiasm, thus uniting the people of a nation. As the students of the University and people of Columbus were reading these verses and hearing Denney’s lectures, they were certainly bonded over the poetry of the Great War.
Written by Tyler Osborne.