The Silence of the Somme: Sound and Realism in British and Dutch Poems Mediating The Battle of the Somme

Geert Buelens


The place occupied in cultural memory by the First World War is chiefly determined by a handful of mainly English-speaking poems which portray the conflict as a senseless slaughter. During the war itself, opinion was strongly influenced by a film made for the propaganda arm of the British war effort: The Battle of the Somme (1916), which managed to elicit quite varying reactions. The violence of war had never before been brought into focus so sharply, yet the interpretations of this mediated reality were varied. Three poets wrote about, what of necessity, remained absent from this silent film: the noise of industrial warfare (imitated in some performances by live musicians) and the voice of the individual soldier. Jingoist Henry Newbolt saw the film as an ode to sacrifice, while his compatriot and Somme veteran C.H.B. Kitchin was chiefly struck by the fact that so many soldiers only lived on on celluloid. In neutral Holland Jacobus van Looy was confronted with his own search for excitement and half-hearted humanity.


First World War Poetry; The Battle of the Somme; Henry Newbolt; Jacobus van Looy; C.H.B. Kitchin; Mediation; Sound of Silent Films

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