WWI soldiers of the English infantry in France. (Fototeca Gilardi via Getty Images)

Things Worth Remembering: When the World Went Mad

World War I poet Edward Thomas symbolized the breakdown of stability.

Welcome to Things Worth Remembering, our Sunday column by Douglas Murray, where he presents passages from great poets he has committed to memory—and explains why you should, too. To listen to Douglas read from Edward Thomas’s ‘And You, Helen,’ click below:

I’m thinking of the poets of World War I, when everything changed, when the world seemed to go mad. But sadly, I’m also thinking of the current war unfolding in the Middle East.

Things that had seemed certain became fragile: civilization for one; and humanity. The world had gone mad. But it had not simply gone mad. It had had a breakdown. 

The poets who went off to war in 1914 came from a world of great stability—where even the poetic imagination seemed to have its own dependable themes and rhythms. They were thrown into a world no one should ever have to see.

Among these was Edward Thomas, who had frequented the Poetry Bookshop, was friends with Robert Frost, and had become an itinerant writer before the war. Those were the days when people could eke out a living writing book reviews, essays, and more. 

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