Thursday 30 October 2014

Death of a Poet: We Will Remember Them Ernst Stadler 30 October 1914

The German expressionist poet Ernst Stadler had been a Rhodes Scholar in 1906 and studied at Magdalan College, Oxford. Less than a decade later he would no doubt have been facing some of his fellow Oxford colleagues in the war. He was born in the disputed border territory of Alsace-Lorraine in the town of Colmar, as a result of the Franco-Prussian War the region had been annexed by the new German Empire since 1871.

His early work was inspired by amongst others the first poet to have fallen WWI the French poet Charles Péguy with whom he had corresponded. But in 1911 he started to develop a different style more inspired by the free verse style of Walt Whitman which led to his 1913 collection Der Aufbruch.

It was from this collection that one poem Setting Out was used by some as evidence of early enthusiasm for the war, but Stadler himself was disturbed by the lack of respect for human life and how many were becoming desensitised to the violence.

At the outbreak of war he joined the German army as an artillery officer. He was killed in battle during the First Battle of Ypres.

Setting Out

There was a time before, when fanfares bloodily tore 
apart my own impatient brain,
So that, up-rearing like a horse, it bit savagely at the rein.
Then tambourines sounded the alarm on every path
And a hail of bullets seemed like the loveliest music on earth.
Then, suddenly, life stood still. Different paths were leading between the old trees.
Rooms were tempting. It was sweet to linger and sweet to rest at ease,
And, unchaining my body from reality, like some old dusty armour,
To nestle voluptuosly in the down of soft dream-hour,
But then one morning through the misty air there rolled the echo of the bugle's ring.
Hard, sharp, whistling like a sword-thrust. As if suddenly on darkness lights had started shining.
As if, through the tented dawn, trumpet-jolts had roused the sleeping forces,
The waking soldiers leapt up and struck their tents and busily harnessed their horses.
I was locked into lines like splints that thrust into morning, with fire on helmet and stirrup,
Forward, with battle in my blood and in my eyes, and reins held up.
Perhaps in the evening, victory marches would play around my head.
Perhaps we all would lie somewhere, stretched out among the dead.
But before the reaching out and before the sinking,
Our eyes would see their fill of world and sun, and take it in, glowing and drinking.

Ernst Stadler 11 Oct 1883 Colmar, Alsace, (then Germany) - 30 Oct 1914 Zandvoorde, Flanders, Belgium

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