Metamorphoses of the Heroic in English Lyrics of the Beginning of the Twentieth Century

Yevheniya Chernokova


The paper deals with the heroic artistic modus transformations in English lyrics of World War I. The purpose is to see war poetry not as a separate artistic phenomenon but as the striking evidence of the arterial development of literature in its turn to modernism.

The focus of attention is in the metamorphosis of the heroic showed in W. Wordsworth’s “The Character of the Happy Warrior” as compared to Herbert Read’s “The Happy Warrior”. In Wordsworth’s poem the hero is made by the harmony of a soldier’s duty and moral standards, loyalty to the country and commitment to God. Imagist Read makes a hero out of a “function reflex” which turns a man into a weak-minded, circumscribed but effective cripple ready to kill, much the same as extermination machines around.

Nation’s memory is selective, and the instrument of this selection is mythologizing of a case, a man, or a phenomenon. In the case of the Great War this process is both mighty and paradoxical: in contrast to ancient heroes, under new mythology the archaic and universal concept of heroic turns into national and modern, with war poets as emblem of new “English heroism”.

Comprehension of the heroic as an exhausted and ambivalent modus in the global conflict of World War I and the denial of rhetoric as the background for “heroic” genres lay the foundation for creating both the new national myth (hero-victim) and the new poetics in the poetry of the soldier poets.


heroic artistic modus; the heroic; the tragic; World War I; ode; ballad; elegy; Romanticism; Imagism; W. Wordsworth (“The Character of the Happy Warrior”); Herbert Read (“The Happy Warrior”)


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