World War I is widely considered “the Great War” and World War II, “the Good War.” Janis Stout thinks of them as two parts of a whole that continues to engage historians and literary scholars searching for an understanding of both the actual war experiences and the modern culture of grief they embody. In Coming Out of War: Poetry, Grieving, and the Culture of the World Wars Stout argues that poetry, of all the arts, most fully captures and conveys those cultural responses.
While probing the work of such well known war poets as Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and Randall Jarrell, Stout also highlights the impact of the wars on lesser studied, but equally compelling, sources such as the music of Charles Ives and Cole Porter, Aaron Copland and Irving Berlin. She challenges the commonplace belief that war poetry came only from the battlefield and was written only by men by examining the wartime writings of women poets such as Rose Macaulay, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, and Gwendolyn Brooks. She also challenges the assumption that World War II did not produce poetry of distinction by studying the work of John Ciardi, Karl Shapiro, Louis Simpson, Robert Frost, and Wallace Stevens. While emphasizing aesthetic continuity between the wars, Stout stresses that the poetry that emerged from each displays a greater variety than is usually recognized.
A final chapter considers Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem
as a culmination and embodiment of the anti-war tradition in 20th-century poetry and music, and speculates on the reasons why, despite their abundance and eloquence, these expressions of grief and opposition to war have effected so little change.