France 1917

Bernard Freeman Trotter received notice of his deployment in December of 1916 and wrote of trench warfare as early as January 10th and 19th, 1917.  His first remarks of poetry from France are also in January, when he writes that “the mess is the only available place with a comfortable temperature, and it is seldom sufficiently vacant for poetic flutterings.”  The front lines not only had an effect on the tone and material of his poems, but also the physical time and space he had to write while fighting.  

A contemporary author, Alice Corbin Henderson, comments on poetry and war in a short piece for a journal published by the Poetry Foundation.  She states that “Clearly what we instinctively demand of the poet today is not a justification of the ways of man to God, but a justification of the ways of man to man.”  Modern scholar Tim Cook remarks that "The language of the war - so brilliantly captured by the war poets - is of suffering, pity, and trauma." 

In a poem published very shortly after the beginning of the war in the journal Current History,  Trotter puts this into practice.  He writes "And the red menace that should bring the scorn / of ages on the Kaiser's name and shame / And crown their city with a deathless fame."      

Jan 22, 1917

B.F. Trotter, Letter, Jan 22, 1917

The excerpt above comes from this letter to his ‘People’ on January 22nd of 1917.  Trotter recounts his first experience coming back from the line, such as the first church service amongst the roll of the guns rather than an organ for accompaniment.  He makes specific mention that his muse may be too much of the contemplative type to flourish among the lack of privacy in military life. 

Feb 18, 1917

B.F. Trotter, Letter, Feb 18, 1917

In a continuation of January 22nd’s sentiments, Trotter remarks that “My present surroundings are hardly conducive to the study or production of poetry; though they frequently produce momentary poetical impulses, which if more reflective opportunities came may not be wholly lost.” He mentions similar thoughts in several other letters, reinforcing that the front lines were hindering his ability to create. 

March 14, 1917

B.F. Trotter, Letter, March 14, 1917

From a rest station where he is recovering, Trotter notes his observations on the gravestones in a nearby cemetery.  These observations are most significant for their role in his final written work, “Ici Repose.” It is evident that Trotter is reflecting upon death and memory.

April 21, 1917

B.F. Trotter, Letter, April 21, 1917

In a quick postscript at the end of one of his final letters, Trotter writes that he is enclosing “a bit of a “pome” evolved by spasms extending over a considerable period.”  This was “Ici Repose”, a comment on memory and death during war.  While he was able to create, the somber subject of his work indicates the greater influence of his circumstances. 

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