The Guards Came Through And Other Poems, by Arthur Conan Doyle
I am no stranger to the works by Arthur Conan Doyle , who is best remembered as the beloved creator of Sherlock Holmes, master detective. This book was a bit of a surprise, as I was unaware he was the author of several published books of poetry. Most of these poems qualify under the genre of war poems , mostly about World War I. To be sure, these aren’t the best poems that you will ever read, not even for its time period, but they do show the author in a creditable light. The poems as a whole are mostly with somewhat conventional rhyming schemes and deal with such themes as bravery, life and death, and the question of whether we have free will or subject to fate. They are precisely the sorts of works one would expect from a thoughtful and creative person who used poetry to sort out his own issues and to express his own feelings, including a certain feeling of hostility towards the Germans for their hauteur. Readers with a fondness for the German military would be best to stay away, although even in his poetry apart from war there is some real wit here, as with a story of four travelers on a boat whose lives are changed by a brush with death.
This book is a short one at about 75 pages and it includes a number of poems, most of them running a couple of pages, but some of them rather short. A the beginning, the author apologizes for the short length of this collection due to the demand. Many of the poems include a note of when the poems were written, showing that they were written during and just after World War I, for the most part. The war poems are clustered towards the front, with poems about life and love towards the end to fill out the collection. Some of the poems are notable. “Victrix” gives a defiant stiff upper lip treatment of the horrors of war saying that things will be alright for the English people. “The Guards Came Through,” for example, is an ode to the pluckiness in defense of the thin red line of British troops. “Ypres” is an expressive and descriptive poem about the destruction of that town in war. “Haig Is Moving” gives a pro-British side of the final advance of the Entente forces on the Western front. A few of the poems deal with grousing and one, “The Wreck On Loch McGarry,” gives a fascinating tale of four ne’er do wells who are changed by a life-threatening wreck on a pleasure cruise. All in all, the poems are a solid lot.
It is pretty clear that this short book of poems was put on the market in order to capitalize on the postwar rush for writings about World War I. The poems in this collection may have sold well because of the identity of the author, but because the author was not remembered by later generations as a poet, these works are forgotten today. A reader who comes across these poems now will find much to enjoy if they are fond of Doyle as a writer and/or if they have an interest in World War I. As is often the case, those who share a basically pro-English perspective and are intrigued by patriotic odes and share an interest in questions of duty and bravery and morality, this book will be an enjoyable one. There is a lot to appreciate in stately rhymes, in Doyle’s strength of thought and facility with description, and in his manly bearing. Why these poems have not been remembered by the same crowd that has lionized Rudyard Kipling’s similar works is a bit beyond me, but this is a work worth discovering for those who enjoy a rousing and stirring collection of poems.
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