The Lost Generation : World War I Poetry : Herbert Read

Cover of Herbert Read's Naked Warriors. Red geometric graphic.


In 1917, poet and literary critic Herbert Read co-founded the avant-garde quarterly journal Arts and Letters, which in 1919 published Read’s book Naked Warriors. (The volume’s first section “Kneeshaw Goes to War” originally appeared in Arts and Letters, as noted in the contents.) This sixty-page volume of poetry and prose explores the arc of the British soldier’s combat experience in World War I. Read, who served in the war and was awarded both the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross, includes an epigraph before each section, visually separating sections that are joined by a thematic progression rather than common characters. Before the contents page, readers encounter a six-line poem entitled “Parody of a Forgotten Beauty” and a one-paragraph preface in which Read encourages his generation to “strive to create a beauty where hitherto it has had no absolute existence” (5). This desire is reflected in the cover illustration, thought to be the work of artist Wyndham Lewis. The central figure employs Vorticism, an early twentieth-century British art movement using a form of urban cubism to express the dynamism of the modern world. The book is bound in textured, tan paper boards printed in striking red, featuring the title, Vorticist illustration, author, and price (“three shillings net”) on the front cover, and information on the journal Arts and Letters on the back cover. The front leaf of this copy is inscribed “T. A. Lamb, from W. R. Childe. 8.4.1919” under the title. Considering the place of publication and publisher, we can speculate that this copy was given to T. A. Lamb, author of T.N.T. Tales (Oxford, 1919)—a collection of anecdotes describing the work of munitionettes at the Barnbow shell-filling factory near Leeds—by Wilfred Rowland Childe, editor of Oxford Poetry in 1916-1917 and a contributor to Arts and Letters. Page 21 of this copy shows a handwritten emendation to the epigraph, attributing it to “H. D.” rather than “H. R.”; this is the same as some other extant copies. The final section, “Killed in Action,” is a prose selection from an unfinished novel and ends with a fleuron, visually marking the conclusion of the work.

Find Naked Warriors in the UNT Library Catalog.