The Lost Generation : World War I Poetry : John Drinkwater

Title page of Swords and Ploughshares by John Drinkwater


In “On the Picture of a Private Soldier Who Had Gained a Victoria Cross,” the author calls upon the theme of photography to apply pressure to its revelatory and documentary status. Photographs are not only signs. They are also indexes—that is, they are created by the conditions they record. This adds authority to their status as objective or unmediated by interpretive bias, but such objectivity is an illusion. The alignment of the documentary photo with objectivity forgets the deceptive nature of physical surfaces, how they might exclude or even repress the deeper conflicts of inner life expressed in a poem. In Drinkwater’s poem, the deceptive nature of physical appearance dialogues with the deceptive nature of accolades for valor and the sense of liberation from horrors of the past. Drinkwater thus registers an insight fundamental to new waves of psychoanalytic theory—that is, the burial of trauma constitutes a form of preservation, of intensification even, as opposed to conquest and erasure. 

Find Swords and Ploughshares in the UNT Library Catalog.