Thursday, June 14, 2007

For Fordy

T.S.Eliot said Ford Madox Ford's Antwerp was the best poem written about the First World War. It's certainly the best I've read. Ford's The Soul of London - which I have just finished - is also the best book I've read about London.
'For London, if it attracts men from a distance with a glamour like that of a great and green gaming table, shows, when they are close to it, the indecipherable face of a desperate battle field without ranks, without order, without pity and with very little of discoverable purpose. Yet those that it has attracted it holds for ever, because in its want of logic it is so very human.'
Ford also wrote two of the finest novels of the twentieth century - The Good Soldier and the Parade's End tetralogy. These are easily available, almost all the rest of his massive output is out of print. He edited the most successful - in terms of quality, not profits or circulation - magazine of all time. In his few months in charge, the English Review published Conrad, Hardy, W.H.Hudson, W.H.Davies, Tolstoy, Galsworthy, Bennett, Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, Pound, Yeats, Chesterton, Belloc, Forster and more. Known universally as Fordy, he cared more for the works of others than he did for his own. He had unerring literary judgment, he pronounced Lawrence a genius after reading one short paragraph. All of which is why, having just finished The Soul of London, I felt impelled to get off the treadmill of the topical and write something for Fordy.


  1. Liddell Hart in his history of the First World War(1930) writes on the third battle of Ypres (Passchendaele),'The historian may consider that insufficient attention was given to the lessons of history, of recent experience, and of the material facts in deciding both upon the principle of a major offensive and upon its site'.
    OR: Ford Madox(1917)
    What the devil will he gain by it? Digging a hole in the mud and standing all day in the rain by it
    waiting his doom;
    The sharp blow, the swift outpouring of the blood
    til the trench of grey mud
    is turned to a brown purple by it.

    Same tears by both.

  2. Antwerp is brilliant from start to finish.

    Just from a technical poetry point of view, the line "And battalions and battalions and battalions" is something else.

  3. I am glad you liked it, Brit, you are a stern critic.

  4. To me a post like this is what a great blog and good writing are all about. Bryan, you've just inspired me to order 'The Soul of London'. Is Antwerp in an anthology?

  5. Thanks, Richard. To be honest, I don't know. It must be somewhere. If it is will have it. Also look out for Ford's Memories and Impressions, a funny and beautiful book with some of the best litearry anecdotes.

  6. Heh. Not sure if I'm a stern critic, but I do think that poetry, along with conceptual art, is the art form with the least effective quality control filter.

  7. Would that we could remove ourselves from the need for this type of poetry.
    Where the 'white limbed heroes of Hellas' or that the Cressy cows-stealers was it. Where ones shield left behind you on a Tracian field or the Spartan 'on it', was how it worked.
    And battalions and battalions and battalions.

    Cut through to the realty.
    A poetic bridge.

  8. So, is that it? Is my attempt at life in the North doomed?

  9. Ah, interesting response, Wifey. Not not doomed, but you can take the girl out of London etc...

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