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Muse of Fire: World War I as Seen Through the Lives of the Soldier Poets



by Michael Korda

The First World War comes to harrowing life through the intertwined lives of the soldier poets in Michael Korda’s epic Muse of Fire.

Michael Korda, the best-selling author of Hero and Alone, tells the story of the First World War not in any conventional way but through the intertwined lives of the soldier poets who came to describe it best, and indeed to symbolize the war’s tragic arc and lethal fury.

His epic narrative begins with Rupert Brooke, “the handsomest young man in England” and perhaps its most famous young poet in the halcyon days of the Edwardian Age, and ends five years later with Wilfred Owen, killed in action at twenty-five, only one week before the armistice. With bitter irony, Owen’s mother received the telegram informing her of his death on November 11, just as church bells tolled to celebrate the war’s end.

Korda’s dramatic account, which includes anecdotes from his own family history, not only brings to life the soldier poets but paints an unforgettable picture of life and death in the trenches, and the sacrifice of an entire generation. His cast of characters includes the young American poet Alan Seeger, who was killed in action as a private in the French Foreign Legion; Isaac Rosenberg, whose parents had fled czarist anti-Semitic persecution and who was killed in action at the age of twenty-eight before his fame as a poet and a painter was recognized; Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon, whose friendship and friendly rivalry endured through long, complicated private lives; and, finally, Owen, whose fame came only posthumously and whose poetry remains some of the most savage and heartbreaking to emerge from the cataclysmic war.

As Korda demonstrates, the poets of the First World War were soldiers, heroes, martyrs, victims, their lives and loves endlessly fascinating―that of Rupert Brooke alone reads like a novel, with his journey to Polynesia in pursuit of a life like Gauguin’s and some of his finest poetry written only a year before his tragic death. Muse of Fire is at once a portrait of their lives and a narrative of a civilization destroying itself, among the rubble, shadows, and the unresolved problems of which we still live, from the revival of brutal trench warfare in Ukraine and in the Middle East.

100 illustrations


6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches

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