Browsing for a Term Paper

Following quite some digging, I have decided on a journal and a poet to investigate for our upcoming term paper.

The Owl: A Miscellany, had three issues, the first released in May of 1919, the second later in the same year, and the last in 1923. The journal opposed the change that was going on in the early 1900’s. Most prominent journals were focusing on experimenting and politics, while Robert Graves, the literary editor of the journal and a prominent poet of the time, remained a Georgian poet who resisted falling out of this romantic, pastoral movement (despite slowly losing respect for the remaining community’s changing focus) unlike most artists of the time who had chosen to fall out of Georgian poetics, pursuing new movements because of the influence of WWI. Thus, Graves wished to publish works that evaded the troubles of the war.

The forward of the first issue even says:

  • It must be understood that “The Owl” has no politics, leads no new movement and is not even the organ of any particular generation―for that matter sixty-seven years separate the oldest and youngest contributors.
  • But we find in common a love of honest work well done, and a distaste for short cuts to popular success.

And so on.

Overall, The Owl was successful in its aims, but it remained at constant odds with contemporary trends in literature.

The Owl, first release, 1919. (©The Modernists Journal Press)

The journal has a nostalgic sort of feel to it, comfortable and sophisticated, though more homey than professional in the illustrated segments because of handwritten content present on those pages. This may be attributed to the fact that Graves’s father-in-law chose the illustrations (and provided the funds for the journals).

“Fairy land” by Pamela Bianco featured in the second issue of The Owl (©The Modernists Journal Press)

I have chosen to (in my term paper) investigate the way in which The Owl’s politically neutral submissions lightly changed the way in which influential WWI poet, Siegfried Sassoon, chose content and context for his poetry that was featured in the journal. In this blog, I would like to investigate a page of his in the last Owl issue, The Winter Owl, to some degree.

The italicized, slightly elegant font, gives the impression of a scholarly journal article (which makes the text seem quite sophisticated), and the uneven texture barely visible in the letters etched into the page which has been scanned makes for a ravishing touch. The close-knit spaces between lines bonds the poem in a way which enhances its form, successfully reflecting formalism as well as professionalism, while the off-set asterisks create an effective barrier between ideas expressed in the poem. Overall, the page looks appropriate to the time and to the aims of The Owl.

The content of the poem itself also fits in with the overall requirements of the journal. Sassoon’s poem details the myth of a nymph by the name of Daphne who is being unwillingly pursued by Apollo, the god of music, medicine, and the sun, because of a curse bestowed upon the god by cupid. In the poem, Daphne is able to escape Apollo’s pursuits at the last second when Jove, the god of thunder and ruler of Olympus, transforms her into a tree. Sassoon paints the situation in an extremely dramatic way that keeps readers in suspense until the last proclamation even if they are familiar with the original myth. There is a definite sense of bucolic and romantic content characteristic of the Georgian movement present in the content, yet the lack of need to experiment with style or dive into politics of the time separates the poem from contemporary writings, which reflects the type of writing Graves wished to broadcast to readers of The Owl.

2 thoughts on “Browsing for a Term Paper”

  1. Irina, You’re on just the right track here! You identify the Owl as a counterpoint to Modernism, and you do a great job of characterizing what that ‘feels like’: “The journal has a nostalgic sort of feel to it, comfortable and sophisticated, though more homey than professional in the illustrated segments because of handwritten content present on those pages.” I’m interested in Graves’ vision of this magazine as a kind of haven against change, against “movement”/s. Fascinating how you have identified a poet who selected his most ‘neutral’ work for publication in this space! How does his piece in The New Age (a publication that was very invested in Modernist discourse!) differ from the work that he published in the Owl?


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