Harold Monro made an important contribution to the development of Great War poetry. As founder and proprietor of the Poetry Bookshop in Bloomsbury, and editor of his own periodical, Poetry and Drama, he felt a responsibility to survey the mass of verse that began appearing as soon as war broke out. He commissioned Edward Thomas to write an article about it (‘War Poetry’, Poetry and Drama, December 1914 – the best early study of the subject) and assembled a large collection of press cuttings for display in the shop. Neither Monro nor Thomas could find much to admire. Monro’s September editorial in Poetry and Drama called for a new kind of war poetry, direct and unornamented, that would reveal ‘the plain facts of the human psychology of the moment’ .
This suggestion was in line with the ideas not only of Ezra Pound, T.E. Hulme and other Modernists but also of contributors to the new anthology, Georgian Poetry, published by the Bookshop. Monro’s editorial would have been read by many poets, very probably including Wilfrid Gibson, a leading Georgian, who began writing ‘realistic’ war poems in October 1914. Between them, Monro and Gibson laid the foundations for the later work of Siegfried Sassoon , Wilfred Owen and others.
Monro wrote few war poems himself, but his ‘Youth in Arms’ quartet, written in the early months of the war, is one of the earliest attempts to imagine the ‘human psychology’ of soldiering and to understand ‘How ungrudgingly Youth dies’. These poems were inspired by Monro’s fears for his friend, Basil Watt, whom he dearly loved and who was later killed at Loos. Monro’ s moving elegy for Watt, ‘Lament in 1915’, is a monologue in unornamented, ‘modern’ language:
Some men are killed… not you. Be ‘as you were.
And yet – Somehow it’s dark down all the stair.
I’m standing at the door. You are not there.
Before the war Monro had been intensely idealistic, convinced that poets should unite to build a new and better world. He opened the Poetry Bookshop in December 1912 to be a meeting place for poets and a centre for the propagation of their work. Frequent visitors included Gibson, Hulme, Pound, Thomas, Owen, Rupert Brooke and, later, T.S. Eliot. Monro loathed the war, but he reluctantly volunteered in 1916, just before he was due to be conscripted, and became a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery. His health was poor, and he never served abroad. Lacking direct experience of front-line horrors, he could not write about them as Owen or Sassoon did and did not try to. After 1918 he revived the Bookshop, started a new periodical and gave strong support to Eliot and other new poets, but the war had destroyed his hopes and ideals.
Harold Monro, Collected Poems, with introductions by F.S. Flint and T.S. Eliot (1933, reissued with an introduction by Ruth Tomalin, 1970).
Strange Meetings: Poems by Harold Monro / A new selection (2003).
Joy Grant, Harold Monro and the Poetry Bookshop (1967).
Dominic Hibberd, Harold Monro: Poet of the New Age (2001).
- UK National Register of Archives (7 records).
- Search the Location Register of 20th-Century English Literary Manuscripts and Letters based at the University of Reading, England.
- (NB: for comprehensive results, but these may contain some irrelevant materials, click on blue box marked “Search Location Register” and type “Harold Monro” in the box marked “words or phrase”. Formore precise results, enter instead the Library of Congress Subject Heading “Monro, Harold, 1879-1932” into the same box. Do not type the quotation marks in either case.)
Dominic Hibberd, November 2004