The seven previously unpublished poems in Cenotaph of Snow add a fresh perspective to Michael Longley's selection of war-themed poems, ranging from 'In Memoriam', written in 1965, to 'Sleep & Death', composed in August 2002.
Longley writes: 'These are poems about war, not war poems.
You have to be a war poet to write war poems. I am a non-combatant drawn to the subject of war for a number of reasons, including: 1) my father fought in the First World War, was decorated for bravery and - an old-fashioned patriot - joined up again in 1939; 2) my native Ulster has been disfigured for thirty years by fratricidal violence; 3) I revere the poets of 1914-1918 (Owen, Rosenberg, Sassoon, Sorley, Blunden, Thomas, Jones) and their successors of 1939-1945 (Douglas, Lewis); 4) in my forties I rediscovered Homer, first the Odyssey and then the Iliad which is the most powerful of all war poems as well as being the greatest poem about death.
My versions of passages from Homer have allowed me to say things that I might not otherwise have been able to articulate.
These, then, are the preoccupations behind Cenotaph of Snow.'