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Ernst Stadler: the German war poet's last post

Stadler, like other German poets, responded with enthusiasm to the outbreak of the first world war, but there was no poetry to be found in the trenches

On 31 July 1914, Ernst Stadler had to change his plans. That afternoon, paper boys in the centre of Strasbourg had delivered news of the conflict between Germany and France. Would the university town soon become the frontline, the papers wondered. "Commotion in town," the German poet wrote in his diary. The day before, he had been set to leave Strasbourg. He would have a new life as an associate professor in German at the University of Toronto. But now Europe would keep him. Stadler, who had been a reserve lieutenant since 1907, was ordered to report to the 80th field artillery regiment in Colmar. "Evening lecture cancelled," he wrote. "Morning shopping: revolver."

Britain's poet-soldiers, in the national folklore, were the prophets who beheld the pity of war before it became apparent to the rest of the nation. Germany's poets had a less noble reputation: they lunged for their Lugers at the first opportunity. And for Stadler's generation as a whole, the generalisation isn't too broad. "How the hearts of all poets were on fire when war came!" Thomas Mann wrote later that summer. "It was a cleansing, a release that we experienced, and an incredible sense of hope."

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