Memory, Nature, and the Futility of War in Alice Oswald’s Memorial

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Catherine Mary Simmerer


Although Alice Oswald’s 2011 Memorial derives its source material from Homer’s epic poem, it does not move with the same energy as the great epic. Rather, it commemorates the dead with a more muted sense of grief. A memorial operates as a retrospective poem, drawing from memory: the community or the individual who remembers is the impetus for the memorial. In Oswald’s Memorial, we serve as that impetus – we, the readers, are the conveyors of memory. Oswald’s Memorial is a written poem, more similar in some ways to a physical war monument than an oral epic, and her style and form must engage the reader in an active manner. This memorial offers a meditative rather than an enraged response to the solders’ deaths; it commemorates each soldier, from both sides of the conflict, in rhythmic, meditative pacing, with an eye to the future, and a cautionary tale for the present. Oswald’s poem offers this space for collective memorialization that includes this “active reciprocity” of simultaneously honoring the dead and admonishing the living. We may grieve for those we’ve never met, but in the end, we remember the dead for the sake of the living.

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Simmerer, C. M. (2020). Memory, Nature, and the Futility of War in Alice Oswald’s Memorial. Humanities Bulletin, 3(1), 201–208. Retrieved from