PJ Harvey and the Poetry of War

Engelsk B

In 2010 the English singer/songwriter PJ Harvey released the critically acclaimed album Let England Shake. The album marks a departure from the personal psychological explorations and confessional poetry of Harvey’s earlier works and a shift towards a more extroverted critical engagement with British cultural heritage, national psychology, identity and politics. The album concerns issues of war, guilt, the effects of trauma as well as problems of personal and national identity as Harvey tells her stories through a variety of fictional personae and samples from all over Western popular culture. Each of the songs on the album is accompanied by at short film created by the Irish photographer Seamus Murphy on a road trip across Britain. In their collaboration on visuals and musical performance Harvey and Murphy simultaneously celebrate the roots of Englishness and deconstruct the political truths of the former empire. England shakes indeed.


This module seeks to place the album Let England Shake within a relevant historical and political context as well as relating Harvey’s a poetic tradition that goes back to the poets of the First World War.

Primary materials

Texts by PJ Harvey
The Soldier
Let England Shake
The Last Living Rose
The Glorious Land
The Words that Maketh Murder
All and Everyone
On Battleship Hill
In The Dark Places
Hanging In The Wire

Texts by others
The Soldier, Rupert Brooke, 1914
Dulce et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen, 1916
Grass, Carl Sandburg, 1918
A Soldier’s Declaration, Siegfried Sassoon, 1917
Rupert Brooke’s Obituary in The Times, Winston Churchill, 1915

Secondary Materials

Malcolm Brown, A Brief History of the First World War
Seamus Murphy Photography / http://seamusmurphy.com/#/Stories/Darkness%20Visible/2/thumbs
Let England Shake Youtube Channel / http://www.youtube.com/user/letenglandshake
Interview with PJ Harvey / http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yR28jiP7kAUBBC
Interview with PJ Harvey / http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggt228xeA58&feature=related
Digteren fra Dorset / http://www.information.dk/261986
PJ Harvey performs “Let England Shake” in front of Prime Minister Gordon Brown / http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64C6Ih4QlrE

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