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A wonderfully sustained narrative poem, full of the resonances and repercussions attendant on the end of an era, The Donkey’s Ears depicts life aboard a Russian flagship just before the battle of Tsushima, 1905. It purports to be written by E.S. Politovsky, a ship’s engineer addressing his wife in letters back home. Known as ‘The Trafalgar of the East’, Tsushima (which, translated from the Japanese, means ‘The Donkey’s Ears’ – a description of the twin peaks of the islands) was the biggest naval gun-battle in history. The action of the poem takes place before the battle. A vividly realized claustrophobia prevails. Life below and on deck is brilliantly detailed as is the sense of incipient doom; one man’s voice (domestic, particular, yearning for wife and home comforts) pitched against the inexorable onslaught of events.
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