In the midst of the dreadful carnage of that war moving poetry was written by the young men who fought. Anthem for Doomed Youth is an anthology of the war poetry starting with the optimistic poems of men on their way to war, continuing with the experiences of battle and ending with the thoughts of those who had survived the conflict. Their eloquence resonates across the decades.
If I should die, think only this of me:That there’s some corner of a
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
The last stanza of The Machine-Gun by John Hobson evokes the feeling upon the battlefield:
Here do I lie,Hidden by grass and flowers,
With my machine-gun,
Ghost of modern war.
The sun floats high,
The moon through deep blue hours,
I watch with my machine-gun
At Death’s grim door.
Wilfred Owen was one of the poet soldiers who addressed the horror of the war. In Dulce et Decorum Est he talked about a gas attack. In the last verse he speaks about a soldier wounded by the gas and states there is no glory in dying for your country:
If in some smothering
dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon we flung
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Came gurgling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
For Canadians the poem In Flanders Fields by John McRae is our national poem of remembrance. Every child in Canada for over 90 years has read the poem. Most of us memorized it at school. On November 11, Remembrance Day, it is recited in every community across Canada:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead, Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up the quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies growIn Flanders fields.
Of the poets almost half died during the war. Considering the brilliance of their poetry it is certain the world lost many great writers during World War I.
It is a book of great imagery and powerful emotions. A reader is prompted to reflect on life and death and sacrifice and courage and waste.