Great War Poetry - presented by John Shelton
Poems & Poets featured in this video:
06:48 - The Soldier................................by Robert Brook
09:08 - The Rich Dead..........................by Rupert Brook
12:55 - To Germany..............................by Charles Hamilton Sorley
17:00 - Flanders Field...........................by John McCrea
20:34 - How Long O Lord.....................by Robert Palmer
23:16 - If War Is Right...........................by Park Farlie
25:36 - To A Rat....................................by William Eric Berridge
28:05 - The Mad Soldier.......................by Edward Wyndham Tennant
33:24 - The Stretcher Bearer................by Robert Service
35:33 - Song Of Winters Weather........by Robert Service
38:44 - The Soldier...............................by A J Man
39:29 - In The Shell Hole.....................by A J Man
44:50 - Anthem For Doomed Youth....by Wilfred Owen
47:15 - Soldiers Dream........................by Wilfred Owen
50:47 - The Hero..................................by Siegfried Sassoon
52:52 - Base Details.............................by Siegfried Sassoon
54:12 - Reconciliation..........................by Siegfried Sassoon
56:06 - Aftermath.................................by Siegfried Sassoon
59:44 - The Dead Statesman...............by Rudyard Kipling
1:01:08 - When I Come Home..............by Leslie Coulson
Top 10 war poems
This week marks a century since the outbreak of the first world war.
Chosen from 1,000 years of English writing about war, poet and Oxford
professor Jon Stallworthy selects some of the best attempts to think
through this most extreme of human experiences
Read more writers' top 10s
Celebration and lament the war memorial at Shildon, near Sedgefield. Photograph: John Giles/PA
Wednesday 30 July 2014
"Poetry," Wordsworth reminds us, "is the spontaneous overflow of
powerful feelings", and there can be no area of human experience that has
generated a wider range of powerful feelings than war: hope and fear;
exhilaration and humiliation; hatred not only for the enemy, but also for
generals, politicians, and war-profiteers; love for fellow soldiers, for
women and children left behind, for country (often) and cause
Man's early war-songs and love-songs were generally exhortations to
action, or celebrations of action, in one or other field, but no such
similarity exists between what we now more broadly define as love poetry
and war poetry. Whereas most love poems have been in favour of love,
much and most recent war poetry has been implicitly, if not explicitly,
anti-war. So long as warrior met warrior in equal combat with sword or
lance, poets could celebrate their courage and chivalry, but as technology
put ever-increasing distance between combatants and, then, ceased to
distinguish between combatant and civilian, poets more and more
responded to "man's inhumanity to man". I have chosen poems from both
the old "heroic" and the modern "humane" traditions. With so many fine
poems to choose from, on another day I might have selected another team.
1. The Battle of Maldon (Anonymous)
An early battle poem written in Old English, this gives a vivid and
poignant account of the last stand of Anglo-Saxon warriors against a troop
of Viking invaders, and includes a classic articulation of the heroic code.
2. The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Tennyson didn't see the British cavalry charge against Russian artillery in
the Crimean war other than with his mind's eye but his lifelong
absorption in Arthurian legend and chivalry enabled him to take his place,
imaginatively, with the "Noble six hundred". He celebrates their courage,
but recognising that "Someone had blundered", begins to question the
value of the heroic code.
3. Drummer Hodge by Thomas Hardy
In the 50 years between the writing of Tennyson's Charge', and this heart-
wrenching poem of Hardy's, the new "humane" tradition had come to
challenge nine centuries of the old "heroic" one. Hardy didn't see the Boer
war burial party "throw in Drummer Hodge to rest / Uncoffined just as
found", but his lifelong absorption in the little world of Wessex enabled
him, imaginatively, to witness the boy's graveside.
4. Christ and the Soldier by Siegfried Sassoon
On 1 July 1916, Sassoon saw the carnage of the opening of the Battle of
the Somme and, a month later, wrote this brilliant but savagely anti-
Christian poem (which, significantly, he never published).
5. Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen
Not the most flawless of Owen's poems, but the most visionary, this
reaches back to the heroic epics of Homer and Virgil and forward to voice
in its last lines a compassionate humanity in striking contrast to the last
speech of Byrhtnoth, the doomed warrior in The Battle of Maldon.
6. Aristocrats by Keith Douglas
This fine elegy for fellow officers killed in the Battle of El Alamein again
acknowledges both ancient and modern traditions of war poetry. Douglas
recognises at once the chivalry and the obsolescence of cavalrymen on
mechanical mounts duelling in the desert.
7. MCMXIV by Philip Larkin
No poem written since MCMXIV (Latin numerals for 1914, as found on
first world war memorials) speaks so eloquently, so poignantly, of the
future awaiting the children at play, "the men leaving the gardens tidy, /
The thousands of marriages", all seen as in a fine-grained sepia
8. Requiem for the Croppies by Seamus Heaney
The 20th-century Nobel prize-winning Irish poet gives a voice to his
voiceless peasant countrymen massacred in the 1798 rebellion against the
British. They were nicknamed croppies because of their closely cropped
hair-style copied from the sans-culottes of the French Revolution, who
cropped their heads to distinguish themselves from wig-wearing
aristocrats. The barley in the croppies' pockets was to have been their
9. Platform One by Ted Hughes
Hughes's father and uncle fought in the Great War and one senses their
shadowy presence behind this elegy for those who did not survive it as
they did. Focusing on Platform One's larger-than-life bronze statue in
Paddington station, his imagination travels from a peacetime present, in
which holiday-bound families are "scrambling for their lives", to a past in
which soldiers left that platform to scramble for their lives and lose
them on foreign battlefields.
10. The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell
Many of the most moving and memorable poems to emerge from the
second world war were written by Americans. Jarrell, who served in the
US Army Air Corps, was concerned with victims, the most famous of
whom was the subject of this poem. To get the full force of it one needs to
know that a ball turret was a plexiglass sphere set into the belly of a
bomber and contained two machine guns and one small man he had to
be small. When this gunner tracked with his machine gun a fighter
attacking his bomber from below, he revolved with the turret. Hunched
upside down in his little sphere, he looked like a foetus in a womb.
Jarrell's gunner wakens from a dream of life to the reality of death:
"'When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose." Only with
the last word (and it would have been a steam hose) does the full force
of the abortion metaphor hit us.
Twelve great First World War poems
Nov 3, 2014
In his introduction to The Oxford Book of War Poetry, Jon Stallworthy
underlines the emotive power of poems about war: "'Poetry', Wordsworth
reminds us, 'is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings', and there
can be no area of human experience that has generated a wider range of
powerful feelings than war: hope and fear; exhilaration and humiliation;
hatred not only for the enemy, but also for generals, politicians, and war-
profiteers; love for fellow soldiers, for women and children left behind,
for country (often) and cause (occasionally)."
The First World War was "one of the seminal moments of the twentieth
century in which literate soldiers, plunged into inhuman conditions,
reacted to their surroundings in poems," Oxford University English
lecturer Dr Stuart Lee says.
Many collections of poems from and about the first world war have been
drawn together over the past hundred years. Below are ten greats:
In Flanders Fields, by John McRae
In Flanders Fields by John McCrae (May 1915)
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.
'In Flanders Fields' ~ WW1 Poem ~ Author John McRae ~ Read by Anthony Davies
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.
In Flanders Fields - Song and Slideshow
Take up our 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 grow
In Flanders fields.
Marching Men, by Marjorie Pickthall
JAKE HUMPHREY reads Marching Men - Marjorie Pickthall
Under the level winter sky
I saw a thousand Christs go by.
They sang an idle song and free
As they went up to calvary.
Careless of eye and coarse of lip,
They marched in holiest fellowship.
That heaven might heal the world, they gave
Their earth-born dreams to deck the grave.
With souls unpurged and steadfast breath
They supped the sacrament of death.
And for each one, far off, apart,
Seven swords have rent a woman's heart.
The Soldier, by Rupert Brooke
'The Soldier' ~ WW1 Poem by Rupert Brooke ~ music Oliver Wakeman
Poetry Analysis 89: "The Soldier" by Rupert Brooke
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by the 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 given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
My Boy Jack, by Rudyard Kipling
"Have you news of my boy Jack?"
Not this tide.
"When d'you think that he'll come back?"
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
"Has any one else had word of him?"
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
"Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?"
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind - -
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.
Then hold your head up all the more,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!
The Cenotaph, by Charlotte Mew
Not yet will those measureless fields be green again
Where only yesterday the wild sweet blood of wonderful youth was shed;
There is a grave whose earth must hold too long, too deep a stain,
Though for ever over it we may speak as proudly as we may tread.
But here, where the watchers by lonely hearths from the thrust of an inward sword have more slowly bled,
We shall build the Cenotaph: Victory, winged, with Peace, winged too, at the column's head.
And over the stairway, at the foot - oh! here, leave desolate, passionate hands to spread
Violets, roses, and laurel with the small sweet twinkling country things
Speaking so wistfully of other Springs
From the little gardens of little places where son or sweetheart was born and bred.
In splendid sleep, with a thousand brothers
To lovers - to mothers
Here, too, lies he:
Under the purple, the green, the red,
It is all young life: it must break some women's hearts to see
Such a brave, gay coverlet to such a bed!
Only, when all is done and said,
God is not mocked and neither are the dead.
For this will stand in our Market-place -
Who'll sell, who'll buy
(Will you or I
Lie each to each with the better grace)?
While looking into every busy whore's and huckster's face
As they drive their bargains, is the Face
Of God: and some young, piteous, murdered face.
To his love, by Ivor Gurney
To His Love" By: Ivor Gurney (Poem Video Montage)
SARAH HEWSON reads To his love - Ivor Gurney
He's gone, and all our plans
Are useless indeed.
We'll walk no more on Cotswolds
Where the sheep feed
Quietly and take no heed.
His body that was so quick
Is not as you
Knew it, on Severn River
Under the blue
Driving our small boat through.
You would not know him now
But still he died
Nobly, so cover him over
With violets of pride
Purple from Severn side.
Cover him, cover him soon!
And with thick-set
Masses of memoried flowers-
Hide that red wet
Thing I must somehow forget.
Dulce et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen
Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen: Read by Christopher Eccleston
Remembering World War 1
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
Dulce et Decorum Est (Footage from the Battle of the Somme)
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
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
Come gargling 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.
To Germany, by Charles Hamilton Sorley
To Germany by Charles Hamilton Sorley - World War I Poem
You are blind like us. Your hurt no man designed,
And no man claimed the conquest of your land.
But gropers both through fields of thought confined
We stumble and we do not understand.
You only saw your future bigly planned,
And we, the tapering paths of our own mind,
And in each others dearest ways we stand,
And hiss and hate. And the blind fight the blind.
When it is peace, then we may view again
With new won eyes each other's truer form
And wonder. Grown more loving kind and warm
We'll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain,
When it is peace. But until peace, the storm,
The darkness and the thunder and the rain.
Break of Day in the Trenches, by Isaac Rosenberg
"Break of Day in the Trenches" by Isaac Rosenberg (read by Tom O'Bedlam)
The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet's poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver - - what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man's veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe - -
Just a little white with the dust.
Lights Out, by Edward Thomas
"Lights Out" by Edward Thomas
I have come to the borders of sleep,
The unfathomable deep
Forest where all must lose
Their way, however straight,
Or winding, soon or late;
They cannot choose.
Many a road and track
That, since the dawn's first crack,
Up to the forest brink,
Deceived the travellers,
Suddenly now blurs,
And in they sink.
Here love ends,
Despair, ambition ends;
All pleasure and all trouble,
Although most sweet or bitter,
Here ends in sleep that is sweeter
Than tasks most noble.
There is not any book
Or face of dearest look
That I would not turn from now
To go into the unknown
I must enter and leave, alone,
I know not how.
The tall forest towers;
Its cloudy foliage lowers
Ahead, shelf above shelf;
Its silence I hear and obey
That I may lose my way
Here dead we lie, by A. E. Housman
A. E. Housman "Here Dead We Lie" Poem animation WW1
Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.
Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.
June, 1915 by Charlotte Mew
SHARON MARSHALL reads May 1915 - Charlotte Mew
June, 1915 by Charlotte Mew
Who thinks of June's first rose today?
Only some child, perhaps, with shining eyes and
rough bright hair will reach it down.
In a green sunny lane, to us almost as far away
As are the fearless stars from these veiled lamps of town.
What's little June to a great broken world with eyes gone dim
From too much looking on the face of grief, the face of dread?
Or what's the broken world to June and him
Of the small eager hand, the shining eyes, the rough bright head?