Author Topic: Poetry of World War I  (Read 50038 times)

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Offline Kurt Steiner

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #15 on: December 01, 2007, 10:21:56 AM »
Some poetry before commenting some interesting points I've missed till now, shame on me.

The March-Past by Siegfried Sassoon

'In red and gold the Corps-Commander stood,
With ribboned breast puffed out for all to see:
He'd sworn to beat the Germans if he could;
For God had taught him strength and strategy.
He was our leader, and a judge of port -
Rode well to hounds, and was a damned good sort.

"Eyes right!" We passed him with a jaunty stare.
"Eyes front!" He'd watched his trusted legions go
I wonder if he guessed how many there
Would get knocked out of time in next week's show.
"Eyes right!" The corpse-commander was a Mute
And Death leered round him, taking our salute.

Siegfried Loraine Sassoon, CBE MC (8 September 1886 – 1 September 1967) sp was one of the first to enlist in August 1914, later being commissioned in 1915 into the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He was described as  "an exceptionally courageous regimental officer" (Giddings 185), "an exceptionally brave officer", "an extremely brave and able officer, nicknamed 'Mad Jack' by his men". On one occasion, he single-handedly captured a German trench, only to then plop down and pull out a book of poetry from his pocket. On April 16th, 1917, Sassoon was wounded and shipped home to recuperate.

There, goaded by Bertrand Russell and others, Sassoon's disillusionment over the war (his brother Hamo had been killed at Gallipoli in 1915) solidified into his famous protest statement against the continuation of the war, which was eventually read before the House of Commons on July 30th, and published in The Times the next day. Sassoon then politely went A.W.O.L. (declining to report for further duty), threw his M.C. (Military Cross) ribbon into the River Mersey, and waited for martyrdom. Alàs! the Army hesitated to punish such a public hero as Sassoon and so a way was found, with the help of Graves who came to Sassoon's rescue, of reasoning that Sassoon's reaction was merely shell-shock, and for sending him to Craiglockhart Hospital for a "rest." There he met Wilfred Owen.  At Craiglockhart, Sassoon wrote most of the poems that would later make up his Counter-Attack and Other Poems (1918).

However, Sassoon knew he couldn't stay at Craiglockhart while his men were still in the trenches. If his protest couldn't help the fighting men, then his place was back with them. Sassoon went before a medical board and convinced them that he was quite "cured" and ready to return to the Front. Back in the line, in July of 1918, Sassoon was shot in the head by one of his own sergeants (who thought him a German) and invalided home.

Sassoon's war poetry is often satirical, leading up to and ending with a "knock-out punch" last line, but he was also able to express that same understanding of and "pity" for the plight of soldiers that Owen is famous for. He became horrified by the realities of war, and the tone of his writing changed completely: where his pre-war poems exhibit a Romantic dilettantish sweetness, his war poetry are unpleasant, disgusting to some readers. That's the purpose of Sasson, who intended to convey the ugly truths of the trenches to an audience hitherto lulled by patriotic propaganda. Details such as rotting corpses, mangled limbs, filth, cowardice and suicide are all trademarks of his work at this time, in order to fully convey the meaning of what war really meant. In addition, Sassoon was a survivor, who, while working out his own readjustment, carried the responsibility of remembrance, as he does in his poem "Aftermath".

Sassoon brought out two volumes of poetry during the war: The Old Huntsman (1917), and Counter-Attack (1918). Sassoon's satiric poetry influenced, among others, Wilfred Owen and Edmund Blunden. After the war Sassoon wrote of his pre-war, wartime, and post-war experiences in his thinly-fictionalized Memoirs of A Fox-Hunting Man; Memoirs of An Infantry Officer; and Sherston's Progress, a trilogy later collectively titled The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston. Later, Sassoon published three more volumes of autobiography, The Old Century (and Seven More Years); The Weald of Youth; and Siegfried's Journey.

Offline Greenowl

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #16 on: December 01, 2007, 12:37:07 PM »
Thanks Kurt Steiner, I have really enjoyed all of your excellent contributions. It is a real pleasure to read your posts, thus hopefully there will be MORE.

I must admit that I admire Sassoon's satirical war poetry, which first came to my attention when I was at school, over 30 years ago. Strangely enough, there is one poem of his, namely "Base Details", which I have not seen nor read since my school days, but as it made such an impression on me then I can still quote it (almost word for word...I wonder if I have forgotten anything?):

Base Details

If I were fat and bald and short of breath
I'd live with scarlet majors at the base and speed glum heroes up the lines to death.
You'd see me with my puffy, petulant face, guzzling and gulping in the best hotels.
I'd read the roll of honour: 'poor young chap, I knew his father well'.
And when the war is done and youth stone dead
I'll toddle safely home and die in bed.

Offline Kurt Steiner

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #17 on: December 01, 2007, 05:23:32 PM »
Thanks Kurt Steiner, I have really enjoyed all of your excellent contributions. It is a real pleasure to read your posts, thus hopefully there will be MORE.

Having such a wonderful readers like you, how could I even dare of not keeping posting! It would be a mortal sin!

So, for you, more of that Jazz... er... Sassoon  ;)

The Redeemer

      Darkness: the rain sluiced down; the mire was deep;
      It was past twelve on a mid-winter night,
      When peaceful folk in beds lay snug asleep;
      There, with much work to do before the light,
      We lugged our clay-sucked boots as best we might
      Along the trench; sometimes a bullet sang,
      And droning shells burst with a hollow bang;
      We were soaked, chilled and wretched, every one;
      Darkness; the distant wink of a huge gun.

      I turned in the black ditch, loathing the storm;
      A rocket fizzed and burned with blanching flare,
      And lit the face of what had been a form
      Floundering in mirk. He stood before me there;
      I say that He was Christ; stiff in the glare,
      And leaning forward from His burdening task,
      Both arms supporting it; His eyes on mine
      Stared from the woeful head that seemed a mask
      Of mortal pain in Hell's unholy shine.

      No thorny crown, only a woollen cap
      He wore-an English soldier, white and strong,
      Who loved his time like any simple chap,
      Good days of work and sport and homely song;
      Now he has learned that nights are very long,
      And dawn a watching of the windowed sky.
      But to the end, unjudging, he'll endure
      Horror and pain, not uncontent to die

      That Lancaster on Lune may stand secure.
      He faced me, reeling in his weariness,
      Shouldering his load of planks, so hard to bear.
      I say that He was Christ, who wrought to bless
      All groping things with freedom bright as air,
      And with His mercy washed and made them fair.
      Then the flame sank, and all grew black as pitch,
      While we began to struggle along the ditch;
      And someone flung his burden in the muck,
      Mumbling: 'O Christ Almighty, now I'm stuck!'

Offline Kurt Steiner

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #18 on: December 02, 2007, 05:41:09 AM »
The Silent One by Ivor Gurney

Who died on the wires, and hung there, one of two —
Who for his hours of life had chattered through
Infinite lovely chatter of Bucks accent:
Yet faced unbroken wires; stepped over, and went
A noble fool, faithful to his stripes — and ended.
But I weak, hungry, and willing only for the chance
Of line — to fight in the line, lay down under unbroken
Wires, and saw the flashes and kept unshaken,
Till the politest voice — a finicking accent, said:
‘Do you think you might crawl through there: there's a hole.'
Darkness, shot at: I smiled, as politely replied —
‘I'm afraid not, Sir.' There was no hole no way to be seen
Nothing but chance of death, after tearing of clothes.
Kept flat, and watched the darkness, hearing bullets whizzing —-
And thought of music — and swore deep heart's oaths
(Polite to God) and retreated and came on again,
Again retreated — a second time faced the screen.

Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) began composing music at the age of 14 and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London in 1911.  His studies were interrupted by WW I in which he served as a private.  He spent 16 months at the Front where he was wounded in April 1917 and gassed in September of the same year.  During the time he spent in France, his poetic gift revealed itself and his first book of poems, Severn and Somme, was published in the autumn of 1917.  After his discharge from the Army, he returned to London to resume his music studies.  His second book of poems, War’s Embers, was published in 1919. 

Gurney suffered from bipolar disorder, which showed symptoms during his mid-teens and led to his first documented breakdown in 1913, followed by a major breakdown in the spring of 1918 while he was still in uniform. He was never shell-shocked nor did he suffer from schizophrenia, the label often used to describe his illness. The 1918 breakdown was triggered by the failure of his relationship with Annie Nelson Drummond whom he met when he was a patient at the Edinburgh War Hospital. The notion of Gurney as a shell-shock victim owes its existence to Marion Scott. Both Gurney and Scott knew he had not suffered shell shock, but, as Scott could not put a name to what was happening to him - no one could - and war seemed to provide an explanation for the unexplainable. However, it was not so easy, as every attempt Scott made to get Gurney into facilities for shell shock victims met with denial. Army doctors saw a deeper, more entrenched problem at the root of his trouble than shell shock: they found him suffering from "Manic Depressive Psychosis". To have suffered because of war is more poignant and more heroic than to have suffered because one is ill, it seems, so She used the notion of Gurney as a victim of shell shock to what she believed would be his advantage. It was Scott wrote the initial press releases after Gurney's death and subsequent articles suggesting that his illness was connected with the war. As a result that label had stuck to his name even though it is false.

Gurney was  one of the most promising men of his generation, both in music and poetry. However, in 1922, the manic depressive illness that had plagued him from early adulthood prompted his family to have him declared insane.  He was institutionalized for the last 15 years of his life, and died on December 26, 1937 at the City of London Mental Hospital.  He wrote hundreds of poems and more than 300 songs as well as instrumental music. He set only a handful of his own poems, the best known being Severn Meadows.

Offline imperial angel

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #19 on: December 02, 2007, 01:36:19 PM »
Thanks for introducing me to all these poets that I hadn't heard of before- you know more than me, I have learned so much. My favorite, and the most poignant of the war poets are those who died in the war, and who wrote poems that seem to indicate a premonition, or perhaps just a accepting of the possible fate that so many in war meet, that they too might find. But, Ivor Gurney's story is sad too, although he didn't die in the war- thanks especially for that story, I enjoyed reading it. I have always liked the poetry of A. E. Housman, although it isn't about World War I being written in the late 19th century most of it ( The Shropshire Lad), but it talks about dying in war, and things like that- it is almost predicting World War I, and the moods it inspired in poetry. Although not about the war, and although the author was not young at the time of the war, and thus didn't fight in it, it seems to have some relevance, so I will try to post some of it. Kurt Steiner, are you familiar with the poetry of Housman that I refer to, or his poetry in general? It isn't World War I poetry, but it is about many of the same things.

Offline imperial angel

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #20 on: December 02, 2007, 04:00:18 PM »
Here are some Housman poems that seem to relate in subject to World War I, although he didn't fight in it, and these were written in the late 19th century, I believe.


On the Idle Hill of Summer

On the idle hill of summer,
Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
Drumming like a noise in dreams.

Far and near and low and louder
On the roads of earth go by,
Dear to friends and food for powder,
Soldiers marching, all to die.

East and west on fields forgotten
Bleach the bones of comrades slain
Lovely lads and dead and rotten
None that go return again.

Far the calling bugles hollo,
High the screaming fife replies,
Gay the files of scarlet follow:
Woman bore me, I will rise.
published 1896

Also:

Here Dead We Lie

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.

=========
Next is this one-

Oh stay at home, my lad, and plough
The land and not the sea,
And leave the soldiers at their drill,
And all about the idle hill
Shepherd your sheep with me.

Oh stay with company and mirth
And daylight and the air;
Too full already is the grave
Of fellows that were good and brave
And died because they were
=================
I will post some more, but that is a begining. He seems rather against war, or at least aware of the futility of such in this poetry. His philisophy seemed to be that as an earlier poster said, the only winner in war is death. That is a sentiment that seems true to me as well, especially in light of such wars as World War I, which in my opinion, didn't need to be fought. World War II did though, I think. I guess I am a pacifist, but war does sometimes make great literature, as is the case with World War I. On another note, the US didn't enter the war until later, but the war certaonly took many of this country too, as well as the British, which pretty much all of these poets are. Another one of my hobbies is wandering cemeteries, and taking pictures of interesting monuments/tombstones, etc, and there are so many monuments to World War I soldiers that have their picture in their uniform, and their dates of death, which interestingly enough ( I'm from the US) often have the date of death as sometime in 1918, the year of the armistice, indeed one I saw died like ten days before the armistice- a life perhaps almost saved, how sad. It seemed to be a trend to me that many died in 1918, the last year of the war, which makes it all the sadder about their deaths, and it is an interesting trend.

Offline Kurt Steiner

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #21 on: December 02, 2007, 04:02:58 PM »
Thanks for introducing me to all these poets that I hadn't heard of before- you know more than me, I have learned so much. My favorite, and the most poignant of the war poets are those who died in the war, and who wrote poems that seem to indicate a premonition, or perhaps just a accepting of the possible fate that so many in war meet, that they too might find. But, Ivor Gurney's story is sad too, although he didn't die in the war- thanks especially for that story, I enjoyed reading it. I have always liked the poetry of A. E. Housman, although it isn't about World War I being written in the late 19th century most of it ( The Shropshire Lad), but it talks about dying in war, and things like that- it is almost predicting World War I, and the moods it inspired in poetry. Although not about the war, and although the author was not young at the time of the war, and thus didn't fight in it, it seems to have some relevance, so I will try to post some of it. Kurt Steiner, are you familiar with the poetry of Housman that I refer to, or his poetry in general? It isn't World War I poetry, but it is about many of the same things.

I'ts m pleasure, Imperial Angel. Information not shared is information lost, you know. I'm not familiar with Housman, although I've read a bit of his work. I know jsut a bit about him, when he's included in areas of my interest (for instance, WW1 or the poem he wrote about social injustice, 'Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?', written after the trial of Oscar Wilde). Ivor Gurney, by the way, was deeply influenced by Housman's poetry.

So, it's time to quote a poem by him, related to the Great War.

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling,
And took their wages, and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.


In that time, mercenaries had a different meaning. Actually, many words and many meanings were changed by the War. Perhaps some day we may talk about it, how it changed the English and the Russian language, to compare them. Who knows, perhaps this is the beginning of a new and interesting thread. Time will tell...

Offline Kurt Steiner

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #22 on: December 02, 2007, 04:07:34 PM »
It seemed to be a trend to me that many died in 1918, the last year of the war, which makes it all the sadder about their deaths, and it is an interesting trend.

You're so right! My favourite WW1 poet, Wilfred Owen, was killed in action on November 4, 1918, just a week before the Great War ended. A week! As Professor Stallworthy comments on his biography about him, his mother received the telegram informing her of his death on Armistice Day. As she was reading it, the church bells were ringing out in celebration. Madness, indeed.

I love 'Here Dead We Lie'. It reminds me, dunno why, of a catchy sentence that the British soldiers used to repeat as a joke while in the trenches:

We are here cause we are here cause we are here...

Or 'Gheluvelt', also called 'the Epitaph on the Worcesters' by Robert Bridges (1)

Askest thou of these graves? They tell thee, O stranger, in England
How we Worcesters lie where we redeem'd the battle

Or 'The Epitah: Neuve Chappelle' by H. W. Garrod.

Tell them at home, there's nomthing here to hide,
We took our orders, asked no questions, died.

(1) It refers to a dramatic moment of the beginning of the Great War: On October 31st 1914, the 2nd Worcestershire was almost the last available reserve of the British defence. Nearly every other unit had been drawn into the battle line or had been broken beyond recovery. Furthermore, the Battalion could muster no more than 500 men. Ten days of battle had reduced it to a shadow of itself. The soldiers were haggard, unshaven and unwashed, without theeir puttees or their caps, but their weapons were clean and in good order, they had plenty of ammunition and endless confidence in their fighting power. They were still a fighting Battalion, officers and men bound together by that proud and willing discipline which is the soul of the Regiment.

That day the German army attacked vigorously, in overwhelming numbers against the remnants of five British battalions, mustering barely a thousand men, which were holding the trenches about the Menin Road (13 German battalions took part in this attack, of which six were fresh and at full strength). Before midday, weight of numbers had told. Many British units had fought to the last and were overwhelmed. The village of Gheluvelt had been lost and a great gap had been broken in the British line. Unless that gap could be closed, the British Army was doomed to disaster. So serious was the situation caused by the loss of Gheluvelt that orders were issued for the Artillery to move back, in preparation for a general retreat. At the same time, it was decided that the 2nd Worcestershire should make a counter-attack against the lost position.

There the 2nd Worcestershire went to regain the lost positions around Gheluvelt. Bayonets were fixed and the Battalion led by Major Hankey moved off in file under cover of the trees to the southwest corner of Polygon Wood. The  ground was dotted with wounded and stragglers coming back from the front. In every direction German shells were bursting with a hellish sound. British batteries could be seen limbering up and moving to the rear. Everywhere there were signs of retreat. Just the Worcestershire alone were moving forward, towards the enemy, just three companies tramped grimly forward. The field was littered with dead and wounded and the enemy's shells were bursting in rapid succession. Major Hankey decided that the only way of crossing that deadly stretch of ground was by one long rush.

The companies extended into line and advanced into a steady double and swept forward across the open with fixed bayonets, the officers leading on in front. A storm of shells rained down and high explosive shells crashed into the charging line. Men fell at every pace; over a hundred of the Battalion were killed or wounded during that critical advance but the rest dashed on. The speed of the rush increased as the troops came in sight of Gheluvelt Chateau close in front. The platoons scrambled across the light railway; through some hedges and wire fences and then in the grounds of the Chateau they closed with the enemy. Shooting and stabbing they charged across the lawn and came up into line with the gallant remnants of the defenders, the South Wales Borderers, which had held their ground at the Chateau and were still stubbornly fighting although almost surrounded, their resistance having delayed  the German advance. The meeting of the two Battalions was unexpected, as the 2nd Worcestershire had not known that any of the South Wales Borderers had been holding on. With the reinforcements, the German units were hunted out of the hedges and across the open fields beyond the Chateau. But the village of Gheluvelt, on the slope above the right flank, was still in enemy hands. From there the Germans opened fire on the sunken road. It soon became clear that the position would be unsafe until the village was secured and "A" Company were ordered to advance from their defensive position and occupy the village. After some sharp fighting the enemy's main force had been driven out and the peril of a collapse of the British defence about the Menin Road had been averted.

That day in Gheluvelt, the 2nd Worcestershire saved the day and the Empire, according to Sir John French, C-i-C of the BEF.
« Last Edit: December 02, 2007, 04:27:09 PM by Kurt Steiner »

Offline imperial angel

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #23 on: December 02, 2007, 04:14:48 PM »
Thanks for that! Here is another of his poems:

Wake not for the world- heard thunder,
Nor the chimes that earthquakes toll;
Stars may plot in heaven with planet,
Lightning rive the rock of granite,
Tempest tread the oakwood under,
Fear not for your flesh or soul;
Marching, fighting, victory past,
Stretch your limbs in peace at last.

Stir not for the soldiers drilling,
Nor the fever nothing cures;
Throb of drum and timbal's rattle
Call but men alive to battle,
And the fife with death notes filling
Screams for blood- but not for yours.
Times enough you bled your best;
Sleep on now, and take your rest.

Sleep, my lad; the French have landed,
London's burning, Windsor's down
Clasp your cloak of earth about you;
We must man the ditch without you,
March unled, and fight short-handed,
Charge to fall and swim to drown.
Duty, friendship. bravery o'er,
Sleep away, lad. wake no more.

These obviously aren't about World I, but the sentiments that Housman wrote in the late 19th century would come to fruition a generation or thereabouts later. Many of the young men who would die in the war were born in the 1890s, the decade that Housman's book of poetry the Shropshire Lad was published, which is interesting. Housman himself was born in 1860, died in 1936.

Offline imperial angel

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #24 on: December 02, 2007, 04:17:07 PM »
Thanks for sharing the story about Wilfred Owen. His name rings a bell with me, but I am not extremely familiar with him.

Offline Kurt Steiner

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #25 on: December 02, 2007, 04:30:31 PM »
Again, Imperial Angel, my pleasure.

Since I came here I've learnt a lot about Russia and the Imperial Family. So, if I can return a bit of all the information I've learnt since then with this humble posts, I'll be happy. Thank you too.

There is plenty of time, you'll read more about Wilfred Owen, in due time  ;).

Offline imperial angel

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #26 on: December 02, 2007, 04:34:07 PM »
I love this thread because it combines my twin passions of  history and literature. I deeply love both, and finding a combination thereof is heaven, it isn't the way the original poster intended, but I am glad I steered this thread in this direction, and that other people out there know more than I do! It is good to learn new things, and thanks to everyone who helped continue, or helps continue, the direction of this thread. It proves how deeply history and literature do relate.

Offline Mari

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #27 on: December 03, 2007, 03:15:34 AM »
I would like to add to our discussion  the work of Alexandr BLOK. The greatest of Russia's Symbolist poets, Aleksandr Blok, was born in St. Petersburg in 1880. He spent his childhood with his grandfather on his country estate of Shakhmatovo, near Moscow. Blok began writing poetry in earnest at age 17. His major early influences were the early 19th-century Romantic poetry of Aleksandr Pushkin and the apocalyptic mysticism of Vladimir Solovyov (1853–1900). In 1916 Blok was conscripted into the army and served behind the front lines in civil defense work near Pinsk. In 1917-18 he worked for the provisional government in a commission interrogating Czarist ministers, whose findings he later published under the title  "The Last Days of Imperial Power."
after 1918 Blok worked on government editorial and theatrical commissions. In 1919 he was arrested and nearly executed for alleged counter-revolutionary activities. From 1918 to 1921 he translated books for Gor'kii's publishing house Vsemirnaja Literatura. In 1919-21 he was chairman of the Bolshoi Theatre and the head of the Petrograd branch of the All-Russian Union of Poets in 1920-21. By this time Blok's mental and physical health was in decline. He died in Petrograd of heart failure brought on by malnutrition, on August 7, 1921.
Quote
Titled "The Twelve"
XII
... On they march with sovereign tread...
‘Who else goes there? Come out! I said
come out!’ It is the wind and the red
flag plunging gaily at their head.

The frozen snow-drift looms in front.
‘Who’s in the drift! Come out! Come here!’
There’s only the homeless mongrel runt
limping wretchedly in the rear ...

‘You mangy beast, out of the way
before you taste my bayonet.
Old mongrel world, clear off I say!
I’ll have your hide to sole my boot!

The shivering cur, the mongrel cur
bares his teeth like a hungry wolf,
droops his tail, but does not stir ...
‘Hey answer, you there, show yourself.’

‘Who’s that waving the red flag?’
‘Try and see! It’s as dark as the tomb!’
‘Who’s that moving at a jog
trot, keeping to the back-street gloom?’

‘Don’t you worry ~ I’ll catch you yet;
better surrender to me alive!’
‘Come out, comrade, or you’ll regret
it ~ we’ll fire when I’ve counted five!’

Crack ~ crack ~ crack! But only the echo
answers from among the eaves ...
The blizzard splits his seams, the snow
laughs wildly up the wirlwind’s sleeve ...

Crack ~ crack ~ crack!
Crack ~ crack ~ crack!
... So they march with sovereign tread ...
Behind them limps the hungry dog,
and wrapped in wild snow at their head
carrying a blood-red flag ~
soft-footed where the blizzard swirls,
invulnerable where bullets crossed ~
crowned with a crown of snowflake pearls,
a flowery diadem of frost,
ahead of them goes Jesus Christ.
Jan 1918

Offline Kurt Steiner

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #28 on: December 03, 2007, 04:37:27 AM »
Impressive poem, indeed. Thanks for sharing it with us, Mary!  There is so much still to learn...

Exposure by Wilfred Owen

Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knife us...
Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent...
Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient...
Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,
             But nothing happens.

Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire.
Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.
Northward incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,
Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.
             What are we doing here?

The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow...
We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.
Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army
Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of gray,
             But nothing happens.

Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.
Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow,
With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause and renew,
We watch them wandering up and down the wind's nonchalance,
             But nothing happens.

Pale flakes with lingering stealth come feeling for our faces -
We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,
Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,
Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.
             Is it that we are dying?

Slowly our ghosts drag home: glimpsing the sunk fires glozed
With crusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there;
For hours the innocent mice rejoice: the house is theirs;
Shutters and doors all closed: on us the doors are closed -
             We turn back to our dying.

Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;
Now ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.
For God's invincible spring our love is made afraid;
Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,
             For love of God seems dying.

To-night, His frost will fasten on this mud and us,
Shrivelling many hands and puckering foreheads crisp.
The burying-party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp,
Pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice,
             But nothing happens.



Offline Kurt Steiner

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Re: Poetry of World War I
« Reply #29 on: December 03, 2007, 04:37:58 AM »
A bit of info about Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen (March 18, 1893 – November 4, 1918) was the eldest of four children of a family with of mixed English and Welsh ancestry. He was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and at Shrewsbury Technical School. His early influences included John Keats and the Bible. Shortly after leaving school in 1911, Owen passed the matriculation exam for the University of London. Prior to the outbreak of WW I, he worked as a private tutor teaching English and French at the Berlitz School of Languages in Bordeaux, France.

On 21 October 1915, he enlisted. In January 1917 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant with the Manchester Regiment. Owen started the war as a cheerful and optimistic man, as we can see in his letters to his mother, but he soon changed forever. After traumatic experiences, which included leading his platoon into battle and getting trapped for three days in a shell-hole side by side with the corpse of a fellow officer,  Owen was diagnosed as suffering from shell shock and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment. It there hwn he met Sassoon, an encounter which was to transform Owen's life.

After a period of convalescence in Scotland, he returned to light regimental duties. During this time he wrote a number of poems, including "Futility" and "Strange Meeting". In July 1918, Owen returned to active service in France, although he might have stayed on home-duty indefinitely. His decision was almost wholly the result of Sassoon's being put on sick-leave for the remaining of the war. Owen, it is said, saw it as his patriotic duty to take Sassoon's place at the front, to told the horrific realities of the war. Sassoon was violently opposed to the idea of Owen returning to the trenches, thus Owen did not inform him of this until he was in France. After returning to the front, Owen led his unit on 1 October 1918 to storm a number of enemy strongpoints near the village of Joncourt. Owen was killed in action on 4 November during the crossing of the Sambre-Oise Canal, exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice. His mother was informed  of his death on Armistice Day, as the church bells were ringing out in celebration. For his courage and leadership at Joncourt, he was posthumously awarded the Military Cross.

Sassoon had a profound effect on Owen's poetic voice, and Owen's most famous poems (Dulce et Decorum Est and Anthem for Doomed Youth) show direct results of Sassoon's influence. Owen's poetry would eventually be more widely acclaimed than that of his mentor, ironically -perhaps this would have ashamed Owen, as he worshipped Sassoon-. While his use of pararhyme, with its heavy reliance on consonance, was both innovative and brilliant, he was not the only poet at the time to utilize these techniques. He was, however, one of the first to experiment with it extensively. As for his poetry itself, it underwent significant changes in 1917. As a part of his therapy at Craiglockhart, Owen was encouraged to translate his experiences into poetry. Sassoon, who was becoming influenced by Freud, aided him here. Sassoon's use of satire influenced Owen, who tried his hand at writing "in Sassoon's style". Further, the content of Owen's verse was undeniably changed by his work with Sassoon. Sassoon's emphasis on realism and 'writing from experience' was not exactly unheard of to Owen, but he had not previously made use of it-- his earlier body of work consists primarily of light-hearted sonnets.

It would be after his death that his work was going to be widely know by the public, when a new anthology in 1931 was published  by Edmund Blunden. That ensured his popularity, coupled with a revival of interest in his poetry in the 1960s. Though he had plans for a volume of verse, for which he had written a "Preface," few realize that he never saw his own work published, apart from those poems he included in The Hydra, a literary magazine he edited at the Craiglockhart War Hospital.