Welcome to Poetry Friday.
During my time in residence last week, I had a request to focus on war poets for one of my sessions. Because Stanley, in my book 1915, writes poetry, the teacher felt I might have some insight into the war poets and their work.
This got me thinking about war poetry and the people who wrote (and still write) it.
Often when we use the term War Poets, we are referring specifically to the poets who wrote during and about the first world war. In fact, writing about war has a longer history than that, with poems about experiences of war being written throughout history and still being written today. Still, since world war one was a time where a great body of such poetry was produced and published, and since looking at one era can help shine light on others, focussing on world war one poetry is useful.
The war poets of that time came from a range of backgrounds, and also served a range of roles in the war. Though many were soldiers, others were civilians, or journalists. Many, but not all, were male.
The poems they wrote also varied, from upbeat and inspirational, to poems of loss, of indignation, of despair.
And, of course, the war poems we study and read today are only a portion of what was written, because unless they were published, or kept by family members, many would have been lost in the century that has passed.
So why did these poets write about war? Probably for a range of reasons, but I think that a major reason was as a means of coping. When you are faced with great adversity, great turmoil, confusion, emotion, you need an outlet. Some will vent to their loved ones. Some will pray. Some will write diaries. Some may try to escape through reading. And some will turn to the arts, and create.
The war poets wrote about their own experiences, or the experiences of their friends, their family. Some, particularly in the early days of the war, wrote with patriotism and fervour. Others, especially as the war progressed, and in the years that followed, wrote of their despair.
Some of the poets created before the war, others took it up during and after the war. Some may have written just one or two poems, others wrote volumes.
Who were the war poets? People like you and me, who picked up a pencil and a piece of paper and wrote poetry about their experiences of the time. Why is their poetry still relevant? Because it is a powerful way to connect with the reactions of people of the time to the events of the time.
One of my favourite war poems, is nice and short, and powerful because of this brevity. It is Siegfried Sassoon’s The General:
“Good-morning, good-morning!” the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
“He’s a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.
Not a cheery topic this poetry Friday, but I guess an important one. And, though it’s sad and serious, I think War Poetry works because it makes us feel.
The Poetry Friday round up this week is at Carol’s Corner.