World War One created a brilliant canon of poetry. Initially great optimism was often expressed in verse, but as the reality of industrial warfare soured the mood, poets became focused on the futility of the bloodshed born from their own horrible observations. Here are 103 lines of British poetry that reflect the futility of World War One.
The Lines of Poetry:
From Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen (1918)
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
From Break of Day in the Trenches by Isaac Rosenberg (1916)
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 dust
From Therefore is the Name of it called Babel by Osbert Sitwell (1916)
Deep sunk in sin, this tragic star
Sinks deeper still, and wages war
Against itself; strewn all the seas
With victims of a world disease
-And we are left to drink the lees
Of Babel’s direful prophecy
From Insensibility by Wilfred Owen (1917)
By choice they made themselves immune
To pity and whatever mourns in man
Before the last sea and the hapless stars;
Whatever mourns may leave these shores;
The eternal reciprocity of tears
From Casualty by Robert Nichols (1917)
Who were you? How did you come,
Looking so wanly upon me? I know –
And O, how immensely long I have known-
Those aching eyes, numb face, gradual gloom,
That depth without groan!
From Mental Cases by Wilfred Owen (1917)
-Thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous,
Awful flaseness of set-smiling corpses.
-thus their hands are plucking at each other;
Picking at the rope-knouts of their scourging;
Snatching after us who smote them, brother,
Pawing us who dealt them war and madness
From The Last Post by Robert Graves (1916)
Dead in a row with the other broken ones,
Lying so stiff and still under the sky,
Jolly young Fusiliers, too good to die.’
The music ceased, and the red sunset flare
Was blood about his head as he stood there
From The Death-Bed by Siegfried Sassoon (1916)
Light many lamps and gather round his bed.
Lend him your eyes, warm blood, and will to live.
Speak to him; rouse him; you may save him yet.
He’s young; he hated war; how should he die
When cruel old campaigners win safe through?
From For a War Memorial by G. K. Chesterton (1919)
Still to the last of crumbling time
Upon this stone be read
How many men of England died
to prove they were not dead.
From Dead Man’s Dump by Isaac Rosenberg (1917)
These dead strode time with vigorous life,
Till the shrapnel called ‘An End!’
But not to all. In bleeding pangs
Some borne on stretchers dreamed of home
Dear things, war-blotted from their hearts.
From Sergeant-Major Money by Robert Graves (1917)
His Old Army humouu rwas so well-spiced and hearty
That one poor sod shot himself and one lost his wits;
but discipline’s maintainted, and back in rest-billets
The Colonel congratulates ‘B’ company on their kits
From My Company by Herbert Read
Then again I assume
My human docility,
Bow my head
And share their doom.
From Exposure by Wilfred Owen
To-night, His frost will fasten on this mud and us,
Shrivelling many hands, 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.
From An Irish Airman Forsees His Death by W. B. Yeats (1918)
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
From When You See the Millions of Mouthless Dead by Charles Sorley (1915)
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Percieve one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death had made all his for evermore.
The General by Siegfried Sassoon (1917)
‘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.
From Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen (1917)
I am the enemy you killed my friend
I knew you in this dark : for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried ; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now . . .’
From A Terre by Wilfred Owen
Yet now… I’d willingly be puffy, bald,
And patriotic. Buffers catch from boys
At least the jokes hurled at them. I suppose
Little I’d ever teach a son, but hitting,
Shooting, war, hunting, all the arts of hurting.
Well, that’s what I learnt, – that and making money
From In the Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations’ by Thomas Hardy (1915)
Yonder a maid and her wight
Come wispering by:
War’s annals will fade into night
Ere their story to die.
From A Lament by Wilfred William Gibson
We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun, or feel the rain,
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly, and spent
Their all for us, loved, too, the sun and rain?