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First World War centenaryWith the centenary of the First World War being all over the place at the moment I have recently dug out my collection of books filled with First World War poetry and been reacquainting myself with it.
I have never had much of an interest in poetry to be honest, I suppose you you could say I never "got" it, but the only exception to that is First World War Poetry which I find equally moving, and insightful.
My favourite Poets are Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, because of their no holes barred tell it like it is delivery. It was Dulce et Decorum Est which first ignited the spark of interest in this genre of poetry.
I have posted some of my favourite poems on here before and I would like to post a couple more which have struck a cord with me.
by: Guillaume Apollinaire
Skyrocket burst of hardened steel
A charming light on this fair place
These technicians’ tricks appeal
Mixing with courage a little grace
Two star shells first
In rose pink burst
Two breasts you lay bare with a laugh
Offer their insolent tips
ONE WHO COULD LOVE
A poet in the forest sees
Indifferent able to cope
His revolver catch at safe
Roses dying of their hope
Thinks of Saadi’s roses then
Bows his head draws down his lip
As a rose reminds him of
The softer curving of a hip
The air is full of a terrible
Liquor from half shut stars distilled
Projectiles stroke the soft nocturnal
Perfume with your image filled
Where the roses all are killed
The Stretcher Bearer
by: Tommy Crawford
My stretcher is one scarlet stain,
And as I tries to scrape it clean,
I tell you what – I’m sick of pain,
For all I’ve heard, for all I’ve seen;
Around me is the hellish night,
And as the war’s red rim I trace,
I wonder if in Heaven’s height
Our God don’t turn away his face.
I don’t care whose the crime may be,
I hold no brief for kin or clan;
I feel no hate, I only see
As man destroys his brother man;
I wave no flag, I only know
As here beside the dead I wait,
A million hearts are weighed with woe,
A million homes are desolate.
In dripping darkness far and near,
All night I’ve sought those woeful ones.
Dawn suddens up and still I hear
The crimson chorus of the guns.
Look, like a ball of blood the sun
Hangs o’er the scene of wrath and wrong,
“Quick! Stretcher-bearers on the run!”,
Oh Prince of Peace! How long, how long?”
by E A Mackintosh
'Lads, you're wanted, go and help,'
On the railway carriage wall
Stuck the poster, and I thought
Of the hands that penned the call.
Fat civilians wishing they
'Could go out and fight the Hun.'
Can't you see them thanking God
That they're over forty-one?
Girls with feathers, vulgar songs -
"Washy verse on England's need -
God - and don't we damned well know
How the message ought to read.
'Lads, you're wanted! over there,'
Shiver in the morning dew,
More poor devils like yourselves
Waiting to be killed by you.
Go and help to swell the names
In the casualty lists.
Help to make a column's stuff
For the blasted journalists.
Help to keep them nice and safe
From the wicked German foe.
Don't let him come over here!
'Lads, you're wanted - out you go.'
There's a better word than that,
Lads, and can't you hear it come
From a million men that call
You to share their martyrdom.
Leave the harlots still to sing
Comic songs about the Hun,
Leave the fat old men to say
Now we've got them on the run.
Better twenty honest years
Than their dull three score and ten.
Lads, you're wanted. Come and learn
To live and die with honest men.
You shall learn what men can do
If you will but pay the price,
Learn the gaiety and strength
In the gallant sacrifice.
Take your risk of life and death
Underneath the open sky.
Live clean or go out quick -
Lads, you're wanted. Come and die.
by E A Mackintosh
So you were David’s father,
And he was your only son,
And the new-cut peats are rotting
And the work is left undone,
Because of an old man weeping,
Just an old man in pain,
For David, his son David,
That will not come again.
Oh, the letters he wrote you,
And I can see them still,
Not a word of the fighting,
But just the sheep on the hill
And how you should get the crops in
Ere the year get stormier,
And the Bosches have got his body,
And I was his officer.
You were only David’s father,
But I had fifty sons
When we went up in the evening
Under the arch of the guns,
And we came back at twilight -
O God! I heard them call
To me for help and pity
That could not help at all.
Oh, never will I forget you,
My men that trusted me,
More my sons than your fathers’,
For they could only see
The little helpless babies
And the young men in their pride.
They could not see you dying,
And hold you while you died.
Happy and young and gallant,
They saw their first-born go,
But not the strong limbs broken
And the beautiful men brought low,
The piteous writhing bodies,
They screamed “Don’t leave me, sir”,
For they were only your fathers
But I was your officer.
The Death Bed
by Siegfried Sassoon
He drowsed and was aware of silence heaped
Round him, unshaken as the steadfast walls;
Aqueous like floating rays of amber light,
Soaring and quivering in the wings of sleep.
Silence and safety; and his mortal shore
Lipped by the inward, moonless waves of death.
Someone was holding water to his mouth.
He swallowed, unresisting; moaned and dropped
Through crimson gloom to darkness; and forgot
The opiate throb and ache that was his wound.
Water—calm, sliding green above the weir.
Water—a sky-lit alley for his boat,
Bird- voiced, and bordered with reflected flowers
And shaken hues of summer; drifting down,
He dipped contented oars, and sighed, and slept.
Night, with a gust of wind, was in the ward,
Blowing the curtain to a glimmering curve.
Night. He was blind; he could not see the stars
Glinting among the wraiths of wandering cloud;
Queer blots of colour, purple, scarlet, green,
Flickered and faded in his drowning eyes.
Rain—he could hear it rustling through the dark;
Fragrance and passionless music woven as one;
Warm rain on drooping roses; pattering showers
That soak the woods; not the harsh rain that sweeps
Behind the thunder, but a trickling peace,
Gently and slowly washing life away.
He stirred, shifting his body; then the pain
Leapt like a prowling beast, and gripped and tore
His groping dreams with grinding claws and fangs.
But someone was beside him; soon he lay
Shuddering because that evil thing had passed.
And death, who'd stepped toward him, paused and stared.
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?
But death replied: 'I choose him.' So he went,
And there was silence in the summer night;
Silence and safety; and the veils of sleep.
Then, far away, the thudding of the guns.
Suicide in the Trenches
by Siegfried Sassoon
I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
So far I have just read that last Sassoon poet, Apple. I have just finished reading 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow, and several times Adam Zamoyski mentions men committing suicide when they couldn't go on any more. It has been very gruelling reading.