War Poems thread - please come in and comment!

Discussions on every day life in the Weimar Republic, pre-anschluss Austria, Third Reich and the occupied territories. Hosted by Vikki.
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Post by walterkaschner » 27 Aug 2004 06:56

Here are two more short ones by Edward Thomas. He was 37 when he enlisted in 1915 - married and with two children. He was killed the day after Easter, 1917.

The Cherry Trees

The cherry trees bend over and are shedding,
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed.

In Memoriam (Easter, 1915)

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.

Why is it that WWI evoked such a wealth of brilliant poetry, and WWII so little? Any thoughts? - or am I just wrong?

Regards, Kaschner

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Post by Klaus Yurk » 03 Sep 2004 05:37

Hi, Walter.

Nice to hear from you again. How's things in Texas?

Seems not too many people besides us are interested in poetry. As to your question about poetry in the world wars, I would guess that it was probably because of the bitter feelings that WWII engendered. As you see on occasion on this site, there are still lots of people who regard any and all German soldiers, right down to the grunts, as evil incarnate. I don't think people write poetry when they think they are fighting "evil."

Or, perhaps it has to do with the advent of the concept of "total war." There seems to be something noble and gracious about poetry. Yet war is no longer gracious or chivalrous(was it ever?) Do people write poetry when they know that both they and the enemy are bombing women and children?

I don't know the answer. But you are right the WWI produced much better poetry.

All the best.


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Post by Lord Gort » 21 Sep 2004 14:26

I wonder if anyone knows of any ancient war poems or epigrams, epithets etc?


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Post by Vikki » 26 Sep 2004 03:21


How about the Latin poem that Wilfred Owen borrowed both the line and title from, for his poem Dulce Et Decorum Est ?

It is, as Owen's use of it suggests, a call to hardness and valor in warfare---"Virtue"---for Roman youth. Owen apparently knew his Latin; perhaps the “My friend” is the Roman poet Horace himself? The opening lines of Horace's poem are eerily prescient of the Third Reich's call to German youth ("tough as leather, hard as Krupp steel....."), and Owen's words
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie…
fairly ring against them:

Angustam amice pauperiem pati
robustus acri militia puer
condiscat et Parthos ferocis
vexet eques metuendus hasta

vitamque sub divo et trepidis agat
in rebus. illum ex moenibus hosticis
matrona bellantis tyranni
prospiciens et adulta virgo

suspiret eheu ne rudis agminum
sponsus lacessat regius asperum
tactu leonem quem cruenta
per medias rapit ira caedes

dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
mors et fugacem persequitur virum
nec parcit inbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidoque tergo

Virtus, repulsae nescia sordidae
intaminatis fulget honoribus
nec sumit aut ponit securis
arbitrio popularis aurae

Virtus, recludens inmeritis mori
caelum, negata temptat iter via
coetusque volgaris et udam
spernit humum fugiente penna

est et fideli tuta silentio
merces: vetabo qui Cereris sacrum
volgarit arcanae, sub isdem
sit trabibus fragilemqum mecum

solvat phaselon saepe Diespiter
neglectus incesto addidit integrum,
raro antecedentem scelestum
deseruit pede Poena claudo

~Horace's Odes III.ii.13

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Post by Andy H » 28 Sep 2004 16:46

By future Poet Laurete C.Day.Lewis whilst serving in the LDV.

For whatever may come to injure our countryside
Light-signals,parachutes, bombs, or sea-invaders.
The moon looks over the hill's shoulder, and hope
Mans the old ramparts of an English night.

Andy H
Abu El Banat

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Post by walterkaschner » 04 Oct 2004 23:01

Here is one by Guillaume Appolinaire for our French readers:


Ah, Dieu! que la guerre est jolie
Avec ses chants ses longs loisirs
Cette bague je l'ai polie
Le vent se mêle à vos soupirs

Adieu! voici le boute -selle
Il disparut dans un tournant
Et mourut là-bas tandis qu'elle
Riait au destin surprenant

And my pitiful attempt to translate the untranslatable into English:


Oh Lord! how lovely is war
With its songs, its lengthy periods of leisure
That ring that I polished
The wind loses itself in your sighs

Farewell! Here is the call to saddle-up
He disappeared at a turning point
And died down there while war
Laughed at his surprising destiny.

Which goes to prove I guess that poetry by its nature simply can not be adequately translated from one language to another, except perhaps if thetranslator is a poetic genius him (or her) self - which I unfortunately am not. For instance, I can think of no way to capture in English the contrastïng word-play in French between "Ah, Dieu!" and "Adieu." For another, the word "bague" in association with cavalry suggests an exercise or game in which the horseman at full charge attempts to spear a ring with his lance.

Well, anyway, its a much better poem in French than I can express in English, and I will shy away from these in the future.

Regards, Kaschner

Regards, Kaschner

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Post by walterkaschner » 10 Oct 2004 07:35

It appears that there is little interest in this thread, other than my own! Nonetheless, to keep it alive, here are a couple more offerings:

By Captain Richard Dennys, fatally wounded in July, 1916, in the Somme:

Come when it may, the stern decree
For me to leave the cheery throng
And quit the sturdy company
Of brothers that I work among.
No need for me to look askance,
Since no regret my prospect mars.
My day was happy ~ and perchance
The coming night is full of stars.

By Lt. William Noel Hodgson, killed in April, 1916, in the Battle of the Somme:

I, that on my familiar hill
Saw with uncomprehending eyes
A hundred of Thy sunsets spill
Their fresh and sanguine sacrifice,
Ere the sun swings his noonday sword
Must say good-bye to all of this; ~
By all delights that I shall miss,
Help me to die, O Lord.

I find the patient acceptance of the inevitability of forthcoming death absolutely astonishing. A totally different generation than the present!

Regards, Kaschner

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Post by kordts » 10 Oct 2004 20:26

I am in agreement with you. That generation was surely, "like a lamb led to slaughter," to qoute the Bible somewhat out out of context. Not to take our present losses in Iraq lightly, but total US KIA is slightly more than a thousand, and it may unseat a president. I think I read that the Brits took a thousand KIA a week, for 4 years!?! in what they called "normal wastage". Trench raids, shelling and disease, etc.

Cheers, Jeff.

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Post by Klaus Yurk » 13 Oct 2004 11:41

It appears that there is little interest in this thread, other than my own! Nonetheless, to keep it alive, here are a couple more offerings:

I still read everything posted here. Regretfully, I just don't know much poetry. So I have nothing to add. But thank you for continuing to post new poems.


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Post by Vikki » 07 Nov 2004 04:08

Herr Kaschner,

As Klaus said, it's not that some of us aren't interested in this thread---it's just that we're not as knowledgeable and conversant on the subject as you are! I love reading the posts here, and like you, I'm disappointed when there are no new offerings.

Here's a particular favourite of mine. It was written in 1861 by Mrs. Ethel Lynn Beers, and was very quickly adopted by both sides in the war, and set to music. Many U.S. members will have heard the tune; but even without the music, the poem is haunting, and the first and last verses never fail to bring a catch to my throat.

These words and punctuation are from an original songsheet:

The Picket Guard

"All quiet along the Potomac" they say,
“Except now and then a stray Picket”
Is shot, as he walks on his beat to and fro,
By a rifleman hid in the thicket.
'Tis nothing--a private or two now and then.
Will not count in the news of the battle;
Not an officer lost, only one of the men,
Moaning out all alone the death rattle.

All quiet along the Potomac to-night,
Where the soldiers lie peacefully dreaming;
Their tents in the rays of the clear autumn moon,
O'er the light of the watch fire are gleaming,
A tremulous sigh, as the gentle night-wind
Through the forest leaves softly is creeping;
While stars up above, with their glittering eyes
Keeping guard, for the army is sleeping.

There's only the sound of the lone sentry's tread;
As he tramps from the rock to the fountain,
And thinks of the two in the low trundle bed,
Far away in the cot on the mountain.
His musket falls slack; his face dark and grim,
Grows gentle with memories tender,
As he mutters a prayer for the children asleep---
For their mother---may Heaven defend her.

The moon seems to shine just as brightly as then,
That night when the love yet unspoken
Leaped up to his lips, when low-murmured vows
Were pledged to be ever unbroken.
Then drawing his sleeve roughly over his eyes,
He dashes off tears that are welling,
And gathers his gun closer up to its place,
As if to keep down the heart swelling.

He passes the fountain, the blasted pine tree,
The footstep is lagging and weary;
Yet onward he goes, through the broad belt of light,
Toward the shade of the forest so dreary.
Hark! was it the night-wind that rustled the leaves?
Was it moonlight so wondrously flashing?
It looked like a rifle---"Ha! Mary, good by,"
And the life blood is ebbing and plashing.

All quiet along the Potomac to-night,
No sound save the rush of the river;
While soft falls the dew on the face of the dead,
The Picket's off duty for ever.

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Post by Vikki » 08 Nov 2004 05:30

By the way, sorry not to have provided a translation of Horace's version of Dulce et Decorum Est---I only now realized that I hadn't. I think this is a very nice translation. Not my own, but probably a lot more “poetic” than mine would have been, if I had the time right now! I think you’ll see what I meant about the call to youth in the first stanza, and I've also always thought that the rest of the poem, regarding Virtue, is telling. But I would change one main thing. The crucial phrase, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, I would translate more literally: It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.

To suffer hardness with good cheer,
In sternest school of warfare bred,
Our youth should learn; let steed and spear
Make him one day the Parthian's dread;
Cold skies, keen perils, brace his life.

Methinks I see from rampired town
Some battling tyrant's matron wife,
Some maiden, look in terror down,--
“Ah, my dear lord, untrain'd in war!
O tempt not the infuriate mood
Of that fell lion I see! from far
He plunges through a tide of blood!“

What joy, for fatherland to die!
Death's darts e'en flying feet o'ertake,
Nor spare a recreant chivalry,
A back that cowers, or loins that quake.

True Virtue never knows defeat:
Her robes she keeps unsullied still,
Nor takes, nor quits, her curule seat
To please a people's veering will.

True Virtue opens heaven to worth:
She makes the way she does not find:
The vulgar crowd, the humid earth,
Her soaring pinion leaves behind.

Seal'd lips have blessings sure to come:
Who drags Eleusis' rite today,
That man shall never share my home,
Or join my voyage: roofs give way

And boats are wreck'd: true men and thieves
Neglected Justice oft confounds:
Though Vengeance halt, she seldom leaves
The wretch whose flying steps she hounds.

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Post by G. Trifkovic » 13 Nov 2004 19:15

Here is the one I particulary like.It was written by a unknown Highlander of the Black Watch after the battle of Magersfontein during the II Boer war. It goes:

"Tell you the tale of the battle,well there´s not much to tell;
Nine hundred men went to the slaughter ,and nigh four hundred fell.
Wire and Mauser rifle,thirst and a burning sun
Knocked down by hundreds ere the day was done."



P.S. I hope there wont be any inspirations for similar poems by the Highlanders of the Black Watch in Iraq.

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Post by Gerry Chester » 14 Nov 2004 04:56

One cannot but be emotionally moved when reading the works of poets from the Great War, Brookes, Owen, Rosenberg and Sassoon. among them. The writings of many, the last three mentioned particularly, dwell heavily on the horrors of war, whereas WW II soldier poets (at least those of whom I have read) dwell more on individual experiences. One who served in North Irish Horse is honoured by the Regiment and those of us who served with him in North Africa and Italy.

C Squadron's Trooper Jack Neilson MM and Bar was born in Eire but settled in Northern Ireland after the war. He was one of the best known soldiers of the Regiment and, as well as his obvious courage, a man with a love for poetry and words. Here is one of the many he composed entitled 'The Observer', penned on 7 April 1943 while in action near Beja, Tunisia.

At Ksar Masour Station in Wog Hut Watching
Silent stand in Observation post,
Field glasses focused on form opposite,
Two miles of undulating greenness
On skyline, red roofed white buildings,
And nearer the broken fuselage of a Focke-Wulf.
Intensely aware of singing birds,
See love-sick storks, building nest.
By soft breeze over valley drifting
The sickly scent of death.
Quietness suddenly shattered
By Wheow - Wheow - Whumph!
Of German Six Inch Mortar
Hastily our Five Fives
Quickly send screaming
Their hazard messengers of death.
In hut on far farm watching
Stands silent some German boy,
Wistfully thinking of Gamerisch-Partenkirchen.
Brain war weary asking 'Why?'
So, watching, invisible to each other
Mutually wonder 'Why?'
And the stork builds on.

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Post by walterkaschner » 14 Nov 2004 07:05

Thanks rommel_gaj and Gerry Chester! It's good to see your moving additions to the thread; I was afraid it was dying out for lack of interest.

Regards, Kaschner

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Post by Aufklarung » 14 Nov 2004 18:07

From Veterans Affairs Canada.
Third Division Leaving
by Terry Boyle

In an oft recurring dream, the memory wanders free,
Anchors away, the ships move out - leaving the Solent lea
Running south-east in line astern into a mounting sea
Streaming along to the coming night - hurrying to its gloom
Fading away from searching eyes, before the sixth of June.
"Farewell you wild colonial boys" Englands' goodbye at last.
Moving out on the Viking road to blood your sky blue patch.
No more The Lord High Admiral and the girls of London town
Tomorrow earns a soldiers' pay or a bed in foreign ground
Then on through the night, it's the heaving ships and their rolling blackout lights.
While over the decks the droning wind wails like the Scottish pipes
Sounding the Rant or a Highland tune
Ganging awa' to the sixth of June
Oh the bloody sixth of June
A :)

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