THE POETRY OF WAR
Soldier-poets brought the reality
of the horrors of the 'Great War' to life on the page. Inside Out visits the trenches to learn more.
Great War is, in one context, a considerable misnomer. And as memories fade
with the passing of successive generations, our perception of the sheer
terror and trauma of that war fades too.
with the Royal Shakespeare Company actor David Bradley, went to visit the
trenches with the poetry of E M Mackintosh providing the backdrop.
This was an attempt to capture the experiences of some of Mackintosh's fellow
soldiers - the ones that did not return.
Ten million dead
warfare is instantly captured on film, video-tape, CD and and broadcast
to the world. Little is left to the imagination.
But things were very different in World War One.
the legions of men who were actually there in the Great War are now hastening
toward single figures, memories stay alive through the poetry of men like
Siegfried Sassoon, Charles Sorley, Wilfred Owen and E M Mackintosh.
written by these, and many other poet-soldiers during the war, gives us
a chance to grasp some of the emotions, from pride to terror, that arose
through a conflict that cost the lives of millions.
known casualties to be accurate - not, of course, forgetting the countless
hundreds who still rest below ground.
popular thought at the time was that the war would be "over by Christmas",
it went on for four torrid years from 1914.
The pride of war
Henry V inspired the English archers at Agincourt.
And in the same way, the raw recruits drafted to the front in 1914 largely
considered themselves fortunate to be fighting, and if they died, it would
be an honourable death.
in his poem In Memoriam wrote, "There is no fitter end than
this..." and in the poem by Alan Seegar - Rendez-vous, he
wrote, "I have a rendezvous with death... I shall not fail that rendez-vous...".
The feeling of inevitability became evident on the page.
|A soldier's home, kitchen, lavatory and springboard to death
Siegfried Sassoon was the quintessential gentleman officer, and his heroic
actions on the battlefields of Flanders were driven by vengeance for the
death of his brother in Gallipoli.
His poetry was a brutally honest reflection of his personal war within
poem To My Brother, he proudly wrote of the death of his brother:
"In the gloom I see your laurelled head and through your victory
I shall win the light."
He shows his belief in the righteousness of the British cause for war:
"they are fortunate who fight".
something with which soldiers, with the gift of metered stanzas, were
able to inform and inspire their colleagues and bring the brutal reality
to the reader at home.
The despair of war
feelings of the war were not echoed by all.
Wilfred Owen, in his poem "Dulce Et Decorum Est" - "obscene
as cancer" remonstrated against the horrors of the use of gas bombs.
this soldier's remains been put to rest?
His use of
verbs vividly describes the state of panic in the trenches when the gas
An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime. . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
It was a poem of anger against an unnamed journalist who wrote "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori", meaning "it is sweet and honourable
to die for one's country".
E M Mackintosh of the Seaforth Highlanders was awarded the Military Cross
"For conspicuous gallantry". He
too was an eminent soldier-poet.
The enormity of war
brought to life the death of so many. The sheer scale of the conflict
meant that it impacted upon nearly every family in Britain - there were
very few who didn't lose a loved one.
was a poem that gave pause for thought of the people who were shaping
the war that became the slaughter of millions:
Waiting to be killed by you'
Go and help.
On the railway carriage wall
and I thought of the hands
that penned the call.
Could go and fight the Hun;
Can't you see them
Thanking God they're over forty one.
with feathers, vulgar songs,
Washy verse on England's need
God and don't we damn-well know
How the message ought to read.
you're wanted, over there
Shiver in the morning dew
More poor devils, like yourselves
Waiting to be killed by you.
But his life
too came to an untimely end on November 21, 1917 at the French battlefield
He is buried in Orival Wood cemetery, Flesquières, northern France
(Plot I, row A, grave 26).