Poetry during WW1
Thanks to universal education, the First World War can be referred to as a “literate” war. It was the first time in history that virtually all the soldiers who took part were able to read and write. Not all soldiers were a Rupert Brooke or Wilfred Owen but many of them, perhaps feeling sentimental, perhaps being shaken and appalled by what they had experienced, wrote poetry.
First World War poetry displays a range of viewpoints. Rupert Brooke’s patriotic ‘1914’ sonnet sequence became hugely popular in the early years of the war. At the outset of the war, many Britons were touched by the heroic sentiments of the poems, in particular, “The Soldier.” This poem’s warrior speaker assures the reader that his death in battle will mean that “there’s some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England.” Brooke’s poem pictures military service and death as purifying and noble. At the start of the war, when such nationalistic feeling was strong, many British soldiers departed for training with a copy of Brooke’s poems tucked into their kits. However, after years of devastating losses and with no clear resolution to the seemingly endless fighting, poets depicting the hard reality of the soldier’s experience gained more recognition. Wilfred Owen’s gloomy 1917 “Anthem for Doomed Youth” pictures the war’s fallen “dying as cattle,” for example whilst Siegfried Sassoon’s 1918 piece, “Counter-Attack,” offers us the gruesome vision of a battlefield “place rotten with dead” where corpses “face downward, in the sucking mud, /Wallow…” Sassoon’s shocking verbal image recalls the horrible tableau of Nevinson’s dead soldiers lying face down in the mud.