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October 01, 2002

War Poetry


As we are perhaps on the brink of military activity, I found myself wanting to know more about war poetry. In leafing through a collection of “modern” poetry, roughly 1855 to 1970, I noticed that the poetry that explicitly discussed war was chiefly a product of the First World War. You know, straightforward stuff like Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth”:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

Wilfred Owen, 1893-1918

There appeared to be one World War II poem by F. T. Prince, “Soldiers Bathing” but it was pretty elliptical on the war part. Last year, when I read a new translation of the Illiad, I remember being stunned at the immediacy of the images of death and slaughter, of soldiers running, scouting, thrusting, stabbing, dying—it seemed the poetic forebearer for the first ten minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.” Since Western poetry seems to have originated on the battlefield, so to speak, one assumes that there is poetry from the Civil War, the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam. As our blog’s resident expert on poetry, do you have any suggestions for where one can learn more?



posted by Friedrich at October 1, 2002


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