Over the course of the last three years I've had the opportunity to research the war poets and have found some interesting books. Over the next few weeks I will share a few of my favourites.
Up the Line to Death
The War Poets 1914-1918
Selected by Brian Gardner (Editor)
This ed: 1986
Since its publication in 1964, Brian Gardner’s Up the Line to Death has established itself as one of the most complete and compelling anthologies of poetry from World War I. Before his death on active service in 1918, Wilfred Owen said, “Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War and the pity of War.” This anthology is also concerned with the stark reality of war, but shows how poetry can be used to convey horror and fear, how a form associated with declarations of love can similarly leave a reader feeling disturbed and uncomfortable. 72 poets are represented, of whom 21 died in action. Rudyard Kipling, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Edmund Blunden, Wilfred Owen, and Thomas Hardy are all here, as well as poets almost entirely forgotten now. From the early exultation to the bitter disillusion, the tragedy of World War I is carefully traced in the words of those who lived through it.
There's something rather special about my 1976 copy of Up the Line to Death which I found in a second hand book store. It could be because the pages are tanned and yellowing with age, it could be because it's a well thumbed copy, a bit raggedy round its edges, so that it looks like its been squashed into a bag or a pocket, or, more importantly, it could be because, like me, someone else, has found comfort and inspiration within its pages.
Inside this thematic collection are 140 poems by 72 poets divided into sections with a foreword by Edmund Blunden.
Prelude Channel Firing by Thomas Hardy
Happy is England Now
To Unknown Lands
A Bitter Taste
Begind the Lines
O Jesus, Make it stop
At Last, At Last
Epilogue High wood by Philip Johnstone
Here is one of my favourite poems by a less well known war poet...
From a Flemish Graveyard by I A Williams
A year hence may the grass that waves
O'er English men in Flemish graves,
Coating this clay with green of peace
And softness of a year's increase,
Be kind and lithe as English grass
To bend and nod as the winds pass;
It was for grass on English hills
These bore too soon the last of ills.
And may the wind be brisk and clean
And singing cheerfully between
The bents a pleasant-burdened song
To cheer these English dead along;
For English songs and English winds
Are they that bred these English minds.
And may the circumstantial trees
Dip, for these dead ones, in the breeze,
And make for them their silver play
Of spangled boughs each shiny day.
Thus may these look above, and see
And hear the wind in grass and tree,
And watch a lark in heaven stand,
And think themselves in their own land.
Iolo Aneurin Williams was born in Middlesborough in 1890. He served in France and Flanders 1914-18 serving as a captain. He was journalist , working on the London Mercury and The Times. He died in 1962.
This poem is particularly poignant because I have a relative who lies in commonwealth war grave in Flanders.
" And make for them their silver play, Of spangled boughs each shiny day."
I hope it does.