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War Poetry

Some HSC students read Wilfred Owen’s poetry, and at SBHS there was a unit in Year 9 or 10 on war poetry. This post was first prepared for that SBHS unit.

Resources for a study on how war poems from different ages and cultures embody diverse values and attitudes. Here are a few starting points to look at:

  • National Public Radio in the USA had a series in 2003 called The Poetry of War: Poems Inspired by Past Conflicts. There is much to read and hear there, ranging from ancient times to the present.
  • Lancaster Royal Grammar School has a page devoted to Attitudes to War, including much reference to poetry. The page is part of a Transnational Learning Network, the Comenius Project.
  • The Reliability of War Poetry. “These activities are designed to analyse the War poetry of a variety of poets, including the famous Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke, alongside less well known poetry from other Allied and German servicemen of the First World War.”
  • The First World War: Prose & Poetry.
  • 20TH CENTURY POETRY AND WAR:

    “…throughout the history of poetry-making, poems have provided a commentary – often critical – on what people, communities and nations do. And in the 20th century, the horrors and irreversible changes created by modern warfare changed poetry for good.

    “The thirty or so poems in this selection [written between 1914 and 1998] demonstrate – among many other things – this change. After the First World War it was clear that the subject of war could no longer be treated as though its slaughter was solemn and glorious. But how could war now be written about by poets? The following poems illustrate the diversity of answers to that question, in a variety of ways expressing the fundamental unacceptability of war. They also show that poets have not found the subject easy…”

  • A small but good collection of War Poems
  • Poet Links on Professor Eiichi Hishikawa’s websites, Kobe University, Japan, has many of the main 20th century English language poets.
  • A fascinating page that gives the original of a Han dynasty Chinese poem, “At Fifteen I Went to War”, together with five different English translations.
  • War Poetry (UK) – War poetry of the First World War. War poetry and anti-war poetry about Vietnam, the Falklands War, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Iraq.
  • Trinity College Perth – P L Duffy Resource Centre – more resources on War Poetry.
  • Poetry – the argument essay is very good. It includes this opening paragraph for an essay:

    In Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’, both poets show clear attitudes to war. Owen’s poem centres around an horrific gas attack he suffered with a group of soldiers so tired they were ‘drunk with fatigue’. Owen leaves us in no doubt his attitude is anti-war but Tennyson’s poem is more generally thought to portray war as glorious and soldiers as heroes, ‘When can their glory fade?’ yet I believe that Tennyson shows an attitude that is far closer to Owen than might at first be realised…’

    The Poetry of War by John Stringer. “War, or battles, have been a subject for poetry since the earliest times. The Iliad, after all, is a war poem; and much of the message is concerned with the individual heroism and the ultimate overall pointlessness of it all…”

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