Poets of The First World War

The trigger for today’s post comes from some research I was doing for our next OL Assembly. As mentioned in earlier posts, this is a virtual meeting held every second Saturday of the month. In the forthcoming issue we cover the First World War in which 18 Old Lawrencians were killed in action in different battle fields of Europe. In those days, many from my Alma Mater, The Lawrence School, Lovedale were enlisted in the British Army. They joined as ordinary soldiers as distinct from being commissioned as officers.

A look at the Honors Board for 1914 in the School gives us details of former students, who as young soldiers gained distinction for their bravery during the battles at Mons, Flanders, and Gallipolli amongst others. This in turn reminded me of a poem we learnt in School titled ” Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen. This poem mocked the sentiment- prevalent till 1916 or so amongst many English poets, like Rupert Brooke for instance – that it was sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.

Owen enlisted in 1915 and saw active service in the trenches in Europe before he was wounded in action in 1916. He returned to England to recover from his war wounds. However, in 1918 he went back to the Front, won the Military Cross for his bravery but ironically was killed in November of that year aged 25 just one week before the Armistice. Like him thousands upon thousands of young men lost their lives in a bitterly fought war which saw the use of poison gas in the trenches. The Armistice signaled the end of the war which left 10 million soldiers and another 7 million civilians dead.

To appreciate what the horrors of the First World War were like, you must see an article in The Sun titled ” Blood, Mud, and Misery” published in 2018. You can understand the plight of the soldiers in the trenches over a hundred years ago.

The Poetry Foundation compiled an impressive list of poems about the Great War of 1914-1918. Here you can read poems by, apart from Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas, William Butler Yeats, and Rupert Brooke. It ends with ” Then There Was A Great Calm” written by Thomas Hardy after the signing of the armistice.

“Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;
There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;
Some could, some could not, shake off misery:
The Sinister Spirit sneered: ‘It had to be!’
And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, ‘Why?'”

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