Monday, April 03, 2006

Great Poets of World War I: Poetry from the Great War by Jon Stallworthy

All the poets included in Great Poets of World War I were British soldiers. While seven of the twelve died in military service, they did not all die in battle. Dysentery, blood poisoning, and stray shells away from the front took some of these poets' lives. Sadly one of the survivors spent fifteen years after the war in an asylum. All survivors were forever changed by the "war to end all wars."

For each of the twelve poets, a chapter includes facts about their lives, sample poems, photos, manuscripts, and excerpts of letters. Readers will notice that their poems written at the beginning of the war tend to be patriotic, while later works (if the poet survived the opening months of the war) tend to illustrate the horrors of battle. Some wrote their verse to the end. After Charles Hamilton Sorley died on the Western Front in October 1915, a sonnet was found in his kit, including these lines:

Give them not praise. For deaf, how should they know,
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Not tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Not honour. It is easy to be dead.

Other poets in this collection include Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves. With the variety of styles and messages, this collection could spark interesting discussions.

Stallworthy, Jon. Great Poets of World War I: Poetry from the Great War. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2002. ISBN 0786710985

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