All a Poet Can Do Today Is Warn. That Is Why True Poets Must Be Truthful. Wilfred Owen

All a Poet Can Do Today Is Warn. That Is Why True Poets Must Be Truthful. Wilfred Owen

War Poetry

All a poet can do today is warn. That is why true Poets must be truthful. ~Wilfred Owen

The Charge of the Light Brigade[1]

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1854

HALF a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!5
Charge for the guns!" he said;
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismayed?10
Not though the soldier knew
Some one had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:15
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them20
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well;
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell,25
Rode the six hundred.
Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while30
All the world wondered:
Plunged in the battery-smoke,
Right through the line they broke:
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre-stroke,35
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not --
Not the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,40
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered:
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well45
Came through the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell, --
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.
When can their glory fade?50
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made!
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!55

About Alfred Lord Tennyson

Born in 1809, in England, Alfred Tennyson is one of the most well-loved Victorian poets. Tennyson's works were melancholic, and reflected the moral and intellectual values of his time. In 1884, he accepted a peerage (a noble title), becoming Alfred Lord Tennyson. Tennyson died in 1892 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

War Is Kind: I

by Stephen Crane, 1896

Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.
Because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky
And the affrighted steed ran on alone,
Do not weep.
War is kind.5

Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,
Little souls who thirst for fight,
These men were born to drill and die
The unexplained glory flies above them
Great is the battle-god, great, and his kingdom─10
A field where a thousand corpses lie.

Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.
Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,
Raged at his breast, gulped and died,
Do not weep.15
War is kind.

Swift, blazing flag of the regiment,
Eagle with crest of red and gold,
These men were born to drill and die
Point for them the virtue of slaughter20
Make plain to them the excellence of killing
And a field where a thousand corpses lie.

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button
On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.25
War is kind.

War is Kind: XXI

by Stephen Crane, 1899

A man said to the universe:
"Sir, I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
"A sense of obligation."5

About Stephen Crane

Crane (November 1, 1871 – June 5, 1900) was an American novelist, poet and journalist. Although Crane never served in the United States military, as a journalist he covered a number of conflicts for various newspapers and news services during the mid-to-late 1890s, including the Greco-Turkish War and the Spanish-American War. Today he is considered one of the most innovative writers to emerge in the United States during the 1890s and one of the founders of Realism.

Dulce et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen, 1917

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! -- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.[2]

About Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918) was a poet and soldier, regarded by many as the leading poet of the WWI. His shocking, realistic war poetry on the horrors of trench and gas warfare was heavily influenced by his friend Siegfried Sassoon and sat in stark contrast to both the public perception of war at the time, and to the confidently patriotic verse written earlier. Some of his best-known works were published posthumously as he was killed in action just a week before the war ended, causing news of his death to reach home as the town's church bells declared peace.

Does It Matter- Losing Your Legs?

by Siegfried Sassoon

DOES it matter? -- losing your legs?...
For people will always be kind,
And you need not show that you mind
When the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.
Does it matter? -- losing your sight?...
There's such splendid work for the blind;
And people will always be kind,
As you sit on the terrace remembering
And turning your face to the light.
Do they matter? -- those dreams from the pit?...
You can drink and forget and be glad,
And people won't say that you're mad;
For they'll know you've fought for your country
And no one will worry a bit.

Glory of Women

by Siegfried Sassoon, 1918

YOU love us when we're heroes, home on leave,
Or wounded in a mentionable place.
You worship decorations; you believe
That chivalry redeems the war's disgrace.
You make us shells. You listen with delight,
By tales of dirt and danger fondly thrilled.
You crown our distant ardours while we fight,
And mourn our laurelled memories when we're killed.
You can't believe that British troops 'retire'
When hell's last horror breaks them, and they run,
Trampling the terrible corpses -- blind with blood.
O German mother dreaming by the fire,
While you are knitting socks to send your son
His face is trodden deeper in the mud.

About Siegfried Sassoon

Siegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967) was an English poet and author. He is best known as a writer of satirical anti-war verse during WWI. Sassoon spoke out publicly against the war (and yet returned to it) and mentored the then unknown Wilfred Owen. After being wounded in battle, he spent thirty years reflecting on the war through his memoirs and at last he found peace in his religious faith.

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner[3]
by Randall Jarrell

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

About Randall Jarrell

Jarrell’s first book of poems was published in 1942, the same year he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He soon left the Air Corps for the army and worked as a control tower operator, an experience which provided much material for his poetry. Jarrell's reputation as a poet was established in 1945, while he was still serving in the army, with the publication of his second book, which bitterly documents the intense fears and moral struggles of young soldiers. Following the war, Jarrell taught at the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Even more than for his poems, Jarrell is highly regarded as a great essayist, and was considered the most astute (and most feared) poetry critic of his generation. He was struck by a car and killed at the age of 51 in 1965, in a death that may or may not have been a suicide. –

To World War Two
by Kenneth Koch

Early on you introduced me to young women in bars
You were large, and with a large hand
You presented them in different cities,
Made me in San Luis Obispo, drunk
On French seventy-fives, in Los Angeles, on pousse-cafe's.
It was a time of general confusion
Of being a body hurled at a wall.
I didn't do much fighting. I sat, rather I stood, in a foxhole.
I stood while the typhoon splashed us into morning.
It felt unusual
Even if for a good cause
To be part of a destructive force
With my rifle in my hands
And in my head
My serial number
The entire object of my existence
To eliminate Japanese soldiers
By killing them
With a rifle or with a grenade
And then, many years after that,
I could write poetry
Fall in love
And have a daughter
And think about these things
From a great distance
If I survived
I was "paying my debt
To society" a paid
Killer. It wasn't
like anything I'd done
Before, on the paved
Streets of Cincinnati
Or on the ballroom floor
At Mr. Vathe's dancing class
What would Anne Marie Goldsmith
Have thought of me
If instead of asking her to dance
I had put my BAR to my shoulder
And shot her in the face
I thought about her in my foxhole--
One, in a foxhole near me, has his throat cut during the night
We take precautions but it is night and it is you.
The typhoon continues and so do you.
"I can't be killed--because of my poetry. I have to live on in order to write it."
I thought--even crazier thought, or just as crazy--
"If I'm killed while thinking of lines, it will be too corny
When it's reported" (I imagined it would be reported!)
So I kept thinking of lines of poetry. One that came to me on the beach on Leyte
Was "The surf comes in like masochistic lions."
I loved this terrible line. It was keeping me alive. My Uncle Leo wrote to me,
"You won't believe this, but some day you may wish
You were footloose and twenty on Leyte again." I have never wanted
To be on Leyte again,
With you, whispering into my ear,
"Go on and win me! Tomorrow you might not be alive,
So do it today!" How could anyone win you?
You were too much for me, though I
Was older than you were and in camouflage. But for you
Who threw everything together, and had all the systems
Working for you all the time, this was trivial. If you could use me
You'd use me, and then forget. How else
Did I think you'd behave?
I'm glad you ended. I'm glad I didn't die. Or lose my mind.
As machines make ice
We made dead enemy soldiers, in
Dark jungle alleys, with weapons in our hands
That produced fire and kept going straight through
I was carrying one,
I who had gone about for years as a child
Praying God don't let there be another war
Or if there is, don't let me be in it. Well, I was in you.

All you cared about was existing and being won.
You died of a bomb blast in Nagasaki, and there were parades.

About Kenneth Koch

Kenneth Koch (pronounced “coke”) (1925 –2002) was an American poet, playwright, and professor. After graduating high school, he served in the Philippines during World War II, a harrowing experience that he did not translate into verse until the very end of his life. Koch was a prominent poet of the "New York School" of poetry, a loose group of poets including Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery that eschewed contemporary introspective poetry in favor of an exuberant, cosmopolitan style that drew major inspiration from travel, painting, and music.

The Responsibility

by Peter Appleton
I am the man who gives the word,
If it should come, to use the Bomb.
I am the man who spreads the word
From him to them if it should come.
I am the man who gets the word
From him who spreads the word from him.
I am the man who drops the Bomb
If ordered by the one who's heard
From him who merely spreads the word
The first one gives if it should come.
I am the man who loads the Bomb
That he must drop should orders come
From him who gets the word passed on
By one who waits to hear from him.
I am the man who makes the Bomb
That he must load for him to drop
If told by one who gets the word
From one who passes it from him.
I am the man who fills the till,
Who pays the tax, who foots the bill
That guarantees the Bomb he makes
For him to load for him to drop
If orders come from one who gets
The word passed on to him by one
Who waits to hear it from the man
Who gives the word to use the Bomb.
I am the man behind it all;
I am the one responsible.

Dried Corsages

by Dana Shuster, 1966

Dried corsages
the last thing laid
into the crate
atop the diaries
atop the poems
atop the yearbooks
the detritus of adolescence.
The lid clicks
embalming my youth
in melancholy anticipation
Last day of leave
last day of girlhood
last day of certitude
last day of luxuriant revokable errors.
First plane ride
first farewell
first overseas tour
first peak into womanhood's abyss
The crumpled duffel awaits
decisions I can't make.
What do you pack
to take to a war?

About Dana Shuster

Dana Shuster was a celebrated Vietnam war-era military nurse who wrote poetry about her experiences. One of her poems was read by Vice President Al Gore when the Vietnam Women's Memorial was dedicated in 1993. But it turns out she was never a nurse, never in the military and never in Vietnam. While many have felt betrayed by her apocryphal autobiographical accounts, others have pointed to her obvious talent at relating what it means to be a woman in war. In truth, over 265,000 women served during Vietnam—all volunteers.

Governor Rhodes Keeps His Word

by W.D. Ehrhart

Kent State University

May 4th, 1970

The girl kneels in the parking lot,
her face uplifted, mouth so twisted
she appears to be hysterical.
She has turned her outstretched hands
palm up, her arms extended down
as if to lift the body at her feet
out of the photo into a place
where none of this would be happening,
where May would still be springtime
flowers, Frisbees, marijuana, love,
not soldiers, not these loaded rifles,
not the nightmare war that's finally come
to fill her unbelieving eyes with this
boy who will not rise again.
His blood coagulates on dusty asphalt.
She thinks some great injustice done.
She thinks the pain too great to bear.
She doesn't understand
the gray-haired men who've done this
or the millions more who think
the dead boy at her feet has gotten
just what he has asked for and deserves.

Guerrilla War
by W.D. Ehrhart, 1975
It's practically impossible
to tell civilians
from the Viet Cong.
Nobody wears uniforms.
They all talk
the same language
(and you couldn't understand them
even if they didn't).
They tape grenades
inside their clothes,
and carry satchel charges
in their market baskets.
Even their women fight.
And young boys.
And girls.
It's practically impossible
to tell civilians
from the Viet Cong.
After awhile,
you quit trying.
The Invasion of Grenada
by W.D. Ehrhart, 1984
I didn't want a monument,
not even one as sober as that
vast black wall of broken lives.
I didn't want a postage stamp.
I didn't want a road beside the Delaware
River with a sign proclaiming:
"Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway."
What I wanted was a simple recognition
of the limits of our power as a nation
to inflict our will on others.
What I wanted was an understanding
that the world is neither black-and-white
nor ours.
What I wanted
was an end to monuments.

About W.D. Ehrhart