War poetry

Some very famous war poems

The Best War Poems Everyone Should Read


Charles Sorley, ‘When you see millions of the mouthless dead‘. This is not the title Sorley gave to this poem, which he left untitled at his death, aged just 20, in 1915. The Scottish poet Charles Hamilton Sorley is not well-Charles Sorleyknown among WWI poets, but this poem is one of the many reasons he should be better known, in our opinion.

John McCrae, ‘In Flanders Fields‘. Although the association between fields of poppies and commemorating the war dead predates the First World War, it was certainly popularised by WWI and in particular by this John McCrae poem. McCrae was inspired to write it after he conducted the burial service for an artillery officer, Alexis Helmer, who had been killed in the conflict. In the chaplain’s absence, McCrae, as the company doctor, presided over the burial of the young man.

Wilfred Owen, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est‘. One of the most famous of all war poems, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ (the title is a quotation from the Roman poet Horace, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori or ‘it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’) was written in response to the jingoistic pro-war verses being written by people like Jessie Pope. Indeed, Pope is the ‘friend’ whom Owen addresses directly in the closing lines of the poem.

Siegfried Sassoon, ‘Dreamers‘. Along with Owen, Sassoon was among the most celebrated of WWI poets and one of the sharpest documenters of what Owen called ‘the pity of War’. Sassoon even played an important role in helping to inspire and encourage the taut style of Owen’s poetry. This sonnet is not his best-known, but it’s a moving depiction of the longing the ordinary soldier felt for home, his loved ones, and the normal life he’d left behind.

Rupert Brooke, ‘The Soldier‘. Brooke is another famous poet of WWI, although he died relatively early on in the conflict and wrote very different kind of war poetry from Owen and Sassoon. As we’ve revealed elsewhere, he did not Rupert Brookelive to enjoy much of his fame, but this poem – patriotic and stirring as it is – played a vital role in the early days of the War in helping to bring England together in uncertain times.

Clifford Dyment, ‘The Son‘. Dyment (1914-1971), one of the literary alumni of Loughborough Grammar School, was born in the year that WWI broke out, and wrote this sonnet about his father, who died during the conflict. The poem was inspired by the discovery of his father’s letters home to Clifford’s mother, including the last letter he ever wrote to her about his request for leave being rejected. The idea of his luck being ‘at the bottom of the sea’, used to such effect in this fine poem, was taken from his father’s letter.

Majorie Pickthall, ‘Marching Men‘. Pickthall (1883-1922) was Canadian, although she was born in London. She was regarded by some as the greatest Canadian poet of her generation, and this short poem is a moving religious take on the sacrifice being made by thousands of men every week.

Philip Larkin, ‘MCMXIV‘. This heads our list of Larkin’s best poems, since it’s a stunning and moving portrayal of how WWI changed the world – not through focusing on mustard gas and machine-gun fire (Larkin, born in 1922, was obviously too young to serve in WWI and was excused service in WWII on medical grounds), but on the changes wrought upon the daily lives of families and communities.

Isaac Rosenberg, ‘Break of Day in the Trenches‘. Along with Sorley and Owen, Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918) was considered by Robert Graves to be one of the three poets of importance whom we lost during the First World War. ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ is perhaps Rosenberg’s most famous poem, and showcases his taut, no-nonsense style which he shares with Owen (and Sorley, to a degree). Rats, poppies, the ‘torn fields of France’: like Owen, Rosenberg puts us among the action, painting a stark, realistic scene of warfare and the daily lives of the soldiers.


One thought on “Some very famous war poems

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s