As this site is about
the aftermath of war, the poetry in this online anthology is selected mainly
from work published after (sometimes long after) the Great War. I have yet
to find any major post-war poems which present the victory over Germany from
a triumphalist viewpoint, and the general sense is one of loss, and
There is also an
index of the poems
of the Great War is a rather unwieldy and slow-loading site, but it
does contain some useful information about poetry of the period,
especially for beginners
Poems written between 1914-1945
Fallen by Laurence
Binyon, is the earliest poem in this collection. It was published in The
Times on 21st September 1914. The fourth verse became very much part
of the war's aftermath as it was increasingly included in services of
Remembrance. The whole poem is rarely seen now, which is why I've included
John McCrae - who was Canadian
by birth served as a
medical officer in both the Boer War and World War I. In
Flanders Fields was published in Punch
magazine, on December 8, 1915, and is still widely quoted around Armistice
Day - "Poppy Day " as it is often called in Britain. Lesser known
is his poem The Anxious Dead, which carries
a similar message from the dead to the living. McCrae's war ended in
1918 when he died of pneumonia.
The poetry of Wilfred Owen might seem
a strange choice, since he did not survive the war. But his work was
virtually unknown until two years after the war when the first edition was
published. The Guardian recently reprinted its 1920
review of the poems which makes fascinating reading. And since Strange
Meeting is singled out as one of the finest, I've included that
in this Aftermath collection.
written in 1918, is amazingly prophetic about the Pilgrimage industry, even
if Philip Johnstone is perhaps too harsh and unfeeling about people's very
real need to visit the war cemeteries. Two Years
After, a much less familiar poem, sums up only too well the swift
disillusionment which set in amongst a huge number of returning heroes,
finding that the world they'd imagined, and the reality were very different.
Rudyard Kipling did not go to war,
but of course his son John did, encouraged and assisted by his father,
despite his chronically bad eyesight. He became one of the
"missing" at Loos and the story of Kipling's grief and sense of
guilt and the strange story of how John's body was discovered in 1992, and
then the growing doubts about whether it really was John Kipling's body is
brilliantly told in Tonie and Valmai Holt's My
Boy Jack. A brief press account of the story can be found here.
The poem London Stone appeared in the Times
on November 11 1923, and is still suffused with a father's sorrow.
Also by Kipling, The
King's Pilgrimage provided the foreword to a best selling book
about King George V's visit to the war cemeteries in 1922. There is an
account of that visit in Pilgrimage.
Edmund Blunden's Undertones of
War is rightly viewed as a twentieth century classic; in the poem 1916
viewed from 1921 - as in the autobiography - the engulfing horrors
of war cannot completely swamp his love of the countryside.
Vera Brittain is filled with the grief she felt when her fiancé Roland
Leighton was killed. She wrote The
Superfluous Woman in
1920. It's a another cry from the heart from this woman who
lost several people she loved in the war. Her daughter Shirley Williams
observed in an introduction to the 1978 edition of her mother's
autobiography Testament of Youth that it "was hard for
her to laugh unconstrainedly; at the back of her mind the row upon row of
wooden crosses were planted too deeply."
Charlotte Mew wrote The
Cenotaph (September 1919), which also looks at the tragedy of war
from a woman's viewpoint. There is a power in some of the images, particular
the last few lines, which stand comparison with some of Owen's best (and
most bitter) work.
Sassoon's poem Aftermath
is of course in a different league to most post-war poems. At the time he
wrote this, he saw remembrance as an absolute duty for those who had been
there. Forgetting, coming to terms, wasn't an option. It's a powerful,
Other poems by Sassoon are Ex-Service,
On Passing the New Menin Gate and Memorial
Tablet - a scathing portrait of the complacent old squire who
blithely sent young men to die and will never have a clue what it was really
like in the trenches.
There is something of Sassoon's
bitterness in Osbert Sitwell's prophecy in The
Next War that the old men will wait until the orphaned children are
old enough and then send them off to war again. G.K.Chesterton's poem To
the Unknown Warrior hints at the scant regard for the living
ex-soldier, doomed to be a "sandwich man" (carrying portable
advertising hoardings around the street).
In a similar vein, though very
different in style is The Unknown Soldier
by Billy Rose (whom I know nothing about). Like some of the other pieces in
this "anthology" it's hardly great poetry, but apart from the last
verse ("I'd do it all over again") I'm sure it expresses what most
veterans felt about the way they were treated once the shooting stopped.
recently appeared on Helen McPhail's
Poetry page in Stand To! (the journal of the Western Front
Association). She discovered it in a 1930 collection, An Anthology of War
Poems. Like her, I know nothing about Sherard Vines, the author, although I
take the poem to be a series of reflections brought about by the 1925
Remembrance Day commemoration.
I've included the extract from
T.S.Eliot's The Wasteland because for me it
powerfully evokes the memory of watching Remembrance Day services on
television on cold, grey November days, with a brooding sense of just how
closely life and death are linked.